Rugged and beautiful Scotland is awash with more than 1500 castles. Some now lie in ruins, others are still inhabited, and there are plenty of Scottish castles to stay in too.
From the oldest castle to the largest and most visited, the most remote, most northerly and most haunted, every one of the castles in Scotland has a long and fascinating story to tell. The added bonus of visiting Scottish castles is the absolutely jaw-dropping scenery that you’ll get to enjoy!
For other destinations in the UK with outstanding castles to visit, please see:
- 7 Best Island Castles in Britain
- 10 Utterly Beautiful Castles in Wales (+Stunning Hidden Gems)
- 3 Amazing Jersey Castles You Will Love to Explore
Why Were the Scottish Castles Needed?
While the 1707 Act of Union united Scotland and England, to form Great Britain, Scotland has a long history of conflict with England and attack from the north by Viking invaders. Most of the Scottish Castles were built around the Scottish borders and in the Northern Highlands.
King David I (1124-1153) built the first Scottish castles, as he saw how the Norman invaders of England used their castles to maintain power over their newly acquired lands.
In 1287, King Edward I of England planned to seize Scotland, just as he had with Wales in earlier years. He invaded Scotland in 1285, slaughtering thousands at the border town of Berwick. Seizing the jewels of Scotland, he took power, but Scotland did not capitulate as Wales had.
Both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce challenged Edward’s rule. Edward was defeated – partly because he had spent too much building his castles in Wales, and he couldn’t raise funds for Scottish castles. When Edward died in 1307, his dying wish was that he would not be buried until Scotland was captured. It never happened.
12 Awesome Scottish Castles to Visit
With so many castles to choose from, where do you start? Here’s a great collection of ideas from top travel bloggers who share their personal knowledge of Scottish castles, including what to see and do, where to eat and where to stay, to help you plan an amazing trip.
The Castle of Mey, Thurso, Caithness
The 16th century Castle of Mey is the most northerly inhabited castle on the British mainland and it’s well worth the (long) trek to see it!
Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother bought the castle for £1 in 1952 after her husband, King George VI died suddenly. This small but beautiful Scottish castle is open from Wednesday to Sunday (May to September).
- The short, informative guided tour inside the castle, plus access to the castle gardens.
- Local highlights: A trip to Dunnet Head (Britians most northerly point), visiting a local distillery to taste artisan gins, whisky and ales, or taking a seacoast trip to see Caithness from the sea.
How to get to the Castle of Mey
This remote Scottish castle is located about 15 miles east of Thurso and six miles west of John O’Groats.
Top Tip: Try to visit on a warm day – when the wind whistles in from the North Sea, you’ll feel like your face has been sand-blasted!
Where to Stay
The Granary Lodge is a luxury B&B in the grounds of the castle itself, however, if you’re looking for more modest accommodation, the Castle Arms Hotel in Mey is lovely and cosy, as is the Hawthorns B&B in Thurso.
By Francesca from Little Lost Travel
It’s impossible to visit Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, without noticing its castle. Sprawled above the city on an extinct volcano known as Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle was built in the 11th century, although, a fortress of some kind has been there since the Iron Age!
Today, this attraction – the most visited of all of the Scottish castles – allows visitors by day and lights up the Edinburgh sky at night. Part of the city’s Old Town, the castle is located at one end of the Royal Mile, a cobblestone street connecting it to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
What to see and do at Edinburgh Castle
Inside the castle, you can get a glimpse of Scotland’s royal and military history. You’ll find army barracks, a magnificent Great Hall adorned with armour and detailed accounts of Scottish battles and army regiments.
There’s also a Royal Palace within the fortress walls. Here Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (who later became James I of England too in 1603). You can find relics of the royal past in the decadent royal rooms, including the Stone of Destiny used in the inauguration of kings alongside the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Quick tip: The best place to photograph this iconic Scottish castle is the Vennel, a staircase leading from Grassmarket to Lauriston Place.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
Francesca’s recommendation is the Royal Scots Club. It has enormous beds and serves delicious Scottish breakfast. For dining, go to Chez Joules for a three-course lunch for under £10!
By Erica Riley from Travels with Erica
Balmoral is one of the best Scottish Castles to visit. It’s located in the Scottish Highlands and the royal family vacations at the castle every summer.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Balmoral in 1852 – it’s owned privately by the Queen and is not part of the Crown Estate. As Balmoral is a private estate, it is only open for tourists from April to July. Admission to the castle costs £11.50.
What to see and do
You’re only able to visit the ballroom inside the castle, but you’re free to walk around the main part of the estate. You can tour Queen Mary’s gardens and see the vegetable garden that grows all the fresh food the royal family eats while they’re at Balmoral.
Just a short drive away from Balmoral is the Royal Lochnagar distillery. The distillery has held a royal patronage since Victoria and Albert purchased Balmoral, and they still distil their whisky the traditional way. A distillery tour is the perfect way to end your day at Balmoral.
How to get to Balmoral
The closest major city is Aberdeen – less than a 90-minute drive away. There are also organised day tours from Aberdeen to Balmoral if you don’t have access to a car.
Where to stay
While Balmoral is located in the Scottish Highlands, there aren’t many hotels nearby. You can rent a cottage on the grounds (but they require a long-term rental). If you want to stay close to Balmoral, Ballater is a good option. The Hilton Grand Vacations Club Craigendarroch Suites Scotland is fabulous and very highly regarded.
Eilean Donan Castle
By Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
Named after the wee island on which it is situated, Eilean Donan Castle is the third-most-visited castle in Scotland, which is rather impressive given its far-flung location in the remote Scottish Highlands. With a backdrop of the scenic lakes of the Kyle of Lochalsh, it can be hard to reach, but it’s always a highlight of tours in the northern parts of Scotland.
The island has been inhabited since the 6th century and the castle was founded in the 13th century for Alexander II. The castle was the stronghold of the Mackenzie and Macrae Clans, until the 18th Century Jacobite Rebellions demolished it. The current castle of Eilean Donan is from its restoration in 1919-1932, including the bridge access to the island. This stunning Scottish castle is open to the public with a purpose-built tourist centre open near year-round (closed in January).
How to get to Eilean Donan Castle
Perhaps the most recognisable of all of the Scottish castles, Eilean Donan Castle is found on the way to the Isle of Skye, in Loch Duich near the small village of Dornie. The nearest town to grab some traditional Scottish food is Kyle of Lochalsh – about 8 miles away.
Where to stay nearby
Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye
By Pauline from Beeloved City
Located on the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is an excellent place to visit if you want to learn more about the history of the Scottish Highlands and its clans. It was built in the 13th century and became the seat of the clan MacLeod, one of the main clans on Skye. Dunvegan is the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland.
Unlike most castles on Skye, Dunvegan is in perfect condition which is ideal for visitors. You can visit it from April to October. The tickets cost £14 for both the castle and the gardens. There’s a handy car park right across the road from the castle, in good condition, so you can reach it with a motorhome.
What to see and do at Dunvegan Castle
Once you pass the gate, you will go up the alley through the gardens before uncovering the sea views and the castle. The entrance is beautiful and very impressive! As you walk around, you will discover the various rooms and the basement.
In the living room, you will find the fairy flag, which is the most notable heirloom of the chiefs of Clan.
Don’t hesitate to ask the staff for more information if you want to learn more about the history of Clan MacLeod. They will be more than happy to help!
Top Tip: The gardens are dog friendly so if you are travelling with your furry friend, you can get the gardens only ticket and have a walk around.
How to get to Dunvegan Castle
It takes about 30 minutes to get to this Scottish castle from Portree, the main town on Skye – it’s a great thing to do on a rainy day.
Beautiful Glamis Castle is has several claims to fame! The ancestral of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372, Glamis Castle was where HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother spent her childhood and gave birth to her second daughter, HRH The Princess Margaretover. The castle also claims to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth!
Things to see and do
Take a guided tour to explore the Billiard room, Chapel, Crypt, Dining room, Drawing room, Duncan’s Hall, King Malcolm’s room and the Royal Apartments. After the guided tour, take a lesiurely stroll through the glorious gardens, or take refreshments in the lovely
How to get there
Glamis Castle is about 80 miles from Edinburgh and Glasgow. If you prefer to travel by train, Dundee Train Station is 12 miles from Glamis. A bus runs from the Seagate bus station in Dundee to Forfar, and there’s a connecting bus service from Forfar to Glamis.
By Eniko from Travel Hacker Girl
Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland’s most well-known attractions. The Ruins are over 1,000 years old and date back to the 13th century.
What to see and do
Before you explore the site make sure you watch the short documentary at the visitor centre.
As you walk around the ruins there are lots of photo opportunities with handy signs describing what you’re viewing. You can also buy a guidebook with your ticket or use an audio guide tour if you want to learn even more about the history of this place.
Urquhart Castle overlooks the (in)famous Loch Ness, so, keep an eye out for Nessie as you explore the towers! There is also an opportunity to go for a boat ride to see the site from a different angle. You can finish your visit at the souvenir shop and cafe. The terrace has a lovely view over the loch and castle and they serve really delicious sandwiches, rolls, soups and cakes.
How to get to Urquhart Castle
The castle has a big car park, but you can also take bus #919 from Inverness or Fort William.
Where to stay
The nearby town Kilmore has lots of accommodation types including guest houses, hotels and even a campsite. There are also a few good wild camping spots in the area. Just remember to bring your wild camping equipment.
By Maja from Away With Maja
One of the most beautiful Scottish Castles is Dunrobin Castle, along the north coast in Sutherland. The fairytale-style architecture of the castle, combined with its position overlooking the coast, make Dunrobin a must-see attraction. It’s one of the best stops on the North Coast 500 route – an epic road trip around the north coast of Scotland.
The castle dates back to the 1300s, and has been the home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for centuries – it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Britain. The early castle was a square keep, but in 1845 it was remodelled to its current design in the style of a French chateau.
What to see and do at Dunrobin Castle
Make sure to see the State Rooms, and time your visit right to see a falconry show – these are included in the admission cost, and feature falcons, hawks, and owls. Give yourself time to wander the gardens, too.
How to get to Dunrobin Castle
Located near Golspie, Dunrobin Castle is about 1 hour north of Inverness. You can visit Dunrobin by public transport and take the train to Dunrobin Castle station – which is across the road from the castle. But for maximum flexibility, it’ll be easiest to visit with your own car. There is a tea room on-site, but there are more options for food in Golspie. Whether you visit as a day trip from Inverness, or as part of the North Coast 500, you shouldn’t miss Dunrobin Castle.
St Andrews Castle
By Stefanie from Open Road Odysseys
St. Andrews Castle may not be on most people’s Scotland road trip itinerary, but if you love Scottish history, this castle was a key location during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s and has a unique backstory.
The castle was originally built in the late 1100s and was the official residence of Scotland’s bishops and archbishops in medieval times. It went through many sieges, wars, and restorations, was abandoned in the late 1500s, and then eventually collapsed in the early 1800s.
What to see and do
A visit to the castle isn’t complete without taking a walk (or more like a crawl) through the famous siege tunnels and also taking a look at the “bottleneck” dungeon. The views from the castle of the ocean are also a nice bonus.
While you’re in St. Andrews, you should also visit the cathedral, where you can climb up St. Rule’s tower and get a gorgeous view of the town and surrounding area. If you are a golfer, hitting the links is a must as this is where the sport was invented! If you have the time, take a stroll through the University of St. Andrews, where Prince William and his wife Kate met.
If you are looking for Scottish Castle ruins to explore off the beaten path, look no further than St. Andrews!
How to get there
St. Andrews is only 1.5 hours away from Edinburgh by car.
Where to stay
Stefanie’s recommendation is Rusacks St. Andrews as one of the top-rated places to stay, and the Haar Restaurant for dining.
By Angela from Where Angie Wanders
With plenty of things to do and see in Inveraray, the most popular tourist attraction to visit is the fairytale Inveraray Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. This beautiful Scottish castle with its Gothic turrets is a delight to explore, and fans of Downton Abbey will no doubt recognise it from the TV series.
What to see and do
Inside this Scottish castle, wander through the formal rooms and discover the castle’s history through informative exhibits. The military weapons room is imposing and gives visitors a glimpse into castle life in the 18th century when Clan Campbell held the seat here. Outside, take a walk through the delightful gardens that lead around the castle’s estate through both a formal and woodland setting.
For those looking for a more strenuous pursuit, a popular hike from the castle is the trail up to Dun Na Cuaiche. From the top, walkers can experience the most breathtaking views across Inveraray town, Loch Fyne, and out to the Scottish mountains.
Top Tip: Head to Campbell’s Coffee on the high street for delicious coffee.
When you are ready for lunch, enjoy freshly caught oysters at Loch Fyne Deli, caught straight from the waters of Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch. Extend your visit with an overnight stay at The Inveraray Inn for a taste of Scottish hospitality.
By Kenny from Knycx Journeying
The “Castle Trail of Scotland” is like a fairy tale, with a total of 17 castles in Aberdeen. It’s one of the highlights in Scotland for any tourists to truly immerse themselves in the history of Scotland between the 13th and 17th centuries. The trail takes at least three days to complete, and Blair Castle is the closest of these Scottish castles to Edinburgh – it has a fascinating story to tell.
The building of Blair Castle began in 1289, and it’s been home to many generations of the Atholl family. The castle was an important defence landmark in Scotland, and it’s deeply connected with the history of the land. Queen Victoria was once a guest of this castle, where she formed the Atholl Highlanders – a Scottish private army!
Blair Castle is open to the public, showcasing the extravagant interior, beautiful Perthshire garden, and weapons that were used in battles, including the famous Battle of Culloden.
How to get to Blair Castle
This Scottish castle is located near the village of Blair Atholl, about a 90-minute drive from the cities of Edinburgh and Inverness. Blair Atholl train station is a 5-minute walk from the castle.
By Maggie from Pink Caddy Travelogue
One of Scotland’s most famous and important castles is Stirling Castle.
Stirling Castle is an extremely impressive site, perched high on Castle Hill above the town of Stirling and the surrounding farmland. It has played a crucial role in Scottish history for centuries – it’s been sieged over 8 times and been the site of countless battles. Bonnie Prince Charlie and William Wallace fought the English here, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, and numerous kings and queens, both Scottish and English, have passed through its halls.
Though the castle dates back to at least the 12th century, most of the current structures were built between the 14th and 16th centuries and are in excellent condition. A major restoration project was undertaken in the early 2000s, so the interior of Stirling Castle is just as impressive as the outside.
Stirling Castle is exactly how you’d imagine a medieval, royal castle would be, complete with luxurious tapestries, a soaring Great Hall, and a real-life history full of backstabbing, drama, and intrigue. A visit here will be a highlight of your Scotland itinerary
When visiting, you can do a self-guided tour, but hourly guided tours are the best way to get the most out of your trip.
Stirling Castle is a great day trip from Edinburgh as it’s only an hour’s drive from the city. But Stirling is also a decent-sized town with many lodging options available. There is a café on-site with sandwiches and baked goods.
Medieval Caerlaverock Castle, with its moat, drawbridge, massive twin-towered gatehouse and imposing battlements, seems to tick every item off any list of what a classic castle should include.
This once mighty red sandstone fortress stood guard over a key entrance to the kingdom of Scotland, changing hands several times between Scottish and English foes as battles were won and lost over the centuries.
After a 13 week siege during the castle’s last battle in 1640, the castle’s garrison surrendered. One of the castle’s towers and part of the outer wall were “slighted” (destroyed to prevent its further use as a castle) at this time.
Things to see and do
The ruins are impressive to explore, there’s also siege warfare exhibition to visit, and a lovely nature trail around the castle moat and through the woods. The cafe and shop open year round.
How to get there
The castle is about 20 minutes’ drive from Dumfries and a 45 minute drive from Carlisle.
Where to stay
Luxurious Craigadam, about 20 minutes from Dumfries, offers fabulous Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Queen Victoria inspired rooms and a wonderful restaurant serving hearty locally sourced dishes. The country estate setting is stunning – 45 miles west of Carlisle, 55 miles from the Stanraer ferry to Ireland, and just under 1 hour’s drive from the 300-square mile Galloway Forest Park. Check availability here.
As you can see Scotland is a wonderful place to visit to explore a huge variety of ancient castles. With so many of the Scottish castles in remote places, there will probably be far fewer crowds at most of them than in England or Wales, making visiting Scotland even more attractive to visit! Whether you tag a Scottish castle visit onto a city break or head to a more rural destination, Scotland will take your breath away. Which of the castles in Scotland would you love to visit first?
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