Visitors to Scotland really do have a wealth of places to visit and things to try when traveling around the country. While lochs and whisky distilleries may be the first things that come to mind, it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming number of brilliant Scottish castles found everywhere. From Edinburgh to its outer islands, there are some breathtaking castles in Scotland loaded with history and scenery.
To help you make the most of your trip up north, here are the best castles in Scotland that you will want to keep in mind when planning your itinerary. We’ve also included a few of the best castle stays in Scotland so you can take your vacation to the next level.
1. Floors Castle
Residence to the Duke of Roxburghe in southeast Scotland, Floors Castle is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. The castle dates from the 1720s and flaunts an embellished Georgian design full of turrets and other grand additions, thanks to its 19th century renovation. While more of a country manor in its styling, Floors Castle is recognized as the largest inhabited castle in Scotland. With a visit you get to see not only its wonderful gardens, but also some stunning tapestries and artwork.
2. Inveraray Castle
With its foreboding exterior and sublime interior, Inveraray Castle boasts many characteristics that make it one of the best castles to visit in Scotland. Work on this Gothic Revival castle by Loch Fyne started in 1743, and it has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll since the late 18th century. Inside Inveraray Castle you’ll find a gorgeous neoclassical interior, including the irreplaceable Beauvais tapestries. You may recognize parts of the castle from TV, as scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed here.
3. Dunrobin Castle
For a magnificent castle in the Highlands of Scotland, look no further than Dunrobin Castle. One look at this enormous castle with its mighty spires, and you won’t have any trouble believing that it houses 189 separate rooms and is the largest castle in the Northern Highlands. Dunrobin’s current appearance dates from the late 19th century, but there has been a castle here in Sutherland since the 13th century. The castle has served various roles, from naval hospital to boarding school, but is now dedicated to sharing Scottish history with its visitors.
4. Caerlaverock Castle
There’s a great variety of castles in Scotland thanks to landmarks like Caerlaverock Castle, with its distinctive triangular shape. This moated castle a little outside Dumfries in the country’s south features a curious triangular layout that is certainly memorable. Even though it’s still surrounded by a flooded moat, Caerlaverock Castle unfortunately has been abandoned since the 17th century, when it belonged to the prominent Maxwell family. Nowadays, this 13th century castle is a protected monument, in part because of its role during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
5. Crathes Castle
A classic harled castle near the town of Banchory, Crathes Castle offers visitors a welcome combination of charm and history. That’s because this 16th century castle belonged to the Burnetts of Leys who had close ties to the famed Scottish figure Robert the Bruce. In fact, both the land that Crathes Castle stands on, as well as the treasured Horn of Leys were granted to the family by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century. Beyond that famous connection, Crathes Castle features gorgeous grounds and some special painted ceilings.
6. Craigievar Castle
Few would expect to find a pink castle in Scotland, and yet that’s exactly what you get with Craigievar Castle. Sitting at the bottom of the Grampian Mountains in Aberdeenshire, this tower-shaped castle indeed has a subtle pink color that makes it look like it’s been pulled from a fairy tale. Much of that is thanks to its classic Scottish Baronial architectural design, complete with harled walls, turrets, and gargoyles. Craigievar Castle was built during the 17th century and served as the seat of Clan Sempill for several centuries.
7. Kilchurn Castle
Castle ruins can be just as interesting to visit as preserved castles, especially when they’re as breathtaking and moody as Kilchurn Castle. Sitting by the northeastern end of Loch Awe, Kilchurn offers up the kind of classic Scottish scenery visitors dream of seeing. The castle rose during the 15th century as the home to the Campbells of Glenorchy, before falling into ruin around 1770. The ruins are still quite captivating today, especially when reflected in the calm waters of Loch Awe.
8. Fyvie Castle
Looking at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, you’d never guess that it is over 800 years old. But this striking fortress in the village of Fyvie really is – it just was renovated in the early 20th century to give it a much more youthful appearance. Fyvie Castle’s Scottish Baronial architecture is quite a sight for visitors with its imposing figure among expansive and pretty grounds. What really tends to hook tourists, though, are the stories about the castle being haunted, although the antiques and interior are quite nice as well.
9. Culzean Castle
Travelers who dream of spending a night in a castle while on vacation should visit Culzean Castle, as it’s probably the best castle hotel in Scotland. To stay at this superb 19th century castle, though, you do have to book out the entire castle. That said, you get a lot for your money, including six bedrooms, meals, a private tour, and other nice extras. Those content with just visiting get to see the beautiful scenery around this clifftop castle, the coast of Firth of Clyde, and the stately Oval Staircase inside.
10. Brodie Castle
To see a stunning Highland castle that will help you step back in time, be sure to check out Brodie Castle near Forres. This well-preserved castle in the Scottish Highlands is a real sight to behold, with its charming exterior and peaceful gardens. Like a few things in Scotland, Brodie Castle has a Macbeth connection, as it’s said to be close to where the general met the Weird Sisters in the play. The castle grounds are particularly pleasant in spring when the daffodils are in bloom, while the antiques and furnishings inside are interesting year-round.
11. Drummond Castle
British castles are known for their iconic formal gardens, and that’s definitely the case with the ones at Drummond Castle. Even though the castle itself is quite an impressive and historic building, it ultimately plays second fiddle to the terraced gardens around it. The gardens have even been categorized higher than the castle among listed buildings by Historic Environment Scotland. Found a little ways south of Crieff, Drummond Castle dates from the late 15th century, and the formal terraced gardens from the 1630s. Both underwent renovations though during the Victorian era to give them their current look.
12. Dirleton Castle
Looking exactly like what you’d expect from a medieval fortress, Dirleton Castle is an atmospheric attraction to the east of Edinburgh. Built in the 13th century, the castle saw heavy damage during the Wars of Scottish Independence and was left abandoned near the end of the 17th century. What remains of Dirleton Castle’s keep and residence today, though, is quite romantic. The castle’s gardens also have received some acclaim and are well worth a wander through.
13. Castle Fraser
Z-plan castles are common across Scotland, with Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire being one of the most famous of its kind. The castles are named Z-plan due to the diagonal arrangement of their towers, and Castle Fraser is one of the most elaborate of them all. Castle Fraser dates back to the 1450s and belonged to the Fraser family for more than 400 years. To this day, it’s still full of family portraits and heirlooms from the Frasers.
14. Duart Castle
With gorgeous surroundings in its position on the edge of a peninsula on the Isle of Mull, Duart Castle looks like a picture come to life. This scenic and strategic castle overlooks the Sound of Mull and was once used to control the channel between the island and the mainland. Although it owes its present state to restoration in 1911, the castle dates all the way back to the 13th century and has belonged to Clan MacLean throughout the centuries. Visitors here can learn more about the clan and see its splendid rooms and halls.
15. St Andrews Castle
Some castles have spent more of their lifetime in ruin than in use, which seems to be the case with St Andrews Castle in the town of the same name. Since the first castle was founded here at the start of the 13th century, there’s been a cycle of destruction and rebuilding. The ruins here in St Andrews date from the bishop’s palace built here at the turn of the 15th century. Because St Andrews Castle saw so much war and conflict, there’s plenty of history to learn about as you delve into its dungeons and underground mine.
16. Dunvegan Castle
While it’s already one of the most dramatic places to visit in Scotland, there are also some awesome castles on the Isle of Skye, like Dunvegan Castle, just waiting for you to explore. Learn the history of Clan MacLeod, who have called Dunvegan home for 800 years, as you explore the castle on its rocky perch over Loch Dunvegan. Dunvegan Castle also is one of the best castles to stay at in Scotland, as you can rent out holiday cottages on the castle grounds to spend more time there.
17. Dunnottar Castle
Sitting high upon intimidating cliffs, Dunnottar Castle makes a dramatic first impression. It’s position on a headland south of Stonehaven may have been purely strategic back in the Middle Ages, but tourists today are surely grateful for the picture-postcard view it now provides. The different parts of Dunnottar Castle date from different eras, but the oldest parts come from the 14th to 16th centuries. Interestingly, due to its defensible position, Dunnottar was used to protect the crown jewels from Cromwell’s army in a defining moment of the 17th century.
18. Balmoral Castle
Few Victorian castles live up to that description quite like Balmoral Castle, a favorite residence of Queen Victoria. Built to replace a smaller castle here in Aberdeenshire, this castle was constructed with a Scottish Baronial style in 1856. Since then, it has been a private home of the British Royal Family and is currently owned by Queen Elizabeth II. When the Queen isn’t in residence, visitors are able to tour through Balmoral Castle and see the spectacular Castle Ballroom and its pleasant gardens and grounds.
19. Stirling Castle
There’s a lot to be said about Stirling Castle, seeing as it has huge historical significance and is also quite visually impressive. What makes Stirling Castle so special is that it was once a royal residence for Scottish Kings and Queens before Scotland’s union with England. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned here in 1542, which should give you a sense of how crucial this castle once was. Beyond its turbulent history, Stirling Castle has a lot of grandeur to it that you’ll see as you tour its halls and museum.
20. Edinburgh Castle
One of the most famous and easily recognisable castles in Scotland has to be Edinburgh Castle in the Scottish capital. With its loft position up on top of Castle Rock, this castle in Edinburgh overlooks the entire city and is a defining feature of the city’s skyline. Edinburgh Castle has been around since at least the 11th century, proving to be a major stronghold during various serious conflicts. Visiting today, you can learn more about this mighty castle and see treasured relics like the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and Mons Meg.
21. Glamis Castle
Of the many castles around Scotland, few have as many big-name connections as Glamis Castle. While it may not have actually been home to the real King Macbeth, Glamis Castle is famous for, among other things, being the home to Macbeth in Shakespeare’s tragedy. It’s real-world ties are just as impressive, as it once was the home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Of course, this stone stronghold from the 10th/11th century is also quite a striking figure, thanks to its distinctive red sandstone exterior.
22. Eilean Donan Castle
When it comes to moody castles with stunning scenery, you really can’t go past Eilean Donan Castle in the western Scottish Highlands. This picture-perfect castle sits on an island nestled between three sea lochs and is accessed by an old stone footbridge. Eilean Donan Castle has a long history to its name, having been a vital stronghold for Clans Mackenzie and Macrae. However, the original castle was destroyed centuries ago, so what stands today is a rebuilt version from the 20th century. Still, it’s no less beautiful, and the castle has even been featured in multiple movies, including Highlander and The World Is Not Enough.
23. Ballindalloch Castle
Dubbed the “Pearl of the North,” Ballindalloch Castle is a quaint historical landmark with plenty of character. Found in Banffshire among one of Scotland’s best known whisky regions, this castle has remained within the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546, who still live there to this day. With its ivy-clad grey exterior and distinctive Z-plan layout, you won’t mistake Ballindalloch Castle for any other castles on this list. While you can take a tour of this castle and gardens, this is still very much a family residence and is full of family heirlooms.
24. Cawdor Castle
Separating truth from legend can be an interesting task when it comes to romantic Cawdor Castle. This castle in the Highlands near Nairn dates from the 14th century and has strong ties to the Thanes of Cawdor, Clan Calder, and Clan Campbell. But it’s perhaps best known as the fictional home of the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, even though that play is set centuries before this castle existed. More interesting, though, is the legend that the castle was built around a thorn tree from the 14th century that visitors can actually see when they visit today.
25. Lews Castle
Those hoping to stay in a castle in Scotland while also visiting the Outer Hebrides really are in luck with Lews Castle. This magnificent 19th century castle found on the Isle of Lewis features self-catering apartments and contemporary suites throughout its upper floors, giving you a taste of noble life when you stay. From the windows within this gothic-revival castle, you may just be able to spy seals out in the harbor of Stornoway just down the hill. Lews Castle is sure to deliver a restful stay, thanks to its pristine grounds and decadent facilities like its ground floor whisky bar.
Map of the Best Castles in Scotland, UK
Surely that’s enough castles from Scotland to at least get you started planning your visit. Good luck trying to fit them all into your itinerary, but it might be just as hard deciding which to leave out.