Culzean Castle, high above the Firth of Clyde on the Ayrshire coast, was once the family seat of the Clan Kennedy. Today, as part of the National Trust for Scotland, it sits at the center of a huge country park and a fun family attraction within easy reach of Glasgow.
The castle was built in the late 18th century for the David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis (pronounced Cassels) to show off his wealth and position. He had inherited the title from his brother who left no male heir. The 10th Earl, a Scottish peer in the House of Lords, had a lot of titles—12th Lord Kennedy, 5th Baron Kennedy, and Chief of Clan Kennedy—but unfortunately, like his brother, he had no heirs. In fact he never married. So when he died the estate and titles passed to a cousin in New York.
What the 10th Earl did have, besides loads of money, was very good taste. He hired the foremost neoclassical architect and interior designer of the 18th century, Robert Adam, to build his house.
Culzean is a castle in name only. It is not a fortress or fortified house, but one of the grandest country estates in Scotland. Its chief historic claim to fame actually came after the Kennedy family gave the house up in the 20th century. When passing Culzean to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945, the family stipulated that a the top floor be reserved for the exclusive, lifetime use of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in appreciation for his service as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.
Eisenhower first visited in 1946 and then made several extended visits there, including once when he was President of the United States. Today, his suite has been turned into a small boutique hotel: The Eisenhower at Culzean.
Two Interesting Facts
- The Clan Kennedy, whose chief built Culzean, isn't related to the Irish clan (O'Kennedy) or the American political family. The name, in fact, comes from the chief of an early Scottish tribe whose name was Cunedda, or the Celtic Cinneidgh. The name means ugly.
- Culzean is actually pronounced Cullain with a silent "Z." There's a tradition of this in Scottish names. Dalziel, as in the British detective series "Dalziel and Pascoe", is pronounced Dee - el. And Menzies, as in the name of a popular chain of newsagents and the politician Menzies Campbell, is pronounced Min or Mingus. The Z started appearing in printed documents as late as 18th century because of its similarity to character in the Scots Gaelic alphabet.
Things to Do at Culzean Castle
The castle is surrounded by a 565-acre country park estate of which nearly 300 acres is mixed woodland interlaced with 17 miles of woodland paths open to the public. While there, visitors can:
- Explore the Georgian interiors including Robert Adam's sweeping oval staircase and an entry hall display of one of the largest collections of British military flintlock weapons in the world. Guided tours of the house take place at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every day throughout the summer.
- See how many of the 40 secret buildings and follies dotted around the estate you can find.
- Let kids go wild in the Adventure Cove (an accessible playground for young children) and Wild Woodland play park for older children. The play areas, near the estate's Swan Pond, have towers, treehouses, slides, climbing walls, a maze house and child-sized zip lines.
- Book a tour of the sea caves below the house. Tours, led by park rangers, are given on specified dates between June and October.
- Go rock pooling on the 3 miles of rocky beach below the castle.
- Feed the animals in the Deer Park. Feeding times for the small herd of red deer and the llamas is 11 a.m. and 2p.m. every day.
- Stroll in the walled garden, one of the largest in Scotland and divided into a pleasure garden and kitchen garden.
How to Visit Culzean Castle
- Where: Culzean Castle, Maybole, South Ayrshire KA19 8LE
- When: The Castle is open from March 30 to October 27, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Home Farm, shop, restaurant and playgrounds are open year round. Hours vary so check the website.
- Admission: Full adult admission to both the house and park is £17 (as of August 2019). A range of family and concessionary ticket is available and admission is free for National Trust members.
- Facilities: Culzean Castle has a parking lot with a free shuttle to various points on the the estate as well as several shops to buy souveniers, accessible toilets, wheelchairs and motorized scooters, and restaurants/snack stands.
- Directions by Car: The castle is about an hour southwest of Glasgow on the M77 motorway and the A77 national road. It's 12.5 miles on the coast south of Ayr via the B7024.
- Directions by Bus: The 360 bus from Ayr bus station to Glenside takes about 45 minutes, followed by a 20-minute walk.
Things to Do Nearby
The Robert Burns Birthplace and Museum is about 8 miles away and worth a visit if you like the poet. Souter Johnnie's Cottage, home of the shoemaker (souter) who inspired Tam o'Shanter's partner in mayhem in the Burns poem "Tam o'Shanter," is less than two miles away.