Scotland is an underrated destination often overlooked by travelers. There are so many things to do and see – one of the top things of course – all the beautiful castles in Scotland! The history in Scotland is filled with legends, love, and of course – violence. There’s an incredible array of castles to see – from historic ruins to a beautiful rose pink castle – that I wanted to highlight the best castles in Scotland to visit.
This guide starts in Edinburgh and goes counterclockwise around Scotland. Edinburgh towards Aberdeen to Inverness then across to Isle of Skye before heading south toward Glasgow. If you have more time in the UK, be sure to check out these beautiful castles in England!
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Edinburgh is a beautiful city to visit. Not only has it got great people, proximity to cities like St.Andrews and Fife and some of the best seafood in all of the U.K. but it also has some great history and architecture to offer. Scotland is full of pretty castles and one of them can be found in Edinburgh itself!
Located on Castle Rock, overlooking the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified buildings in all of Europe. It has been estimated that the castle was established during the Iron Age around 2nd AD and has since seen a number of battles, with research identifying approximately 26 sieges in the castle’s history!
The Castle building also houses the National War Museum and the Scottish War Memorial inside, making it a perfect spot for all the war and history buffs out there. Another interesting part of this castle is the “One O’Clock Gun”, a 25-pounder field gun that is fired every day at 1 PM except for Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Apart from its historically rich past, and its intricate Renaissance architecture, the sweeping views of Edinburgh’s cityscape make for the perfect photo op!
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Stirling Castle, the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots, is one of the best castles in Scotland to visit as it’s one of the best-preserved in the country. The castle has been completely refurbished to look as it might have during the mid-1500’s.
Not only can you experience the rich world of royalty through furniture, there are costumed interpreters which really set the scene! These interpreters talk to visitors about the palace and what it was like both working and living within the walls!
This castle is more than just walking through history. Nature lovers can explore the Queen Anne Gardens on a nice day. Art lovers can enjoy one of Scotland’s art treasures – the Stirling Heads Gallery. Military history aficionados can visit the Regimental Museum. For younger visitors, beneath the palace are vaults with interactive exhibitions! There is an access gallery for visitors with mobility difficulties as well.
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Near Stirling Castle is another castle that may look familiar even if you’ve never visited. Doune Castle was used for filming parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlander, and Game of Thrones. While you could borrow coconut shells from the reception to provide a Monty Python soundtrack during your visit, there’s a lot more to this castle than just Hollywood.
The castle was built for the Duke of Albany – Robert Stewart – in the late 1300’s. While the end result is believed to not be the original plan of the castle, the combination of military and domestic components fit the requirements for a royal castle. In fact, Robert was the ruler of Scotland from 1388 until his passing in 1420. When King James I took power in 1424, the castle became a royal retreat and hunting lodge for the next century.
Currently, the castle is looked after by the Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public. Visitors can see the castle in it’s heyday including the 2.6 m (8 feet) wide fireplace. Fans of both history and Hollywood would enjoy visiting Doune Castle!
Recommended by Victoria of Guide Your Travel
Dunnottar Castle is one of Scotland’s best and most famous castles. It’s located on a cliff and overlooks the ocean and nearby coastline. Despite its remote location, it’s actually quite easy to access. The little town of Stonehaven is located just a quick 30-minute hike from the castle and it has a train station. Tickets from the nearby city of Aberdeen are very affordable and the train journey is incredibly scenic. While you can drive to the castle and park there it’s highly recommended to go on the hike if you can. The scenery is absolutely beautiful and the cliffs are incredible for photos. Dunnottar Castle dates back to the 15th century although there appears to have been a castle in its place in the middle ages. Dunnottar Castle was famously the hiding place of the Scottish crown jewels in the 17th century when the area was under invasion. Most of Dunnottar Castle was restored in the nineteen hundreds and are now open to the public. The castle is quite large so plan to spend at least a few hours here. Tickets cost 8 pounds for adults and 4 for children. It’s open year-round although the exact hours depend on the season.
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Balmoral Castle is the royal family’s summer home and is one of the best royal sights in Scotland. It is located in the Scottish Highlands about an 1hour and 15 minutes away from Aberdeen by car. You can take a guided day trip from Aberdeen to Balmoral, but if you are able to rent a car and drive, that is the best and easiest way to travel to Balmoral.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchase Balmoral Castle in 1852, and the royal family has spent the summer at the Scottish castle ever since. The entrance fee to tour Balmoral is between £6 and £11.50 depending on your age and any discounts you’re entitled to. The experience at Balmoral Castle is unlike the experience you will have at any other British royal castle.
You are essentially only able to tour the grounds, and the only room inside the castle you’re allowed to tour is the ballroom. Every year there is a new display in the ballroom, which most often displays artwork from the Queen’s private collection. On the grounds, you can explore Queen Mary’s flower garden, the vegetable garden that is used to feed the royal family when they are at the castle, and the beautiful scenery that surrounds the castle. Balmoral Castle shows you a more laid back and relaxed side of the royal family, and it is definitely worth adding to your Scotland itinerary.
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One of the most underrated must-visit castles in Scotland is Braemar Castle. It’s located a close drive away from both Balmoral Castle and Cragievar Castle, yet is often overlooked!
Located in Aberdeenshire, this castle was built in the 1620s and holds a lot of history. It was originally built to be a hunting lodge for an earl but has also served as a fortress and even a home for some time.
This castle is inside Cairngorms National Park, one of the best places to visit in Scotland. Because it’s quite small, it won’t take more than an hour to fully explore, but visiting is still well worth it. The inside of the castle is filled with old artifacts and the employees work to educate visitors on the castle’s history.
Even though it’s a tiny castle, each ticket does include an audio tour guide which makes visiting it even more enjoyable. There’s also a vast outdoor area worth exploring, and similar to other castles, this one was built in a breathtaking area. Be sure to find the exhibit on the Highland Games outside!
The castle itself is very unique looking with its architecture, and while the exterior may not be as beautiful as some other castles in the country, the interior will truly take you back in time.
If you’re looking to visit a castle in Scotland that isn’t as overrun by tourists and other visitors, be sure to stop by Braemar Castle.
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Set in the fairytale-Esque foothills of the spectacular Grampian Mountains, Craigievar Castle is a charming Scottish castle teeming with history and art. Scotland has numerous beautiful castles and breathtaking natural panoramas, but Craigievar tops them all by having both in one magical setting. This is truly one of the best and beautiful spots to visit in Scotland.
This gorgeous piece of architecture sits just 6 miles from Alford, Aberdeenshire. With the sculpted turrets, pink tower, and high corbelling art, it’s easy to imagine that the castle has been plucked straight out of an enchanting storybook.
Craigievar Castle is one of the best-preserved tower houses in Scotland sporting the original Scottish Baronial style. The exterior of this seven-storey structure has remained unchanged since its completion in 1626. It had been a family residence for the Forbes until 1963, when William Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill gifted the castle to the National Trust for Scotland.
Today, you can explore the charming interiors and rare antiquities that adorn the ancient walls. The owner also requested that the upper floors should not be illuminated by artificial light, and so the architectural elements and art within this area can only be seen in the rippling sunlight. In other words, you can observe the art exactly as it had been made, all those centuries ago!
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This iconic and spectacular site will have you travelling back in time 1000 years ago where you will learn about the castle, its battles and how it became a ruin. Urquhart Castle was one of Scotland’s largest and today attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to learn about its history and soak up its magnificent views of Loch Ness.
Dating back to the 13th century, Urquhart Castle tells an incredible tale featuring many great conflicts, battles and power struggles. In particular, during the Wars of Scottish Independence, control of the castle was passed back and forth between the Scots and English. It was in 1692 where the castle was blown up to prevent it from becoming a Jacobite stronghold. Today, it is owned by The National Trust of Scotland and run by the Historic Environment Scotland.
Why you need to visit?
With such an interesting past and being located on the famous banks of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands (only a 30-minute drive from Inverness), it’s a memorable experience. Not only will you get a glimpse into medieval times, see how the noble residents lived, get up close with the mighty Grant Tower and take in the panoramic views of Loch Ness. But during your visit, you can also jump on a boat and cruise the dark waters of Loch Ness looking for ‘Nessie’, which is a lot of fun and you won’t forget it.
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In the heart of the Inverness, overlooking River Ness is the stunning Inverness Castle. The red sandstone makes it one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. Built in the 19th century, it sits on a defensive structure from the 11th century – giving it a unique history from other castles. In 1057, the original castle was built by Malcolm III. Over the centuries, the castle has been sieged numerous times throughout history.
The castle lays in the heart of the city of Inverness. One of the best viewing areas is on the Young St/Bridge St. Bridge over the River Ness. The stunning castle sometimes looks rose gold depending on the sun. If you’re exploring the town of Inverness, it is nearly impossible to miss the castle looming over the town!
Unfortunately, only the castle grounds and the north tower are open to the public. It housed the Inverness Sheriff Court until March 2020.
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Dunrobin Castle is located near Golspie, just over 1 hour north of Inverness. While you could visit just as a day trip from Inverness, I recommend visiting as part of a longer trip. Dunrobin Castle is one of the best stops on the North Coast 500 route, an epic road trip around the northern coast of Scotland. It’s the largest castle or stately home in the Northern Highlands, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Britain. It dates back to the 1300s and has been the home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for centuries. While the early castle was a square keep, in 1845 Sir Charles Barry (who was the architect for the Houses of Parliament) remodeled the castle to its current design in the style of a French chateau. The exterior is simply stunning, with towers and turrets overlooking the Scottish Highlands. There are beautiful gardens to explore, so I’d recommend visiting in either late spring or summer to see them in full bloom. Dunrobin Castle also has falconry shows with falcons, hawks, and owls which take place in the gardens and should not be missed – typically they are offered twice a day during the peak season. Whether you’re doing the North Coast 500 or just a daytrip from Inverness, make sure to visit Dunrobin Castle!
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Muness Castle is a truly spectacular castle in Scotland. Set on Unst the furthest inhabited island on the Shetland Islands, which happen to be the furthest point north in the whole of the UK. Around three kilometers from the town of Uyeasound, Muness is incredibly atmospheric, standing in almost ruin but with some little glimpses in to its former life and grandeur. Built in the late 1500s, Muness was built for the dastardly Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie, ruler of Shetland, who came to be hated by the local people. Accused of countless crimes of oppression and brutality h eventually died here in 1617. Today it is wonderfully evocative with detailed stone carvings visible and you can wind your way up the staircase to the now open second floor. If you’re visiting Shetland with kids it’s a fantastic place to take them to get their imaginations fired up. There’s something almost eery about this abandoned home and the tales it could tell. The setting is beautiful though, with rolling fields down to the beautiful sea here you can understand why Laurence chose this spot to be his home on the islands.
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Dunvegan Castle has been the home of the MacLeod clan on the Isle of Skye for 800 years. In addition to touring the inside of the castle, you will want to allow time to explore the beautiful gardens and take a boat trip on the Loch.
The MacLeods are believed to be descendants of the Norse King, Olaf the Black. Over the centuries, the MacLeods have survived countless clan conflicts and played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Step inside the castle to learn more about the family’s history. You can see portraits of individual members of the MacLeod Clan, their family tree, and other historical pieces. You can even go inside the dungeon where one member of the MacLeod clan was left to die. Also on display is one of the family’s most prized possessions, the fairy flag that fairies gave to the family. If this fairy flag is shown during a battle, the clan can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it can only be used three times.
Once you have finished inside the Castle, check out the elaborate gardens. The area includes a water garden, round garden, walled garden, and more. There is also the option to take a boat tour of the Loch as the castle offers seal watching, wildlife, and fishing expeditions.
Eilean Donan Castle
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Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. It is also known as Dornie Castle (after the nearby town of Dornie) or the Highlander Castle (due to its role in the movie Highlander). It is located at the entrance of the famous Scottish Highlands, it’s easy to visit this castle from Glasgow. It’s nestled between Lochs Duich, Long, and Alsh – giving it a breathtaking backdrop. Originally built in the 13th century to protect the Highlands from the Vikings, Eilean Donan Castle has seen a lot of Scottish history through the centuries.
Over time, the castle became too big to maintain, and it shrank down to a quarter of its original size. During the Jacobite rising, Spanish soldiers were holding the castle. The English sent forces and used over 300 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the castle. For the next 200 years, the castle laid in ruins. In 1911, the MacRae family purchased it and refurbished it to its former glory.
Walking through the castle is like walking back in time. Unfortunately, the castle is not handicap accessible, but there are virtual tours at the visitor entrance. One of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan should not be missed.
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Of all the castles to visit on the Isle of Skye, Dunscaith is undoubtedly one of the best. This fabulous castle sits on a large rock along the shoreline of Loch Eishort in Sleat. No one knows exactly when Dunscaith Castle was built but historians have estimated that it could have been as early as 1181. Unlike some of Skye’s more pristine castles, Dunscaith not only has a fascinating history but also has firm roots in local myths and legends. This fortress was believed to have been the home and training ground of mythical warrior princess Scáthach. Legend has it that one of Scáthach’s most famous students, Cú Chulainn was involved in a fray with her sister Princess Aífe whilst training at the castle. After a long battle, Cú Chulainn managed to persuade Princess Aífe to cease fighting and bear him a child.
The castle largely sits in ruins now which only adds to its enchanting atmosphere. Enough of the structure remains intact so that it’s easy to lose yourself picturing what this fortress would have looked like in its heyday. Dunscaith Castle is free to visit making it a great attraction for those wanting to see the Isle of Skye on a budget.
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Sitting on the western shores of majestic Loch Fyne, and framed by mountains, Inveraray is quintessential Scotland. Argyll’s county town is also home to one of the best castles in Scotland.
Built in 1746, Inveraray Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, the chief of Clan Campbell, who have ruled this area since the 13th Century. Impossibly romantic, the castle wouldn’t look out of place in the Loire Valley.
As a result, Inveraray Castle is perhaps more striking on the outside than the inside. That said, the castle’s Armoury hall is impressive. Thought to be the highest room of any Scottish castle, it measures 21 meters high and houses an impressive collection of items associated with Highland history, including a small collection on Rob Roy.
Inveraray Castle is far from a historic show stopper, preserved for the gratification of tourists. Family photographs on display remind us that it remains the family home of the Duke of Argyll.
Fans of Downton Abbey flock to Inveraray Castle following its use as a location for the Christmas 2012 episode of the series. Stills from this episode are proudly displayed in the castle’s rooms.
Finally, leave enough time to walk in the castle’s grounds, which include manicured gardens, woodland and resident red squirrels.
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Culzean Castle is one of the truly magnificent castles of Scotland. Built in the late 18th century and set in a spectacular spot overlooking the Firth of Clyde in Ayrshire, it is a huge building. Today, belonging to the National Trust of Scotland you can find around 40 buildings to explore including Robert Adam’s dramatic oval staircase. You can explore the woodland and park here and make your way to the beautiful beach. The setting, right on the cliffs is really breathtaking. Film buffs will recognize Culzean as being the fictional castle of Lord Summerisle in the brilliant Wicker Man Film. It is also known as having around seven resident ghosts including a piper and a servant girl. If you’re on a family holiday in Scotland then don’t miss Culzean which has one of the best playgrounds in Scotland if not the UK – a huge wooden castle structure to run through. Whatever age you are this is one of those castles that is more spectacular to see in real life than in photos. You can easily spend a day here soaking up the history and enjoying the beautiful grounds.