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Scotland is a synonym for castles; for enchanting and mighty castles and monuments. Whichever places you visit in Scotland, you’re likely to spot several castles along the way. Most castles in Scotland have a fierce past behind them due to English, Viking or other historical events or battles between the Scottish Clans.
There are said to be 2,000 to 4,000 castles in Scotland – the exact number is unknown. The stunning scenery that some Scottish castles are set in undoubtedly adds to their mystery.
This article highlights the most beautiful or iconic castles that I have visited during my travels in Scotland. I’m planning on adding to it after our summer road trip later this year.
Top Tip: If you hold a membership for a membership organisation for heritage conservation, you can safe on entrance fees for some properties in Scotland.
English National Trust has a partnership with The National Trust for Scotland.
English Heritage has a partnership with Historic Scotland.
How To Use This Map: Click the Tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the Layers. You can click the Tick Boxes to hide or show Layers. If you click the Icons on the map, you can get more information about each activity/point of interest. If you click the Star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your computer or phone, open Google Maps, click the Menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and this map will appear on your list.
1. Urquhart Castle
One thousand years of history await you in these intriguing castle ruins. The castle has a distinctly Highland heritage and the site has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in Scotland’s history. There’s a visitor centre complete with a cafe as well as a souvenir shop.
Urquhart Castle gets very busy in the summer months when bus-loads of tourists are being ferried on various sightseeing tours. Nonetheless, it’s unquestionably worth a visit as the crowds disperse in the large grounds.
Urquhart Castle is the castle I fell in love with when I first visited Scotland in 2000. Perched on the shores of Loch Ness, you do wonder what Nessie is up to while you explore the castle ruins.
When I took my kids on a road trip to Scotland in summer 2017, my then four-year old declared that he “would like to visit again when the castle wasn’t broken”. It seems as if he’s going to be disappointed yet again on his next visit…
Address: Urquhart Castle, By Drumnadrochit, Near Inverness , IV63 6XJ
National Grid reference: NH 530 285
For opening times & tickets, check Urquhart Castle’s website.
Membership: Historic Scotland
2. Dunrobin Castle & Gardens
Dunrobin Castle & Gardens is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. It is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.
Dunrobin Castle is truly a fairytale castle. If you don’t have time to visit both the castle and the gardens, do make time to at least visit the magnificent and impeccable gardens.
Address: Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, KW10 6SF
For opening times & tickets, check Dunrobin Castle’s website.
Top Tip: Dunrobin Castle is located about 85km north of Inverness on the North Coast 500 route. So add this to your itinerary if you’re in Inverness or planning to explore the NC500.
3. Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is a small tidal island situated at the confluence of three sea lochs in the western Highlands of Scotland. Conveniently located off the A87 near Dornie, it’s a stone-throw (or 13km) away from Kyle of Lochalsh, the gateway to the Isle of Skye.
The iconic Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most visited attractions in the Scottish Highlands. It must also be one of the most-photographed castles in Scotland; no wonder, as it’s utterly magical, especially at night.
Address: Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, by Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8DX
For opening times & tickets, check Eilean Donan Castle’s website.
Top Tip: If you’re planning to visit the Isle of Skye, add Eilean Donan Castle to your itinerary.
4. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle, located in Stirling, is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. The castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation.
The palace is one of the best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the UK and has been refurbished to look as it might have done around the 1540s. Splendidly decorated and furnished, it recalls the years when it was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots.
With its many rooms, exhibitions and great garden and grounds, you can easily spend half a day at this historic castle.
Address: Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ
For opening times & tickets, check Stirling Castle’s website.
5. Wallace Monument
While you’re in Stirling, do not miss a visit to the National Wallace Monument, a 67-metre tower on the shoulder of the Abbey Craig, a hilltop overlooking Stirling. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, a 13th-and 14th-century Scottish hero.
You can visit the tower for an admission fee. Visitors approach by foot from the base of the crag on which it stands. On entry there are 246 steps to the final observation platform, with three exhibition rooms within the body of the tower.
Address: The National Wallace Monument, Abbey Craig, Hillfoots Road, Causewayhead, Stirling FK9 5LF
For opening times & tickets, check The National Wallace Monument’s website.
6. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. With a long rich history as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress, it is alive with many exciting tales. When you climb Castle Rock, you will walk in the footsteps of soldiers, kings and queens – and even the odd pirate or two.
Visiting Edinburgh Castle while in Edinburgh is a must. It’s also hard to miss as it’s visible from across the city. You can book various audio guide tours for your visit.
Address: Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
For opening times & tickets, check Edinburgh Castle’s website.
Membership: Historic Scotland
7. Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, is located at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. The 16th-century historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.
We have seen the palace only from the outside, but are hoping to peek inside on our next visit. Located only a short stroll (about 1.5km) from Edinburgh Castle, it makes for a great day out to visit both castles while in Edinburgh.
Address: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX
For opening times & tickets, check Palace of Holyroodhouse’s website.
8. Inverness Castle
Located in Inverness, considered to be the gateway to the Highlands, you are very likely to stumble upon Inverness Castle on your way to the Highlands. It makes a great back-drop for pictures and you can also admire great views over the city and River Ness.
In 2017 the north tower of the castle was opened to the public as a viewpoint. At present, only the castle grounds and the north tower are open to the public. The remainder of the castle is not open to the public.
Address: Inverness Castle, Inverness IV2 3EG
For opening times & tickets, check Inverness Castle’s website.
9. Balmoral Castle
The Queen’s private residence in the Scottish Highlands is thought to be her favourite getaway as she spends every summer there. Tucked away in the Cairngorms National Park in the Eastern Highlands, it’s easy to see why.
Balmoral Castle’s grounds, gardens, exhibitions, gift shops and coffee shop are open to the public in spring and summer but closed in August when the Queen spends her summer holiday there.
Address: Balmoral Estates, The Estates Office, Balmoral Estates, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB
For opening times & tickets, check Balmoral Castle’s website.
10. The Castle & Gardens of Mey
The Castle & Gardens of Mey, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s favourite castle which she purchased in 1952, even featured in the Netflix series “The Crown”. Located in Caithness, about 10 km west of John o’ Groats, on route the North Coast 500, you’ll inevitably pass by this beautiful little castle on the edge of the Scottish Northern Coast.
The Castle & Gardens of Mey are open from 1st May 2022.
Address: Castle of Mey, Mey, Thurso KW14 8XH
For opening times & tickets, check Castle of Mey’s website.
- Scotland The Best: This is undoubtedly the best Scotland guidebook out there!
I commend how this travel guide is structured – listing everything worthwhile seeing, doing or experiencing with a star rating for exceptional recommendations. From insider information about the best scenery – such as awe-inspiring hiking trails or spectacular waterfalls – to recommendations for best restaurants, accommodation and even campsites. Whatever you’ll be looking for, it’s in there. (And if it’s not in there, then it’s probably not worth exploring.)
If you’re after more traditional guide books, I recommend The Rough Guide series:
- The Rough Guide to Scotland
- The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands & Islands
- The Rough Guide to the North Coast 500 (this looks like a great resource for anyone wanting to explore the North Coast 500 (which wasn’t yet available during our road trip; so I haven’t read it yet.)
Scottish Castles bear a lot of history, most of it cruel. When you visit a castle in Scotland, you inevitably immerse yourself into the deep history of it and its people.
Ever since I spent 7 months in Glasgow in the year 2000, doing an internship as part of my university studies, Scotland has a special place in my heart. I fell in love with its history, scenery, Highlands and Islands, architecture and most importantly, its people. (And no, I did not fall in love with the Scottish weather. 🙂 )
Finally, in summer 2017, I took my kids on a 6-week road trip through Scotland and we made wonderful memories together. In the summer of 2022, we had the opportunity to return to Scotland and revisit some of our favourite places from our previous trip. We also had the chance to create new experiences and make new memories during our time there.”
Last updated: 7 Jan 2023
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