Scotland is home to many beautiful castles that are steeped in legend many of whom could make our list, however, to see them all, one needs to make several trips back to Scotland. These are some of the ones we were fortunate to have visited.
12. Urquhart Castle
Once one of Scotland’s largest castles, the ruins of Urquhart Castle sit beside Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland. With over 1,000 years of history, Urquhart saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress.
11. Balvenie Castle
A ruined castle near Dufftown in the north of Aberdeenshire near the Balvenie Distillery and Glenfiddich Distillery. Built in the 13th century with additions in the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle hosted Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 and other notable guests include King Edward I of England and the Marquess of Montrose.
10. Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle, a red sandstone castle that overlooks the River Ness. From the Inverness Castle Viewpoint you have amazing 360° views of the city and the surrounding highlands. Today, it houses Inverness Sheriff Court.
9. Kilchurn Castle
The ruins of Kilchurn Castle built in the mid-1400s, is located in southwest Scotland, 22 miles east of Oban, near Dalmally in Argyll. Climb up to the top and stand on the tower house’s battlements to gaze out over Loch Awe, with the peak of Ben Cruachan in the backdrop. It was a bit difficult to find as it was not well marked, but it is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland!
8. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle, a world-famous icon that sits atop Castle Rock overlooking the city is home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. You can either take a guided tour or an audio tour which talks about the history and its beautiful architecture. We’d recommend that you budget 2 hours here.
7. Holyrood Palace
The second famous castle is the Palace of Holyrood House or commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace. This is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II where the monarch celebrates “Holyrood Week” or “Royal Week” from the end of June to the beginning of July. We highly recommend a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which includes the remains of 12th-century Holyrood Abbey, the Palace gardens, the State Apartments of the Palace itself.
6. Ballindalloch Castle
Located in Speyside, 8 miles from Aberlour Town in Banffshire, Ballindalloch Castle is known as the “pearl of the north” and has been the family home of Macpherson-Grants since 1546. You can tour the castle from April to September and see the beautiful dining room, drawing room, Lady Macperson-Grant’s bedroom, the towers and more, but unfortunately you cannot take photos inside. In addition to being a real-life fairy-tale castle, this is also the origin of the famous Aberdeen Angus cattle.
5. Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle is located in Nairnshire, 14 miles from Inverness. The Castle is the ancestral home of the Campbells of Cawdor and dates from the late 14th century, now home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor. The castle has a splendid interior (the Drawing Room, with portraits of generations of Campbells, the Tapestry Bedroom, the Dining Room with its magnificent stone fireplace and the Old Kitchen) and its carefully manicured grounds also has a gift shop, book shop and wool shop, as well as a restaurant located in the castle.
This castle, open from mid-April to early October, was not on many of the lists we researched, but we found it to be quite beautiful and are adding it to our top castles list.
4. Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan is located on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. This picturesque castle houses beautiful paintings and preserves the legends of the famous clan MacLeod. After you tour the castle, walk through the Water Garden with its ornate bridges rich with many plants, as well as the Walled Garden which features a water lily pond. The castle is open from April 1st to the middle of October, where you can either do guided tours or on your own, and photos inside are permitted as long as you do not use a flash or selfie sticks.
3. Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire is a working estate and the Scottish holiday home to the Royal Family. Its open to the public from April to July, as August is when members of the Royal family for their summer holidays. Access to the interior is limited to the ballroom, but the grounds are beautiful, and you can stroll through the gardens and wooded area.
2. Eilean Donan Castle
One of the most recognized and photographed castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan is a must see. Located on an island at the point where three sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, in the western Highlands of Scotland, this 13th Century Castle takes you back in time. The Castle has been home to generations of the MacRae family, famous for Canadian John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. John McCrae was the grandson of the MacRae’s and a memorial is found at Eilean Donan. Eilean Donan has been featured in many films, most notably James Bond – the World in Not Enough.
1. Inveraray Castle
Our favorite castle is Inveraray Castle, located in west Scotland on the shores of Loch Fyne, 38 miles from Oban and the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell. The impressive Armoury Hall with its collection of armoury reaches 21 meters in height, the highest ceiling in Scotland and displays the family crest. The state dining room, entrance hall and other grand rooms make for a must visit castle. After touring the castle and its impressive garden we stopped in the tearoom which offers soups, quiches and scones made daily in the castle as well as cakes that are made on the estate. The castle is open from April 1stto October 31st. If the castle looks familiar, it was the site of the Downton Abbey 2012 Christmas Special.