The Best 20 Castles to Visit in Scotland (Listed by Popularity)

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Scotland’s castles rank among the most iconic in the world. With over two thousand castles dotting the country, surrounded by pristine lochs and lofty mountains, Scotland castles are breathtaking additions to your itinerary. You can find castles all over Scotland, be it Edinburgh or its outer islands, highlands or lowlands–they are everywhere and they are fascinating!

To help you make your trip to this northern country successful, here is a list of ten castles, some of the most famous and awe-inspiring castles ever. For avid travelers and castle geeks, you’ll find another ten castles, which are equally amazing to visit, if slightly less-known.

The order of the list is based on Google search volume of each castle = popularity.

1. Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle in front of the green grounds.
Balmoral Castle’s front view. Stuart Yeates from Oxford, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Balmoral Castle is the private possession of the English royal family and has been used as their summer residence since 1852 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought it. 

The original castle was demolished due to size limitations and the current castle was built in its place. Today, the castle is a prime example of Scottish Baronial architecture, surrounded by gorgeous gardens, moors, and farmland.  It is also situated within the Cairngorms National Park, adding to its charm. Though inside viewing of the castle is not permitted, the grounds and the ballrooms are open to the public. The grounds and the surrounding areas are gorgeous, you can spend a great day there hiking and soaking in the surroundings.

2. Edinburgh Castle

The front view of Edinburgh Castle.
The front view of Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most well-known tourist attractions. This imposing castle sits on its hilltop location of Castle Rock, proudly overseeing the city.  It also has the distinction of being one of the oldest fortified places in the whole of Europe. At one time, it was even used as a royal residence.

Edinburgh Castle has seen the very best and worst periods of Scottish history. It played a part in the 14th-century Wars of Scottish Independence and the Jacobite Rising of 1745. It also became one of the most attacked castles in the United Kingdom. Though some parts of the castle remain reserved for military use today, the rest is open to the public and is a major tourist draw.

3. Stirling Castle

A view of Stirling Castle's architectural structure.
A view of Stirling Castle’s architectural structure. DeFacto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historically and architecturally, Stirling Castle remains one of the most important castles in Scotland. Surrounded by steep hills, the castle sits atop an extinct volcano and dates back to the 12th century. It had previously been a royal dwelling of Scottish kings and queens. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in the castle in the year 1542 and spent much of her life within the walls of the castle.

Stirling has been a witness to several battles, wars, and sieges–including the Wars of Independence when King Edward put his stronghold within the abandoned castle. Today, it is a much-loved tourist destination and a popular background to concerts and music videos. Its beautiful gardens and superb sculptures are also a part of the draw.

4. Glamis Castle

Old but magnificent Glamis Castle.
Old but magnificent Glamis Castle.

Glamis Castle is famed not only for its architecture and history, but also for the intrigue and mystery surrounding it.  It is also reputed to be one of the most haunted castles in the world! The castle has also inspired literature, notably Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

Since the 14th century, Glamis Castle has been the familial seat of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The castle was the childhood home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother who married King George VI. Her daughter Princess Margaret was also born in Glamis Castle.

Located in the quaint village of Glamis, the castle is a great tourist attraction. The castle’s fairytale towers, landscaped gardens and scenery will take you on a tour of old Scotland.Guided tours will take you through the opulent rooms, and even a haunted chamber.

5. Dunnottar Castle

The stunning view of Dunnotar castle at the cliff surrounded by the sea.
The stunning view of Dunnotar castle at the cliff. Hossein Mansouri, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Best known as the place where the Scottish Crown Jewels were once hidden from the English General Oliver Cromwell, Dunnottar’s history seems to date back to the 5th century. However, it was fortified later and passed through the hands of many owners before being rebuilt in the 16th century. Perhaps one of the most notable things about this castle is the sheer amount of area that it covers; a whopping 3.5 acres of sprawling cliffside with excellent oceanic views.

It was also immersed in many civil wars and has a deep, rich history that’s steeped in cultural heritage. There are several buildings within the grounds that have been labeled as “National Heritage”, while the unique geographical location urges visitors to thoroughly explore the area when they’re at the castle.

6. Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle and its magnificent scenery.
Eilean Donan Castle and its magnificent scenery.

This 13th-century castle is one of Scotland’s most iconic castles and possibly the most photographed. This medieval stone castle sits on an island surrounded by three lochs- Loch Alsh, Loch Long, and Loch Duich-and some magnificent scenery.

The history of Scotland is dotted with clans; Eilean Donan plays an important part in that. It was the main fortress of the Mackenzie and Macrae clans. Even now, members of the Macrae clan look after the well-being of the castle.

The castle has been featured in many films like Highlander and James Bond. It is also photographed frequently for books, photographs, and social platforms. It is also a great tourist attraction.

7. Urquhart Castle

The beautiful scenery of ruins at Urquhart Castle near the water.
The beautiful scenery of ruins at Urquhart Castle. Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although there was an early medieval fort on this location to begin with, the Urquhart Castle that we see today was constructed in the 13th century. Throughout history, there are several important events that happened in this castle including the 18th century battle between the Jacobites and the Williamites.

After that, it was rendered a romantic ruin that stands (partially) to this day. Sources say that it’s the third most visited castle in all of Scotland. Its lush green surroundings and hilly terrain overlook the water, making it the perfect spot to plan a picnic with family and loved ones … or a wedding ceremony.

8. Doune Castle

Entrance view to Doune Castle.
Entrance view to Doune Castle. Wikifan75, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the site was fortified by the Romans in the 1st century, it wasn’t until the early 15th century that the Earl of Menteith was granted these lands and commissioned the construction of the castle that we see today. Over the centuries, Doune Castle has donned many iterations, the most famous ones were as a  royal castle, a prison, and even a garrison.

Today, however, it is a notable tourist attraction that has been featured in a number of popular television shows and movies. You might even have known of it as “Winterfell” from Game of Thrones. It is also used to host weddings, as is becoming the norm with many Scottish castles.

9. Inveraray Castle

The garden at Inveraray Castle surrounded with green trees, bushes and flowers.
The garden at Inveraray Castle.

From a cameo in Downtown Abbey to being a real life Scottish Highlands icon, Inveraray Castle is one of the most wonderful sights that you’ll visit in all of Scotland. From its 21-meters-high (69 ft) armory and fascinating Tea Room (run by the Duchess of Argyll herself), this castle is as flamboyant as it is dramatic. With displays of art everywhere and lavishly decorated interiors, it makes you wonder at every inch of its 232-year-old history.

The legacy of Inveraray Castle is best experienced through an extended tour. Visitors are especially fascinated by the China Turret with its display of unique porcelains, along with the original Beauvais tapestries in the Tapestry Room. It’s definitely a sight to see when you’re in the western half of Scotland!

10. Dunrobin Castle

The scenic view of Dunrobin Castle.
The scenic view of Dunrobin Castle. AwOiSoAk KaOsIoWa, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With its 189 rooms, Dunrobin Castle sets itself apart by being one of the only castles that have been constantly inhabited in all of Britain. Belonging to the Earls of Sutherland, this castle was influenced by the architect Sir Charles Barry’s works. There are unmistakable French Chateau accents in its facade, it gives off quite strong Disney vibes upon first glance.

Dunrobin has served as a World War I naval hospital, as well as a boys’ boarding school. But today, it is just an attractive tourist destination where visitors can roam around, from the staterooms to private ones during their tour.

Planning to Visit Nearby Countries? Check Out These Best Castles Lists:

Besides the top ten, here is a list of another ten castles, which are a must-visit if you are in Scotland:

11. Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle standing at the hilltop.
Dunvegan Castle standing at the hilltop. Dunvegan Castle flickr photo by Reading Tom shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The construction of Dunvegan Castle was carried out over the centuries in bits and pieces until the 19th century. The curtain wall was built in the 13th century, the tower house in the 14th, and the Fairy Tower in the 15th century. 

Rising 50 feet above sea level, this castle is an important cultural heritage of Scotland and is also home to many notable family heirlooms. Visitors love exploring the hilly surroundings while in the area, but note that it’s closed during the winter seasons, so plan your excursion accordingly.

12. Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker in the middle of a small island surorunded by water.
Castle Stalker is in the middle of a small island surrounded by water.

Castle Stalker has Gaelic-era roots and resides on a tidal inlet near the village of Appin. Although this mighty castle belonged to several ruling aristocratic clans of Scotland over the centuries, the last owner was Lt. Col. Stewart Allward. His ten-year dedication to the restoration ventures on this castle finally allowed it to be visited by the public.

If the tall, medieval facade of this castle looks familiar, then that’s because you’ve probably seen it in a TV show or a movie. You can get a personalized tour of the castle from a member of the Stewart Allward family if you want to visit this quintessential castle.

13. Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle's view from afar.
Culzean Castle’s view from afar.

Culzean Castle is known for its unique L-shaped plan that was designed by the British Neoclassical master Robert Adam. It was on the £5 Scottish currency from 1987 till 2016.

Culzean’s other claim to fame is that its top floor (a penthouse suite of sorts) was lifetime-leased to the 34th US President, Eisenhower! Culzean features an amazing greenhouse, along with a sumptuously decorated interior, this is a winning castle, well worth a visit!!

14. Cawdor Castle

The front view of Cawdor Castle where you can see the green grasses and surrounded by trees.
The front view of Cawdor Castle. Cawdor Castle flickr photo by Gordon Chirgwin shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Property of the Campbells of Cawdor, this Scottish castle is a symbol of might and resilience. It has been the property of the same family for over 600 years, around 23 generations.

The most intriguing part of its construction is the medieval tower built around a Holly tree. The 12 stately rooms of the castle that are open to the public are embellished with rare tapestries, ceramics, and sculptures. This Scottish castle has been open to the public since the 18th century and remains a classic tourist hub to this date.

15. Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle standing tall highlighting its beautiful  structure.
Craigievar Castle stands tall highlighting its beautiful structure.

Pink and Disney-like, Craigievar Castle nestles into its fairytale setting with an interior that is full of art, history, and even armor. . The cozy interior and the ambiance of antiquity alone is enough to make one want to start residing there themselves.

Completed by William Forbes in the 17th century, there have been little to no additions to its architecture since then. There is no artificial lighting beyond the first floor, so every visitor gets to experience a period-authentic visit.

16. Duart Castle

Worm's eye view of Duart Castle standing at the hilltop.
Worm’s eye view of Duart Castle.

Duart Castle originated in the 14th century and became a veritable ruin after an adventurous history. It was completely revamped under the ownership of Sir Fitzroy Maclean. Today, it’s an attractive tourist destination where people come to enjoy the Scottish heritage and culture, while also enjoying the various activities offered at the Isle of Mull.

Some of the most magnificent parts of the castle include the Great Hall and the State Rooms. There’s even a clan exhibition where visitors can experience the history of the Macleans’ family history!

17. Floors Castle

The panoramic view of Floors Castle in front of the green grounds.
The panoramic view of Floors Castle. Timo Newton-Syms from Helsinki, Finland and Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This castle-turned-manor house is one of the most gorgeous architectural jewels of Scotland. Previously, it was a 12th-century fort; the beautifully designed version that we see today was built in the 18th century by the Dukes of Roxburgh. 

The stunning destination of this castle has been featured in a number of movies. The American Heiress Mae Goelot’s (a one-time owner) legacy of authentic Gobelin tapestries still resides in the castle. The gorgeous green grounds and elaborate architecture make it a must-visit site when you’re in the area.

18. Kilchurn Castle

The scenic view of Kilchurn Castle near the water and the mountain behind.
The scenic view of Kilchurn Castle. Kilchurn Castle flickr photo by Markus Trienke shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Constructed by the powerful Campbell Clan in the 15th century, Kilchurn Castle is a massive ruin these days. Its five-story tower was one of its most massive features back in the day.

Today, its surroundings are slightly altered than in the past, as the water level in its neighboring Loch Awe was adjusted in the 19th century. It is now perched on a peninsula that floods and becomes an island when the water levels in the loch rise up.

19. Blair Castle

The main facade of Blair castle showing itsbeautiful structure and white walls.
The main facade of Blair castle. © Guillaume Piolle

As the standing seat of the Dukes of Atholl, Blair Castle enjoys a 13th-century origin at the hands of the Lord of Badenoch. The only architectural remnant remaining from that era today, however, is the Tower of Comyn which rises six storeys tall. Through the centuries, subsequent owners kept adding to it until it became the version that we can see today.

These days, the castle is an interesting tourist destination where one can see the weapons collection, the furniture, paintings, and even various trophies and souvenirs collected by the family over the years.

20. Blackness Castle

The aerial view of Blackness castle showing the full area and the sea.
The aerial view of Blackness castle. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

Built by the first Earl of Caithness on the site of a previous fort, Blackness Castle had a strategic port-side location that made it quite desirable at the time. Its layout and plan resembles a ship, which is why it has been dubbed the “ship that never sailed.” 

Today, Blackness falls under the Office of Works after a restoration regime in the early twentieth century. Its imposing medieval facade remains intact and many tourists love roaming its lush green grounds. You might have seen it on the hit television series “Outlander.”

Conclusion

Scotland has so much to explore, so many castles dotting the countryside that you will be spoilt for choice. Full of adventure, turmoil, mystery, and intrigue, it is hard not to get fascinated by these castles. They have inspired literature and been the background of many movies, including the James Bond franchise. Many castles are in ruins while some have been transformed into museums and a few are still lived in by the current generation of long-term owning families.

So, if you plan to visit Scotland–plan a visit to these awesome castles! For more information, general guidelines, advice, and recommendations, feel free to browse around our website and contact us for any assistance.

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Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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