Scotland’s castles were one of the top things I was looking forward to seeing in the Scotland and boy was I not disappointed!
They are some of the most dramatic castles in the world—usually perched on top of a cliff with the roaring sea below and rugged mountains or green pastures in the background. I basically saw Emily Brontë’s work everywhere. She was fascinated with all things Scottish, and now, so am I!
I was also able to fulfill a childhood dream of mine to see Eilean Donan Castle—at age 6 or 7 it was the most castliest castle of them all. Of course because of the B-rated action movie Highlander starring Sean Connery.
Since Scotland isn’t a huge country, it would even be possible to see all of these castles in one longer holiday. You know, if you’re a castle connoisseur (and a little nuts!).
You might also be interested in reading:
I’ve put together a list of the best castles in Scotland, complete with a little introduction to each one and all the practical visitor information you might need. But first, check out this map:
My list of the top castles in Scotland that are the most beautiful, most interesting and most suited for a tourist visit, is (in order of awesomeness) as follows:
Our top tips for visiting castles in Scotland:
And now for a more detailed account of each place, including visitor and ticket information that you can use to plan your trip:
This is a rare castle that is beautiful from the outside and interesting to visit on the inside. It sits on top of a volcano and looks very dramatic. Stirling Castle topped my list of the best day trips from Edinburgh.
It’s the most important castle in Scotland’s history as it’s the most strategically located and for a long time it was the seat Scotland’s kings. The place was so important that during the 1300s it changed hands 8 times.
Stirling Castle is full of Scottish history information in the form of fun facts and interactive exhibits, which is really nice and makes for an enjoyable and non-stuffy visit. Even if you don’t know anything about the country’s history when you come in, you’ll certainly come out an expert.
Stirling Castle is big enough to take up the better part of your day—we spent 5 hours there. If you add a visit to nearby William Wallace Monument (see item 11 on this list) you can call it a day.
The location is—surprise!—in a town called Stirling.
There is big parking lot and you need to buy your tickets in advance. We didn’t and were very lucky to get in. Tickets are time-slotted and cost GBP 16.50 when bought online and GBP 18 at the gate (when available).
Like I mentioned, the exhibits inside are modern and interactive. All information is to the point, no long-winded novels about historical events.
The castle is divided into different areas, each showcasing a different exhibit. For example, there’s a section that explains all about the Scots kings and their mistakes and how they ruled.
Another exhibit is dedicated to the most famous and probably the most important Scots king, Robert the Bruce, and Battle at Bannockburn of 1314 (check out the nearby monument).
There’s also a great museum dedicated to the Argyll Highlanders, one of the most important regiments of Imperial Britain.
Then there’s the kitchen, the tapestry exhibit, the royal chapel, the gardens… I told you, the place is huge!
The Unicorn Café is onsite and serves simple food and drinks. Not open during winter months.
Tip: If you like large palaces filled to the brim with interesting information, read about our visit to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. That also ate up a huge part of our day. It was so good!
Atop a volcano plug (called Castle Rock), towering above Edinburgh’s Old Town, is Edinburgh’s most visited attraction, Edinburgh Castle. The views and the castle itself are spectacular, so expect a lot of tourists, but it is worth enduring the crowds.
The highlight is supposed to be the Scottish crown jewels, which are nice and very old (the oldest in the UK), but castle itself and its museums are better.
The National War Museum is great for history and war geeks like me. One of the parts that stood out to me was a wall covered with letters from soldiers from throughout the British history and it’s really brutal and sad.
There is also the nicely laid out Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum which will make you feel like a little boy again, because of all the stories about heroism.
Almost at the end of the castle there is a very nice audio-visual exhibition of Stirling Siege.
Like I mentioned, most definitely get your tickets online in advance or you risk not getting in. This is in the summer months. Outside of summer, it should be enough to get there early in the morning.
The entire complex is pretty big, so make sure you set aside enough time to see it all. We only entered after 4 pm and since they close at 6 pm, we had to hurry around quite a bit. I would’ve loved to spend more time there. The castle feels a bit disorganized as there is a lack of maps, which could slow you down.
Why did we get there so late, you ask? Because we didn’t get our tickets up front and this was the only time slot available! The smart thing to do is get your tickets online in advance.
Remember the tickets are for a specific day and time. You can enter at the time on your ticket, not earlier. You can then stay as long as you want (some sites may have a 2-hour time limit).
Audio guides cost extra and are not needed if you read English. Lots of information you can read all over the place. The Scots have the same OCD like me about timelines. They are everywhere. Awesome, because it helps tremendously with understanding history in a very simple way.
Tip: The Edinburgh Castle website has a number of itineraries that you can follow depending on how much time you have and where your interests lie.
The museums inside are free to enter, because you can’t get to them without buying the Castle tickets.
Hotel tip: The Leonardo Edinburgh City is where we stayed when we visited Edinburgh and I would stay there again. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in Edinburgh as far as bang for your buck.
Room size was large for Scotland and the exterior was so typically Scottish with its stone façade. The location is great, about 800 m (0.5 miles) from Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, and breakfast was good.
Prices for two start at GBP 140 (USD 160) per night including breakfast.
We make a small commission if you book a hotel (any hotel) through one of our links sprinkled throughout the article. It’s no extra charge to you. Thank you if you do!
This is the most important castle of my childhood as I loved the B-rated 80s action movie Highlander starring Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert, so in my mind all the castles in the UK look like this. It’s my hero of a castle.
It’s located on a tiny islet of its own, just a short walking bridge away from the mainland. Sometimes there is almost no water around it, but if you are lucky and manage to see it when the little island is actually an island, it’s magic!
Eilean Donan Castle was originally built to protect the area against Vikings, because it is in a strategic location at the meeting point of 3 lochs/fjords.
Side note: No, it was not used in Game of Thrones. That was Doune Castle, which was the only Scottish castle out of the 10 that were used during filming. One of them was the amazing Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain, which we also visited.
The castle was destroyed in 1719, lied abandoned for 200 years, and then bought and rebuilt by John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1912. The current owner is a descendant of John’s, is 94 years old and still uses it as a holiday home. A part of the castle is the family’s holiday living quarters. Not the part you’ll see, obviously. Imagine inheriting a castle like Eilean Dona, it’s like a winning the lottery!
I advise you to not skip the castle interior (I saw some people just walk around the outside—big mistake!), it’s really interesting and modern. It’s done up really nicely to show how life in the castle would feel like, fully furnished, with mannequins cooking dinner and discussing business over some documents, and even projections on the walls.
Our tip: Don’t forget to visit the viewpoint above the castle. You can drive or walk there (on the road). See below photo to see what the view is like.
Navigation to Eilean Donan is bit tricky, or it was when we used Google Maps and didn’t specify we want to go to the castle, not just Eilean Donan. The castle is located just over the Loch Long Bridge on the mainland (well, almost on the mainland). It’s perfectly located between Isle of Skye and the Glencoe area.
Learn from our mistake and make sure you put “Eilean Donan Castle” into Google Maps, otherwise it’ll navigate you to the opposite side of the lake.
There is a parking lot right before the small bridge to the castle. It costs GBP 2 per hour.
You don’t need to book tickets to the castle ahead of time, just rock up and in you go.
There’s a visitor center with a coffee shop and gift shop.
It takes at least 2 hours to visit. You walk around on your own but there are guides available to answer questions. No large bags are allowed inside, so leave them in your car or in the lockers at the visitor center.
There’s no photography allowed inside. It’s still privately owned so don’t be a d*ck and follow the rules. You wouldn’t want an entitled tourist taking pictures of your private property and plastering it all over the internet. If you ever want to reminisce, there is a great video on the Eilean Donan Castle’s website that shows you enough to trigger those memories.
Note that Eilean Donan is a popular spot for weddings, including many winter weddings, and the castle is closed for visitors on those days (the website lists wedding days).
Going to Scotland? Check out our itineraries:
Balmoral Castle is the place to visit if you’re a royal family fan. One of the private homes of the British royal family, used as a country holiday house since being bought by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria, Balmoral is a special place. Queen Elizabeth II used to spend her summers here, and travel up every chance she got to be close to nature. She died at Balmoral in September 2022.
Tip: If you want to get a taste of what it’s like to live and wander around Balmoral, they offer accommodation in some of its cottages that are on or close to the grounds of the castle.
Alternatively, the Hilton Grand Vacations Club Craigendarroch Suites Scotland is nearby, looks like a castle, and gives you all the amenities a modern royal could want, including a pool, restaurant and gym.
Prices for two start at GBP 200 (USD 230) per night including breakfast.
The current castle replaced the original one, which was just too small for the royals, in 1856, just a few years after they bought the property. You can find a commemorative stone where the front door of the old building used to stand.
If you visit Balmoral Castle, you will see mainly the grounds and garden, which are lovely in the springtime. The formal area will be full of flowers in bloom, and the trees of the surrounding forest lush and green. A visit in the fall could be disappointing for the lack of color (and leaves).
There is only one room set up in the castle itself for tourists to visit. The ballroom is a long rectangular room that probably isn’t as fancy or decorative as you might hope. It contains display cases showing some of the royal family’s collections, such as china and figurines. Nothing too exciting.
Balmoral Castle’s usual tourist season is from April to July, though guided tours can sometimes be booked outside of this period. Guided tours, when available, need to be booked ahead of time through Balmoral's website.
During the tourist season, it is possible to just get an audio guide or just wander about on your own.
Parking is available over the bridge from the main gates and costs GBP 5.
Following the Queens passing, the castle grounds are open in the final months of 2022 free of charge.
As mentioned above, the ballroom of Balmoral Castle has been converted into an exhibition space, all other rooms are off limits. You can visit the grounds with the vast gardens and a few buildings, such as the stables, also containing exhibits.
There’s a café onsite.
Dunnottar Castle is a fortress ruin that sits up on a cliff surrounded on three sides by the North Sea—want drama? You got it!
What used to be an impenetrable fortress is now a visitor’s paradise, all thanks to the amazing scenery. There isn’t much that remains from the castle, but even the empty shells of the buildings that used to stand here are enough to put a picture in your mind.
Dunnottar wouldn’t be the same without the rocks and sea in the background, that’s for sure. The views are the main draw. Come here for the epic Scotland scenery, ideally by walking from nearby Stonehaven for an extra dose of staring out to the sea over the rocks.
You can visit Dunnottar Castle either directly—there is parking lot about 8 minutes on foot from the castle grounds. This walk already gets you spectacular views (and a bit of a workout—stairs).
If you’re up for a longer walk, leave your car at Stonehaven harbor (free parking) and take the Dunnottar Cliffs Trail to get to the castle. It’s 2 km (1.3 miles) of walking along an easy path during which you get views of Dunnottar Castle as you come closer and closer.
The castle grounds themselves have more to see than you’d probably expect at ruins, including lots of information written on signs by the individual buildings.
You’ll need an hour for the visit to Dunnottar, more if you add the walk to and from Stonehaven.
Note that if there’s very bad weather, Dunnottar stays closed. Check their website before you go if you’re not sure what constitutes very bad weather.
The largest castle in the northern Highlands, Dunrobin is the family estate of Clan Sutherland. The oldest parts of it date back to the 1400s, but it has been expanded many times in subsequent centuries, with most of what you see today added in the middle of the 19th century.
During WWI, Dunrobin was used as a naval hospital, and even a boarding school in the 60s and 70s.
Dunrobin Castle currently has 189 rooms and large, manicured gardens that lay between it and the cliffs above the sea. The castle and gardens were designed with French influences. There are some very opulent rooms as well as many rather simple one.
The castle includes a museum which you should certainly visit if you like to look at the heads of dead animals with some archeological and ethnographic pieces thrown in.
The interiors of Dunrobin Castle can be visited on a guided tour, though tour guides have been reviewed as mostly just ok. I haven’t been to this one, so I can’t say for sure, but maybe on my next visit! Look out!
The inside of the castle is as white as the outside, with many fancy rooms, but perhaps not as many as you’d think when looking at the castle exterior. Still, you’ll definitely feel like you’re in a castle once in there!
Parking is available for free right in front of the castle or further away through the forest if the first one is full.
Tickets also get you entry into the museum at Dunrobin Castle and a falconry show that everyone seems very excited about. Check show times on the website, there are usually two a day.
A visit to Dunrobin can take 3 hours if you take the full tour and wander the gardens, so put aside enough time.
There’s a café and gift shop onsite.
Imagine you’re an earl and want a castle to be built for you. You’re putting together a list of things you wish for: views out to the sea, dramatic cliffs and miles of beaches, but lots of forest too, a deer park, a swan pond, 40 buildings of all sorts and sizes, a formal garden that’ll take an army to upkeep, and obviously the main castle building that will be good enough to be the seat of the earldom. It must impress all your buddies (and enemies). Make sure it has a grand staircase as the centerpiece!
That’s what David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, put on his wish list and he got Culzean Castle. That was in the late 18th century.
Today, the castle and its grounds happily cater to visitors with many facilities to keep everyone busy for at least half a day. Extra points for people with kids, since the large adventure playground resembles a mini castle that’ll keep your offspring occupied for quite some time, and on theme!
Culzean Castle is located in the southwestern corner of Scotland.
Culzean Castle really is a delight to visit. Everything is set up for a great day out and staff is very accommodating. Take a look at the map of the castle grounds. It even contains various trails and times that they take to walk, so it’s really simple to plan your visit. Some even go down to the beaches.
Culzean went all out with facilities and things to do: There’s a café, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant, a book shop, a farm shop, a gift shop, the adventure playgrounds, two art galleries, a deer park with llamas in it, and that’s just on top of the actual castle and gardens.
The castle itself is only open from April to October, but the gardens and other facilities are mostly open year-round.
When the castle is open, you only see about 10 rooms inside that are open to the public, though even through that you can see how opulent it was in its heyday. The tour of the interior takes about an hour.
You can spend half a day at Culzean Castle grounds if you really take time to walk the trails, or just like to sit at all the cafes for an hour at a time.
No need to buy tickets in advance.
There are several parking options around the grounds, the largest probably being at the visitor center.
You can see from the name of this section that it specifies the castle gardens. So what’s up with the castle? It’s there, it’s just not open to the public.
Drummond Castle is owned by Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, who currently resides there.
The baroness doesn’t want tourists in her house, but she’s ok with you wandering around in her garden. Disappointed? Don’t be, it’s still worth a trip. And you can see the castle from the gardens.
The formal gardens at Drummond Castle have been described as the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland. If you aren’t a fan of formal gardens with designs made out of carefully placed flowers, complete with fountains, statues and bushes forced into different shapes, don’t go to Drummond Castle Gardens. You’ll hate it there.
You can also walk around the woodland area if you prefer your trees and bushes in their natural shapes. It’s a beautiful area to take a stroll in.
The Drummond Castle Gardens were used to represent the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in the TV show Outlander.
The gardens at Drummond are only open for the tourist season from May to October.
Parking at Drummond Castle Gardens is through the main gate on the A822, then continue straight until you reach the castle. There’s a parking lot behind the castle on the opposite side of the road.
When you’re walking around the gardens, look for the 17th century sundial and the two beeches planted by Queen Victoria in 1842. She planted them to commemorate her visit to Drummond Castle.
There is no café on site, but there is a small gift shop. But come on, where’s the coffee??
Toilets are back at the parking lot, NOT in the castle. I mean I’m sure they have nice fancy ones there, but you aren’t invited to those.
Blair Castle has been the seat of the Atholl family for over 700 years. It’s one of the most famous and most important castles in Scotland.
The oldest known part of the castle, Comyn’s Tower, was built in 1267. The 16th century is when most of the work and changes were made to the castle to get it into the footprint it is today, though it has of course evolved to suit the whatever was in style over the years—for example, the turrets were removed and then reinstated over the centuries.
Blair Castle was probably the first big building in Scotland. We were amazed by it, and somewhat taken aback by how white it is. Most other castles in Scotland are gray, dark, mysterious, almost eerie on foggy days…compared to those, Blair is a Disney fairytale!
It’s possible to visit the interior of the castle and the amazing gardens (I thought those were better than the castle!).
The surrounding area is just beautiful, considering it’s close to Cairngorms National Park. But then again so is everywhere in Scotland.
Tip: Cairngorms NP and Blair Castle are just some of my tips for the best day trips out of Edinburgh.
It’s possible to book a stay at some of the lodges and cottages on the castle grounds. If you’re looking for something a bit more hotel-y, stay 10 km (6 miles) away in Pitlochry, which has a wider selection of accommodation.
Blair Castle and Gardens are open from April to October.
The whole tour will take you about 3 hours—this includes the castle and the gardens. Again, I thought the gardens were superior to the castle interior, so if you don’t have much time, just gaze at it from the outside and just take a walk in the surroundings. You’ll also save half the entrance price this way.
I wholeheartedly appreciated that the castle tour is self-guided, so you will not be bored to death by a poorly paid guide. The interior includes about 30 rooms, including the tapestry room, drawing room, dining room, and the ballroom with wooden ceiling (and lots of antlers) that still hosts many events annually.
In the gardens, I especially liked Diana’s Grove, since it has some my most favorite trees—sequoias and Douglas firs, including Grand Fir, the UK's second tallest tree.
There’s a gift shop and a restaurant on site that actually cooks really nice-looking meals. We didn’t eat there so can’t vouch for the restaurant, but it looks solid.
Tip: Speaking of restaurants, have you read our Scottish Food Guide? Find out if haggis is something you need to try or if it’s better to stay away.
Parking is available directly right by the castle and it’s free. You drive in through the main gate off of B8079 and keep driving until you see a sign. Parking is on your right. Castle is on the left.
If you had a princess you wanted to hide away in a tower, Castle Fraser would be a great spot to do that—Castle Fraser’s round tower house is one of the largest in the country.
I must say that she’d have pretty amazing views from up there though! You can now see what the poor freedom-less princess would see by venturing up to the tower during your visit on a spiraling staircase.
Fraser Castle was finished in the 15th century, but its core was built way back in the 1450s. From some angles, you can tell a little too much how each part was stuck onto the previous ones. But at least it’s original.
The historical part of the garden is walled, and there’s a further outlying area with two marked paths that take you through the parkland and forest on the estate.
Castle Fraser is open most of the year—it is closed during January, February and most of March. The gardens are open year-round. There’s a tearoom and gift shop that are only open when the castle is open.
You can visit all the rooms inside the castle. It’s fun to see the bedrooms, kitchens, dining areas and others (even a toilet). You really get a feel for castle life. A step back in time, that’s for sure! Not my style, but I don’t think the Frasers from 300 years ago would like my house, either.
There are tons of portraits and family mementos in Castle Fraser, plus some hidden trapdoors and secret staircases to find (with the help of the guide, of course).
The tour is self-guided, but with helpful guides in some of the rooms showing you things and explaining what is what and where the secrets lie.
Parking is easy though with a slightly annoying ticket machine that makes up prices as it goes. Or so it seemed. Parking costs GBP 3 as far as I could tell.
Ok, so this is not a castle, but I didn’t have any other list to put it on and I really wanted to put it somewhere because I liked it so much. You have to understand that I grew up in the 90s, meaning I was constantly watching Braveheart.
The Wallace Monument even holds Wallace’s sword, and then you can take a photo holding a fake one, pretending to be the real Wallace. You can read up on the story before you go on the monument’s website.
As is usual in Scotland the tour is interactive. So interactive, in fact, that you can make your own banner for the shield before taking the photo, much to every kid’s (and big kid’s) appreciation! I totally went for it.
The monument is based on historical reality. As such, it focuses not only on William Wallace, but also Robert Bruce.
The tower is divided into floors and each floor is dedicated to the different topic.
Me going up the stairs and me having the time of my life
The Wallace Monument is open year round. It’s advised to book tickets online ahead of time, because space is limited and tickets are time slotted.
This is obvious, but there are great views from the top of the tower. It is on top of a hill, too, so expect a bit of a walk to the entrance from the (free) parking lot. There’s also a shuttle bus available if you need a little help.
Along the walk up through Abbey Craig, you’ll already start exploring the history of Stirling through woodcarvings on the way.
The tower is 60 m (almost 200 ft) tall and there are 3 floors. Due to the steep and narrow staircase it’s not for thick people.
On the individual floors, you’ll learn all sorts of fun facts in an enjoyable way. Nothing boring and long.
I personally especially enjoyed the Hall of Heroes which is dedicated to the women and men of science in Scotland. And since Scotland and the UK is often depicted in movies, you will immediately recognize many of the people celebrated, such as Adam Smith, David Livingstone, Sir Walter Scott (who wrote the novels Ivanhoe and Rob Roy) or James Watt.
And of course there is a room dedicated to the Battle of Stirling Bridge where Wallace beat the invading English army, though victory was short-lived.
I say set aside 2 hours to visit. Maybe less if you aren’t such a Wallace fanatic, but still, be prepared to want to pay attention to all the educative bits that are available, because they really are interesting.
Parking is available for free by the Legends Coffee House at the foot of the hill.
I thought the grounds on which the castle stands and even more so the views from there are the absolute best part of the visit. Armadale Castle sits right on the coast in the southern part of the Isle of Skye, with views to Scotland’s mainland just across the loch (or is it the sea at this point?!).
Armadale Castle is a ruin, so there is no interior to speak of (and you can’t go into the ruins), so you really need to go on a sunny day to appreciate the views and not be bitter about having to be outside in the drizzle and wind.
Tip: When touring Isle of Skye, it’s best to move bases. You could start in the north—try the Cuillin Hills Hotel in Portree, and then move on to the southern part (we recommend the Broadford Hotel). That way you don’t spend precious time driving across the island.
Armadale’s tourist season ends in October, as it does in a lot of Scotland’s castles.
Besides walking around the grounds and ruins (again, you can’t go inside or climb on them for safety reasons), there is a small, apparently award-winning museum attached. It was closed at the beginning of summer 2022 when we visited, so all I can do it trust the reviews that say it is very informative and tells the history of the Highlands and islands through the story of Scotland’s most powerful clan, Clan Donald.
You can get something to eat and drink at the two cafés on site, one of which is also closed for 2022.
There is also a gift shop.
Parking is free.
If you can’t get enough of the views, check out this nearby viewpoint.
Tip: Armadale Castle & Gardens are a 10-minute drive down from Torabhaig Distillery, which was a highlight of our Isle of Skye trip. If you’re also planning a visit, check out our 2-day Isle of Skye itinerary (can easily be turned into 3 or even 4 days if you aren’t packing your days morning until night like we do!).
Dunvegan Castle is located on the Isle of Skye and is the longest continually-inhabited castle in Scotland. The MacLeod clan has been living there for 800 years.
This is another castle where I think you can easily skip the interior and focus on the gardens. It’s just not that great inside and the gardens are awesome. No time to waste time, right? There’s so much to do in Scotland (like these best things to do in Scotland!).
You can also make a quick stop at a viewpoint close by. It’s also very easy to connect a Dunvegan Castle visit to a short trip to Coral Beach, which is only 10 km (6 miles) north. More on that little side-trip in our Isle of Skye article.
Dunvegan’s tourist season lasts from April to the middle of October.
The gardens and exterior more than make up for the underwhelming insides of Dunvegan Castle. There are rhododendrons everywhere, which I love, and curly-branched trees that look just magical. The gardens reminded me of Olympic National Park in Washington DC. Take an hour to look around.
If you really want to see the interior, know that it’s a self-guided tour, so you can go through it quickly if you’re not impressed, just like us. If you take your time, you’ll need 90 minutes inside.
There are guides on hand everywhere, so even though you’re walking around on your own, you can always ask them anything and they’re happy to answer.
Parking is free and gets completely packed, so good luck finding a spot if you arrive later than in the morning.
This post may contain affiliate links. We earn a small commission if you make bookings through my links, at no additional cost to you. This helps us keep this blog free, thank you!
In this article, I focus on day hikes, meaning no overnight treks. Some are only a couple of hours long, some will take all day but all deserve their spot on this list… except for the last one. That one is more of a warning.
Some hikes you might know aren’t on this list. Why? Because if I haven’t been there, I won’t be writing about it, pretending to review something I have no clue about. So here is my list of hikes that I've experienced.
Edinburgh’s huge benefit is the city's perfect location in the southeast of Scotland. If you’ve already discovered all the nooks and crannies of this city, you should take a look also outside its borders. Let's go!