With a 1000 year old castle in the capital city, Scotland’s castles are legendary. They have been used as the backdrop for films and sets for TV programmes, and as a Scot, myself, they have a special place in my heart. I haven’t been to all the best castles in Scotland, so I asked my fellow bloggers to recommend their favourites, some you will know, others may be new to you. I hope they become some of your favourite Scottish Castles too.
This article refers to a visit or visits made before the travel restrictions put in place to deal with the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak around the world. Please take into account the advice from your local government before planning any travel and click here to see the current UK government advice regarding Covid-19
Top castles to visit in Scotland
Contributed by Sheree from Winging the World
Scotland is home to several magnificent castles and movie maker’s favourite Doune Castle is one of the finest. Fans of Scottish time travel romance Outlander will undoubtedly recognise this fort as the show’s famous Castle Leoch, the stronghold of the MacKenzie clan.
Even if you have not yet fallen for the charms of Outlander’s power couple Jamie and Claire, there is a fair chance you will have seen Doune Castle on screen at another time. The castle was used for filming the famous comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and has also made an appearance as Winterfell in the early Game of Thrones series.
Whilst its movie fame might be what draws the majority of visitors nowadays, Doune Castle has a long history which is equally interesting. The building was completed in the 13th century before suffering damage to the exterior in the Scottish wars of independence. Over the years the castle saw more military action, cementing its important historical status but rendering it need of drastic repair by the 1800s.
The castle itself is located in Doune, around eight miles from Stirling. The easiest way to get there from the city is to drive or grab an Uber which will cost in the region of around £15.
An adult ticket into the castle costs £9.00, however, Doune Castle is included as a part of Historic Scotland’s Explorer Pass which is well worth purchasing if you are planning on visiting a number of Historic Scotland sites.
Contributed by Larch from The Silver Nomad
No list of Scottish Castles is complete without including the castle in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. Sitting high above the city, Edinburgh Castle is the second most visited ancient monument in the UK and Scotland’s most famous castle.
The castle was built in the mid-1000s when King Malcolm III of Scotland reigned and has been a stronghold for over 1,000 years. It has also been much fought over between the English and the Scots.
The Crown Room holds three of the ancient honours of Scotland and is worth spending time admiring The Crown, the Sword of State and the Sceptre. The Sceptre dates back to 1494 when it was presented to James V on his coronation by Pope Alexander VI.
St Margaret’s chapel is the oldest building within the castles walls and has survived all attempts to destroy the castle including sieges, razing to the ground and battles over the centuries.
Just outside the chapel is Mons Meg, the famous six-tonne siege gun. The Belgian made canon was given to King James II in 1457. and could fire a 150kg gunstone for up to 2 miles.
Listen out for the One O’clock Gun which is sounded by one of the castles other canons at one o’clock every day apart from Sunday. Edinburgh residents and visitors set their watches by it, though it can be a bit of a surprise when you hear it for the first time!
The National War Museum of Scotland traces Scotland’s military history from World War II back to the Napoleonic wars and has a great collection of artefacts.
The view from the ramparts give you a 360 degree view over the city and it not to be missed. Built in Mons in Belgium, Mons Meg, the famous six-tonne siege gun was given to King James II in 1457. famous Given to King James II in 1457, the six-tonne siege gun could fire a 150kg gunstone for up to 3.2km (2 miles). She is named after the Belgian town where she was made.
Entry Fees to Edinburgh Castle – must be booked online
Adults (16-59) – £15.50
Concession (60+) – £12.40
Children (5-15) – £9.30
Children under 5 – free
Summer (1 April – 30 Sep)
Opening Time: 9:30am
Last Entry: 5:00pm
Closing Time: 6:00pm
Winter (1 October – 31 Mar)
Opening Time: 9:30am
Last Entry: 4:00pm
Closing Time: 5:00pm
Contributed by Angela from Where Angie Wanders
Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of the McLeod clan for 800 years, can be found on a craggy outcrop on the Isle of Skye. Overlooking a foreboding loch and surrounded by a 42,000-acre estate, this castle is a spectacle to behold and is a fabulous place to visit as part of An Epic Road Trip Around the Isle of Skye.
Dunvegan is open to the public and a tour around its interior, steeped in folklore and legends, will leave you delighted. A combined castle and garden ticket, or a stand-alone garden ticket, can be purchased on the day of your visit.
The famous Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, known for the traditions of fairies and magical properties is on display in the castle along with other historic relics. Legend tells that the Fairy Flag was passed to an ancient chieftain by a mythical being and it helped the McLeod clan win battles and cure illnesses.
After your tour head into the five acres of formal gardens which adjoin the castle. Waterfalls, bridges, flower gardens and waterlily ponds are all designed to transport the visitor into a peaceful paradise.
The Dunvegan Castle estate is also home to a boathouse which sits on the shores of the loch. An exhilarating 25-minute journey will whisk you over to the Dunvegan seal colony where you can observe these charming animals interacting with one another. Boat rides are available from April to September and an additional charge will be made for the trip. Dunvegan castle truly is a magical place to visit while on the Isle of Skye.
Contributed by Roma from Roaming Required
Stirling Castle in Stirling is one of the largest and most significant castles in Scotland.
Situated high up on a hill over the river Forth, at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.
Stirling Castle was one of the most prominent castles in Scotland, used as a Scottish royal residence, it was the venue for births, deaths and the childhood home of some Scottish Kings and Queens such as James III, Mary Queen of Scots, and James VI and I who reigned over England and Scotland after the Union.
A visit to Stirling Castle, be sure to visit the Inner Close, the heart of the complex, and home to principal buildings built for royal occupation. Be sure to check out:
- King’s Old Building – built for James IV in 1496
- Great Hall – added by James IV around 1503
- Royal Palace – built for James V around 1540
- Chapel Royal – commissioned by James VI in 1594
An audio guide is essential in getting the full experience of the castle, pick one up on entry.
Things To Do Nearby
Lovers of history should consider venturing into Stirling town centre where Scottish knight, William Wallace, defeated the combined English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. The Wallace Memorial in Stirling is also worth some of your time. This national landmark juts out from Abbey Craig and can be seen for miles. Allow time to read the exhibits and understand the significance of Wallace’s contribution to Scotland and to experience the stunning 360 degree view of Stirling from the top.
Entry fees into Stirling Castle
Adult £17.50 (at the castle, £16 online).
Child (5-15yrs) £10.50 (at the castle, £9.60 online)
How to Save Money!
It’s worth noting, if you have an English Heritage membership your admission is reduced. Admission prices for EH members is either half price (during your first year of membership) or free (after your first renewal). Just remember to take your EH membership card with you!
1 April to 30 September:
Daily, 9.30am to 6pm
Last entry 5.15pm
1 October to 31 March:
Daily, 9.30am to 5pm
Last entry 4.15pm
Contributed by Kathi from Watch Me See
Inveraray Castle is the stunning seat of the Dukes of Argyll, the chiefs of Clan Campbell – famously known to be opposed to the Jacobite cause. It is an absolute must-see on a west coast road trip and makes for a perfect day trip from Oban
The castle is located in the bustling village of Inveraray, only 38 miles from Oban or 60 miles from Glasgow. It lies on the banks of Loch Fyne, a long and narrow sea loch framed by mountains, woodlands and small scenic villages. Buses stop in the village and many day tours to this part of the Highlands include a stop in Inveraray,
The 18th-century castle standing today replaced an older castle from the 1400s and in order to make more space for the new structure, Inveraray village was moved to its current position. All the buildings and shop fronts on the high street are painted in the same way in order to preserve its historic character.
While the current Duke of Argyll and his family still live on-site, parts of the castle and the gardens are open to visitors. The entrance fee is £12.50 for the castle and gardens or £5 for the gardens only. Visitors can tour three floors of the castle and see rooms such as the well-stocked armoury hall, various bedrooms and lounges and the turrets.
Contributed by Joella from Roving Jo
Dunrobin Castle is one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. It is located on the North East Coast of Scotland about 50 miles North of Inverness and is one of the highlights of the North Coast 500.
Since the 13th century, Dunrobin Castles has been the home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. The castle itself resembles a French Château with imposing conical spires and spectacular formal gardens that lead out to the sea. The Gardens where laid out in 1850 and inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris. And although new plants and flowers are constantly being introduced not much has changed since it was first designed.
Your entry fee allows you to tour the inside of the castle, the museum, and the gardens. Additionally, it covers a bird of prey flying demonstration which is conducted daily at 11:30 am and 2:00 pm during the months of April to September. Tours of Dunrobin Castle are self-guided, but they have castle guides posted throughout the house, in the main rooms, happy to answer any questions. Furthermore, there is plentiful free parking available within the Castle grounds and a fabulous tea room serving light meals, as well as hot and cold refreshments.
Other outstanding highlights in the area include Clynelish whisky distillery in Brora, the Falls of Shin, and Dornoch with its famous cathedral and golf course.
Contributed by Amy from H+A at Home and Away
Twenty-four miles east of Inverness, Scotland lies Brodie Castle in the town of Forres on the Moray coast. At the end of the long driveway, a stunning castle facade in pink champagne tones welcomes visitors.
The Brodie Clan lived at the castle for over 400 years until the 21st century. In 1311, King of Scots Robert the Bruce officially granted the land charter to the Brodie Clan. Their castle was burned down in 1645 and rebuilt with a lime-harled facade, corbelled battlements, and a Z-plan tower house. Subsequent additions to the castle included a west wing in the 17th century and an east wing in the 19th century.
Prior to March 20, 2020, the National Trust for Scotland offered guided tours of the castle. Because the family furnishings, ceramics, artwork (17th-century Dutch masters and 20th-century Scottish Colourists), and over 6000 books are still in the castle, those tours provided an interesting glimpse into castle life through the centuries.
On July 6, 2020, Brodie Castle will reopen for outdoor visitors to enjoy two different nature walks, an 8th-century Pictish monument called “Rodney’s Stone” near the entrance drive, a Playful Garden for young children (reopening on August 1, 2020), and the National Daffodil Collection blooming each spring. Shakespeare aficionados might also appreciate the area’s link to the real Macbeth, King of Scots in 1040, who inspired the play.
Contributed by Daniela from Grumpy Camel
Craigmillar Castle may not be as popular as its main rival, Edinburgh Castle, but it is still worth a visit, especially if you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in Edinburgh.
Located on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Craigmillar Castle is a joy to explore, thanks to its complex network of chambers and passageways. The tower house, which houses the great hall, is one of the oldest of its kind in Scotland. You can also climb to the tower to enjoy amazing views of Edinburgh and its surroundings.
This ruined medieval castle is steeped in history. In 1566, the castle served as the residence of Mary Queen of Scots, who used it as her refuge. It was also here that a group of nobles and earls came up with a plan to get rid of Mary’s husband, who was later killed.
Craigmillar Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland. It has also starred in the popular TV series Outlander.
If you want to visit Craigmillar Castle, the best way to get there is by bus. The castle is just a short bus ride from the city centre (about 30 minutes). You can stop off at Old Dalkeith Road or Peffermill Road and walk to the castle from there. Entrance fee for adults is £6. After your visit to the castle, you can get the bus to nearby Fort Kinnaird, a large shopping centre with plenty of places to eat.
Contributed by Erica from Travels with Erica
Balmoral Castle is one of Scotland’s most famous royal castles. It is located in the Highlands an hour west of Aberdeen. There is no direct bus from Aberdeen to Balmoral, so you’ll want to rent a car and drive to the castle. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a three-hour bus journey that requires multiple transfers.
Balmoral Castle is only open from April through July. The entrance fee is £11.50 for adults, and there is a small discount for seniors, students, and children. There is also a £5 deposit for the audio guide that you get back when you return the audio device.
The only room in Balmoral Castle you’re allowed to tour is the ballroom, but you’re allowed to wander around the grounds. You get to visit the stunning garden Queen Mary designed, the royal family’s vegetable garden, and the garden cottage Queen Victoria enjoyed eating breakfast in.
Each year there are a number of rotating exhibits that highlight the history of Balmoral and the royal family’s love for the Scottish Highlands.
If you have a little time to spare after you’ve toured Balmoral, you should consider touring the Royal Lochnager scotch distillery.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert toured the distillery shortly after they purchased Balmoral Castle, loved the scotch, and gave it a royal patronage. It still holds that title to this day, which means it is still enjoyed by the royal family. Admission to the distillery is £9, and tours run every hour.
Contributed by Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages
Craigievar Castle is a must-see castle in the United Kingdom. It’s a gorgeous pink castle nestled in the hills of Aberdeenshire, and it’s only a short drive away from both Balmoral Castle and Braemar Castle, so you could see all of them in one day! As a matter of fact, Queen Victoria even visited this pink castle years ago. According to stories, she showed up completely unannounced from Balmoral Castle!
There’s no way to reach Craigievar yet by public transportation, so you’ll have to use a car. For reference, it’s about 2.5 hours north of Edinburgh.
This fairytale castle is known for being one of the most Instagrammable sights in Scotland for good reason. Some say that it even served as inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle!
Surprisingly enough, this castle was actually inhabited by residents up until about 50 years ago. The Forbes-Sempill family lived there until officially giving the castle to the National Trust.
If you’re interested in seeing inside, it only costs £14.50 for adults and £33.00 for a family to get a guided tour. On the tour, you’ll learn a lot about the castle’s history and see some amazing furniture and artwork. You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale!
Floors Castle, The Borders
Contributed By Larch from The Silver Nomad
Floors Castle sits on the banks of the River Tweed in Kelso in the Scottish Borders. About an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, Floors is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland in the heart of Roxburghshire.
Floors Castle was designed by the Edinburgh architect William Adam in 1721 for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe in 1721. It was then remodelled for the 6th Duke between 1837 and 1847 to the current design.
Inside the castle, you can view a magnificent collection of Brussels tapestries, exquisite French Gobelins tapestries, furniture, porcelain and fine art.
Wander through the park, among the woodlands and by the river. Take in the Victorian kitchen gardens, the Walled Garden and the formal French-style Millenium Gardens.
August 2020 – The castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 and the Terrace Café is only serving a picnic-style menu. Also, you have to book a time slot to visit on the Floors Castle website.
Normal Entry Fees to Floors Castle
Castle, Gardens & Grounds admission £11.50
Gardens & Grounds £6.50
Castle, Gardens & Grounds admission £6.00
Gardens & Grounds £3.50
Contributed By Larch from The Silver Nomad
Floors Castle is not the only castle in Kelso. Roxburgh Castle, which is also known as Marchmount Castle, was first mentioned in records in 1125.
Built by King David I of Scotland, Roxburgh castle sat on a hill between the Rivers Tweed and Teviot. With its position close to the Scotland/England border it was endlessly fought over by the Scots and English, changing hands many times.
In 1460 during the Scots attacked the castle killing everyone inside and Roxburgh Castle was destroyed. It remained in ruins until 1547 when it was captured by the Duke of Somerset. After their success at the Battle of Pinkie, the English rebuilt the castle.
Sadly for the castle, one of stipulation of the Treaty of Norham in 1550 was that the Roxburgh Castle had to be demolished. In 1551 it was destroyed and never rebuilt.
The remains of Roxburgh Castle are accessible either from the A699 (there is a layby). or by walking along the River Teviot from the parking at Teviot Bridge. It is a bit of a hike up to to the ruins, but it is worth it for the views both over the River Teviot and on the other side across the River Tweed towards Floors Castle.
Eilean Donan Castle
Contributed By Sonja from Migrating Miss
Eilean Donan Castle of the most picturesque castles in Scotland. It’s situated in the Highlands on a tidal island at the meeting point of three lochs, surrounded by mountains. The castle was originally built in the 13th century by Clan Mackenzie, but after their involvement in the Jacobite rebellions, it was destroyed in the early 1700s by government ships. The castle you see now is a restoration built in the 19th century.
There are plenty of stunning views of Eilean Donan Castle, not least from the car park next to it, where you can see the reflection of the castle on fine and calm days. However, if you want to cross the bridge to enter you’ll need to pay the entry fee of £10 for adults, £6 for children (under 5’s free). As well as the ticket office, there’s a cafe and a gift shop on the mainland side of the site too.
Part of the reason Eilean Donan is such an iconic castle, besides featuring on souvenir shortbread tins, is that it’s often used as a backdrop in film and television. Eilean Donan has starred in Highlander, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Elizabeth, James Bond, and Outlander.
Eilean Donan should be included in your Scotland itinerary! It’s close to the ever-popular Isle of Skye, but also an easy thing to do from Fort Augustus, or even further afield.
Contributed by Skye from Skye Travels
Holyrood Palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh, yet also one of the most expensive, so I don’t always recommend it, especially if you’re on a budget.
If you like royalty and want to see a great example of a well-preserved palace, then Holyrood Palace is a great choice. The original building at this site was Holyrood Abbey, built in 1128. The palace was originally built in the early 1500s and reconstructed in the 1670s.
It had many monarchs in residence, including The Stewart Kings and Mary, Queen of Scots, and most recently is the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II.
The palace tour changed a bit in 2020. Enhanced health and safety measures were introduced throughout the palace, and the kitchens are now part of the tour. Additionally, you’re now allowed to take photographs within the palace (except in the kitchens). It takes about an hour to get through the audio guide, plus you can spend a bit more time examining the exhibits, the grounds and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.
This is also a great attraction for a rainy day, as most of the tour is indoors. Entry tickets are £16.50 for adults, and cheaper for the elderly, students, children, etc.
Which is your favourite castle in Scotland? Leave a comment below and look out for my posts about the best castles in England, Ireland and Wales.
Best Castles in Scotland Map
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Larch has had wanderlust all her life, travelling as much as she can whenever she can. Now in her 50’s, she writes about her adventures on her travel blog The Silver Nomad to encourage travellers of all ages to look at different destinations. In early 2019, she qualified as a CAA PfCO Drone Pilot and now travels with her DJI Mavic Pro and Mavic Mini to capture aerial videos and photos to enhance her work.