Last updated on December 14th, 2020
Scotland’s castles are mostly comprised of two types – the curtain-walled forts from the middle ages and the 14th to 17th-century towers houses. Famous examples are Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Eilean Donan Castle. Discover more about them in this ultimate guide.
The complete guide to the best castles to visit in Scotland – from the Scottish borders to the Highlands
What do you think of when you picture Scotland? Majestic mountains? Scenic lochs? Windswept islands? Those are certainly some of the highlights of a holiday in this amazing country, but another attraction that consistently draws visitors back year after year are the castles.
That’s not really surprising when you consider that Scotland has one of the greatest collections of fortified buildings in the world, and if you come to visit us you’ll soon discover that more than two thousand were built in the nine hundred years between the medieval and renaissance ages.
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 – some of the biggest and most impressive man-made structures in the country.
There’s a wealth of historic fortified buildings to see when you come 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.
So, what I’ll concentrate on in this article are the curtain-walled forts from the middle ages and the 14th to 17th-century towers houses, as these are the types of buildings that are best known from a thousand different photos of Scotland on the internet, usually involving Edinburgh Castle and Eilean Donan (more on those later on in this article).
These fortifications are waiting to transport you back in time across a thousand years of Scotland’s history, and all are unique and equally fascinating whether you’ve got the faintest interest in history or not.
But visiting our castles isn’t just about wandering around a load of dusty old ruins, because to my mind travelling around the country to see them has to be the best way of discovering all the beautiful landscapes that Scotland has to offer.
I hope the following guide inspires you to visit us soon, and who knows, maybe it’ll help you visit parts of Scotland that you’d otherwise miss.
The best castles in Scotland: A list of recommended places to visit
Address: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, PH18 5TL
Contact details: Telephone 01796 481207
My complete guide: A Guide to Blair Castle
You’ll find Blair Castle nestled in the Highland landscape near the village of Blair Atholl in Perthshire, and if you’re ever in that neck of the woods I recommend you go check it out because it’s one of the best historic visitor attractions in Scotland.
This castle has an enormous amount of history behind it (…ok, I know all castles have a lot of history, but this one has more than most…) and it’s been home to an impressive nineteen generations of the Atholl family.
There are over 30 rooms on display 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 – and even if you’re not that interested in history I guarantee you’ll enjoy your visit.
This is a castle that’s right up there with Dunrobin in my opinion and it sums up exactly what you’d imagine a real-life fairytale castle to look like – tall turrets, formidable battlements and breathtaking views in every direction.
You’re free to walk around Blair Atholl at your leisure and there are several tour guides on hand to point you in the right direction if you get lost or have questions, but to my mind the gardens outside are just as interesting as the castle, if not more so.
These gardens are big – one of the biggest of any castle I’ve visited – and include a walled garden, a conifer woodland, a secluded grove and a sculpture trail, so if you’re looking for a historic site to visit in the summer then Blair Castle really should be at the top of your list.
Address: Caerlaverock Castle, Glencaple, Dumfries, DG1 4RU
Contact details: Telephone 01387 770 244
My complete guide: A Guide to Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle is one of the most interesting-looking castles in this list, not because it’s particularly big or anything, but because it’s got a really unusual triangular shape that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Scotland.
That, coupled with the fact that it’s set in one of the few remaining moats left in the country means that it’s worth visiting whether you’ve got an interest in Scotland’s history or not.
While it won’t take much more than an hour to fully explore these ruined walls there’s quite a lot you can do in the immediate area thanks to the path that runs down to the Caerlaverock Nature Reserve, and on the way you’ll pass the foundations of the original castle which is an interesting addition to the attraction.
The nature reserve has paths leading through grassland that offer really good walks into the Solway Firth and you’ll no doubt see loads of wildlife on the way, so even if you’re not bothered about looking at Caerlaverock Castle it’s still worth visiting the site just to go for a walk to see what’s 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 Historic Environment Scotland museum where there are picnic benches and a small play park, and that’ll give you the opportunity to take a look at the museum with its reconstructions of medieval siege weapons (if that’s your thing – mums might prefer to get a coffee in the on-site cafe instead).
Address: Castle Campbell, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, FK14 7PP
Contact details: Telephone 01259 742 408
Dollar Glen in Clackmannanshire is home to a castle that’s got one of the nicest terrace views in Scotland – Castle Campbell.
This 15th-century fort was originally built as the family home of Lord Lorne but passed into the ownership of Clan Campbell when the 1st Earl of Argyle married Lord Lorne’s daughter.
The Campbells owned the fort for more than 400 years but it was eventually handed into state care in the 1940s, at which point it was designated as a scheduled ancient monument.
That’s great for us tourists as Castle Campbell is a fascinating place to explore, with an atmospheric tower house, a moody courtyard, and a rooftop that allows panoramic views over Dollar Glen.
This 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 lovely place to go for a walk that’s full of wildlife so if you’re looking to stretch your legs after having a picnic in the castle grounds Dollar Glen is the only place you need to head to.
I’ve included a route map for a nice circular walk in the glen that starts and finishes at the castle in my Castle Campbell guide, so if you want to see it just click the link.
Address: Castle Hill, Doune, Perthshire, FK16 6EA
Contact details: Telephone 01786 842768
My complete guide: A Guide to 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 homes of the Duke of Albany and Earl of Moray from the 14th-century, making it one of the oldest and best-preserved examples of a fortress from that time in the country.
There are a lot of interesting features to look at during your visit, including one of the best-preserved great halls in Scotland, and it’s immediately obvious that no expense was spared in building this castle. Even in its semi-ruined state it’s still awe-inspiring to this day.
That’s likely the reason why it’s seen such an interest with film companies and if you’ve seen either of the shows or the movie mentioned above then you’ve already seen Doune Castle as it played a role in each of them.
But there’s more to this historic site than TV tie-ins, and Doune Castle can hold its head up high when compared to many of the other, grander castles in this list.
For starters, it’s got one of the finest gatehouses in Scotland that stands well over one hundred feet high and it offers fantastic views of Ben Lomond from its battlements, but the reason I’ve included it in this list is because it’s so easy to get to Scotlands third most-visited historic attraction – Stirling Castle – which lies just 9 miles away to the northeast.
The drive between both castles shouldn’t take much more than 20 minutes so exploring both sites in one day is very easy, plus you’ve got a great selection of artisan cafes and restaurants in Doune and Stirling that are perfect for rounding off a busy day of sightseeing.
Address: Duart Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland, PA64 6AP
Contact details: Telephone 01680 812309
My complete guide: A Guide to Duart Castle
If you’re ever considering a holiday on one of Scotland’s west coast islands but can’t decide on which one to visit, do yourself a favour and head to the Isle of Mull.
This island is much quieter than Skye and it’s almost as pretty, but it also has what most people consider to be one of the most dramatic castles in Scotland – Duart Castle.
This fortification sits on a promontory overlooking the Sound of Mull, and you can understand why Clan Maclean chose it as their seat of power for more than 700 years as it’s in such a dominating position it would have been near-impossible to sneak past unnoticed.
The castle is still privately owned by the MacLeans, but what you see today isn’t exactly the same as it was when it was built in the 13th-century because it was demolished by the Duke of Argyll in 1691 and then completely rebuilt in 1911, so in some respects it has a lot of similarities to Eilean Donan Castle near Skye (more on that later).
Just like it’s famous Highland cousin, Duart Castle has a definite family feel to it and much of the memorabilia inside has been handed down to the family over generations, something that’s most obvious in the Great Hall which features an impressive collection of family portraits and silverware.
If you’ve got kids they’ll love the shingle beaches at the foot of the castle and there’s a little woodland copse to explore too, and if you’re peckish the nearby cafe offers quality food at a reasonable price.
Finally, while you’re visiting make sure you get your camera ready for the rooftop terrace as the views northwards towards Tobermory are nothing short of stunning.
Address: Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland, KW10 6SF
Contact details: Telephone 01408 633177
My complete guide: A Guide to Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle in the northeast Highlands has to be one of – if not the – prettiest buildings in the UK.
In fact, to look at it you wouldn’t immediately think it’s actually in Scotland because it was built to mimic the great French chateau’s, so it’s more fairytale conical turrets than sombre fortified battlements.
Those modern (for a Scottish castle) features are a bit deceptive though, because beneath that beautiful veneer lies a rather less-impressive 13th-century simple square keep that was built for the Earls of Sutherland.
You can still see evidence of the old keep as you take a tour around the castle, but the majority of it is a beautiful example of Scottish-baronial architecture, and you’ll see sumptuous luxury fittings and elaborate decorative carvings throughout the main part of the building.
This theme of grandeur continues outside as well thanks to the impossibly manicured gardens that were designed to mimic those in the Palace of Versaille, and the enormous summerhouse that houses the castle museum which is considered to be the finest private museum collection in Scotland.
Your day will be rounded off with a meal in the tea room (which I totally recommend as the food is very, very good) and a visit to the shop which sells lots of quality gifts.
You might even see a falconry display on the lawn too. All-in-all, this has to be one of the best castles to visit in Scotland, and for me, it easily rivals the tourist-hotspot Edinburgh Castle – which is up next!
Address: Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
Contact details: Telephone 0131 225 9846
My complete guide: A Guide to Edinburgh Castle
Put your hand up if you’ve never heard of Edinburgh Castle…. Nobody? Nope, thought so.
This gob-smackingly impressive – and massively hyped – castle in Scotland’s capital city rightly deserves its place as the country’s number-one tourist attraction as it has to be 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 where you’ll get the best views across Edinburgh of anywhere 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, the enormous 15th-century cannon, and St. Margarets Chapel, believed to be the oldest building in Edinburgh.
Other areas worth exploring are the Royal Palace where Mary Queen of Scots took residence and the Crown Room which houses the Honours of Scotland – the Scottish equivalent of the 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.
For me, the best thing about Edinburgh Castle has to be the military tattoo held annually in the Castle Esplanade throughout August. This event is one of the highlights of Scotland’s cultural calendar and is a real spectacle that I guarantee you’ll never forget. Check out the Edinburgh Military Tattoo website for further details.
All that, coupled with the attraction’s excellent cafe’s, restaurant and shops, make a visit to Edinburgh Castle an absolute necessity if you’re visiting the city.
Eilean Donan Castle
Address: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX
Contact details: Telephone 01599 555202
My complete guide: A Guide to Eilean Donan Castle
Just like Edinburgh Castle, Eilean Donan is a fortress that most people will have likely seen whether they’ve visited Scotland or not, purely because photos of the building seem to be plastered across virtually every Google search you make.
To be honest you can’t really blame people for reusing the iconic image over and over again because the castle is located in one of the most spectacular settings in the Highlands, with the Kintail National Scenic Area surrounding it on all sides and the tranquil waters of lochs Duich, Long and Alsh framing it in the foreground.
As I already mentioned in the Duart Castle section, Eilean Donan is a rebuilt clan home that was constructed from the ruins of a previous castle, though unlike Duart it was completely destroyed by British forces after Jacobite commanders used it as a refuge during the 1745 uprising.
It was to be another two hundred years before a descendant of the MacRae clan managed to resurrect the fortress, at which time a couple of additions were made, most notably the bridge which was added to improve access and the central keep that was built to serve as the clan family home.
These days it’s a privately run tourist attraction that offers overnight accommodation (they’ve got self-catering apartments nearby) along with facilities to host weddings and events, but it’s also set-up for day-trippers who just want to have a wander around it.
Each room in the castle is filled to the brim with MacRae clan memorabilia and there are lots of objects that have been collected to showcase the history of Scotland – and the Highlands in particular – with artworks and weaponry covering every available surface.
There’s also a really good visitor centre that houses an excellent cafe (top tip, try the scones), a decent gift shop, and an information desk if you want to find out more about this part of the Scottish Highlands.
Address: Inveraray Castle, Inveraray, Argyll, PA32 8XE
Contact details: Telephone 01499 302203
My complete guide: A Guide to Inveraray Castle
The shore of Loch Fyne – the longest sea loch in Scotland – is the traditional home of the Duke of Argyll, and it’s in this remote corner of Strathclyde where you’ll find Inverary Castle, the 18th-century fort that’s more of a baroque stately home than a cannon-studded fort.
This castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Argyll and visitors come from far and wide to enjoy its beautiful architecture, immaculately furnished rooms, and impeccably maintained gardens.
In my opinion the gardens are just as enjoyable to walk around as the castle is, mainly because they’re absolutely enormous and cover an impressive 16 acres of woodland, lawns and flower beds.
There’s even a 248-metre hill on the estate that provides the best views in the area where you can look down on the pretty village of Inveraray bordering Loch Fyne, famous for its delicious oysters.
A tour of the castle will take you on quite a memorable journey as it’s one of the best examples of an inhabited castle in Scotland (the Duke of Argyll and his family still have their own wing), and I reckon some of the rooms easily rival those in Edinburgh’s magnificent Holyrood Palace.
Take the Armoury Hall for example. This grand room houses one of the finest private weaponry collections in Scotland and also has the highest ceiling of any building in the country at an incredible 21 metres (69 feet). It was obviously built to impress, and that’s something it still manages to achieve more than two hundred years later.
Other points of interest are the remains of long-abandoned limestone kilns hidden away deep inside the woodland, and the tea room housed in a secluded corner of the castle.
Address: Spynie Palace, near Elgin, Moray, IV30 5QG
Contact details: Telephone 01499 302203
My complete guide: A Guide to Spynie Palace
Yes I know this sounds like it’s going to be a fancy residence for royalty but in fact, it’s a fortified tower house that was used as the home of the bishops of Moray for over 500 years.
This northeastern region of Scotland is criminally underrated in my opinion as it has the potential to be a real tourist haven, yet it seems to draw few visitors from outside the region.
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.
This cathedral was one of the most important religious sites in Scotland back in the 13th-century so the bishops who served there had a great deal of wealth and power, and it’s for that reason a nearby defensive residence was needed to house them.
You can find out more about the cathedral with my Complete Guide to Elgin Cathedral.
The ‘palace’ is dominated by David’s Tower – the largest tower house by volume in Scotland – and it’s certainly an impressive sight, especially if you climb the stairway to the top and look across the Moray countryside from the viewing platform.
The surrounding fields and woodland are practically begging to be walked through but if you’d like a stroll at the seaside instead you’ll find the east beach at Lossiemouth comes highly recommended.
Address: Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ
Contact details: Telephone 01786 450 000
My complete guide: A Guide to Stirling Castle
Did you know that at one point in history Stirling Castle was the royal seat of power in Scotland and had more importance than even Edinburgh Castle? Or that Mary Queen of Scots spent most of her childhood there?
Those facts are just a tiny part of Stirling Castle’s story and you’ll find there’s a huge amount of history to unearth when you visit it for yourself, and once you do you’ll start to appreciate why this historic site is billed as one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions.
The castle sits on top of an enormous pinnacle looking out over the Stirling countryside and it must have seemed utterly impenetrable back in the day, which I guess is the reason it served as a royal palace for so many years.
There’s a lot to do at Stirling Castle and you’ll no doubt spend the first half-hour of a visit admiring the views from the battlements, but head indoors and you’ll soon find there’s a lot more to enjoy there than picturesque views.
Inside the main courtyard you’ll see the Royal Palace and the Great hall, both of which have been restored back to their original condition so you’ll get to see the castle just as it would have looked 500+ years ago.
The palace, in particular, is a really interesting place, 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 tales 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 where you’ll get an overview of both the castle and the Stirling countryside, while a cafe with a rooftop patio allows you to soak up the atmosphere of the place with a coffee and a bite to eat.
Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XJ
Contact details: Telephone 01456 450 551
My complete guide: A Guide to 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 or impressive (it’s really just a collection of ruined walls) but because it’s situated in a spectacular setting on the shores of every tourist’s must-do Scottish attraction – Loch Ness.
To be honest with you, there are plenty of other lochs in Scotland that are more scenic – Morlich/Lomond/Shiel/Awe for example – but because Ness has the legend of the monster associated with it it seems to draw in the most visitors.
That’s ok though because while it’s not the best loch (in my opinion) it’s still worth a visit, and the castle located mid-way on its western shore goes some way towards explaining why the area remains such a popular tourist attraction.
Urquhart Castle is easy to reach from either Inverness to the north or Fort Augustus to the south and it’s worth visiting to experience both the views looking across the great body of water and the thousand years of history to be explored in the castle ruins.
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.
At one time Urquhart Castle was integral to the defence of the Highlands, but after being destroyed by the English military in the 17th-century it was abandoned and left to fall into ruin. Thankfully, it was handed over to state care in 1911 and an extensive plan of restoration has brought it back to the condition we see it in today.
While it was a popular attraction for many years it only transitioned into one of the country’s top tourist destinations when Historic Scotland developed the multi-million-pound visitor centre with its exhibitions, cinema, restaurant, and shop, and today it’s the third most-visited historic site in Scotland after the castles at Edinburgh and Stirling.
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. With passes starting at just £35 (as of 2019) it’s an absolute bargain!
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.
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 might not have otherwise considered travelling to.
There are literally hundreds of other castles I could add to this list and I might include a few more over time, but to be honest, if I added all of them into one article it would make it look more like a history book and there’s a distinct possibility you’d soon get overwhelmed.
So instead, may I suggest you bookmark the Out About Scotland website and check back often as I’ll be updating it regularly with new guides, videos, and virtual tours so you can see exactly what Scotland’s best attractions are like before you even leave home. That way you can plan your visit with a much better understanding of what’s available to you.
Till then, if there are any castles you’d like to see added please drop me a message via the contact form and I’ll see what I can do.
Thanks for reading, and happy travels.