Scotland’s castles are mostly categorized into two types – the curtain-walled forts from the Middle Ages and the 14th to 17th-century tower houses. Famous examples are Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Eilean Donan Castle. Discover more about them in this ultimate guide to Scotland’s castles.
The best castles to visit in Scotland
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 tower 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 crumbling old ruins because 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.
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Scottish castles map
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. If you’re not sure what to do first I recommend heading into the gardens.
These gardens are big – one of the biggest of the castles in this list – 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 itinerary.
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 Scotland, not because it’s particularly big but because it has an unusual triangular shape that (as far as I know) is unique in Scotland.
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.
While it won’t take much more than an hour to fully explore the ruined walls and the visitor centre there’s quite a lot you can do in the immediate area thanks to the path that runs down to the Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.
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 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 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 café instead).
Address: Castle Campbell, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, FK14 7PP
Contact details: Telephone 01259 742 408
My complete guide: A Guide to Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen
Dollar Glen in Clackmannanshire is home to a castle that has 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 home 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 Scotland.
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 the castle. Even in its semi-ruined state it’s still awe-inspiring to this day.
Although Doune Castle has played a starring role 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.
It has 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 is so easy to get to Scotland’s 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 cafés 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 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. 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 (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 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 children 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 café 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 château’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 thanks to the 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 amongst the finest private museums in Britain.
After you’ve walked around the castle and the gardens there’s a café and a gift shop to look around and you might even see a falconry display on the lawn. All-in-all, Dunrobin has to be one of the best castles to visit in Scotland.
Address: Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
Contact details: Telephone 0131 225 9846
My complete guide: A Guide to Edinburgh Castle
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 lived 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.
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 it’s 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 café, restaurant and shops make a visit to Edinburgh Castle an absolute necessity if you’re visiting the city.
Address: Spynie Palace, near Elgin, Moray, IV30 5QG
Contact details: Telephone 01499 302203
My complete guide: A Guide to Spynie Palace
I know this sounds like it’s a fancy royal residence but it is, in fact, it’s 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 with my Complete Guide to Elgin Cathedral.
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 fortress was needed to house them.
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.
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 that 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 very good visitor centre that houses an excellent café (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 Inveraray Castle, the 18th-century fort that’s more of a baroque stately home than a cannon-studded castle.
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 which is famous for its delicious oysters.
A tour of the castle will take you on 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 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: 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. When you do you’ll start to appreciate why this fortress 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 than picturesque views.
Inside the main courtyard you’ll see the Royal Palace and the Great hall, both of which have been restored 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 fascinating 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 café with a rooftop patio allows you to soak up the atmosphere of the castle with a coffee and hot food.
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 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 to experience the views looking across the great body of water and the thousand years of history 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.
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.
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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