No matter where in the country you are, castles are an integral part of the Scottish landscape. Experts believe that Scotland was once home to more than 3000 castles, and although some of them are long gone, there are more than enough remaining to keep visitors occupied. Visitors have their choice of moody ruins perched on clifftops, rugged fortresses in the Highlands, and the well-decorated homes of Earls and Dukes. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a medieval artifact buff, or someone who simply appreciates the beauty of the rugged Scottish landscape, you're sure to find a castle here that will captivate and inspire you.
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Owned by the Royal Family since 1852, Balmoral Castle is situated on a 50,000-acre working estate that spans moors, forests, and farmland. Although the castle is the private residence of the Royal Family, the gardens and ballroom are open to the public every day between the beginning of April and the end of July when the Queen comes for her annul stay. Visitors can also enjoy a gift shop, cafe, and the exhibitions held in the stables. Audio handset tours are included in the price of admission, and guests are recommended to allow a minimum of 90 minutes for their visit.
Cairngorms National Park, Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5TB, Phone: +44-13-39-74-25-34
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Open to the public since 1936, Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Murray and the most visited historic house in Scotland. There are 30 well-furnished rooms available for viewing, including the dining room, drawing room, and ballroom. Self-guided tours are made easy by informative exhibits in every room and guides on every floor, but guided tours are available free of charge for groups of 12 or more. Visitors can also explore the many acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, including the walled nine-acre Hercules Garden, the Sculpture Trail that winds through the castle grounds, and the children's woodland playground.
Cairngorms National Park, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5TL, Phone: +44-17-96-48-12-07
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Originally built in 1628 as a hunting lodge for the Earls of Mar, Braemar Castle is a five-story building centered around a large tower that houses a beautiful spiral staircase. The castle is run by the local community, and 12 furnished rooms are open to the public. Audio tours in both English and German are included in the price of admission, and guided tours are usually available on weekends and during peak summer months. The castle sometimes hosts events such as murder mystery dinners and memorial concerts, and it can also be reserved for weddings and other special celebrations.
Cairngorms National Park, Braemar, Ballater AB35 5XR, Phone: +44-13-39-74-12-19
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Located on a 71-hectare estate, Brodie Castle was the home of the Brodie family until 1980 when it was placed into the ownership of the National Trust. The building has been carefully restored, and it is home to a large number of valuable antiques, an impressive art collection, and various other interesting artifacts. Visitors can also relax in the tearoom, and springtime offers the opportunity to see more than 100 different kinds of daffodils in bloom. Other highlights include a walled garden, a nature trail, a gift shop, and a large adventure playground suitable for children of all ages.
Brodie, Forres IV36 2TE,Phone: +44-13-09-64-13-71
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As one of the most visited castles in Scotland, Caerlaverock Castle is easily recognizable thanks to its distinctive triangular shape and moat. The castle is located in Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, making it easy for visitors to enhance their trip with a peaceful stroll on one of the nature trails or a bit of bird-watching. Highlights of the estate include siege warfare exhibits, a children's playground, a tearoom, and a shop that sells homemade meals and locally made jams. Visitors are welcome at the castle year-round. Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Caerlaverock, Dumfries DG1 4RU, Phone: +44-13-16-68-88-00
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Dramatically situated on a natural bridge between two ravines, Castle Campbell is just as well-known for its amazing views as it is for its wonderful 15th century architecture. Plenty of information is available at the Visitor's Center, but some of the rooms also contain interpretative displays. There are several excellent walking trails through the ravine, some of which pass by waterfalls, but visitors should note that these can be quite slippery when wet. Visitors can also stroll along the castle's unique open walkway, meander around the cobbled courtyard, and explore the beautiful terraced gardens that offer great views down the valley.
Castle Rd, Dollar FK14 7PP, Phone: +44-12-59-74-24-08
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Originally built in the 16th century, Castle Menzies was rescued in the 20th century and carefully restored from a state of ruin. The restoration means that the castle is not as well furnished as some others, but this gives visitors the opportunity to get a closer look at the architectural details. Almost every room is open to visitors, but guided tours are not offered; instead, visitors are permitted to wander freely through the building. The castle is typically open from April through October, but visitors are advised to check the opening times and dates so as to avoid disappointment.
Weem, Aberfeldy PH15 2JD, Phone: +44-18-87-82-09-82
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Cawdor Castle is perhaps best known for its name being linked to Shakespeare's famous play Macbeth, but the castle is well worth visiting even without that connection. A 15th century tower house sits at the center of the building, but many additions were made over the years, and other notable rooms include the 16th century drawing room and the 17th century Tapestry Bedroom. The castle is still home to the Cawdor family, but it is open to the public during the summer. Visitors can also play a round of golf on the castle's 9-hole course or stroll through one of the beautiful gardens.
Cawdor, Nairn IV12 5RD, Phone: +44-16-67-40-44-01
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Perched on a cliff in the Culzean Castle Country Park, Culzean Castle offers excellent views towards The Isle of Arran. Six of the castle's top floor bedrooms can be booked by overnight guests; each of the bedrooms can accommodate two adults, and all guests share access to the dining and drawing rooms. A dramatic oval staircase is the centerpiece of the home, and visitors can also admire the large collections of swords, flintlock pistols, paintings, and antique furniture. The castle is open to visitors during the summer, but the Visitor's Center and the park are open year-round.
Maybole KA19 8LE, Phone: +44-16-55-88-44-55
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With an unaltered tower house that dates back to the 13th century, Drum Castle has deep roots in Scottish history. Visitors can admire the beautiful chapel, stroll through the Jacobean mansion house that was added in the 1620s, and climb the castle tower to enjoy the view from the battlements. There is plenty to explore outside the castle as well, including an old oak forest and walled garden that houses a collection of historic roses. The castle's dining hall and chapel can be booked for weddings and other special events, and the castle occasionally hosts public events such as music performances and car rallies. Things to Do in Scotland
Drumoak, Banchory AB31 5EY, Phone: +44-13-30-70-03-34
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Located on the Isle of Mull, Duart Castle was restored from a state of ruin in 1911 and is now one of the only Clan Castles in the country to remain privately owned. Many different parts of the castle are open to the public, including the dungeons, the keep, the banquet hall, and the state rooms. An exhibition area on the top floor provides plenty of information on the Maclean clan, and the Duart Tearoom serves up delicious homemade food. The castle is open April through October, but visitors are welcome to visit the grounds and gardens year-round.
Isle of Mull PA64 6AP, Phone: +44-16-80-81-23-09
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With its rich history and scenic location, Dunnottar Castle is a great destination for history buffs and photographers alike. Most of the surviving buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Visitors can purchase a guidebook a small fee, and they can also download a free app to enhance their experience. Guests should note that the castle can only be accessed by a fairly long staircase and that the walk to the castle from the harbor parking lot is approximately 15 minutes long. The castle is open to visitors year-round, but the hours vary with the season.
Stonehaven AB39 2TL, Phone: +44-15-69-76-21-73
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With 189 rooms, Dunrobin is the largest castle in the northern highlands. The building has been in continuous use since the early 1300s, and over the years it has served as a naval hospital, a boarding school, and the home of the Dukes and Earls of Sutherland. The interior of the castle was badly damaged in a fire in 1915, but it has been restored and redecorated with furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Other points of interest include falconry displays, a garden museum that houses trophy animal heads and archaeological artifacts, and 558 hectares of beautifully landscaped gardens.
Golspie KW10 6SF, Phone: +44-14-08-63-31-77
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Thanks in part to the space it occupies in the Edinburgh skyline, Edinburgh Castle is the most easily recognizable castle in Scotland. Many additions have been made to the castle over the years, but the oldest part is St Margaret's Chapel, which dates all the way back to the 12th century. Audio tours are available in eight different languages, and guided tours led by the castle stewards are included in the price of admission. The castle is located at the top of a steep slope, but a courtesy vehicle is available to take visitors with disabilities to the top.
Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, Phone: +44-13-12-25-98-46
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Situated on its own tiny island at the intersection of three sea lochs, Eilean Donan is one of the most popular attractions in the highlands. The Visitor's Center is located right next to the parking lot, and the island is connected to the mainland by a footbridge that visitors can cross once they've purchased their admission tickets. Most of the castle's rooms are open to the public, and visitors can admire the wonderful displays of antique furniture, fine art pieces, weapons, and various other Jacobean artifacts. Guides are available to provide information about the castle's history and heritage.
Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX, Phone: +44-15-99-55-52-02
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Glamis Castle was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, and it has also been the home of the Earls of Strathmore since 1372. The interior of the castle can only be seen by guided tour; tours depart regularly throughout the day and last approximately 50 minutes. Several exhibition rooms can be found on the first floor, and all guided tours end in the Family Exhibition room. Glamis hosts various special events throughout the year, including open air cinema nights and food festivals. Guests are also encouraged to explore the grounds and gardens, including the formal Italian Garden.
Angus DD8 1RJ
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Nestled along the shore of Loch Fyne, the longest sea loch in Scotland, Inveraray Castle has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll since the 18th century. The estate is still occupied by the 13th Duke and his family, but the unoccupied rooms are open to the public. The dining and drawing rooms contain beautiful custom-made French tapestries, and the Armory Hall is home to more than 1,300 weapons, including pikes, broadswords, and axes. Visitors can also stroll through the castle gardens, enjoy some light refreshments in the teahouse, and purchase traditional Scottish souvenirs at the gift shop.
Inveraray PA32 8XE, Phone: +44-14-99-30-22-03
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18.Inverlochy Old Castle
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Constructed in the 13th century, Inverlochy Old Castle has not undergone very many modifications since it was first built and is now in a state of ruin after being abandoned in 1654. However, the site is well worth a visit for anyone interested in learning about its history, including its involvement in the first and second battles of Inverlochy. Visitors can also marvel at the unaltered architecture of the ancient towers and courtyard. The castle is located only a mile away from Fort William, making it easy to access the site by foot or bicycle as well as by car.
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Formerly known as Barrogill Castle, the Castle of Mey was purchased by Queen Elizabeth in 1952. The Queen used the castle as a summer home until her death in 2002, at which point the buildings and grounds were opened to the public. Much work has been put into restoring the gardens to their original glory, and a 12-foot wall protects the gardens and parts of the parkland from the ocean and the weather. The castle is only open in the summer, and visitors are advised to check the website for the most up-to-date information on the hours.
Thurso KW14 8XH, Phone: +44-18-47-85-12-27
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Known to be one of the earliest artillery forts in Scotland, Ravenscraig Castle dates back to the early 1460s when it was built for Queen Mary of Gueldres. Defining features of the building include the 3.5-meter-thick outer walls, the two round towers linked by a cross range, and the rock-cut ditch that surrounds the castle as an extra layer of defense. There is no charge to visit the castle, but visitors should note that only an exterior view is available. A rough path leads down to the shore where visitors can take in excellent views of the castle from below.
Kirkcaldy KY1 2QG, Phone: +44-13-16-68-86-00
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The only Scottish castle to be listed by the World Monuments Fund, Sinclair Castle is comprised of the ruins of both the 15th century Castle Girnigoe and the 17th century Castle Sinclair. Architectural highlights include several remaining pieces of the curtain wall, a gabled tower house, and a secret chamber in the roof of Castle Girnigoe's kitchen. The castle is typically open to the public from May through September, although it is sometimes closed for preservation work. Visitors are advised to wear good walking shoes, as it is approximately half a mile from the parking lot to the castle.
Wick KW1 4QT
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Located near the village of Skipness on the east side of the Kintyre Peninsula, Skipness Castle was begun in the early 13th century. Additions were made to the building throughout the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, but it was eventually abandoned in the 17th century after being sieged by the troops of Alasdair Mac Colla. Today, visitors can access the castle itself as well as a chapel located down by the shore and dedicated to St. Columba. There is no admission fee or charge for parking, and the castle and chapel are open to the public year-round.
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Having served as a palace, a prison, and a fortress throughout the years, St. Andrews castle has an undeniably interesting history. Although the castle is now in a state of ruin, the Visitor's Center offers a number of interactive displays with information on the history of the castle as well as samples of some of the castle's better-preserved carvings. Points of interest in the castle include the infamous “bottle dungeon,” the kitchen tower, and the underground 16th-century siege mine and countermine. There is a small admission fee, but visitors can choose to purchase a combined admission pass for the castle and the nearby cathedral.
The Scores, St Andrews KY16 9AR, Phone: +44-13-34-47-71-96
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Stirling Castle is one of the largest castles in Scotland, and it also has tremendous historical importance. The castle is perched on top of Castle Hill and surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, making it an ideal fortress. There are plenty of things to see, including an exhibition dedicated to the castle's history, the Stirling Heads gallery, the great hall, the kitchen, and the chapel. A vault below the palace houses interactive displays aimed at children. Visitors should note that admission tickets to the castle also include a complimentary tour of the nearby townhouse known as Argyll’s Lodging.
Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, Phone: +44-17-86-45-00-00
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Situated on the shore of the famous Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is made up of ruins that date from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Visitors can wander through the Great Hall and other rooms, peek into the castle's dreary prison cell, and climb the Grant Tower to get excellent views of the loch and perhaps scan the water for the Loch Ness monster. The castle also boasts a good number of well-preserved historic artifacts, including a full-sized operational trebuchet. The Visitor's Center offers an informational exhibit and a short film about the castle's history as well as a cafe and gift shop.
Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ, Phone: +44-14-56-45-05-51
25 Best Scotland Castles
- Balmoral, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Blair, Photo: Courtesy of Hans-Martin Goede - Fotolia.com
- Braemar, Photo: Courtesy of Mara Zemgaliete - Fotolia.com
- Brodie, Photo: Courtesy of Brendan Howard - Fotolia.com
- Caerlaverock Castle, Photo: Courtesy of stocksolutions - Fotolia.com
- Castle Campbell, Photo: Courtesy of Afunbags - Fotolia.com
- Castle Menzies, Photo: Courtesy of Clint - Fotolia.com
- Cawdor, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Culzean, Photo: Courtesy of Louise McGilviray - Fotolia.com
- Drum, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Duart, Photo: Courtesy of spumador - Fotolia.com
- Dunnottar, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Dunrobin, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Edinburgh, Photo: Courtesy of robiextrafa - Fotolia.com
- Eilean Donan, Photo: Courtesy of phaendin - Fotolia.com
- Glamis, Photo: Courtesy of erikapalla - Fotolia.com
- Inveraray, Photo: Courtesy of iagodina - Fotolia.com
- Inverlochy Old Castle, Photo: Courtesy of josef kubes - Fotolia.com
- Mey, Photo: Mey
- Ravenscraig, Photo: Courtesy of Brendan Howard - Fotolia.com
- Sinclair, Photo: Courtesy of hardyuno - Fotolia.com
- Skipness, Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Banke - Fotolia.com
- St Andrews, Photo: Courtesy of JulietPhotography - Fotolia.com
- Stirling, Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Bevilacqua - Fotolia.com
- Urquhart, Photo: Courtesy of johnbraid - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of andrea cerri ferrari - Fotolia.com