Scotland is known for its awe-inspiring highlands, countless lochs, a wee bit of haggis as well as a multitude of charming castles. Over 1,000 castles in Scotland, from the minuscule to the magnificent, are dotted across the country. From Edinburgh and Glasgow to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, it seems obligatory for Scottish castles to look like something out of a fairytale. Whether they are perched on a cliff’s edge like Culzean Castle or picturesquely placed on the edge of a loch like Eilean Donan, each Scottish castle seems to ooze mystique and history.
Castles form an important part of Scottish clan history. The clans of Scotland are extended networks of families, each with its history and family motto. Much of Scotland’s rich history is defined by battles between the clans, including the famous and most feared Clan Campbell. Most castles that you can visit today in Scotland were strategically built to protect the local clan from rival clans and invaders such as Edward I of England, more colloquially known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’. As a result of the threat from English invaders, you will find that most of the castles in Scotland are in and around the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling and on the coastal border with England.
Scottish royalty dates back to 843 when King of Scots Kenneth I MacAlpin founded the state. Malcolm II of Scotland was the last King of Scots who died in 1034. Scotland’s history is littered with well-known Kings and Queens, including the infamous Mary Queen of Scots, who reigned between 1542 and 1567. She spent much of her time at Stirling Castle. King of Scots between 1124 and 1153, David I was one of Scotland’s more revolutionary and powerful kings and was well known for building and rebuilding Edinburgh, Stirling, Berwick and Roxburgh Castles. Scottish royalty and the clan system have always been linked to Scottish castles and serve as a constant reminder of the nation’s rich history.
As many of these castles are still, to this day, the residences of royalty and clan descendants, the castles typically close during the winter months and open fully to the public between April and October. But not to worry, if you are planning a visit in winter, you can still enjoy them in all their glory from the outside.
If the intrigue, history, and architecture of these fairytale Scottish castles isn’t aren’t enough, you can almost guarantee that they are in the most stunning natural landscapes in Scotland. Scotland never fails to disappoint in providing an abundance of astonishing scenery.
- Castles in Scotland
- 20 Best Castles In Scotland
- 1- Edinburgh Castle
- 2- Caerlaverock Castle
- 3- Balmoral Castle
- 4- Eilean Donan Castle
- 5- Glamis Castle
- 6- Duart Castle
- 7- Dunrobin Castle
- 8- Castle Fraser
- 9- Floors Castle
- 10- Dunvegan Castle
- 11- Craigievar Castle
- 12- Inveraray Castle
- 13- Stirling Castle
- 14- Fyvie Castle
- 15- Kilchurn Castle
- 16- Brodie Castle
- 17- Hermit’s Castle
- 18- Culzean Castle
- 19- Cawdor Castle
- 20- Claypotts Castle
- 20 Best Castles In Scotland
Castles in Scotland
20 Best Castles In Scotland
1- Edinburgh Castle
Scotland’s incredible capital city of Edinburgh is a fantastic trip in itself, and Edinburgh Castle is just one of the many attractions the city has to offer.
Perched majestically on top of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle was built in the 11th century.
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without visiting one of Scotland’s most famous castles.
Visit the Royal Palace, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the impressive Great Hall and St. Margaret’s Chapel.
Admission to the castle is £9.30 for children and £15.50 for adults. Edinburgh Castle is at Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG. Skip the line and prebook this guided tour to Edinburgh Castle here.
2- Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle is set in a triangular-shaped moat built in the 13th century.
Located in Dumfries close to the English border, this castle is rugged with crumbling walls and mossy parapets.
The Caerlaverock Castle is set within beautiful untouched grounds that make up part of the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve.
The area attracts waterfowl and wading birds that flourish in the untouched landscape.
Caerlaverock Castle is closed due to masonry inspections, but you can still visit the castle’s exterior.
Caerlaverock Castle is at Castle Road End, Dumfries DG1 4RU.
3- Balmoral Castle
When I see the words ‘Balmoral Castle’, I simply cannot help but say it in a thick Scottish accent in my head.
If you are a fan of the TV series The Crown, then you may already be familiar with Balmoral as it features in much of season 4.
Set on a 50,000-acre estate (20,000 ha), the castle is believed to have a colossal 52 bedrooms.
Balmoral has a big royal connection as Queen Elizabeth II religiously frequents it at the end of every summer.
The Royal Family owns Balmoral as Prince Albert purchased the property in 1852 for Queen Victoria.
Many attest that Balmoral is the Queen’s favourite residence, and I don’t blame her as the castle is set in stunning grounds in the magnificent Scottish Highlands.
Your trip to Balmoral will have you pass through the Cairngorms National Park, so you should certainly reserve some time to explore the snowcapped mountain landscapes and tree-lined river walks.
Balmoral’s grounds, gardens and exhibition are open between 1 April and 2 August 2022. This tour of Balmoral Castle is worth doing as a day trip from Aberdeen.
Balmoral Castle is at Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5TB.
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4- Eilean Donan Castle
I have been to a few of Scotland’s 1,000 castles and, so far, Eilean Donan is my favourite.
To say that his castle and its stunning backdrop are picturesque is an understatement.
Perched on an island on Loch Duich with a cutesy three-arched stone bridge, this castle is beyond fairytale-like and was featured in the Highlander series.
Located on Scotland’s west coast, Eilean Donan Castle is the perfect place to stop off on your way to the breathtaking Isle of Skye.
Although you can view the castle from the outside during winter, access to its interior is closed until March. An easy way to visit is to take this tour of the castle and the Isle of Skye.
Eilean Donan Castle is at Dornie by Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX.
5- Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle proclaims itself to be ‘Scotland’s Most Beautiful Castle’, and while it is stunning, it has fierce competition from the other castles on this list.
Glamis Castle is around 12 miles (19 km) north of the eastern Scottish city of Dundee.
Glamis Castle was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s (the Queen Mother) childhood home and is now the home of Simon Bowes-Lyon, who is the 19th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
The castle is closed from mid-December and re-opens in March. General admission for the castle, gardens and grounds are £15.50 for adults and £10 for children.
Glamis Castle is at Forfar DD8 1RJ.
6- Duart Castle
Duart is another of Scotland’s castles where the backdrop is just as impressive as the castle itself.
Located on the Isle of Mull on the West Coast of Scotland, Duart Castle overlooks Loch Linnhe.
The Maclean Clan originally owned the castle for centuries, but in 1691 the MacLean’s were forced to surrender the castle to the Duke of Argyll.
But fear not, left abandoned under the Duke of Argyll, Sir Fitzroy Maclean purchased it back in 1910.
If you want to visit Duart Castle, be sure to visit between April and October as the castle closes during the winter months.
Duart Castle is at the Isle of Mull PA64 6AP.
7- Dunrobin Castle
Perfectly placed on top of a hill, Dunrobin Castle is the ultimate escape and if you’re looking for grounds as impressive as the castle itself, then look no further.
Located in Sutherland in the Highlands, this enchanting castle attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and is also the location of many weddings.
The castle has many features of a French chateau and 189 rooms.
During the First World War, the castle acted as a hospital and a boarding school between 1965 and 1972 (not a bad place to learn).
Dunrobin is open between 1 May and 30 September. If you’re exploring Inverness, take this tour of the north coast to the village of Golspie, the castle and the Viking settlement of Wick.
Dunrobin Castle is at Golspie KW10 6SF.
8- Castle Fraser
Castle Fraser is often referred to as one of the largest tower houses in Scotland and is open to the public between 1 April and mid-December.
Historians predict that the central part of the castle dates back to 1450.
When visiting Aberdeen, combine a trip to both Castle Fraser and Fyvie Castle which are 22 miles (35 km) apart. This tour is a great way to see both castles if you prefer not to drive.
Castle Fraser is littered with peepholes, trapdoors and hidden staircases, creating an enchanting atmosphere just as charismatic as its exterior.
Head up to the tallest round tower and pretend that you reside in this impressive estate.
Castle Fraser is at Sauchen, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, AB51 7LD.
9- Floors Castle
Floors Castle is the fairytale castle to beat all castles and sits on a rather impressive 52,000-acre (21,000 ha) estate.
I’ve tried putting that into perspective for you, but it works out to be the equivalent of 34,666 football pitches, which is equally incomprehensible.
Colloquially known as ‘The Gem of the Scottish Borders’ owing to its proximity to England, Floors Castle was first constructed in 1721.
A trip to Floors Castle is a complete family day out.
The castle offers an array of activities and as well as visiting the castle, gardens and grounds, you can enjoy musical events which change throughout the year.
2022 sees music from Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams. To explore Floors Castle and its grounds you’ll have to wait until April.
Floors Castle is at Floors Castle Golden Gate, Roxburgh St, Kelso TD5 7RL.
Here are some multiday tours that will take you to various Scottish castles:
- 4-day Outlander Trail from Edinburgh is a fantastic tour that takes you to historic towns, hidden castles and battlefields. Book it here.
- 3-day Isle of Skye group tour from Edinburgh visits Eileen Donan Castle, Blair Castle and passes by Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born. Book it here.
- 4-day Scottish Highlands castle includes visits to Fraser Castle and Fyvie Castle. Book it here. Book it here.
- The West Highland Lochs and Castles tour is a day trip to explore lochs and castles in the highlands. Book it here.
10- Dunvegan Castle
The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most attractive Inner Hebrides archipelagoes.
Dunvegan Castle sits overlooking Loch Dunvegan in the northwest of Skye and doesn’t have to try hard to impress.
Set on the water’s edge with thick forest behind and boats bobbing on the water Dunvegan Castle is set in the most tranquil and picturesque backdrop.
Dating back to the 13th century, the MacLeod Clan built the castle to secure control of the Isle of Skye.
Still to this day, the MacLeod family occupy the residence, and although the castle is open to the public, there is a private residence on the upper floors.
I’d highly recommend visiting Dunvegan Castle during the afternoon so you can stay to enjoy the spectacular sunset.
Like many castles in Scotland, Dunvegan only opens between 1 April and 15 October.
Dunvegan Castle is at MacLeod Estate, Dunvegan House, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye IV55 8WF.
11- Craigievar Castle
Pretty and pink, Craigievar is Scotland’s famously pastel pink castle. A pink castle? Now you can’t get much more fairytale-esque than that.
Many have claimed that Craigievar was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.
Completed by William Forbes in 1626, the castle’s pink exterior remains almost unchanged.
While you’re there, explore the gardens and woodland trail walks surrounding the castle.
This pink gem is 27 miles (43 km) west of Aberdeen, where a handful of other Scottish castles preside.
After a winter break, Craigievar reopens on 31 March.
Craigievar Castle is at Craigievar, Alford AB33 8JF.
12- Inveraray Castle
Inveraray is nuzzled next to Loch Fyne and less than a two-hour scenic drive to the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
Inveraray Castle has stood beside Loch Fyne since the 1400s and has undergone a series of developments and reconstruction from a devastating fire in 1975.
The castle is distinctive because of its four large, rounded towers on each corner of the building, making it look like a fairytale castle straight from any childhood dream.
Castles should always hold a certain amount of intrigue and mystery and Inveraray doesn’t disappoint.
You can climb through a concealed door and wander up to what is known as the China Turret, where they have an excellent display of European and Oriental porcelain.
As well as secret doors and an impressive collection of 1,300 swords and weapons, Inveraray Castle featured in the Christmas episode filmed in 2012 of the hit TV series Downton Abbey.
Torquhil Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll and his wife, Duchess of Argyll Eleanor Cadbury (yes, the Cadbury chocolate family) are the current owners and occupiers of Inveraray Castle.
As it is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, don’t just rock up expecting a tour, as the castle is only open between the end of March and the end of October.
Check out some of the castle’s events, such as the Inveraray Highland Games or the Best of the West Festival held on the grounds.
Inveraray Castle is at Inveraray PA32 8XE.
13- Stirling Castle
The pride of the city of Stirling is, you guessed it, Stirling Castle, which has a connection with Mary Queen of Scots, spent much of her youth and adult years.
Mary Queen of Scots became Queen of Scotland at just six days old after her father’s passing.
The great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England was high up in the succession to the throne of England, and Scottish nobles hatched a plan to marry her off to Henry VIII’s only legitimate heir, Edward VI.
The Catholics, who disagreed with that plan, whisked her off to Stirling Castle and arranged her betrothal to the heir of the King of France instead.
Stirling sits at the topmost point of a triangle that connects Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Saunter down the arched entrance footbridge and enjoy all-encompassing views of the surrounding countryside.
Stirling Castle is available for exclusive use for corporate events and weddings during the evening.
You can dine in Scotland’s largest medieval banqueting hall, built in 1503 and get a feel of Scotland’s history.
Stirling Castle is open to the public most of the year, except for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Stirling Castle is at Castle Wynd, Stirling FK8 1EJ. Book here to explore the castle, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
14- Fyvie Castle
Fyvie Castle is a magnificent fortress designed in the Scottish baronial architectural style.
In the village of Fyvie in Aberdeenshire, this Scottish gem dates back to the 13th century, with some people attesting that the castle was built in 1211 by William the Lion.
Inside the castle’s five towers is one of the National Trust for Scotland’s best art collections.
Impressive, shiny armour line the corridors and large tapestries drape the walls.
Once you’ve explored the castle, head to the garden to admire its well-restored walled garden where fruit and vegetable grow.
Though the grounds and gardens are open year-round, access to the castle is only granted between 1 April and 31 December. This tour will take you to both Fyvie and Frastle castles.
15- Kilchurn Castle
Located on the edge of a luscious peninsula at Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute just a two-hour drive from Glasgow, you will find one of the most beautiful ruined castles in Scotland.
The ruined castle of Kilchurn looks as if it was once regal and might be well placed in the Disney movie Brave.
Built in the mid-1400’s Kilchurn Castle has had quite a few purposes, firstly a fortress, then a residence and finally a military post.
The clan system defines Scottish history, and the Campbells of Glenorchy Clan occupied Kilchurn Castle for over 150 years.
Visit Kilchurn Castle in summer, and you’ll find a spectacular backdrop and epic reflections in the crystal clear Loch Awe.
Take a trip in Autumn, and you will be astounded by the orange mountain backdrop, while in winter, you’ll find a scene worthy of a snow globe.
Lingering purple heather that contrasts with the pearly white snow, with Kilchurn in the foreground, will leave you unwilling to drag yourself away.
If you’re visiting in winter, note that you will only be able to view the castle’s exterior and grounds as the castle opens from 1 April to 30 September each year.
Kilchurn Castle is at Lochawe, Dalmally PA33 1AF.
16- Brodie Castle
Have you ever dreamed of trundling along in a horse-drawn carriage down a long path to your dream castle? Then Brodie is the spot for you.
There’s just something about a long driveway that adds to the mystic and intrigue of a place.
Northeast of Inverness, Brodie Castle is the ancestral home of the Brodie Clan.
This peach-coloured castle was built in 1567 and has been home to the Brodie clan for more than 400 years.
Visit this pastel coloured castle in spring, and you will be treated to grounds filled with over 100 varieties of daffodils.
After the winter break, the castle interior opens on 7 February.
Brodie Castle is at Brodie, Forres IV36 2TE.
17- Hermit’s Castle
Hermit’s Castle is a tiny castle in Achmelvich in the Scottish Highlands.
Many are attracted to Achmelvich because of the pearlescent beaches and crystal clear waters but get distracted by the beautiful coastline, and you may miss out on visiting Europe’s smallest castle.
In fact, the entire castle is less than 10m squared in area.
This miniscule castle blends in well with the rocky landscape and can be quite tricky to find.
From Achmelvich’s caravan park, take a 10-minute walk along the coast and keep your eyes peeled.
18- Culzean Castle
Perched on the Ayrshire Cliffs, Culzean Castle looks rather grand with its three stories that overlook the waterbody of the Firth of Clyde.
Culzean originally belonged to the Kennedy Clan but was passed to the National Trust of Scotland in 1945.
This inherently Scottish castle actually has a bit of history with the USA.
The castle’s top floor was converted into a flat and was gifted to 34th American President Dwight Eisenhower in appreciation for his support during the Second World War.
The President only stayed there four times, but now the general public can book a room in the castle and experience the grandeur of waking up in a fairytale Scottish Castle that a former President occupied.
You can enjoy a trip to Culzean between 1 April and 31 October. Culzean Castle is at Maybole KA19 8LE. Book this tour to visit the castle and poet Robert Burns’ birthplace, the Ayrshire Coast.
19- Cawdor Castle
This Scottish castle looks at a glance like a quaint British stone house and then as you round the corner, you realise that the property is somewhat larger than your average village home.
The castle’s history goes back to the 14th century and it has historic ties with William Shakespeare’s 1606 play Macbeth, where Macbeth is named ‘Thane of Cawdor’ by the witches.
Another of Cawdor’s interesting stories comes with reference to the ‘Thorn Tree Room’.
Stories suggest that the Thane of Cawdor, who owned a castle nearby, wanted to build a new fortress.
One night he had a rather odd dream and wanted to reenact this dream the next day. So, he placed a bag of gold on a donkey’s back and allowed it to move freely and wherever the donkey rested, he would then build his castle.
The tree in the ‘Thorn Tree Room’ is the very one that the donkey lay under.
The castle is the winter home of Lady Cawdor and opens in spring. To visit the castle book this tour, which includes a visit to the Glen Ord Whisky Distillery for a tasting.
Cawdor Castle is at B9090, Cawdor, Nairn IV12 5RD in Nairnshire, 10 miles (16 km) from Brodie Castle.
20- Claypotts Castle
As well as having a rather charming name, Claypotts Castle is arguably one of Scotland’s more quirky castles.
Comprising of several towers and turrets, Claypotts was built back in 1569 by John Strachan of Claypotts.
The castle’s unusual design wasn’t built with comfort in mind but as a defence structure.
If you’re interested in ghostly tales, then this is the castle for you as a ‘White Lady haunts Claypotts’.
Some say, it’s the ghost of Marion Ogilvy, who was the mistress of James V of Scotland’s chief advisor David Beaton and who was murdered in 1546.
Locals say that her ghost can be seen at the window of Claypotts each year on 29 May, the date of Beaton’s death.
If you want to visit this potentially haunted, slightly top-heavy castle, you’ll need to head 3.5 miles northeast of Dundee to the West Ferry area.
You are not allowed inside the castle but can view the exterior.
Visit just a few of these fanciful castles or plan a full Scottish castle tour, it’s up to you. Either way, these fairytale castles of Scotland have something for everyone and natural surroundings guaranteed to please.