15 Best Castles in Scotland to Visit in 2023
The exact amount of castles in Scotland is unknown – the general consensus being around 3,000. There are more Scottish castles than anywhere else in the British Isles. Which, considering how many historic UK cities there are with castles, is an impressive title. Visiting castles is the best way to immerse yourself in historic Scotland, whether you pick a medieval fortress, tower house, or royal residence.
Most Beautiful Castles in Scotland
This guide is jam-packed with the best castles in Scotland. These are the most exciting castles, and all have unique claims to fame or stories to their name. Buckle up because you are in for some serious castle inspiration.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle needs a little introduction. As probably the most famous castle in Scotland, the medieval castle sits on Castle Rock in proud display in the center of Edinburgh Old Town. Edinburgh Castle is the second most visited attraction in the UK, so you best believe that tickets book out quickly and crowds flock in peak seasons. We suggest booking your tickets here for skip-the-line access before you go.
Because of this, Edinburgh Castle is best-visited off-season. With fewer people around, you can really take in Scotland’s history. Edinburgh Castle has hundreds of exhibits, including The Honours of Scotland, aka the Scottish crown jewels.
Admittedly, it would be criminal for Edinburgh Castle not to make our list. Not only is it the medieval castle that has survived for centuries in Scotland’s capital city. Edinburgh Castle is also one of the best-preserved castles in Scotland. For a full day out with plenty of educational and informative details, you can’t go wrong with Edinburgh Castle. And bonus points for anyone who finds somewhere to stay in Edinburgh with views of the castle on Castle Rock.
- Hours: 9:30 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $22
2. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is another central building in Scottish history. The castle dates back to the 12th century and was once a Renaissance royal palace – full of luxuries like a great hall for balls and feasting and a royal hunting lodge. Situated in Stirling, Stirling Castle was also tactically used as a stronghold during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Stirling Castle sits on a volcanic rock on an elevated vantage point. Because of this advantageous position, many battles were fought around Stirling Castle, including Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. Stirling Castle was a hub of conflict.
Today, Stirling Castle is fascinating for visitors intrigued by Scottish history – especially related to the Wars of Independence. It is surrounded by battlefields. While in Stirling Castle, visitors can tour the different rooms and get involved with the more entertaining aspects like trying on period costumes and chatting with the costumed character actors.
Stirling Castle is fun and family-friendly, despite its somber history. It earned a spot on our list for its links to the Wars of Independence. Only a few castles in Scotland offer such vital insight into this period of Scottish history. So don’t overlook Stirling Castle.
- Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $18
3. Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is one of the most dramatic castles in Scotland. The castle remains sit on a 160-foot rock overlooking the North Sea, which is believed to have been the first fortified castle. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the Early Middle Ages, while the surviving parts that visitors see today are dated to the 16th century. Despite its ruined state, Dunnottar Castle is one of the most famous castles in Scotland. It speaks to a lost era of Scotland and is an utterly romantic addition to our top Scottish Castles.
Dunnottar Castle has seen the likes of Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace cross its threshold. And with over 1000 years of history, it is one of the best places to experience historic Scotland. The castle is located in the coastal town of Stonehaven, along Scotland’s east coast. It is a two-hour drive from Edinburgh, but we suggest spending a few nights there. Especially since it is near the Cairngorms National Park.
- Hours: 10 am to 6 pm
- Entry Fees: $11
4. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Scotland. The castle has over 650 years of history and is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. The ancestral owners of Glamis Castle are the Strathmore family, who have resided there since 1372. It is even said to have hosted Mary Queen of Scots and was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. At Glamis Castle, the Queen Mother also gave birth to Princess Margaret.
The long links to royals bagged Glamis Castle a spot in our guide. It is engaging to visit, with a great insight into historic Scotland. It is one of the only castles in Scotland to embrace its literary links, too, featuring a Macbeth Trail, which brings the play to life. The castle is situated outside the village of Glamis, a 20-minute drive north of Dundee.
- Hours: March-October: 10 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $9
5. Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle is a royal residence – aka part of the collection of royal castles belonging to the British royal family. Prince Albert bought the castle for Queen Victoria in 1852, and Balmoral Castle was famously a favorite spot for Queen Elizabeth II. What most people don’t know, though, is that the original Balmoral Castle was deemed ‘too small’ for the royal family. Prince Albert actually commissioned a new castle to be built in 1856. Balmoral Castle is a beautiful place to learn more about the British royals. Its close links to the British monarchy earned it a spot on our list.
Balmoral Castle is located in the Cairngorms National Park near the village of Balmoral. It is a beautiful place to visit along the River Dee, and it is easy to see why a royal hunting lodge was added. Balmoral Castle is surrounded by nature.
- Hours: April-July: 10 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $20
6. Eilean Donan Castle
Chances are you’ve seen a picture of Eilean Donan Castle already. The castle sits on a tidal island amidst a confluence of three lochs. The loch setting is magical (who knows, maybe the Loch Ness monster has a cousin?), and Eilean Donan Castle is easily one of the best castles in Scotland for a scenic location. The 13th-century castle was once the stronghold of the MacRae family. Still, it was sadly destroyed in the war during the Jacobite Uprising. Only in 1932 was the Scottish castle restored to its former glory and opened to the public.
Eilean Donan Castle is beautiful to visit. If you do, you must stop at the multiple scenic viewpoints around the loch shoreline. Inside, you can take tours of the rooms and exhibits. But the main draw is the aesthetic and the fact that such an important castle was resurrected from despair with renovations.
- Hours: February-December: 9 am to 6 pm (varies by month)
- Entry Fees: $13
7. Braemar Castle
The 17th-century Braemar Castle is an iconic fortified castle in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. It has had some famous visitors, including the current British royal family. Clan Farquharson is also one of the most famed clans in Scotland, so visiting their ancestral family home is a must.
The castle has seen many ‘background’ figures of Scotland, from the standard bearer for Mary Queen of Scots to warriors of the Battle of Culloden. Braemar Castle is exciting to visit and hear about the other side of history. The side of history that involved everyday people, not just influential figures and the wealthy.
Braemar Castle is just a stone’s throw from the Scottish Highland Games. If you visit at the right time of year, consider combining the two. It is worth noting that for a period of 2023, Braemar Castle will be closed inside for renovation. Check the website for updates.
- Hours: TBC
- Entry Fees: TBC
8. Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle is another ancestral home central to Scottish history. Shakespeare fans may recognize the castle from Macbeth’s ‘Thane of Cawdor’. And honestly, Cawdor Castle is never far from legends or stories. That is why we added it to our list. The medieval castle actually features a tower built around a legendary holly tree. According to legend, the original Thane of Cawdor dreamed about a donkey carrying a coffer of gold. In his dream, the donkey laid down at the best place for a new castle, where it would forever prosper. The thane did the only logical thing – reenacting his dream and building the new castle at the holly tree where the donkey stopped.
Cawdor Castle is fascinating to visit and has a really engaging history. You can visit on a self-guided or guided tour, exploring the grounds and interior. In the tiny village of Cawdor, Cawdor Castle is around a 20-minute drive from Inverness.
- Hours: April-October: 10 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $17
9. Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle is lavish and opulent – what more do you need to know? The castle dates back to the 16th century, and its grounds feature a deer park. Families will love getting up close to the friendly deer. Culzean Castle is the perfect place to visit with children for that ‘classic castle’ experience. Inside, the main features of Culzean Castle are the beautiful drawing room and oval staircase. Once owned by Clan Kennedy, Culzean Castle is now the property of the National Trust of Scotland. This means that while the castle remains decorated as a private residence, it remains open year-round for public access.
Aside from the castle having deer you can meet, our favorite thing about Culzean Castle is its clifftop location. The castle sits overlooking the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran. Just south of Ayr, Culzean Castle is an easy day trip from Glasgow, just an hour’s drive away.
- Hours: 10 am to 4 pm
- Entry Fees: $12
10. Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle is the largest in the Northern Highlands. It is a private residence of many titles – from one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland to the most northern of Scotland’s great houses. Dunrobin Castle has housed the same family for over 700 years. We love how many ties it has to Scotland’s history and the history of the UK. Dunrobin Castle was a naval hospital in WWI. It has links to the Houses of Parliament through its shared architect, Sir Charles Barry.
Its history goes back even further, though, since the oldest parts of the castle date back to around 1275. A visit to the castle’s on-site museum is a must. It is one of the most informative and historically complex castles to visit in Scotland. Regarding visiting, Dunrobin Castle is easy to squeeze into a North Coast 500 road trip. Dunrobin Castle sits on the coast overlooking the Moray Firth. It is just outside the east Scottish village of Golspie. Check out our Dunrobin Castle guide here for more inspiration and essential details.
- Hours: April-September:
- Entry Fees: $16
11. Craigievar Castle
Craigievar Castle is pretty eye-catching. No, seriously, the Scots baronial-style castle is bright pink. The pink Scottish castle is rumored to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle – every child’s dream addition to our top Scottish castles. Craigievar Castle is beautiful to visit.
The castle’s beauty is what bagged it a spot on our list; it is one of the best castles in Scotland if you want a unique aesthetic. And located in Alford, a village between Cairngorms National Park and Aberdeen, it has a scenic location in the Scottish Highlands.
Craigievar Castle dates back to 1626 and has Jacobean touches throughout. Having lived through the fight for Scottish independence, Craigievar Castle is full of exciting exhibits about Scotland’s history. Visitors can tour the many rooms and exhibits. And once you’ve explored inside, you can head out to spot wildlife like pine martens and deer outside on its grounds.
- Hours: Dawn to dusk
- Entry Fees: $17
12. Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan Castle is a stunning Scottish castle on the Isle of Skye. The castle is the property of Clan MacLeod and, like many castles in Scotland, is shrouded in tradition and tales of magic. The most valued possession in Dunvegan Castle is the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, which is said to hold magical powers of guaranteed victory in battle.
The silk flag is believed to date back to the 4th century and comes from Syria or Rhodes. Dunvegan Castle is one of the most fascinating castles in Scotland. Occupied by the same family for over 800 years, it is full of stories and legends passed through generations. It is also believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.
You can take a self-guided or guided tour through Dunvegan Castle. It is a wonderful spot to get a more intimate taste of Scottish history. We love the element of magic and superstition.
- Hours: April-October: 10 am to 5:30 pm
- Entry Fees: $19
13. Floors Castle
Floors Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland on the Scottish borders – just an hour from Edinburgh. Set on a beautiful estate, the 52 acres feature a Victorian Walled Garden and Millennium Garden. Plenty of woodland and riverside trails zigzag the estate’s grounds. Floors Castle is as much a day outdoors as an indoor attraction. This says a lot considering Floors Castle is the largest inhabited house in Scotland. We love how much there is to do at Floors Castle, and its myriad of pop-up events and activities is another reason we added it to our guide.
Floor Castle dates back to the 18th-century. It was initially treated by the first Duke as a ‘country house’ or bolt hole when escaping the demands of Parliament in London. Nine Dukes later, the castle was finally opened to the public in 1977. It is an exciting castle, always hosting a new activity or event.
- Hours: May-October: 10:30 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $21
14. Blair Castle and Gardens
Blair Castle is one of the most historic of Scotland’s castles. Home to the Atholl family for over seven centuries, it has lived through some of Scotland’s darkest hours. The castle’s 30 rooms have seen some of the most influential politicians and soldiers. Dating back to 1269, Blair Castle has an impressive display of armory throughout – a fitting nod to Scotland’s turbulent past. Its historical importance is precisely why it made our list.
Blair Castle and Gardens is located near the tiny village of Old Blair, just underneath the Cairngorms National Park. It is hugely scenic to visit. The national park backdrop is something else. If you have a few days to spend in the area, Cairngorms National Park is well-combined with Blair Castle. Inside, the castle’s design spans multiple eras. Some features whisk you back to medieval Scotland, while others speak to more recent Victorian styles.
Touring Blair Castle is fascinating because it has such a long history. You can clearly see the different influences of each era. It is a fantastic Scottish castle with exhibitions throughout for a museum-like experience.
- Hours: April-October: Monday-Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
- Entry Fees: $20
15. Inveraray Castle
Inveraray Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland. Why? It has been home to the Clan Campbells for generations. The current Clan Campbells hold the title of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. It is also so beautiful that it was chosen as the set for the 2012 Downtown Abbey Christmas special. We had to add it to our list.
Rather than being always available, like Edinburgh Castle, visiting Inveraray Castle is much more intimate. You’ll tour all the private rooms and floors, learning more about its past owners and architects. The castle itself has beautiful Scottish baronial architecture.
The castle is near the village of Inveraray, on the outskirts of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It is possible to visit as a day trip from Glasgow, Oban, or even to incorporate it into a Scottish road trip.
- Hours: March-September: Thursday-Monday 10 am to 5 pm, October: Thursday-Monday 10 am to 4 pm
- Entry Fees: $19
- Mauchline Castle: A rectangular tower house in East Ayrshire.
- Caerkaverock Castle: A moated triangular castle near Dumfries.
- Duart Castle: A castle by the Sound of Mull owned by Clan Maclean.
From the Scottish Highlands to the center of action-packed Edinburgh, the castles in Scotland are something else. Visiting a Scottish castle is a rite of passage. Castles are so intertwined in Scottish history that it is near impossible – or should be considered as such – to leave them out of a Scotland itinerary.
Looking for more inspiration ahead of your visit to Scotland? Check out our North Coast 500 guide and our ultimate guide to the best cities in Scotland. Otherwise, enjoy visiting as many of these best castles in Scotland as possible. You won’t regret it.