The Best Castles in Scotland for Your Travel Bucket List
Who doesn’t like castles, right? Whether they’re in shambles or perfectly-maintained, they always have a story to tell. Often, more than one.
And if you’re anything like me, castles provide the perfect opportunities to daydream – to get lost in their history and imagine what life in those ages might have been like.
Even if you aren’t a hopeless romantic like me, castles might still interest the photographer in you. They’re stunning examples of beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that provide ample opportunities to take Insta-worthy shots.
So, where can you find some of the most beautiful castles in the world? Look no further than Scotland, the country that’s estimated to have more than 2000 castles.
And to help you put together the perfect Scotland itinerary, I asked my favorite travel bloggers to share their recommendations for the best castles in Scotland. A big thank you to all of them for helping me put together this Scottish castles list.
Also, did you know you could even stay in a castle in Scotland? This list of castles also includes some of the best Scottish castle hotels you can stay in. Let’s see if you can spot them.
1. Stirling Castle
Recommended by Gillian Denovan from Scotland Bucket List
Stirling Castle is undoubtedly, one of the best castles in Scotland to visit.
It’s also one of the largest castles in Scotland and has been home to many of Scotland’s monarchs for over a thousand years. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned there. Her son, James VI, was baptized in the old royal chapel. And Mary’s father, James V, spent many years in this castle.
We particularly love the Royal Palace, built by James V to celebrate his marriage to his wife, Mary of Guise. He also commissioned some impressive oak portrait carvings (the Stirling Heads). These have recently been recreated as replicas. Don’t miss the free guided tours of Stirling Castle or the costumed interpreters who share many fun anecdotes about the castle and its inhabitants.
The Stirling Castle sits atop Castle Hill in Stirling, Scotland. You can reach it on foot from Stirling town center (a steep climb) or from the castle car park (you will need to pay £4 for parking). We recommend arriving early during the peak season and buying your ticket online which offers fast-track entry. The entrance fee is £15 for adults and £9 for children.
You can also buy an explorer pass instead, which will grant you access to several other historic sites and castles in Scotland. The price starts at £31 for adults and £62 for a family pass (3-day or 7-day pass). You’ll be able to skip the long queue and get a free audio guide with the explorer pass. Win-win right?
2. Dunnottar Castle
Recommended by Kathi Kamleitner from Watch Me See
Dunnottar Castle might just be one of Scotland’s most scenic castles, yet it is far off the beaten tourist trail leading into the Scottish Highlands.
The castle sits on a high clifftop at a headland that sticks out into the sea on the Scottish east coast along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail. Dunnottar Castle is also one of 19 castles in the area that form the Scottish Castle Trail – but it is by far my favorite.
The castle’s buildings stem from the 15th and 16th century, however, it is believed that the headland had been fortified for centuries before that. It was a strategic fortress for the Jacobites but fell into decline after the Jacobite rebellion in 1715.
Today, the ruins have been restored and the castle is once again open to the public. Entrance is £7 and you can buy tickets on site when you arrive. Whether you enjoy history or photography, you must add Dunnottar Castle to your Scotland itinerary.
The best time to visit is early in the morning. If you manage to rise early enough for sunrise, you can get stunning shots of the sun rising behind the castle. There are several trails leading along the coast and to the beaches at the bottom of the cliffs as well. If you want to visit the castle, make sure to be there by 9 AM (10 AM in the winter) to beat the crowds.
3. Glamis Castle
Recommended by Teresa Gomez from Brogan Abroad
Located in the village of Glamis in Angus, Glamis Castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. It is said to be one of the most impressive and romantic castles in Scotland.
Glamis Castle was the childhood home of The Queen Mother (mother of Queen Elizabeth II) and also the birthplace of Princess Margaret. It is also the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Steeped in history, Glamis Castle has gone through a number of transformations over the years to end up with the stunning fairytale-like look it has today. It is set in beautiful gardens and grounds that can be enjoyed all year-round.
Glamis Castle is also widely known as one of the most haunted places in the British Isles. There have been so many reports of ghost sightings that some people say this claim is justified.
Visits to the castle are by guided tour only that leave regularly from 10 AM to 4.30 PM and tickets cost £12.50, which is a bit steep but definitely worth it!
4. Edinburgh Castle
Recommended by Laurence Norah from Finding The Universe
You can’t make a trip to Edinburgh without seeing the magnificent Edinburgh Castle. It sits high on a volcanic mound in the center of the city. But looking at this castle isn’t enough. We’d urge you to take the time to go inside as well, as Edinburgh Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland.
The Edinburgh Castle has a long history. So long in fact, that the exact details of how and why a castle was built here have been lost in time. The castle which stands on the rock today dates back to the 12th century. However, a fortified structure has been here, most likely since the Iron Age, which makes it one of the oldest inhabited castles in the UK.
The castle sits at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and you can walk here easily. If you are planning on going inside, you’ll want to book your tickets in advance to skip the crowds. We’d recommend giving yourself at least two hours for your visit. Also, make sure to be there around 1 PM when a gun is fired to mark the time.
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5. Aikwood Tower
Recommended by Heather Cole from Conversant Traveller
If you’re looking to stay in a castle in Scotland, look no further than Aikwood Tower. It’s a 500-year-old traditional Peel Tower nestled in the heart of the magical Scottish Borders near Selkirk. Now restored as a self-catering property, it’s full of romantic hidey-holes and heaps of medieval charm. By car, it’s about an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh.
The tower has five gorgeous bedrooms, hidden off the spiral stone stairs and can accommodate up to 10 people. This makes it great for families or friends to get together and celebrate a special occasion.
There’s also a stunning Great Hall with a log-burning fireplace, a games room, and a cozy and convivial kitchen which is where the cattle used to sleep.
The views of the surrounding Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys are beautiful, with woodlands, hills, and rivers all around. It’s the perfect location for exploring all that the Scottish Borders has to offer, from castles and abbeys to falconry and afternoon tea. Or even a bit of tomahawk throwing and archery if you dare.
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6. Aberdour Castle
Recommended by Nicola Holland from FunkyEllas Travel
I love exploring Aberdour Castle. It’s situated in the Kingdom of Fife on Scotland’s west coast, in the picturesque coastal town of Aberdour.
It’s a fascinating castle. Built over several centuries with most of it still remaining, it’s one of the oldest castles in Scotland. The construction of the first section began in the 1100’s, and although this part has now collapsed, there’s still a lot you can explore.
Over the years, it gradually expanded to the east. New buildings in different styles were created to suit each new resident. And so, the result is an impressive mish-mash of styles. The gardens are well manicured and very photogenic. And there is a beautifully-shaped doocot (Scottish for dovecote) at the bottom of the terraces.
The three-storied main building features a stunning, well-preserved room with a painted ceiling that’s adorned by fruits and foliage. In another room, the popular TV show, Outlander, was filmed. As you can imagine, this has caused the number of visitors to the castle to skyrocket.
The castle is maintained by Historic Scotland, so if you are a member, entry is free. If not, the entry fees for adults are £6 and for kids between 5 and 15 years are £3.60. The castle is close to the train station, and you can reach it easily by following the road signs.
7. Balloch Castle Country Park
Recommended by Claire Jeffrey from Jeffers Adventures
The small town of Balloch can be found at the entrance to one of Scotland’s most gorgeous national parks, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
Loch Lomond is one of the largest lakes in the UK and has a long history dating back more than 5000 years. At the southern end of the Loch lies the area of Balloch. This was once owned by the ancient Lennox clan whose authority encompassed the whole of Dumbartonshire (west of Glasgow).
One of the most powerful clans in Scotland during the 13th century, the Lennox clan built a modest castle at Balloch, as the seat of the Earldom of Lennox. In 1425, the castle was passed to the Stewart of Darnley branch of the Stewart clan who held this seat. This is the same Stewart clan who were the ancestors of King James I and King Charles I of England.
In the 19th century, Glasgow merchant John Buchanan bought and sadly, demolished the Lennox Castle. He erected a new building in the Tudor-Gothic style with the same stones and a wee bit closer to the Loch. The only evidence of the former castle is a mound of earth where the moat would have been.
It is actually the country park that now attracts visitors. It offers a number of guided walks, picnic spots, pretty gardens (especially in the spring months), and unrivaled views over the south of Loch Lomond. The Park has also hosted musical festivals and highland games.
Balloch is an hour from Glasgow via car or train. There is ample parking available (which was free last time I checked) and there is no entry fee into the park. Dogs are permitted as well as picnics (just no BBQs). However, please remember to clean up after yourselves to make sure that everyone can enjoy the space.
Balloch tends to get busy in the summer months, so I’d recommend booking accommodation well in advance if you are visiting then.
8. Dunrobin Castle
Recommended by Jessica Norah from Independent Travel Cats
Dunrobin Castle is located in the northern part of Scotland near the town of Golspie in the region of Sutherland. Its origins are a bit unclear. However, the earliest part has been dated to the early 15th century, although much of the current building and grounds date back to the 19th century.
It serves as the family seat for the Earl of Sutherland, and the family still live and use the castle. The castle is unusual for Scotland as its style resembles that of castles more typically found in France than in Scotland or England.
It is located along the popular North Coast 500 route, that makes it a great road trip destination. You can easily reach it by car, bus, or taxi. There is parking on-site.
Dunrobin is a popular place, especially in the summer. But the grounds are pretty expansive and most visits are self-guided, allowing you to go at your own pace. However, I’d recommend you to reach early and avoid July-August if you’d prefer fewer crowds.
The castle tours allow you to see a large number of the most impressive rooms. Visitors can also explore the expansive and beautiful gardens as well as a small museum dedicated to Victorian hunting and collecting (not ideal for animal lovers). There are also regular falconry displays by the resident falconer, which have become a very popular part of people’s visits.
The castle is generally open to visitors between April and October each year. Tickets can be purchased on arrival. Until recently, they offered separate tickets for the castle and gardens. But now, they offer only a castle + gardens ticket which is priced at £11.50 per adult.
9. Ackergill Tower
Recommended by Natasha from The World Pursuit
Ackergill Tower is a castle along the Sinclair bay near Wick. We stopped here when we were driving the North Coast 500 and fell in love with every little detail on the side and outside.
Ackergill tower was built in the 15th century and keeps watch over Sinclair Bay. It’s said to be one of the most romantic castles in the British Isles. You will need a car to reach it, but it’s located right off the road between Wick and John O’Groats.
If you’re looking to stay in a castle in Scotland, you can book a room here to stay overnight and enjoy the views. Or you could just book a night out at their fine dining restaurant. We opted to enjoy a fancy dinner here. The service was impeccable. The delicious wine and the amazing Scottish cuisine made us feel like kings and queens.
You can expect to spend about £75 for a delicious meal for two. If you want to stay the night here, I would recommend booking at least a month in advance, especially during the high season.
10. Urquhart Castle
Recommended by Sanne van den Berg from Veni Vidi
The castle dates back to the 13th to the 16th centuries. In the 14th century, the Urquhart Castle played an important role in the Wars of Scottish Independence. However, in the 17th century, the castle was largely abandoned and partially destroyed.
The best way to explore the castle is by taking a Loch Ness Cruise with Jacobite tours. After a 30-minute cruise (during which you’ll get some amazing views of Loch Ness), you’ll disembark at Urquhart Castle.
The view of the castle from the boat is very impressive. You’ll have approximately 1 hour to explore the castle ruins after which the cruise returns to the starting point at Clansman Harbour. During the summer, I recommend booking your cruise in advance to avoid disappointment.
You can also visit the castle by car. If you’ve got enough time, make sure to join the guided tour of the castle. I learned a lot about the castle and the history of the place through these tours.
11. Eilean Donan Castle
Recommended by Sonja Erin from Migrating Miss
Perched on an island at the point where three lochs meet, Eilean Donan Castle couldn’t be in a more picturesque location!
It is a must-see on any road trip through the highlands, and especially on the way to the Isle of Skye. The Eilean Donan Castle has been featured in many films set in Scotland too.
The castle was originally founded in the 13th century by Clan Mackenzie. But by the early 18th century, it had been largely destroyed, thanks to the clan’s involvement in the Jacobite rebellions. Luckily for us, it was reconstructed in the 20th century and a footbridge was added, so we can explore the castle easily.
From all around Eilean Donan, you can get fantastic views of the castle. Even from the parking lot or the visitors center. If you want to visit the inside of the castle, then it is £7.50 for adults and £4 for children over five. Although you can’t stay in Eilean Donan Castle there is a small holiday cottage nearby that offers beautiful views over the castle and the surrounding areas.
12. Dunvegan Castle
Recommended by Helena Kreis from Through an Aussie’s Eyes
Dunvegan Castle and Gardens is located in the northwest of the Isle of Skye (about a six-hour drive from Edinburgh) and is one of the greatest Hebridean castles.
Its construction started in the 1200’s and it has been continuously occupied by the same family for the past 800 years.
The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan (you can see it on the wall inside the Castle) is one of the most treasured possessions of the clan, MacLeod. It is believed that this sacred Flag has miraculous powers. It is said that if this Flag was unfurled during a battle than it would bring victory.
There are plenty of guided tours of the Castle, cruises through the Loch, and seal trips available. You can buy tickets (£14 for adults and £9 for children) at the entrance that lets you explore the Castle and the Gardens. Just remember that the Castle will be closed from October to March.
13. Melville Castle
Recommended by Christina Ropp from Littles, Life, & Laughter
Melville Castle hotel is a hidden gem located just minutes from Edinburgh, Scotland. Although lesser known, the castle is full of history, ghost stories, and ancient beauty.
In fact, Melville Castle hotel traces its origins back to 1155 and was even mentioned in a poem by their frequent guest, Sir Walter Scott. Most captivating of all, Melville Castle was once the rendezvous site of Mary, Queen of Scots and her ill-fated lover, Seigneur David Rizzio.
In fact, in response to him planting a tree on the property as a demonstration of his love for her, Mary, Queen of Scots planted five oak trees across from the main entrance. These trees continue to stand even today and are accessible to any castle guests.
Melville Castle hotel is located a mere six miles away from the center of Edinburgh, in the village of Dalkeith. Guests can drive, take a taxi, or make use of the 24-hour bus that runs from the hotel to the city daily.
If you’re looking to stay in a castle in Scotland, you’ll be pleased to know that Melville Castle hotel is extremely affordable. However, I’d recommend making a reservation when a wedding party is not present at this popular site. Some guests have reported hearing loud noises from the late-night wedding parties as the only complaints during their stay.
14. Doune Castle
Recommended by Christine Emhardt from And the Story Goes
Located near Stirling, Doune Castle was built in the 13th century and was soon after, damaged in a war. The damaged castle was owned and rebuilt by the Duke of Albany until 1425 when it passed to the Crown and was used as a hunting lodge and dower house.
Doune saw many more wars and by 1800, was ruined again. In 1880, restorations took place and in the 20th century, the castle passed to state care. The castle features a large tower over the main entrance which connects to one of the best preserved great halls in Scotland.
Visitors can buy an admission ticket online or when you arrive. It’s priced at £6 for adults and less for children and seniors. The ticket price includes one of the best self-guided audio tours I’ve done. There is parking on site if you prefer to drive to the castle or you can take a 30-minute bus ride from Stirling.
If the Doune Castle looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it many times before. Doune Castle is best known as the castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More recently it was used in Game of Thrones, as Winterfell in the pilot episode, and in Outlander, as Castle Leoch.
15. Balmoral Castle
Recommended by Kaila Yu from NomList
Located in the east half of Cairngorms National Park, Balmoral Castle is a large estate that serves as a holiday home to the British Royal family. The estate, covering roughly 50,000 acres (20,000 ha) was purchased by Prince Albert in 1852. It’s most easily accessed by buses operated by Stagecoach, and the nearest railway station and airport are in Aberdeen, roughly 50 miles away.
Balmoral Castle is a private property rather than an official property of the Crown and is a working estate with both cattle, farmland, and ponies. The gardens, gift shop, exhibitions, café, and grounds are open to the public from April 1st to July 31st each year. There are also guided tours available on specific winter dates.
Admission to the Balmoral Castle is £11.50 for adults, with lower prices for children, seniors, and also a combined family price. The Balmoral also operates several rental holiday cottages in the area, which can be booked through the website. They can be reserved over a year in advance and are quite popular, so book early!
Have You Added These Scottish Castles to Your Scotland Itinerary?
Your Scotland itinerary will be incomplete if you don’t include at least a few of these stunning Scottish castles in it. So, make sure you include a visit to some of the best castles in Scotland and perhaps, even stay in a Scottish castle hotel? I’m sure it’ll be an experience to cherish forever.
Have you visited any of these Scottish Castles or stayed in one? Let me know in the comments below.
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