17 Best Castles in Scotland
Author Bryan Dearsley spent three years attending university in Scotland and returns often to revisit and explore the country's historical sites.
Little wonder Scotland is so often used as a backdrop for TV shows and movies. Not only is the scenery spectacular — there's something very romantic about the country's many attractive glens and rugged mountains –— but this tiny nation possesses endless historic landmarks that lend themselves so very well to the big (or small) screen.
This is especially true of the many Scottish castles that have survived the centuries. Of the thousands of castles that once dotted the Scottish countryside — a figure some historians place as high as 3,000 — hundreds can still be seen today.
Whether it's the ruins of an old fortress that suffered the indignity of siege and destruction, or the well-preserved majesty of an edifice as commanding as Edinburgh Castle, the crown jewel of castles, there's no shortage of these still impressive structures to visit.
To help you get the most out of your sightseeing opportunities, be sure to review our list of the top castles in Scotland.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Highlights: Scotland's top tourist attraction with excellent guided tours and special events
Not only is Edinburgh Castle the most recognizable of Scotland's many historic fortresses, it's also one of the best preserved. Easy to get to thanks to its proximity to two international airports - Glasgow's and Edinburgh's airports are within easy reach by rail or car - this stunning castle attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year, all here for the same reason: to get a taste of life in medieval Scotland.
The castle is perched high atop a dormant volcano, with commanding views over the city. Established not only as a stronghold against invaders (it's reputedly the most besieged castle in the British Isles) but as a royal residence, its oldest parts - most notably St. Margaret's Chapel - date back to the early 1100s.
Highlights of a visit to Edinburgh Castle include seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels and the famous Stone of Destiny, displays of weaponry and armor, and the Royal Palace of the Scottish kings. You'll also see Mons Meg, a huge 15th-century canon that's still used for ceremonial purposes and a daily salute.
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, Scotland
2. Stirling Castle
Highlights: Costumed guides in the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned; kids can dress-up
An hour's drive west of Edinburgh is the historic town of Stirling. Here, you'll find the fully restored Stirling Castle, the "brooch of Scotland." Built in the 12th century, this stunning castle has been the scene of many important events in Scottish history, most notably as the place where, in 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned.
A visit paints an authentic picture of life over the centuries, not just for royalty, but for those in the "lower" classes, too. In addition to visiting the old halls and chambers once frequented by Scottish royalty, guests can also explore the castle gardens, along with an old cemetery with its many monuments to significant characters from over the ages.
If traveling with kids, be sure to have them partake in programs, which allow them to dress-up in period costumes, as well as handle tools and utensils that would have been around at the time. Guided tours are available and are highly recommended. If you prefer to go at your own pace, pick up one of the complimentary audio guides upon arrival.
Address: Castle Wynd, Stirling, Scotland
3. Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
Highlights: Spectacular castle ruins in Loch Ness setting with great water views
Few legends stir the imagination quite as vividly as Scotland's Loch Ness, home to the mythical monster (apparently) of the same name. Just a short drive from the nearby city of Inverness, Loch Ness also just so happens to be where you'll find some of the country's most picturesque ruins: the 13th-century Urquhart Castle.
Set on the southern shore of this deep lake, it's certainly a romantic spot. Framed as it is by water and the surrounding hills, it's become one of the most photographed (and recognizable) castles in Scotland.
Fun things to do here while sightseeing include taking a tour led by one of the attraction's costumed guides, or having the kids dress up in medieval costumes. Be sure to visit the Grand Tower with its incredible views over Loch Ness. Although much of the castle was laid to waste in the late 1600s, it's easy to see just how formidable a stronghold Urquhart once was.
Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, Scotland
- Read More: Visiting Loch Ness: Top Attractions & Tours
4. Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
Highlights: Scotland's Royal Castle set in the spectacular Scottish Highlands region can be toured
If you're a follower of the British Royal Family or a fan of the hot TV series, The Crown, you'll already know a little about Balmoral Castle. Famous as the King's summer retreat and one of the few residences he actually owns himself, Balmoral is set against a picture-perfect backdrop of mountains and glens in the Scottish Highlands.
Although it's not open to the public when the King's at home, visitors are permitted when he's not around (generally spring to early summer). If you're fortunate enough to have booked such a visit, you'll be permitted to view a variety of rooms, most notably the opulent Castle Ballroom, as well as have the opportunity to tour the grounds and gardens.
Although it's a newer castle – the current structure was built in 1856, although it sits on the site of much older castles — it's certainly rated as one of Scotland's best castles to visit, when the occasion permits.
Address: Balmoral Estates, Ballater, Scotland
5. Eilean Donan Castle, Invernesshire
Highlights: Rebuilt castle with stunning loch views and historic weapons collection
Considered one of the world's most photogenic castles, Eilean Donan Castle, named after a Celtic Saint, is like something out of a painting by one of the great romantic artists of bygone years. Perched on an island in lovely Loch Duich and facing the Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan dates from the 1200s and is reached by a stone footbridge, adding to its charm and mystique.
It was fully rebuilt in the early 1900s after lying in ruins since the 1700s. A visit entails exploring a number of rooms and halls with displays of period furniture, along with an impressive collection of weaponry, some of which saw action at the infamous battle of Culloden.
Guided tours are available from costumed guides and re-enactors, adding further to the fun.
Address: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
6. Culzean Castle & Country Park, Ayrshire
Highlights: Eisenhower's favorite Scottish castle, overnight stays available in plush rooms
Built in the late 1700s, this fairy-tale-like edifice was where General Dwight Eisenhower stayed for a period after WWII. It's these rooms, converted especially for his use as a gesture of goodwill for having aided the British, that Ike slept, and which can be rented for an overnight stay.
Now known as "The Eisenhower," this collection of luxury rooms is accessed by its own private elevator and boasts superb sea views toward the Isle of Arran. Six bedrooms are available, along with a dining area and lounge.
After exploring the castle's interior with its rich collections of furniture and weaponry, including a large collection of guns and swords, spend time wandering the grounds and gardens. Extending over some 600 acres, it's the castle's spectacular clifftop setting that draws the most gasps of appreciation, along with countless memorable selfies.
If you're visiting in summer, be sure to check out the network of sea caves under the castle.
Location: Maybole, Scotland
7. Glamis Castle, Strathmore
Highlights: Setting of Shakespeare's Macbeth, with guided tours and huge grounds to explore
Famous for having been the setting of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Glamis Castle is in many ways the classic Scottish fortress. Featuring tall battlements with imposing turrets, this grand castle dates from the 15th century and also boasts a Royal connection.
It was here that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was born, along with her daughter, Princess Margaret. The UK's former reigning monarch, the late Queen Elizabeth II, also spent a portion of her childhood here.
In addition to enjoying some of its most impressive rooms as part of a guided tour – the castle is still the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne – visitors are invited to spend time exploring the castle's 14,000 acres of grounds. These include a network of forest trails and lovely gardens.
Location: Angus, Scotland
8. Inveraray Castle, Argyll
Highlights: Picturesque 18th-century castle with elegant interiors and beautiful gardens
Although not the most storied of Scotland's many great castles — battles were neither won nor lost here — Inveraray Castle is nevertheless one of the most popular castles among tourists. Built in the 1770s and still the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, Inveraray impresses most not because of its Gothic Revival exterior, but for the remarkably elaborate décor of its interior.
Once inside, visitors find themselves in awe of their Neoclassical surroundings, with room after sumptuously decorated room challenging the senses with their splendor. Must-sees here include the Drawing Room, which houses the family's collection of rare Beauvais tapestries; a large collection of weapons in the Armoury Hall; and the sumptuously decorated dining room.
If you can, be sure to spend time exploring the 16-acre gardens, perhaps following this up with afternoon tea in the tearoom.
Location: Inveraray, Scotland
9. Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven
Highlights: Spectacular cliffside setting with guided tours and coastal paths
Boasting one of the most impressive settings of any Scottish castle — and there's plenty of competition — spectacular Dunnottar Castle will be known to many for its numerous TV appearances. Set high above the North Sea with commanding views over both the water and the surrounding land, this dramatic clifftop setting is like something out of a storybook (and it has inspired many a story, too).
Though now the castle is mostly ruins, highlights of a visit include wandering the 3.5-acre site accompanied by a great phone app available from the castle's website. Better still, book one of their excellent guided tours. Either way, you'll learn about the castle's pivotal role in Scotland's history, including protecting the Scottish Crown jewels from the invading English.
And getting to the castle is half the fun, especially if you take the scenic coastal footpath from the nearby village of Stonehaven.
Location: Stonehaven, Scotland
10. Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire
Highlights: Star of TV and film with guided tours and historic towers with estate views
Completed in 1636, Castle Fraser Garden & Estate has also had its fair share of Hollywood moments, including as a star of the award-winning The Queen starring Helen Mirren. This imposing yet romantic edifice sits on over 300 acres of stunning countryside, much of it available for tourists to visit while sightseeing in Scotland.
Highlights of a visit include wandering the rooms and halls of the interior, stopping to take a close-up look at centuries' old portraits of the Fraser family, its vast collection of preserved period furniture, discovering secret passageways and staircases, and climbing up the tall tower for its incredible views over the estate.
Fun things to do for families include exploring the walled garden, and wandering the estate's many trails before turning the kids loose in the adventure play area.
Location: Sauchen, Inverurie, Scotland
11. Duart Castle, Isle of Mull
Highlights: Clan Maclean home in a beautiful setting with tours and family history displays
Perched on the shores of the Sound of Mull, on the picturesque Isle of Mull on Scotland's west coast, 700-year-old Duart Castle is the traditional home of the Maclean clan. As such, it sees numerous tourists, many of them descendants from overseas, visiting in order to trace their roots.
Whether you're a Maclean or not, it's a magnificent castle to explore. Highlights of a visit include walking around the castle's imposing walls before entering its central courtyard and taking in the old dungeons, as well as the Great Hall and State Bedroom, which along with other areas of the castle are undergoing constant restoration and preservation.
There's also a great exhibit relating to the history of the Maclean clan, along with an excellent tearoom.
Location: Isle of Mull, Scotland
12. Dunrobin Castle, Golspie
Highlights: Large Disney-style castle with beautiful gardens and grounds, tours, and birds of prey
Looking like something straight out of a Disney movie, the fairy-tale charm of Dunrobin Castle in Golspie is a big draw for tourists looking for fun things to do in Scotland.
Set overlooking the coast near the quaint village of Dornoch in the northern reaches of the country, Dunrobin owes much of its charm to its distinctive French-inspired architectural flourishes, from its chateau-like turrets to its elegant walled gardens.
It's also one of the biggest of Scotland's castles, featuring no less than 189 rooms, most of them dating from the mid-1800s (though the castle's roots can be traced back to the 1300s). Highlights of a visit include seeing the Drawing Room and Library, viewing the many portraits and landscape paintings that line the walls of its hallways, and visiting the museum for its archaeological artifacts and animals.
Tours are available, and look into the availability of the falconry displays regularly put on for visitors.
Location: Golspie, Scotland
13. Blair Castle, Perthshire
Highlights: Scotland's medieval white castle features river views, a tea room, and art displays
A standout among Scotland's top castles for its whitewashed exterior, the Murray clan's Blair Castle in Pitlochry dates back to the 13th century and is remarkably well-preserved. Set against an idyllic background of thickly forested hills and overlooking River Garry, Blair Castle's elegant rooms and halls are a delight to explore.
Along the way, you'll see evidence of the earliest medieval sections of the castle, along with later Georgian and Victorian additions. Among the castle's many collections is one dedicated to arms and weaponry, along with hunting trophies, artwork, and tapestries.
Be sure to also spend time wandering the castle's magnificent gardens and grounds, home to the second tallest tree in the UK (it's 62 meters high). Guided tours are available, and a tearoom is located on-site.
Address: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Scotland
14. Cawdor Castle, Nairnshire
Highlights: Campbell-family castle with Shakespearian connection, rare art, and gardens
Another fortress made famous by Shakespeare – it served as the fictional home of Macbeth's Thane of Cawdor — the attractive Cawdor Castle & Gardens is well worth including in your Scotland travel itinerary.
The ancestral home of the Campbell family, this attractive medieval castle is still held by members of the clan. Highlights of a visit include having the chance to view the family's significant collection of paintings, including works by the Old Masters, as well as displays of contemporary artworks, along with interesting sculptures.
Be sure to also pop into the cellars, where you'll have a chance to take a peek at the old thorn tree over which the castle's original tower was constructed. The garden is also worth visiting, with sections dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Address: B9090, Cawdor, Nairn, Scotland
15. Floors Castle, Kelso
Highlights: Family estate with guided tours inside and out, art collection, cafe, and fishing
The palatial Floors Castle & Gardens certainly impresses with its scale. Constructed in the early 18th century as a country getaway for royalty, this spectacular castle with its vast lawns and tall turrets is to this day home to the Duke of Roxburghe, making it Scotland's largest still-lived-in castle.
Start your visit inside, taking in the rooms open to the public (tours are recommended) with their large collections of artworks and prints, elegant porcelain, and antique tapestries. The grounds themselves extend over 50,000 acres, and are still used for farming, as well as hunting and fishing. An on-site café provides a good excuse to extend your visit.
Address: Floors Castle Golden Gate, Roxburgh Street, Kelso, Scotland
16. Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Highlights: Uniquely designed castle in Cairngorms featuring old dungeon and guided tours
Aberdeenshire's Braemar Castle is one of the most distinctive-looking castles in Scotland. It's certainly the most unique in terms of design.
Located in the middle of Cairngorms National Park, this skinny, almost top-heavy, five-story-tall turreted castle was built in 1628 for the Earl of Mar as a Scottish fortified tower house. Its role was twofold: to serve in summer as the Earl's hunting lodge, as well as providing protection from neighboring clans.
In addition to its distinctive castellated turrets, this imposing fortress features a unique star-shaped defensive wall at its base. Another feature is its "bottle-necked" dungeon, so named due to its narrow entrances that open up to a number of prison cells and rooms within.
First opened to the public in 2007, it contains an impressive collection of original clan furnishings and memorabilia. A major renovation project on the building is currently underway, with a planned-for re-opening in the summer of 2023.
Its grounds, however, remain open to the public, and the castle remains well worth seeing (and photographing) for its dominant position overlooking the beautiful surrounding Highlands countryside.
Address: Braemar, Ballater, Scotland
17. Glenapp Castle
Highlights: 5-star service, 36-acre grounds, full Scottish breakfast, on-site recreation
An hour's drive south of Robbie Burns' birthplace in the town of Ayr, and you'll find yourself at Glenapp Castle.
Undoubtedly one of the best castle hotels in Scotland, this picturesque manor home was constructed in 1870 on 36 acres, much of which has been transformed into spectacular gardens.
This plush 5-star hotel, now a part of the luxury Relais & Châteaux group, offers plenty of great reasons for you to want to book a stay. Featuring just 17 rooms, you'll feel a little like the castle is yours for the duration of your stay, as there's plenty of privacy, even in the guest lounges.
If available, check in to the castle's chic penthouse. The apartment-style Endeavour Suite features no end of luxury, with four elegant bedrooms, a full kitchen, and plenty of living space.
World-class amenities include a dedicated concierge service, a traditional full Scottish breakfast, an afternoon tea experience, and a restaurant. There's also tennis and croquet to enjoy, as well as river fishing.
Address: Ballantrae, Girvan, Scotland
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Visiting Scotland: There is much more to Scotland than castles. For more ideas on things to see and do, have a read through our list of top tourist attractions in Scotland. Interested in visiting smaller destinations? See our guide to the best small towns in Scotland and discover some of the country's lesser-known places.