The Best Castles in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide

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Castles in Scotland are generally categorized into two types – curtain-walled forts from the Middle Ages and 14th to 17th-century tower houses.

In total, there are over 1,500 castles in Scotland, ranging from tiny lookout towers in the far northern Highlands to immense royal palaces in the south-east of the country.

Some of the best Scottish castles to include in a sightseeing itinerary are; Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, and Eilean Donan Castle. Discover more about them in this ultimate visitor guide to the best castles in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

The best castles to visit in Scotland – from the Borders to the Highlands

What do you think of when you picture Scotland? Majestic mountains? Scenic lochs? Windswept islands? They’re probably the first things that spring to mind for the majority of people, but you might be surprised to know the attraction with the biggest search volume on Google is actually Scotland’s castles.

That’s to be expected when you consider this country has one of the greatest collections of fortified buildings in the world, with over two thousand built between the 12th and 18th centuries (the most prolific castle-building period).

Although these castles took on many different forms they were all built with the same theme of keeping their inhabitants safe, which means they were – and still are – among the biggest man-made structures in the country.

There’s quite a variety of castles to see during a visit to Scotland, from the iron-age broch (a hollow-walled cylindrical structure) to the medieval dun (a type of hillfort), but most take on one of two styles – curtain-walled forts from the Middle Ages and 14th to 17th-century tower houses

Broch of Mousa

These atmosphere-drenched buildings are waiting to transport you in time across a thousand years of Scotland’s history to the days of warring clans and battles against England, with brief detours into royal scandals and Jacobite uprisings.

Exploring Scotland’s castles is really a journey into the story of Scotland itself, and perhaps it’s the only way to truly understand what a fascinating history this country has.

In this article you’ll find a collection of recommended castles that are ideal for afternoon visits on their own or as part of a longer sightseeing tour. Many of them are managed by The National Trust for Scotland so if you’d like free entry please consider purchasing a membership.


Map of castles in Scotland

Click and drag to move and zoom in and out of this interactive map. Click the markers to see the name of each castle.

Aberdour Castle

Address: Aberdour, Fife, KY3 0SL

Contact details: Tel 01383 860 519

Out About Scotland complete guide: Aberdour Castle

Aberdour Castle

Aberdour Castle in Fife is one of the oldest fortified houses in Scotland. It was built in the 1100s by Sir Alan de Mortimer but was later handed over to the powerful Douglas family who kept it as their family home until 1725.

Sadly, a fire destroyed much of the building in 1688 and a large section of the castle was never repaired, which is why you might be surprised to find yourself walking through ruins before entering the still-intact main building.

Inside, the rooms have been restored to virtually the same condition as when the Douglas’s lived there thanks to the efforts of Historic Environment Scotland who have also installed a number of information boards that explain the history of the castle and the people who lived and worked in it.

There are a couple of highlights to Aberdour that are worth mentioning, the first of which is the landscaped garden that’s open for visitors to walk around. The area nearest the castle is terraced and there are picnic benches installed next to an on-site café, making it a great place for a spot of outdoors eating on a sunny day.

The far end of the garden is home to one of the largest Dovecot’s in Scotland, and nearby is a lovely wee orchard that’s heavy with the scents of ripe fruit in summer and autumn.

Moving around to the front of the castle takes you past a disabled car park into a large walled garden that’s set to lawn and flower borders, and a small family church can be found through a door at the far end which is also open to visitors.

As far as facilities go there’s a shop, café, and toilets, but no car park for non-disabled guests. There is, however, ample parking at Aberdour train station which is located just a couple of hundred yards from the castle entrance.


Blackness Castle

Address: Blackness, Linlithgow, West Lothian, EH49 7NH

Contact details: Tel 01506 834 807

Out About Scotland complete guide: Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle lies on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, more-or-less midway between Edinburgh and Linlithgow. It was built in the 1400s by the powerful Crichton family to prevent invading armies from sailing into the heart of Scotland via the estuary, hence the reason it has such a huge external wall.

This wall is angled to deflect cannon fire which gave it the unintentional shape of a ship’s bow, which is the reason why the castle has had the nickname of ‘the ship that never sailed’ for hundreds of years.

Even now, the sheer size of the castle never ceases to impress, and the fact it’s so formidable meant it saw military use right up to the first world war – long after many other Scottish castles had fallen into ruin.

Today, visitors can explore Blackness Castle’s tower house and residential building during a self-guided tour, and it’s also possible to access a walkway on top of the outer curtain wall and a viewing platform at the very top of the central tower.

From either location the views across the Firth of Forth are stunning, with wide mud flats that are a haven for wading birds and uninterrupted views east and west along the Fife coastline.

In addition, the old prison and lookout towers are open to the public, but unfortunately the large officer’s quarters situated in the entrance courtyard is closed, as is the barrack block opposite.

That being said, there’s more than enough things to see to keep tourists entertained for an hour or more at Blackness Castle, and the picnic benches on the lawn offer mesmerizing views across the Firth of Forth.

If you’d like to spend a little longer at the attraction there’s a path leading behind the castle which leads down to a bay and a small strip of beach, and there’s also a footpath heading west that follows the coastline for three miles before finishing near Boness Motor Museum.


Blair Castle

Address: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, PH18 5TL

Contact details: Tel 01796 481207

Out About Scotland complete guide: Blair Castle

Blair Castle

You’ll find Blair Castle nestled in rolling countryside near the village of Blair Atholl in Perthshire, within easy access of the A9 and B8079.

The castle has an enormous amount of history behind it and has served an incredible nineteen generations of the Atholl family over 750 years.

In my opinion Blair Castle is up there with Dunrobin when it comes to fairy-tale looks and it’s not far from what you might imagine a real-life Disney castle would look like with its turrets, battlements, and breathtaking scenery in every direction.

During a self-guided tour, visitors are free to walk around the castle at their leisure which can be a wee bit overwhelming as the castle is so big, but thankfully there are lots of guides on hand to answer questions and explain the history of the exhibits.

There are over 30 rooms that are accessible to tourists and they’re all chock-full of sculptures, paintings, and memorabilia which makes a nice change from some of the castles on this list that are nothing more than ruins.

But as nice as the interior is, perhaps the highlight of a visit to Blair Castle is exploring the surrounding gardens.

The gardens are absolutely enormous and include a walled garden, a conifer woodland, a secluded grove, and a sculpture trail, making them a perfect place for a summer visit.


Brodick Castle

Address: Brodick, North Ayrshire, KA27 8HY

Contact details: Tel 01770 302202

Out About Scotland complete guide: Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle

The Isle of Arran is frequently called ‘Scotland in miniature’ as it has every type of attraction the country is famous for. Beautiful coastlines, mountain ranges, lochs, forests and castles are all located within a short drive of each other, and in fact, two of Arran’s top tourist destinations – Goatfell mountain and Brodick Castle – are close enough that you can walk between them in a couple of hours.

Brodick Castle is (unsurprisingly) located close to the village of Brodick on Arran’s eastern side, where it overlooks Brodick Bay to the south and Goatfell to the north. Getting there is simple for drivers as the castle is situated close to the A841, and footpaths along the coastline mean it’s possible to walk to it from the ferry terminal within an hour.

This is really two attractions in one. One half is the dramatic castle which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland who allow visitors to explore part of it on a self-guided tour. The other half is the extensive gardens that are home to one of the greatest exotic plant collections in the country.

Thanks to Arran’s warmer-than-average microclimate, the gardens at Brodick Castle are able to sustain plants that would otherwise need special care in greenhouses and there are many thriving specimens that are unable to grow outdoors anywhere else in Scotland.

In addition to the mini-jungle of the garden, there is a sculpture trail, a walled garden, a large summerhouse, and a woodland, as well as a children’s play park and an excellent café, which offer visitors enough activities to keep them occupied for an entire afternoon.

The castle, meanwhile, is the usual affair of a pre-set route through restored bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchen, and servants quarters, and there’s an obligatory gift shop at the exit. There aren’t many rooms to view but it’s an interesting tour that’s well worth the price of admission.

Visitors have a choice of tickets for either the gardens on their own or combined entry to the castle and the gardens, or they can purchase a National Trust for Scotland membership which allows unlimited free entry for 12 months.

Purchase your National Trust for Scotland membership direct from the NTS website.


Caerlaverock Castle

Address: Glencaple, Dumfries, DG1 4RU

Contact details: Tel 01387 770 244

Out About Scotland complete guide: Caerlaverock Castle

caerlaverock castle

Caerlaverock Castle is one of the most interesting castles in Scotland, not because it’s particularly big or historically significant, but because it has an unusual triangular shape that (as far as I know) is unique in Britain.

That, and the fact that it’s set in one of the few remaining moats left in the country, means it’s very photogenic, so don’t forget to bring your camera with you when you visit.

Although it won’t take much more than an hour to fully explore the castle and the grounds there’s quite a lot you can do in the immediate area thanks to the track that runs down to Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.

The nature reserve has paths leading through grassland that offer lovely walks into the Solway Firth and you’ll no doubt see lots of wildlife on the way, so even if you’re not bothered about exploring the castle it’s still worth visiting just to go for a walk to see what is arguably one of the nicest parts of the Dumfries coastline.

Heading back to the castle after a coastal walk gives you the opportunity to let the kids off the leash in the grounds outside the museum where there are picnic benches and a small play park. The wee museum with its reconstructions of medieval weapons is quite interesting and there’s an on-site café if hungry bellies start rumbling.

The visitor centre also has a shop with the usual history-themed souvenirs, there are public toilets, and the car park has space for around 20 cars.


Castle Campbell

Address: Castle Campbell, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, FK14 7PP

Contact details: Tel 01259 742 408

Out About Scotland complete guide: Castle Campbell

castle campbell

Dollar Glen in Clackmannanshire is home to a castle that has one of the nicest terrace views in Scotland.

Castle Campbell is a 15th-century fort that was originally built as the family home of Lord Lorne, but it passed into the ownership of Clan Campbell when the 1st Earl of Argyle married Lord Lorne’s daughter.

The Campbells owned it for more than 400 years but it was handed over to the state in the 1940s at which point it was designated as a scheduled ancient monument.

Tourists will find Castle Campbell a fascinating place to explore with its atmospheric tower house and courtyard, and an accessible rooftop that offers panoramic views over Dollar Glen.

The glen draws just as many visitors to the area as the castle does and I totally recommend you go there if you’re ever in Clackmannanshire and looking for something to do.

It’s a great place to go for a walk on a sunny afternoon and it’s full of wildlife including red squirrels, deer, and birds of prey, so it’s worth taking a pair of binoculars with you as you never know what you’ll see (if you don’t have a pair I recommend these binoculars).

Access is easy from the castle as there’s a path leading into Dollar Glen from the castle entrance, but there are other entrance points at the Dollar Glen car park (postcode FK14 7BZ).

I’ve included a route map for a nice circular walk that starts and finishes at the castle in my Castle Campbell guide, as well as lots of useful visiting tips.


Craigmillar Castle

Address: Craigmillar Castle Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4SY

Contact details: Tel 0131 661 4445

Out About Scotland complete guide: Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle

While Edinburgh castle gets all the attention as Scotland’s most-visited tourist attraction, there’s another royal castle just a few miles to the south that’s worth visiting but is much, much less busy.

Craigmillar Castle is a 20-minute bus ride from Princes Street, just off the Old Dalkeith Road near Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. It dates from the 1400s and was originally the power base of the influential Preston family before it was sold to the equally powerful Gilmour’s in the 1660s.

As a castle, this one was built with security first and foremost in mind, with walls that are up to 10 feet thick comprising an outer defensive wall, an inner wall, and a central tower house that would have been virtually impossible to breach back in the day. No wonder Mary Queen of Scots chose Craigmillar Castle as her favourite place to take refuge.

Visitors can explore pretty much the entire castle as all of it is open to the public, from the east and west gardens to the terrace on the top of the tower house, as well as a great hall and a prison. There are no furnishings inside but the majority of the walls and staircases are still intact so visitors can get a good idea of how the castle would have looked back in Queen Mary’s day.

Highlights include the tower house rooftop where you can get a superb viewpoint of Holyrood Park, the scenic inner garden that has picnic benches, and the land outside the castle that has footpaths running through woodland.

Facilities-wise, Craigmillar Castle is a wee bit lacking with a small shop, no café, and very limited parking spaces, but on the plus side there are bus stops the length of Old Dalkeith Road meaning visitors can return to the city centre in no time at all.


Crichton Castle

Address: Pathhead, EH37 5XA

Contact details: Tel 01875 320 017

Out About Scotland complete guide: Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle in Midlothian is one of the hardest to find in this list, but has been included because it’s set in exceptionally pretty countryside and has a tower house that is one of the oldest in Scotland.

It was built in the late 1300s for the Crichton family and was their primary seat of power for two hundred years until they lost much of their wealth in the 15th century and were forced to sell the castle to the Earl of Bothwell.

Although it’s almost completely in ruin and without a roof, Crichton Castle is very photogenic, especially in the inner courtyard which has very unusual diamond-shaped carvings in the walls.

Some of the staircases are still accessible in the former residential quarter so visitors can climb partway up, but due to its ruined state it’s sadly not possible to get to the top of the main tower house.

One unusual feature of Crichton Castle is the building next to it that looks like it could have been a medieval church but is, in fact, the old stable block. It’s almost as fortified as the main castle and is quite unlike any other in the south of Scotland.

There are only a few facilities at this castle which include a small car park and a small shop in the entrance kiosk, but be aware there are no public toilets. On the positive side, Crichton Castle is frequently unmanned and the entrance gate is often left open, so there’s every possibility you’ll arrive and find yourself able to enter at no cost.

A visit to this castle won’t take long – 30-45 minutes – but I recommend timing your visit till late in the day as the surrounding woodland is a haven for bats. If bat-spotting isn’t on your agenda you can always take a drive to Vogrie Country Park which is just 2 miles north and features a café and miniature railway, or the National Mining Museum in Gorebridge which is just 4 miles to the north.


Dirleton Castle

Address: Dirleton, East Lothian, EH39 5ER

Contact details: Tel 01620 850 330

Out About Scotland complete guide: Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle

East Lothian is perhaps best known for its coastline, but there are more than a few historic sites of interest which visitors to the south of Scotland should consider adding to their sightseeing itineraries.

One of my personal favourites is the castle in the village of Dirleton, located 2 miles east of North Berwick and a couple of hundred yards off the A198.

Like many fortified buildings in this part of the country, Dirleton Castle was built in the 13th century as a home to a powerful family (the de Vaux’s) and its age means it’s almost entirely in ruin, with a number of walls that have completely collapsed and no roof.

Even so, it’s certainly worth a visit and there are two surprising stand-out features that are worth mentioning. The first is the two towers looming over the entrance walkway that are amongst the oldest in Scotland. The second is the large garden outside the castle that has the longest flowering border in the world.

There’s also one of the oldest surviving chapels in Scotland, a cavernous storage vault, and one of the largest and best-preserved pigeon houses in the country.

Facilities are quite good with ample parking, a picnic area, a small gift shop, and educational displays, and there’s enough space outside the castle walls to let the kids run around and burn off some energy after romping around the castle’s nooks and crannies.

There are also a number of attractions in the area that are worth exploring, including two gorgeous beaches at Gullane and Yellowcraig, Archerfield Walled Garden which has a superb café with indoor and outdoor seating, and North Berwick which is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre that runs tours to Bass Rock where one of the world’s biggest gannet colonies lives.


Doune Castle

Address: Castle Hill, Doune, Perthshire, FK16 6EA

Contact details: Tel 01786 842768  

Out About Scotland complete guide: Doune Castle

Doune Castle

Fan of Monty Python, Outlander or Game of Thornes? Then you have to visit Doune Castle in Central Scotland.

This Perthshire fortress served as the home of the Duke of Albany and Earl of Moray from the 14th to the 19th centuries, which makes it one of the oldest and best-preserved castles from that time that’s still standing in Scotland.

There are a lot of interesting features to look at during your visit including one of the finest great halls in Scotland, and it’s immediately obvious that no expense was spared when Doune Castle was built.

The castle played a starring role in several movies and TV shows in recent years and many tourists visit to snap a selfie or two in front of the main gate, but there are lots of interesting features to discover for those willing to explore a little further – including the gatehouse which is one of the biggest in Scotland.

Visitor facilities are pretty good for a historic attraction of this size with a shop, picnic area, toilets, and ample parking, but sadly there’s no café (although Stirling is only 8 miles away).

After walking around the castle (plan for one hour) you can head to a number of other attractions nearby including Stirling Castle (9 miles) and Blair Drummond Safari Park (4 miles), as well as the Trossachs National Park which lies 8 miles to the west on the A84.


Duart Castle

Address: Isle of Mull, Scotland, PA64 6AP

Contact details: Tel 01680 812309

Out About Scotland complete guide: Duart Castle

Duart Castle

If you’re considering a holiday on one of Scotland’s west coast islands but can’t decide which one to visit, do yourself a favour and head to the Isle of Mull.

The island is quieter than Skye, is almost as pretty, and has what many people consider one of the finest castles in Scotland – Duart Castle.

This statuesque fortification sits on a promontory overlooking the Sound of Mull, and it’s easy to understand why Clan Maclean chose it as their seat of power for more than 700 years because it’s in such a commanding position it would have been near-impossible for attackers to sneak up on it unnoticed.

The castle is still privately owned by the MacLeans, but what you see today is markedly different from when it was originally built in the 13th-century. The castle was demolished by the Duke of Argyll in 1691 and then completely rebuilt in 1911, so it’s not quite as old as it first appears.

Duart Castle has a definite family feel to it and much of the memorabilia inside has been handed down over generations – something that’s most obvious in the Great Hall which features an impressive collection of family portraits and silverware.

A self-guided tour inside the castle will take half to one hour, after which you can explore the exterior which features wee shingle beaches and a nature trail through a woodland. There’s also a very good café in a separate building that offers quality food at a reasonable price, and there’s a shop that sells clan-themed gifts.

Finally, when you visit make sure you head up to the rooftop terrace as the views northwards towards Tobermory are nothing short of stunning.


Dunstaffnage Castle

Address: Dunbeg, By Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PZ

Contact details: Tel 01631 562 465

Out About Scotland complete guide: Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle isn’t the prettiest in this list but it’s certainly one of the most imposing, with a hulking mass of stone walls built on top of a rock outcrop that overlooks Ardmucknish Bay near Oban.

It was built as a defence against invading Norwegian armies who were plundering the Hebrides in the 1200s, and it saw military use right up until the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, after which it was abandoned.

However, unlike many abandoned castles, Dunstaffnage is almost entirely intact and the central tower house is fully roofed and has restored floors and windows.

It’s quite bare inside so it’s difficult to imagine how it would have looked when it was inhabited, but it’s one of the few castles of its age where visitors can actually climb up the main staircase and walk around each room.

The original curtain walls protect a large courtyard that has information panels explaining what the various parts of the castle were used for, and there’s a staircase leading up onto a walkway on top of the main wall that offers superb views across the bay to the islands of Lismore and Mull.

The woodlands surrounding Dunstaffnage Castle are home to a number of protected pipistrelle bats so you might be lucky enough to see them if you visit when the evening draws in, but if not I suggest taking a wander into the woods as there’s a secret 13th century chapel hidden away in there that’s incredibly atmospheric (and a wee bit creepy).

The entrance kiosk for the castle is set within the grounds in a separate building that houses an exhibition about the castle’s use throughout the ages as well as one of its most famous inhabitants – Flora MacDonald – who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

Facilities at Dunstaffnage Castle include a small shop and toilets, and although there is a car park, it’s set a few hundred yards away which may not be suitable for all visitors.


Dunnottar Castle

Address: Stonehaven, AB39 2TL

Contact details: Tel 01569 766320

Out About Scotland complete guide: Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

Of all the castles in Scotland, this one on the Aberdeenshire coast is the most picturesque. Not because of the castle itself, but because of its location on a promontory overlooking the North Sea which is almost entirely cut off from the mainland except for a thin strip of land.

The castle was built in the 15th-century for the Earl of Marischal, and as a defensive position I’ve yet to see anywhere else that comes close, as access is only possible by either scaling near-vertical cliffs or ascending a narrow staircase that would have been easily defended by archers.

It’s quite a sizeable castle compared to most of the fortifications in Scotland as it’s spread out over a large area and comprises a number of separate buildings, thanks to the fact that its location meant there was no need to contain everything within an external wall.

Almost every part of Dunnottar Castle is open to the public and visitors can explore the old residential buildings, the central courtyard with its huge well, the chapel, the munitions buildings, the underground vaults, and the creepy prison.

Unlike most historic buildings of this size, Dunnottar castle is privately owned and is not managed by Historic Environment Scotland so HES membership does not allow free admission. That also means the entrance price is a wee bit cheaper than you’ll find at most HES sites of this size but there are no information boards, shop, or café.

It shouldn’t take much more than 1-2 hours to explore Dunnottar Castle but a visit can be rounded off nicely by following the coastal footpath that heads towards Stonehaven by way of a surprisingly large war memorial.

Along the way, keep your eyes open for dolphins and seals in Castle Haven and Strathlethan Bays, and the Dunnicaer sea stacks which are a favourite nesting site for thousands of seabirds.

If you don’t have a pair of birdwatching binoculars yet take a look at these recommended budget binoculars.


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Dunrobin Castle

Address: Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland, KW10 6SF

Contact details: Tel 01408 633177

Out About Scotland complete guide: Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle in the northeast Highlands has to be one of – if not the – prettiest buildings in Scotland.

In fact, to look at it you wouldn’t immediately think it’s actually in Scotland because it was built to mimic a French château with lots of conical turrets and detailed stonework.

Those modern features are slightly deceptive however, because beneath the beautiful veneer lies a formidable 13th-century square keep that was built by the Earl of Sutherland.

You can still see evidence of the old keep as you take a tour around the castle but it’s almost entirely hidden behind decorative wood carvings and plaster motifs. If you’re at all interested in the oldest parts of Dunrobin I suggest speaking to the castle guides who are very knowledgeable, or you can pick up a guide book from the entrance kiosk that will tell you everything you might want to know.

The French château theme continues outside with manicured gardens designed to mimic the ones at the Palace of Versailles which include an enormous summerhouse that contains one of the finest private museums in Britain.

Finally, after you’ve walked around the castle and the gardens you might like to pop into the on-site café and gift shop, or take a walk down to the beach front which is close to Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve.


Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG

Contact details: Tel 0131 225 9846

Out About Scotland complete guide: Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

This mightily impressive – and massively hyped – castle in Scotland’s capital rightly deserves its place as the country’s number-one tourist attraction as it’s one of the finest fortifications in Europe, if not the world.

More than two million people flock to the city each year to visit Edinburgh Castle and although the ticket prices are on the steep side there’s enough going on that you could quite easily spend the majority of your day there.

Highlights include the Argyll battery which has the best views in the city (it’s also where the One o’Clock Gun fires), and the Palace Yard where you can say hello to Mons Meg (an enormous 15th-century cannon) and St. Margarets Chapel which is believed to be the oldest building in Edinburgh.

Other areas worth exploring are the Royal Palace where Mary Queen of Scots lived and the Crown Room which houses the Honours of Scotland (Scotland’s Crown Jewels).

There are a couple of military museums in the castle as well the Scottish National War Memorial, and the Great Hall opposite the memorial is full of original examples of weaponry from Scotland’s proud military heritage.

One event I have to mention is the military tattoo held annually in the Castle Esplanade throughout August. The Edinburgh Tattoo is a fantastic experience that I guarantee you’ll never forget, so if you’d like to book a seat visit the Edinburgh Military Tattoo website – but book early as tickets sell out months in advance.

All that, coupled with the attraction’s excellent café, restaurant, and shops, make a visit to Edinburgh Castle an absolute necessity.


Eilean Donan Castle

Address: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX

Contact details: Tel 01599 555202

Out About Scotland complete guide: Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Just like Edinburgh Castle, many people will have seen Eilean Donan Castle whether they’ve visited Scotland or not, purely because there are so many photos of it on the internet.

It’s no surprise the iconic image of this castle is used over and over again because it’s located in one of the most spectacular settings in the Highlands, within the Kintail National Scenic Area and next to the picturesque waters of lochs Duich, Long, and Alsh.

There has been a fortress on Eilean Donan island since the 13th century, but the building we see today is a relatively new structure built using stones from a castle that was demolished during the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

In 1932, a descendant of the MacRae clan rebuilt the fortress using the plans of the earlier castle along with a few much-needed alterations, most notably adding a bridge to improve access and a central keep that served as the clan family home.

The castle is now a privately run venue that offers overnight accommodation with facilities to host weddings and events, but it’s also a tourist attraction that’s open for visitors to explore.

Each room in the castle is filled to the brim with clan MacRae memorabilia, along with many objects that have been collected to showcase the history of Scotland including artworks and weapons that date from the 1700s.

There’s also a very good visitor centre that houses a café (top tip, try the scones), a gift shop, and an information centre that’s a great resource for finding more places to visit in the area.


Hailes Castle

Address: Haddington, EH41 4PY

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Hailes Castle

Hailes Castle

East Lothian is a massively underrated region of Scotland, which is a shame because tourists often miss out on gems like Hailes Castle which is located in a very pretty setting next to the River Tyne.

The castle lies midway between Haddington and Dunbar and is easily accessed from the A1, so visiting it by car only takes around half an hour from Edinburgh.

It’s quite small as castles go and a visit shouldn’t take much more than half an hour, but there’s a lovely footpath along the river if you’d like to spend a little longer in the area.

The original part of the castle was built in the 14th century and was extended a number of times, but as with most of these smaller fortifications it was eventually abandoned and now lies almost entirely in ruin.

There are a couple of sections that give an indication of how big it would have been in its heyday but apart from the underground brewery the entire castle is roofless and exposed to the elements.

One point to note about Hailes Castle is that it’s unmanned and is therefore entirely free to visit, so taking a quick detour after a trip to nearby attractions like Preston Mill and the National Museum of Flight is a bit of a no-brainer.

Children will love exploring all the nooks and crannies inside the crumbling castle walls and the grass area next to the River Tyne makes a great spot for a summer picnic, especially as the castle is so secluded.

The main downside for tourists is the lack of available parking with space for just three cars on the road, but it’s possible to park up in Haddington and walk to the castle along the River Tyne which is an extraordinarily scenic footpath that will stretch your visit into a full afternoon.


Inveraray Castle

Address: Inveraray, Argyll, PA32 8XE

Contact details: Tel 01499 302203 

Out About Scotland complete guide: Inveraray Castle

Inveraray Castle

The village of Inveraray, located on the shore of Loch Fyne (the longest sea loch in Scotland), is home to Inveraray Castle, the 18th-century home of the Duke of Argyll.

The castle is one of the most popular tourist sites in the region, drawing thousands of visitors to its beautiful architecture, sumptuous rooms, and impeccably maintained gardens.

Spending an afternoon at the castle is a must-do for all visitors to Argyll as it’s one of the finest examples of an inhabited castle in Scotland (the Duke and his family still live in one of the wings), and some of the rooms easily rival those in Edinburgh’s magnificent Holyrood Palace.

Take the Armoury Hall as an example. This grand room houses one of the largest private weaponry collections in the country and also has the highest ceiling of any building in Scotland at an incredible 21 metres (69 feet) at its highest point.

Having visited Inveraray Castle recently, I have to make a point to say the gardens are even more interesting than the castle is, due to the fact they’re absolutely enormous and cover 16 acres of woodland, lawns, and flower beds.

As far as facilities go, Inveraray Castle is up there with the best of them with an excellent café and gift shop, a large car park, toilets, and partial disabled access.


Kilchurn Castle

Address: Lochawe, Dalmally, PA33 1AF

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle in Argyll is located at the head of Loch Awe, 2 miles north of St. Conan’s Kirk and 2 miles west of the village of Dalmally. Access is via a car park just off the A85 which joins a footpath leading through moorland onto a promontory that spurs into Loch Awe, with the castle perched on a raised mound at the far end.

It was built in the mid 1400s by the 1st Lord of Glenorchy and was later converted into an army barracks, but due to a lack of use it was abandoned in the 1700s which is why it’s in such a ruinous condition today.

That being said, it’s a very, very scenic place with flat plains of grassland in all directions, the glassy Loch Awe to the front, and mountain ranges set against the horizon as far as the eye can see. With the crumbling ruins of the castle in the foreground it has to be one of the nicest scenes in Scotland and goes some way to explaining why Kilchurn Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Although this is yet another site managed by Historic Environment Scotland they have yet to set up any kind of entrance gate so admittance is completely free, though the downside is that because the castle is unmanned the front door is often locked meaning it’s hit-or-miss whether you’ll be able to venture inside.

If you do, you’ll find a small courtyard and dilapidated walls that hint at how grand the castle would have been in its heyday, along with a single lookout tower that you can climb to get a nice view of Loch Awe.

Externally you’ll find a makeshift path leading down to the shoreline behind the castle where visitors can view it from an alternative angle (as long as they’re not getting eaten alive by midges…), and another rough track that leads around the far side of the castle in a short loop.

However, the best viewpoint is located on the southern side of the loch just off the A819 where there’s a lay-by and a footpath leading down to the water’s edge. If you have a camera this is the best location to get a memorable shot as the panoramic view with the mountains in the background is nothing short of breathtaking.


Linlithgow Palace

Address: Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian, EH49 7AL

Contact details: Tel 01506 842 896

Out About Scotland complete guide: Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

The West Lothian market town of Linlithgow lies midway between Edinburgh and Stirling castles, which is why an immense fortified palace was built there as safe refuge for royalty travelling between the two cities.

Linlithgow Palace lies opposite a small freshwater loch that would have acted as a reliable source of fish for the palace’s occupants back in the day, and it’s the main reason why a fort of some kind is known to have existed on the site for at least 2,000 years.

Construction began on the palace in 1424 on the orders of James I and it saw use as a royal residence for the following 300 years until a great fire swept through it in 1746 which destroyed most of the roof. By this time the royal court had moved to London and the upkeep of the palace was a drain on the nation’s coffers, so it was decided to abandon it entirely shortly after.

What remains is one of the largest fortified buildings of its age in Scotland, and although it’s a shadow of its former glory it’s a genuinely fascinating place to visit.

Access to the castle lies down a narrow cobbled alley which leads onto a rough car park at the front entrance gate. There’s a small shop and ticket office at the entrance which leads into the main courtyard where visitors can then explore a maze of unfurnished rooms and hallways.

There are two highlights at Linlithgow Palace that make it memorable, the first of which is the enormous stone fountain in the inner courtyard. The fountain features a number of detailed carvings set into the stonework and at the weekends in summer it’s turned on so that visitors can watch it in action.

The second highlight is the viewing platform at the palace’s highest point at the Queen Margaret’s Bower where superb views can be enjoyed across the loch to the Firth of Forth bridges in the far distance.

Outside the palace’s walls there are footpaths running around the loch which is a designated Site of Scientific Interest due to the number of wildfowl that live there, and it’s a short walk into Linlithgow town centre where there are a number of artisan coffee shops and restaurants.


Lochranza Castle

Address: Lochranza, Isle of Arran, KA27 8HL

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Lochranza

Lochranza Arran

The Isle of Arran may be known as one of Scotland’s premier outdoor destinations thanks to its mountains, coastline, and forests, but there are a number of historic attractions that are worth visiting as well, including the lovely village of Lochranza and its small castle.

Lochranza is located on the northernmost tip of the island where it sits in the shadow of the Torr Meadhonach hills. Access to the rest of Arran is easy thanks to the A841 ring road, and due to the fact the village has a ferry service to the mainland and a whisky distillery it’s worth visiting even without the castle.

The 13th-century castle sits on a strip of land that juts into the sea loch, with a single-track road running past it. It’s a small castle and to be honest there’s nothing exceptional about it, but I’m including it in this list as the location is stunning and it’s a great stopping-off point for anyone cycling or driving around the Arran Coastal Way.

The castle (it’s actually more of a tower house than a castle) was built in the 1200s by the Lord of Knapdale and consists of a single 2-storey tower and a newer residential building that was added in the 1500s. Sadly, the castle is almost entirely in ruin and there’s not much to see inside, but it’s hoped to be renovated by Historic Environment Scotland in the near future.

Note that while the castle is free to visit, it’s closed to the public from October to March so it really isn’t worth making a visit to Lochranza to see it in the colder months. That being said, if you’re in the area to either use the Lochranza ferry or tour the Lochranza whisky distillery, taking a few minutes to walk to the castle is a bit of a no-brainer, especially in the evening.

I make this point as there are large herds of wild deer living in the hills around the village that often come down to the castle at dusk, and visitors in autumn frequently get to enjoy the sight of rutting stags battling against each other.


Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Address: Wick, KW1 4QT

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

This is, without doubt, the most dilapidated castle in this list, but it’s also one of the most atmospheric. There are actually two castles at the site – Castle Girnigoe and Castle Sinclair – that were built separately in the 1400s and the 1600s respectively by the Earls of Caithness.

The oldest building (Castle Girnigoe) is entirely ruined and has been eroded away to the point where just a few ramshackle walls are left standing. The later castle is much more intact, but ironically it’s the older castle that visitors are able to explore as Castle Sinclair has been closed for several years for safety reasons.

Access to the castle is via a coastal path from a car park at the historic Noss Head lighthouse, with the path crossing fairly rough grassland before it reaches the castle and continuing further around the headland.

This stretch of coastline is well known for its steep cliffs and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe perches precariously at the very edge, almost looking like it’s about to crash into the sea below.

Those cliffs would have made a seaward attack virtually impossible back in the days when the castle was built and a natural dry moat around the clifftop would have made it easy to defend from the landward side, so it’s understandable that a new castle was built so close to the ruins of the old one.

The Sinclair Girnigoe Trust have added information panels and a wooden bridge over the moat, but other than that there are absolutely no facilities at the site so if you need food and toilets your best bet is to drive a couple of miles south to the town of Wick.

Due to its size it won’t take long to visit this castle (maybe one hour) but it’s possible to spend a full afternoon looking at other clifftop castles in the area thanks to Old Keiss Castle and Bucholie Castle which are both easily accessed by driving north along the A99.

There is also a stunning golden beach bordering Sinclairs Bay, which is situated a couple of miles west of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe.


Spynie Palace

Address: Elgin, Moray, IV30 5QG

Contact details: Tel 01499 302203 

Out About Scotland complete guide: Spynie Palace

Spynie Palace

Although the name might lead you to believe this is a royal residence, it’s actually a fortified tower house that was used as the home of the bishops of Moray for over 500 years.

The reason Spynie Palace was built in this remote area is that it’s close to Elgin – Moray’s administrative centre and also a Royal Burgh – where the awe-inspiring Elgin Cathedral can be found in the town centre.

You can find out more about the cathedral in my Complete Guide to Elgin Cathedral.

The cathedral was one of the most important religious sites in Scotland back in the 13th-century and the bishops who served there had a great deal of wealth and power, which is why the formidable Spynie Palace was built nearby.

The ‘palace’ is dominated by David’s Tower – the largest tower house by volume in Scotland – which is a must-visit for the stunning views of the Moray countryside from the viewing platform at the top.

Although it won’t take visitors long to explore Spynie Palace (30-45 minutes) there’s a picnic area overlooking picturesque countryside and a large lawn area where children can run about. That being said, if you find yourself struggling to keep the kids entertained you can upgrade your ticket to include entry to Elgin Cathedral which offers a whole afternoon’s-worth of nooks and crannies to explore.


Stirling Castle

Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ

Contact details: Tel 01786 450 000

Out About Scotland complete guide: Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

The ancient and incomparable Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions, in part due to the fact it has so much history waiting to be discovered during a visit.

The castle was the royal seat of power long before Edinburgh Castle took the mantle, and it was also the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots.

Like Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle was built on top of an enormous rock pinnacle that would have been virtually impenetrable back in the day, which is the main reason it served as a royal palace for hundreds of years.

Inside the main courtyard, visitors can explore the Royal Palace and the Great Hall, both of which have been restored to their original condition so they look identical to how they would have looked when they were built over 500 years ago.

The palace, in particular, is a fascinating place that’s full of original artworks and furniture and it does a first-class job of transporting you back in time to the reign of James V – partly helped by the tour guides dressed in character costume who’ll be only too glad to tell the stories of some of the castle’s most famous inhabitants.

There’s also a museum on the site that explains the history of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and there are the Queen Anne gardens that offer visitors stunning views of the Stirling countryside.

As you might expect, the facilities at this attraction are first class with an extensive gift shop, a café with a rooftop terrace, public toilets, and ample parking.


Tantallon Castle

Address: North Berwick, East Lothian, EH39 5PN

Contact details: Tel 01620 892 727

Out About Scotland complete guide: Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle

North Berwick is a must-visit for tourists to East Lothian, especially those that are planning to explore the county’s beautiful coast.

One particular highlight that has to be included in this article is Tantallon Castle which lies 3 miles south of North Berwick. This sizeable medieval fortress overlooks Bass Rock and Seacliff Beach and is best known as the last curtain-walled castle that was built in Scotland.

It was built by the 1st Earl of Douglas in the 1300s and served as the home for a succession of Scottish nobles until it was sieged and left partly in ruin by the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1650.

Not much of the original castle remains today, but the huge castle wall on the landward side is almost entirely intact and gives some idea of how sizeable the structure would have been in its prime.

Visitors can explore the remaining residential area as well as the inner courtyard during a visit, but the highlight has to be climbing to the top of the curtain wall which has a walkway with amazing views in all directions.

Tantallon Castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland who have installed a car park and a small ticket office/gift shop as well as toilets, a picnic area, and a few information displays.

I would advise giving yourself one hour to view the castle, after which you have options to head into North Berwick or enjoy any of the beaches on either side, with personal recommendations being Seacliff, Tyninghame, and Dunbar beaches.


Urquhart Castle

Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XJ

Contact details: Tel 01456 450 551

Out About Scotland complete guide: Urquhart Castle

urquhart castle

Just like Eilean Donan, I bet you’ve already seen Urquhart Castle even if you’ve never actually been there. That’s not because it’s particularly big, but because it’s situated in a spectacular setting on the shores of every tourist’s must-visit loch – Loch Ness.

To be honest with you, there are plenty of other lochs in Scotland that are more scenic – lochs Morlich, Lomond, Shiel, and Awe spring immediately to mind – but because Ness has the legend of the monster associated with it, it seems to attract the most visitors.

Urquhart Castle is easy to reach from either Inverness to the north or Fort Augustus to the south, and it’s worth visiting just to experience the views looking across the great body of water (it’s so big, every lake in England and Wales could fit inside it!).

The story of the castle begins in the late 700s when it was used by the Picts (descendants of Scotland’s Iron Age tribes) who are believed to have established a fort on the site, but that was torn down and replaced with the castle we see today sometime in the 13th-century.

Urquhart Castle was integral to the defence of the Highlands, but it was partially demolished in the 17th-century and was abandoned and left to fall into ruin until it was handed over to state care in 1911.

While it was a popular tourist site for many years it only transitioned into one of the country’s top attractions when Historic Environment Scotland built a multi-million-pound visitor centre which includes exhibitions, a cinema, a restaurant, and a shop, and today it’s the third most-visited historic site in Scotland after the castles at Edinburgh and Stirling.


Castle Varrich

Address: Tongue, Lairg, IV27 4XE

Contact details: NA

Out About Scotland complete guide: Castle Varrich

Castle Varrich

It’s debatable whether this is actually classed as a castle at all as it’s really just a lookout tower, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with the gorgeous views on offer from the top of the structure.

Castle Varrich is situated on a hill overlooking the Kyle of Tongue on the far northern tip of Scotland. This vast estuary is wide and flat so the hill on which the castle sits allows uninterrupted views for miles in all directions, which made it one of the most strategically important sites in Sutherland when it was built.

It’s known that a fortification of some kind has existed on top of the hill where Castle Varrich is located for well over a thousand years – even before the days of the Vikings – but the exact age of the first fort is unknown.

Historians do know, however, that the tower that is visible today was built by Clan Mackay in the 14th century and originally has two floors plus a stable and an attic, though the roof has long-since crumbled away.

Castle Varrich can only be accessed on foot as the nearest road is located one mile to the east in the village of Tongue, but a well-maintained footpath connects the village to the castle on a route that will take the majority of people 30-45 minutes to walk.

Once at the castle, visitors can climb up a recently-installed staircase that leads out onto a viewing platform to enjoy the spectacular views of the Kyle of Tongue, before returning to Tongue on the same path.

Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland.

I hope this list of Scotland’s castles has given you a few ideas for places to visit, or at least inspired you to explore parts of the country that you hadn’t previously considered travelling to.

Finally, if you want to stay in your very own castle for a luxury weekend or a romantic getaway, check out the Scotts Castles website. They’ve got an amazing selection of castles to choose from at reasonable prices.


Frequently asked questions

What are Scottish castles called?

Depending on the age there are several styles of castle in Scotland. The earliest fortifications include hill forts, brochs and duns. From the 11th century, motte and bailey castles appeared followed by stone castles in the 1200s. In the 14th century curtain-walled castled were preferred, followed by tower houses which were later updated in the Scottish Baronial style.

How many castles are there in Scotland?

There have been more than 2,000 castles in Scotland throughout its history but many of them do not exist today. Historic Environment Scotland currently lists around 500 buildings that can be classed as fortified dwellings.

Where are the most castles in Scotland?

There are castles across Scotland but one area with the highest number is Aberdeenshire. This is partly due to its location which would have been open to attack from Scandinavia.

What are the best castles in Scotland?

Recommended castles for tourists include; Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Dunrobin Castle, Blair Castle, Inveraray Castle, Fyvie Castle and Kilchurn Castle.

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Best castles scotland

Don’t forget to bookmark Out About Scotland to discover the best places to visit in Scotland, learn what to do in each region and get suggestions for top tourist attractions to add to your Scottish sightseeing itinerary.

By Craig Neil

Scotland travel writer and specialist 360° photographer. Founder of the Out About Scotland travel website and Vartour virtual tours.