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A photograph of Kilchurn Castle at sunset in Autumn

Renowned for it’s glistening lochs, towering Munros and rural islands, the castles in Scotland are amongst some of the countries best kept secrets.

Once home to over 3,000 castles, there are royal estates, ruined structures, and historic landmarks waiting to be explored. Visiting a Scottish castle is a great way to relive history or experience life as a king or queen for a day.

Continue reading to discover our hand-picked list of the best castles in Scotland…

1. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

Perhaps the most well-known of its kind, our list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle sits on the grounds of Castle Rock, overlooking the streets of Scotland’s capital city.

A view of Edinburgh Castle as the sun sets

Building began in the 12th century, with the erection of St Margaret’s Chapel.

The Great Hall was added in 1510 then the Half Moon Battery in the 16th century. The Scottish National War Memorial was later opened in 1927.

The castle houses The Honours of Scotland, otherwise known as the Crown Jewels. The oldest of their kind in Britain, these historic artefacts are on display to the public in the Crown Room.

The One oclock gun and a guard stood next to it at Edinburgh Castle

The castle operates guided tours throughout its grounds. Audio-guided tours are also available in eight different languages.

Sights along the tour include the Great Hall, the Crown Room, and the One O’clock Gun, shot daily at 1pm.

Owing to its elevated position, this castle in Scotland is accessed via a steep incline walk.

For those with limited mobility there is a courtesy vehicle in operation throughout the day. There is also a ramp and lift access inside parts of the castle.

How many castles in Scotland?

It has been estimated that over the course of its history, there have been over 3,000 castles scattered throughout Scotland. Today, only about a third of these remain.

2. Balmoral Castle, Ballater

An external shot of Balmoral Castle the Scottish residence of the Royal Family

Balmoral Castle finds itself tucked away amongst the peaceful countryside of the Cairngorms National Park, in the county of Aberdeenshire.

Gifted to Queen Victoria in 1852, Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since.

The sovereign regularly holidays here throughout the Summer, where they spend their time exploring the grounds, hosting garden parties and enjoying quality time with their extended family.

Colourful gardens and grounds surrounding Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire

Follow in the footsteps of royalty and take a tour through the grounds of the estate with Balmoral Expedition.

This two-hour Landrover ride will take you through the castles gardens, working farmland and surrounding woodland, before making the climb to Lochnagar.

The Scottish Castle of Balmoral has made appearances in the popular historical drama series, The Crown, serving as the setting for a visit by Margaret Thatcher to the British Royal Family.

3. Eilean Donan Castle, Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan Castle sits on the small tidal island from which it takes its name. This Scottish castle is uniquely positioned at the confluence of three sea lochs, providing the perfect defence to the mainland.

Undoubtedly the most photographed castle in Scotland, this magnificent structure is a must-see on any trip to the Highlands.

Eilean Donan Castle lit up at night time

You’ll likely recognise Eilean Donan as an iconic Scottish landmark, taking pride of place on the front of shortbread tins and postcards.

This Scottish castle opens its doors to visitors throughout the year, where restricted opening times and addmission fees apply. Along with the attraction itself, there’s an on-site cafe as well as a gift shop, so you can really make a day of your visit.

Take a step back in time as you step inside the castle, with historic treasures and artefacts decorating the interior.

An internal shot of the Banquest Hall at Eilean Donan Castle

Marvel at the sword on display, alleged to have been used at The Battle of Culloden in 1746, or peak through the spy holes out onto the surrounding waters.

The Billeting Room is a sight to behold, full of belongings of the families that once lived here.

The neighbouring Banqueting Hall is a grandiose venue. The Douglas Fir timber beams spanning the ceiling provide a stunning setting for a wedding.

Where is the oldest castle in Scotland?

The oldest castle on mainland Scotland is thought to be Castle Sween. Nestled on the shores of Loch Sween in Argyll, Castle Sween looks out toward the Isle of Jura.

Known locally as Caistéal Suibhne, this Scottish castle is estimated to have been built in the 1100s, and was the stronghold of Clan MacDonald.

4. Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

Perched high on a 160 foot rocky headland on the northeast coast is Dunnottar Castle. The former home of one of the most influencial families in Scotland, there is little left of this once impregnable Scottish Castle.

An external shot of Dunnottar Castle and the road leading to it

The fascinating history of Dunnottar dates back 440 million years, when the rock of the headland was formed.

The Great Marishcal of Scotland built the first castle on the grounds of Dunnottar in 1392. Later building and restorations are thought to have taken place between 1593 and 1923.

William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots are thought to have visited this Scottish Castle throughout the years. In the 1650s, when Oliver Cromwell’s army was threatening Scotland, it is rumoured that the Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden at Dunnottar.

A Scottish bagpiper played stood alongside the ruins of Dunnottar Castle

The remnants of this magnificent castle remain to be seen, making Dunnottar Castle one of Scotlands most popular tourist attractions.

One for the movie buffs, this castle has formed the backdrop of many films, including Victor Frankenstine and Hamlet. This Scottish castle is even thought to have inspired the setting of Castle DunBroch in Disney’s Brave.

5. Inverness Castle, Inverness

Overlooking the shores of the River Ness, in the bustling city of Inverness, rests this sandstone Scottish Castle.

Sitting right in the heart of the city, Inverness Castle is one of the most accessible castles on our list.

A series of castles have occupied this spot since 1057, the first of which was partially destroyed in 1307. Over the years the castle has been rebuilt and restored. The current castle has stood in its place since 1836.

External shot across the River Ness to Inverness Castle

One of our favourite castles in Scotland, Inverness Castle tells an interesting story. This is where King Duncan saw his death in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This iconic structure also appears on the Scottish £50 note.

Renovations are currently underway to reopen its doors as a visitors attraction. The Spirit of the Highlands have produced a virtual tour of this Scottish castle. Watch the video here to get a feel for what life may have been like for the residents of the castle.

Historic Scotland Membership

If you’re planning on visiting any of these castles in Scotland then we’d recommend signing up for a Historic Scotland Membership.

This exclusive membership gives you free entry to a host of attractions and events, including both Edinburgh and Stirling Castle.

6. Blair Castle, Pitlochry

Blair Castle is a striking, white-washed stately home settled in the county of Perthshire.

Blair Castle in Scotland

This category A listed building is the ancestral home of Clan Murray and the historical seat of the Duke of Atholl.

Building of this Scottish castle began in 1269, with the errection of the Cummings Tower. Over the years, various additions have made to the original structure to include a ballroom and apartments, forming what is now the main part of the castle.

The castle’s fascinating history is on display throughout various exhibits, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was like for those who once lived there.

Garden and pond at Blair Castle in Scotland

The excuisite grounds that surround Blair Castle sit within the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.

Recognised for its significance, the beautifully-landscaped garden features a gothic folly, a woodland grove and a nine-acre walled garden.

This Scotland castle operates tours through Blair Castle & Grounds, both guided and non-guided. You can find more information on Blair Castle & Grounds tours here.

7. Stirling Castle, Stirling

Stirling Castle sits in the heart of the city, overlooking the streets from its position atop Castle Hill.

Known locally as the Gateway to the Highlands, this Scottish Castle is one of the largest in the country, and arguably one of the most important.

The castle was the scene of the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots as well as the murder of the 8th Earl of Douglas.

A view of Stirling Castle sitting high on Castle Hill

Guided and audio tours share facinating stories about the history of the castle. Discover the Stirling Heads gallery, the Great Hall and Queen Annes Gardens.

There’s also a castle exhibition, showcasing the life of the castle from its errection to the present day.

Stirling Castle gateway in Stirling

A pit-stop at the Unicorn Café is a must whilst you’re visiting. Grab a sandwich to enjoy on the go or sit down and indulge in a slice of cake.

Be sure to stop at The Palace Shop at the end of your visit, where you can pick up jewellery, home decor, and other unique items that pay homage to the castle and its former residents.

Fancy uncovering the history of these remarkable castles in Scotland? Browse our wonderful range of holiday cottages in Scotland and put yourself right in the heart of the action! 

If you’re looking for more exciting ways to spend your time in this magnificent country, give our guide on places to see the Aurora Borealis in Scotland a read.

Images courtesy of: Roger Cornfoot(CC BY-SA 2.0); Bruce MacRae(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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