Scotland boasts a massive array of awe-inspiring and historical castles, renowned worldwide. These magnificent structures, ranging from ruined remnants of the past to grand palaces, provide a window into Scotland’s affluent history and cultural heritage.
If you’re a lover of history, architecture, or seeking an unparalleled travel experience, Scotland’s castles are an absolute must-visit. As we’ll soon discover, they are all completely different from each other. These are 12 of the most iconic castles in Scotland
Up next we delve into a closer examination of twelve of the finest castles Scotland has to offer, from the dramatic and commanding Edinburgh Castle to the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle.
Why So Many Castles in Scotland?
Before we dive into the top 12 castles, its curious to wonder why does Scotland have so many castles?
A side note here is that Scotland is estimated to have over 30,000 castles, including ruins that still exist.
In short, war & conflict. Scotland has been at the heart of so many battles & invasions over the ages. During the medieval times, castles were being built to defend its residents against such attacks. Unlike in England & Wales, where castles were huge fortified structures, in Scotland castles were created more as “fortified homes”, hence such a huge variety and number of them.
Right… lets get to the big twelve castles of them all in Scotland. And yes we know, if you’re doing the NC500, some of these are not on route, but are definitely worth stopping by, maybe on the way home?
1. Edinburgh Castle
This is one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks and a must-visit destination for any visitor to the country. Perched atop an extinct volcano and overlooking the city of Edinburgh, this castle has been a dominant feature of the Scottish capital for centuries.
Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 12th century, making it one of the oldest fortified buildings in Europe. It has been the site of many important historical events, including the Wars of Scottish Independence and the signing of the Treaty of Union.
It has been used for various purposes throughout its life, including as a royal residence, military garrison, prison, and fortress. It has been besieged 23 times and is home to St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Scotland. A gun that has been kept on the castle’s walls since 1861 still fires every day.
Royalty such as Queen Margaret (later St. Margaret), who died there in 1093, and Mary Queen of Scots, who gave birth to James VI in the Royal Palace in 1566 have sheltered at Edinburgh Castle and the castle was among Scotland’s chief royal residences during the 1400s and 1500s
Today, the castle is a museum and visitor attraction, offering views of the city and a wealth of historical exhibitions.
- Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
- Opening Hours: 09:30-17:00 Everyday
- Approximate Cost: £18 (one adult)
- Phone Number: 0131 225 9846
- Website: https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/
2. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is another important castle in Scotland, and one that is steeped in history and legend.
Known for its strong defensive position (see the note above about the number of invasions to Scotland) because of it being surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs (so very hard to attack) and stood on Mote Hill.
The castle was once the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was also the site of several key battles during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Today the castle has gone through many adaptations & decorations by monarchs. Stirling Castle is a popular visitor attraction, offering tours of the castle’s many historic rooms and exhibitions on its rich history.
- Address: Castle Wynd, Stirling FK8 1EJ
- Opening Hours: 09:30-17:00 Everyday
- Approximate Cost: £17 (one adult)
- Phone Number: 01786 450000
- Website: https://www.stirlingcastle.scot/
3. Eilean Donan Castle
Set on a small island in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s most picturesque castles,
Known for its stunning location, surrounded by amazing views of the lochs and hills, as well as its rich history.
The castle dates back to the 13th century and has been the site of many important battles and historical events, including the Wars of Scottish Independence. It is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint who was martyred in 617 and is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace remains today.
Eilean Donan Castle today is a popular tourist destination, offering guided tours, exhibitions, and a museum.
- Address: Dornie by Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX
- Opening Hours: Varies, 09:00-1800 during peak times
- Approximate Cost: £11 (one adult)
- Phone Number: 01599 555202
- Website: https://www.eileandonancastle.com/
4. Urquhart Castle
One of Scotland’s largest and most impressive castles, set on the banks of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Urquhart Castle has a rich history, dating back to the 13th century and was once one of the most important castles in Scotland.
Urquhart Castle is a ruined castle, adding to its beauty and for those imaginative knights aged 5 (and maybe 44 too).
Today, the castle is a popular visitor attraction, offering tours of its many historic rooms and exhibitions on its rich history.
- Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ
- Opening Hours: Varies, 09:00-20:00 during peak times
- Approximate Cost: £12 (one adult)
- Phone Number: 0131 668 8600
- Website: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/urquhart-castle/
5. Balmoral Castle
Probably the most famous of them all is Balmoral Castle.
It is a favourite holiday home of the British Royal Family since 1852 when Prince Albert purchased the estate for Queen Victoria. While described as a castle, Balmoral is actually a large estate house situated in Aberdeenshire.
The castle is set in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by stunning scenery and rolling hills. The castle has a rich history, dating back to the 19th century and has been the site of many important events and visits by the Royal Family.
Originally a small castle, when purchased by Prince Albert, it was replaced by todays granite building in around 1853-1856 and designed in Scottish baronial style by a local architect named William Smith.
Like all the castles mentioned, the Balmoral Castle is a popular visitor attraction, offering tours of its many historic rooms and exhibitions on its rich history.
- Address: Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5TB
- Opening Hours: Varies, 10:00-16:00 during peak times
- Approximate Cost: £16.50
- Phone Number: 013397 42534
- Website: https://www.balmoralcastle.com/
6. Inveraray Castle
Nestled in the small town of Inverarary lies a historic gem, Inverarary Castle is an excellent example of Georgian architecture dates back to the mid-18th century and is widely considered one of the most impressive of its kind in Scotland.
The castle has been in the same family for an awe-inspiring 700 years. The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll and Chief of the Clan Campbell.
As you approach the castle, you’ll be struck by its blend of Gothic and classical styles, all centred around a grand courtyard. Step inside the castle and you’ll be transported to a world of grand state rooms, adorned with antique furnishings and works of art. Explore the great hall and drawing room, and be sure look out for the collection of arms, armour, and historic portraits that adorn the walls.
The beauty of Inverarary Castle extends beyond its walls. The castle grounds have expansive gardens, including a walled garden, kitchen garden, and woodland walk, offering a tranquil escape.
Guided tours are available, providing visitors with the opportunity to delve deeper into the castle’s rich history and beauty.
- Address: Inveraray PA32 8XE
- Opening Hours: Varies, 10:00-17:00 during peak times
- Approximate Cost: £16
- Phone Number: 01499 302203
- Website: https://www.inveraray-castle.com/
7. Doune Castle
Built in the late 14th century, is a remarkable feat of architecture and engineering, considered one of Scotland’s most complete castles. Originally built as a residence for Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, this fortress played a pivotal role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Step into the grand central courtyard of Doune Castle and be transported back in time to the medieval era. The castle walls and towers stand tall, enclosing a collection of impressive spaces including a great hall, chapel, and private apartments (remember it is extremely common for castles in Scotland to be fortified homes). These spaces have been restored to their original appearance, giving visitors a glimpse into the past.
As you explore the castle grounds, take a stroll through the picturesque gardens and parkland that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. The castle’s rich history and architecture are brought to life through guided tours, where you can learn about its significant role in Scotland’s past.
Not only is Doune Castle a historical landmark, but it is also a popular filming location. It has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The great hall, also known as the “Thrones Room”, was famously used as Winterfell in the hit TV show “Game of Thrones”.
So, whether you’re a history buff, a fan of medieval architecture, or just love a good castle tour, make sure to add Doune Castle to your Scotland itinerary.
- Address: Castle Hill, Doune FK16 6EA
- Opening Hours: Daily 10:00-16:00 1st Oct to 31st Mar, 9.30 to 5.30pm 1st Apr to 30th Sept
- Approximate Cost: £10
- Phone Number: 01786 841742
- Website: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/doune-castle/
8. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle is a timeless beauty that has captivated visitors for centuries. This historic castle, located in the village of Glamis in Angus, just North of Dundee and is renowned for its rich history, stunning architecture and picturesque surroundings.
Built in the 14th century, Glamis Castle has a interesting past that includes serving as a residence for the Scottish monarchs, being the birthplace of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and inspiring the setting of Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth. Today, the castle remains a popular tourist destinations, with visitors from around the world coming to explore its grand halls, lush gardens, and fascinating history.
Dogs are allowed at Glamis Castle in the gardens and tours of the gardens and/or the castle are available. The castle is open to the public from the 18th March to the 31st October (2023).
Glamis Castle’s exterior boasts a unique blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles, with its distinctive turrets, towers, and spires creating a striking silhouette against the Scottish sky. Inside, you are treated to a wealth of intricate details, from ornate ceilings and tapestries to the lavish furnishings of the royal apartments.
In addition to its architectural splendor, Glamis Castle is also home to several stunning gardens and grounds (pets allowed and available as a separate option when booking). The castle’s walled garden is a particular highlight, with its vibrant flower beds, manicured lawns, and picturesque water features providing a tranquil oasis in the heart of the castle grounds. Visitors can also take a stroll through the surrounding woodland and parkland, where they may spot local wildlife such as red squirrels, deer, and even ospreys have been seen here soaring the summer thermals.
- Address: Glamis Castle, Angus, DD8 1RJ
- Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10am-5pm, 18th March – 31st October 2023
- Approximate Cost: £16.00 (Adult castle Tour), £7.50 (Adult Gardens & Grounds)
- Phone Number: 01307 840393
- Website: https://www.glamis-castle.co.uk/
9. Dunvegan Castle
Nestled in the hills of the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is another Scottish gem that has enchanted visitors for centuries. This historic castle, located in the village of Dunvegan (in the North West corner of Skye), is known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and stunning natural surroundings.
Dating all the way back to the 13th century, Dunvegan Castle is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland and has been the seat of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over eight hundred years. The castle’s grand halls and royal apartments are adorned with portraits, antique furnishings, and priceless artifacts, providing visitors with a fascinating glimpse into the castle’s rich history and cultural heritage.
Dogs on leads are welcome in the gardens, but not in the castle. You can book the gardens and castle separately or together (just £2 more for one adult). Also seal trips are available in Loch Dunvegan and Blue Peter badges are accepted.
One of the most striking features of Dunvegan Castle is its distinctive architecture, with its imposing towers and turrets rising above the surrounding landscape. The castle’s interior is equally impressive, with its ornate ceilings, lavish furnishings, and intricate tapestries transporting you back in time to the castle’s medieval past.
Dunvegan is also home to several stunning natural attractions. The castle is situated on the shores of Loch Dunvegan (see note above about the seal trips), a picturesque lake that provides a tranquil backdrop for the castle’s sprawling gardens and grounds. Visitors can stroll through the castle’s walled garden, where they can admire a wide array of vibrant flowers, plants, and trees, or take a walk along the nearby beach, where they may catch a glimpse of seals, otters, and other local wildlife.
- Address: Dunvegan Castle & Gardens Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, IV55 8WF
- Opening Hours: Open daily from 1st April to 15th October
- Approximate Cost: £16 (Adult)
- Phone Number: 01470 521206
- Website: https://www.dunvegancastle.com/
10. CASTLE FRASER
Castle Fraser is a fairytale fortress that has enchanted visitors to Aberdeenshire for centuries. This historic castle, located in the village of Sauchen (West of Aberdeen), is known for its stunning architecture, rich history, and sprawling grounds.
A 16th century Castle, Castle Fraser is a magnificent example of Scottish baronial architecture (remember that castles in Scotland are fortified homes). Its imposing towers, turrets, and crenelated walls provide an amazing backdrop for the castle’s grand halls and royal apartments, which are adorned with period furnishings, paintings, and tapestries.
Beyond the castle walls, Castle Fraser is surrounded by acres of beautiful parkland and gardens. Visitors can take a stroll through the castle’s walled garden, where they can admire a wide array of vibrant flowers, plants, and trees, or take a walk through the nearby woodland, which is home to a variety of local wildlife.
The castle’s galleries feature a wide array of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, while its museums showcase everything from antique furniture and clothing to military weaponry and archaeological finds.
- Address: Castle Fraser, Sauchen, Inverurie, AB51 7LD
- Opening Hours: Varies, 10:00-16:00 for the castle and the grounds open dawn to dusk
- Approximate Cost: £14.50 (Adult)
- Phone Number: 01330 833463
- Website: https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/castle-fraser
11. BLAIR CASTLE
A historic fortress located right in the heart of the Scottish Highlands on the Southern edge of the Cairngorms national park. Blair Castle with its stunning architecture, rich history, and picturesque surroundings.
Built in the 13th century, Blair Castle has been the seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl for over 700 years. The castle’s impressive stone walls, turrets, and towers give visitors a glimpse into its storied past, while its grand halls, royal apartments, and period furnishings provide an insight into times gone by.
Blair Castle is surrounded by acres of beautiful parkland and gardens. Visitors can take a stroll through the castle’s extensive grounds, which include a walled garden, woodland walks, and even a ruined kirk. With its stunning views of the Scottish Highlands, Blair Castle’s grounds are the perfect place to take in the natural beauty of this breath-taking region.
Dogs on leads are welcome in the grounds, but not in the castle.
While you’re visiting Blair Castle, why not make it an overnight stop?
Blair Castle has a caravan park with static caravans, lodges, pods and sports for those touring or camping. See here for more details https://atholl-estates.co.uk/stay-with-us/caravan-park/
- Address: Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, PH18 5TL
- Opening Hours: Varies, 10:00-14:00 during peak season
- Approximate Cost: £17 (Adult)
- Phone Number: 01796 481207
- Website: https://atholl-estates.co.uk/blair-castle/
12. Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle located in the Northern Highlands, it boasts breath-taking views of the Moray Firth and is one of the most magnificent castles in the entirety of Scotland.
Due to its location, almost half way between Inverness and John O’Groats, this is a perfect stop off for those sticking to the NC500 route around Scotland.
When visiting Dunrobin Castle, there is so much to see and do. Take a tour of the castle’s interior and marvel at the grandeur of the rooms and the exquisite art and artifacts on display.
There are daily falconry displays where you’ll get to see a range of birds of prey soaring through the air though the castles stunning gardens.
Dogs are welcome in the woodlands surrounding the castle, but are not allowed in the formal gardens or castle.
Dunrobin Castle has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for over seven centuries and has a rich and fascinating history. Explore the castle’s many rooms and learn about the stories and legends of the families who once called it home.
- Address: Dunrobin Castle Golspie, Sutherland Scotland, KW10 6SF
- Opening Hours: Open between 1st April to 31st October, 11.00 until 16.00 daily.
- Approximate Cost: £14 (Adult)
- Phone Number: 01408 633177
- Website: http://www.dunrobincastle.co.uk/
Scotland’s castles are a true testament to the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. From the imposing Edinburgh Castle to the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, these magnificent structures offer a glimpse into Scotland’s past and are a must-visit for anyone interested in history, architecture, or just looking for a unique travel experience.
As we’ve seen from the above 12 most iconic castles in Scotland, no two castles are alike!
Finally, remember to call or book ahead if you intend visiting any of these castles. Many of these offer guided tours of their castles, gardens and even offer other activities such as seal spotting trips (see Dunvegan Castle above).
Plus do double check opening times change throughout the year. We’ve done out best to keep them up to date, but their websites will be the best source of times and opening dates.
Some Common Castle Questions
Before we go, these are some of the most common questions about castles in Scotland, answered for you.
What is the name of the most famous castle in Scotland?
Edinburgh Castle. This castle dates back to the 12th century, making it one of the oldest fortified buildings in Europe.
What’s the oldest castle in Scotland?
Dunnottar Castle. Believed to be fortified in the early middle ages, it is perched on top of a rocky headland in the north east coast of Scotland
What is the most luxurious castle in Scotland?
This is either Skibo Castle or Glenapp Castle, depending on your point of view. Skibo Castle is now a luxury hotel and private members club. Glenapp Castle which offers fine dining, hotel rooms, tennis and other sporting pursuits could be considered more of a country house rather than a castle
What are Scotland’s biggest castles?
The biggest three castles in Scotland are Stirling Castle, Balmoral Castle and of course, the most famous, Edinburgh Castle
What is the smallest castle in Scotland?
The smallest castle in Scotland is a 16th-century tower house in Aberdeenshire, called Craigievar Castle. Arguably as there are many small castles in Scotland including Castle Fraser, Kildrummy Castle, Redcastle, Spynie Palace and Lochleven Castle. The smallest most recent castle in Scotland from the 1950’s is Hermit’s Castle, Achmelvich.
What is the youngest castle in Scotland?
Most consider the smallest castle to be Craigievar Castle. A tower house built in the 16th century, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Castles in Scotland tend to be on the smaller side when compared to England & Wales as to the Scottish, these buildings tend to be fortified homes. More recent “traditional” castles include Blair Castle (built in the early 19th century) and Inveraray Castle (built in the mid-18th century)
Did Glasgow ever have a castle?
The original Glasgow Castle was built in the 13th century, but was replaced by a larger castle in the 15th century. This was destroyed in the 17th century and only a few remnants of it remain today. Most of the stone was reused for other buildings and what was left of the castle made way for the Royal Infirmary
How many Scottish castles are there?
Scotland is estimated to have over 30,000 castles, including ruins that still exist. With the region historically being invaded often and at war, differing from a traditional large fortified castle, castles in Scotland tend to be fortified homes. That’s why Scotland has so many castles
What are castles called in Scotland?
Nobles in medieval times built about 800 tower house design fortresses. The smaller versions of these “tower houses” were known as “pele houses” or “peel towers”.
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