The best castles in Scotland are begging to be explored. With royal connections and historic tales… and don’t even get us started on the beautiful architecture. What’s not to love about these grand buildings?
It’s thought that there were once a staggering 3,000 castles across Scotland. Today, they number closer to 1,500. They lie ready to excite visitors with enthralling legends, well-kept gardens, and incredible views. If you’re looking for a Scottish castle adventure, then our castle tours are an excellent way to experience their magic.
Table of Contents:
1. Edinburgh Castle
2. Stirling Castle
3. Eilean Donan Castle
4. Inverness Castle
5. Culzean Castle
6. Craigmillar Castle
7. Brodick Castle
8. Falkland Palace
9. Dunnottar Castle
10. Mount Stuart
Bonus: Alnwick Castle
Castle: Edinburgh Castle
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Built in: 11th century
Must see: The Great Hall and the One o’Clock Gun
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular castles in Scotland and is famed worldwide with those touring Edinburgh. Standing proud above the city, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic part of Edinburgh’s skyline. As you might expect, the castle has a long and rich history. The oldest part is St Margaret’s Chapel which dates back to the 12th century. Since then, Edinburgh Castle has housed many royals. Among these is Mary Queen of Scots, who gave birth to the future King James VI within its walls. It’s also been used as an army stronghold and even remains partly a military base today. Offering visitors stunning views, amazing architecture, and entertaining stories, we think it’s pretty safe to say that Edinburgh Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland. Combine a visit to this attraction when exploring with our small-group tours.
Castle: Stirling Castle
Location: Stirling, Scotland
Built in: Early 12th century
Must see: The Great Hall and the Royal Palace
Castles in Scotland don’t come much more symbolic than Stirling Castle. Located on the border between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands, Stirling Castle guarded the lowest crossing point of the River Forth for centuries. This position made it a valuable stronghold during the Wars of Independence with England between 1296 and 1356. During this period, Stirling Castle changed hands eight times. The fortress also overlooked some famous bloody battles. One of the most notorious of these is William Wallace's victory over the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The 220-foot tall National Wallace Monument commemorating Scotland’s great hero can be seen to the north of Stirling castle.
Another nearby battle from the history books was Robert the Bruce's defeat of Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. As if this wasn’t enough, Stirling Castle is also importantly linked to the history of Mary Queen of Scots. It was here that she was crowned Queen of Scotland, aged only nine months.
Now known as the “Key to Scotland”, Stirling Castle offers a spectacular view of the surrounding area from its impregnable walls. Tempted to visit this significant castle while touring Scotland? Hop aboard our day tour from Glasgow to Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond.
Castle: Eilean Donan Castle
Location: On a tidal island off the Highlands of Scotland
Built in: 13th century
Must do: Walking over the cobbled bridge to Eilean Donan Castle
One of the best castles in Scotland to visit is Eilean Donan Castle. An iconic and gorgeous 13th-century castle, Eilean Donan once warded off Viking invasions. It sits on its own wee island where the waters of three sea lochs meet and is famed for this picturesque setting. You may also recognise Eilean Donan from the popular 80s film Highlander.
As with many castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan’s origins involve warring clans. The Mackenzies, the Macraes, and the Maclennan clans all laid claim to it at one point. Eilean Donan was later destroyed in 1719 during the Jacobite Rebellions. Luckily for us, the Scottish castle has been restored and you can visit it on a few of our tours. Combine Eilean Donan Castle with a tour of the majestic hills of Torridon and Lochs Ness and Maree on a Rabbie’s day tour from Inverness. Or venture further and hop aboard our Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye Tour.
Castle: Inverness Castle
Location: Inverness, Scotland
Built in: Current structure built in 1830’s
Must see: Inverness viewpoint
Another impressive castle in Scotland which you don’t want to miss is Inverness Castle. Perched on a cliff overlooking the beautiful River Ness, Inverness Castle is recognisable by its red sandstone walls. The structure you see today only dates back to the 19th century. However, the history of Inverness Castle reaches much further back in time. From the 6th century, when the site was made a stronghold of the northern Picts through to the present day, Inverness Castle has held great importance. It even featured in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth as the place where Macbeth murders King Duncan. Combine a trip to this Scottish Castle with one of our many tours departing from Inverness.
Update for 2023/24: Inverness Castle is currently undergoing renovations to bring to life their ‘Inverness Castle Experience’. It is set to reopen in 2025.
Castle: Culzean Castle
Location: South Ayrshire, West Coast of Scotland
Built in: 1777 - 1972
Must see: Robert Adam’s oval staircase
Built in 1792, Culzean Castle is unique from other castles in Scotland because it hasn’t been involved in conflict with the English! It also isn’t the crumbling fortress that may come to mind when you think of Scottish castles. With its plush interior, pristine gardens, and perfect greenhouse, Culzean Castle seems almost modern. Even so, it’s still one of the best castles in Scotland to visit.
There is a long list of reasons why you’ll love Culzean Castle, from its mysterious mediaeval caves and stunning views to its impressive architecture. Want to learn more and see it for yourself? Join us on our Culzean Castle and Ayrshire Coast tour. President Eisenhower even visited Culzean Castle. If it’s good enough for him, it's good enough for us!
Castle: Craigmillar Castle
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Built in: 14th century
Must see: The tower house.
Sometimes thought of as Edinburgh’s “other” castle, Craigmillar Castle is often missed by tourists. However, it’s one of the best castles in Scotland to visit and you’ll treasure your time here. Built in the early 15th century, Craigmillar Castle is one of the best-preserved castles of its time period. You can spend hours exploring its labyrinth of chambers. Or why not brave the climb up the old tower house? You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views across Edinburgh. This is also another one of the many castles in Scotland which have been used as a filming location. It most recently featured in the Outlander series. You can explore other Outlander filming locations such as Doune Castle on our range of Outlander tours.
Castle: Brodick Castle
Location: The Isle of Arran, Scotland
Built in: 1510
Must see: The Victorian arcade
Every inch the quintessential island castle, Brodick is one of the best Scottish castles to visit while on the Isle of Arran. Having its fair share of turbulent events through history, Brodick Castle survived the Wars of Independence and surrendering to the English Parliamentary troops of Oliver Cromwell in 1652. Today the imagination must be used by guests as several restorations have taken place, expanding the grand building to what you see today. One thing for sure: the strategic positioning of this Scottish castle, over the Firth of Clyde, would have made it a strong force to be reckoned with. Be sure to add this attraction to your itinerary when visiting the Scottish Islands on a small group tour.
Castle: Falkland Palace
Location: Falkland, Fife, Scotland
Built in: 13th century
Must see: The world’s oldest tennis courts
Presenting one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland, Falkland Palace is a must visit. Dating back to the 12th century, Falkland was first commissioned to be built in Fife, Scotland, as a hunting lodge for the Scottish King. But that's not where the royal connections end. It’s been said that Falkland was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favourite residence, as she often played tennis on what is now seen as the world’s oldest tennis courts. Although no longer in use, guests visiting this Scottish castle can admire the grounds alongside the beautiful gardens and the palace itself. Tempted? Our new for 2024 Scottish Castles 4-Day tour visits Falkland, alongside Castle Fraser, Dunnottar Castle and more.
Castle: Dunnottar Castle
Location: Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Built in: 1392
Must see: The castles links to William Wallace
You can find the ruins of Dunnottar Castle perched on a cliff edge in Stonehaven on Scotland’s East Coast. This fortress is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland thanks to its dramatic backdrop. It’s also popular with movie directors who have used the site in many films including Victor Frankenstein (2015) and Franco Zefferrelli’s adaptation of Hamlet (1990).
But Dunnottar Castle isn’t just a treat for photographers. History lovers will adore this Scottish castle too. There is evidence of Picts living at Dunnottar as far back as 5000 BC. Since then, it has been visited by Christian missionaries, Vikings, Mary Queen of Scots, and King Charles II to name a few. Perhaps most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison protected the Scottish Crown Jewels from the force of Cromwell’s army. On the coast just south of Aberdeen, this dramatic Scottish castle is an unforgettable stop on our Dunnottar Castle & Royal Deeside day tour.
Castle: Mount Stuart
Location: Isle of Bute, Scotland
Built in: Original House built in 1719
Must see: Explore the beautiful 300 acre gardens
Located on the scenic Isle of Bute, the most accessible island on the west coast of Scotland, Mount Stuart is a pleasure for all the senses. Featuring Victorian gothic architecture, richly coloured stained glass, and extensive gardens to roam, this Scottish castle needs to be on your must-see list. But history with this grand building hasn’t always been cheery. In 1877, a disastrous fire burnt down the former Mount Stuart house, which was then redesigned by the architect Robert Rowand Anderson. Luckily no further turbulence had been experienced and the regal landscape you see today is the rebuilt Scottish castle from this period. If you’re intrigued to learn more while on the Isle of Bute, be sure to take part in our small-group tours, where our knowledgeable driver-guides will be happy to share more unearthed tales.
Castle: Alnwick Castle
Location: Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Built in: 11th century
Must do: Recreate your favourite Harry Potter scenes around the castle
Although not technically in Scotland, we feel that Alnwick Castle deserves a mention. Located about an hour south of the Scottish border, Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor Castle. However, it’s for its starring role in the first two Harry Potter films that most people will recognise Alnwick Castle. Its 900-year-old walls were the filming location for Hogwarts as well as also featuring in Downton Abbey. You can visit Alnwick Castle on our day tour of the Northumberland Coast.
We’ve provided snippets to tickle your imagination for the best castles in Scotland, so why not experience the pleasure of these locations for yourself? We’ve made it easy to tour multiple castles in a few short days, all while having the ease of someone else driving you there. An added bonus when visiting the best whisky distilleries this country has to offer too. Departing from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness, these historic sites are waiting to greet you. Have you booked your 2024 tour yet?