Best Castles in Scotland

| Published: | Last Updated: May 19, 2022 | , , ,

Best Castles in Scotland Curated by a Local

This is a guide to the best Castles in Scotland. Scotland is the land of castles. With arguably the greatest concentration of them in Europe there is something to appeal to everyone.  2019 saw a record number of visitors flock to these living pieces of history; with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.  Visitor numbers to Castles in Scotland continue to rise every year.

Best of all, Scotland’s castles are accessible. We are accustomed to driving four hours through countries such as Canada or the USA to see a single sight. You won't have this problem in Scotland due to the intimate smallness of Scotland. Many castles are within a short strike of major cities and towns. Those that aren’t are a very reasonable car, bus or cycle journey away through unforgettable scenery.

Having been to over 60 of these Castles myself, I’ve assembled my very own ‘Castle Trail’. Following this awe-inspiring, historically rich and downright exciting ‘Castle Trail’, you will see the best castles in Scotland. As a ‘Battle Master’ (yes, that’s the actual job title) at the new Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in Scottish history. The facts of which consistently prove stranger and more thrilling than fiction. The whole circuit could be completed by a dedicated and nimble traveller within a week. Many are only an afternoon or day trip away from tourist centres such as Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Stirling. All offer a great way for individuals, couples or families to get a little medieval and experience Scotland’s world-famous heritage hands-on.

If you plan on visiting more than three or four of these castles, particularly the larger and more expensive ones such as Edinburgh and Urquhart, it is worthwhile to pick up an Explorer Pass from Historic Scotland (HS). This allows you instant access to unlimited HS properties over three or seven days. National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has a similar offer with their Discover Pass at three, seven and fourteen-day intervals. This will give you access to a great many castles, gardens, estates and famous battlefields such as Culloden and Bannockburn. Membership to either organization gives free access to all of their properties and is excellent value for anyone with a consistent interest in Scottish history and heritage.

Here’s our comprehensive list of the Best Castle in Scotland which includes a detailed description of each castle.

Craigmillar Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Craigmillar Castle
Craigmillar Castle / Pixabay

If you’re after a more intimate castle experience in the Edinburgh area, Craigmillar Castle sits in undeserved obscurity only one and a half miles south of the city centre (HS, Open All Year). Its curtain wall is among the finest in Scotland, and with endless nooks and crannies that twice played host to Mary, Queen of Scots it is one of the most enjoyable castles to explore south of the Highland line. Delightfully you often have it to yourself, so feel free to play king of the castle out loud.

Book Your Tour of Craigmillar Castle

Tantallon Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle / Pixabay

A short jaunt east of Edinburgh near the coastal retreat of North Berwick sits Tantallon Castle. Its towering walls rise to over 100 feet. They provide picture-perfect views out to Bass Rock and the Firth of Forth. The castle’s dovecot, which held pigeons for winter feasts, is of especially fine quality. It has hundreds of tiny chambers creating an optical feast reminiscent of a labyrinth or ziggurat.

  • Address: North Berwick EH39 5PN, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm (1 April to 30 September), Daily, 10 am to 4 pm (1 October to 31 March)
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £6.00, Child aged 5-15 - £3.60, Child under 5 - FREE

Bothwell Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Bothwell Castle
Bothwell Castle / Pixabay

If, however, you arrive in Glasgow, Bothwell Castle is a must-see. A stronghold of the mighty Moray and Douglas families, Bothwell was the site of one of the most terrific sieges in Scottish history. King Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1301. He had to build a special siege tower specifically to tackle Bothwell’s massive keep. It stands a ruin today, but look out for special features such as an engraved Douglas heart emblem and graffiti carved into the keep’s bottom floor stonework carved by a young David Livingstone.

Caerlaverock Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle / Pixabay

Swooping south to Dumfries, Caerlaverock Castle is the UK’s only triangular fortress. It is the kind of castle that medieval romantics dream about. Surrounded by a moat, Caerlaverock had its own 300 moments when 68 Scots held out against over 6,000 English soldiers also under the command of Edward I in 1300. There is even a replica of a mangonel, a siege engine used by Edward. This is located on the site along with an excellent interpretation centre that walks you through what a medieval siege looked and felt like.

  • Address: Caerlaverock, Dumfries DG1 4RU, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm (1 April to 30 September), Daily, 10 am to 4 pm (1 October to 31 March)
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £6.00, Child aged 5-15 - £3.60, Child under 5 - FREE

Doune Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Doune Castle
Doune Castle / J Thomas / CC BY-SA 2.0, Wiki Commons

Veer now back north to Perthshire and join the wonderfully silly pilgrimage to Doune Castle, filming location for much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An audio guide is narrated by Python alumnus Terry Jones, and reception will provide you with coconuts to clack through the corridors upon request (HS, Open  All Year). Aside from that, it has a brilliantly restored great hall and one of the most imposing tower houses anywhere in Scotland, standing at an intimidating 95 feet in height. Doune is also featured as Winterfell in the premiere episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones and takes centre stage in the upcoming Starz series Outlander.

Dunnottar Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle / Pixabay

From Doune, turn northeast and make way to the most jaw-dropping natural location for any castle in the UK. Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, has been a fortified site since at least the 7th century AD. Here ancient wars in the time before Scotland or England existed came to a head. William Wallace forced the English garrison into the castle’s chapel, burning it to the ground with all the souls inside. Dunnottar placed in the Top 10 list to establish the 8th Wonder of the World in 2013.

  • Address: Stonehaven AB39 2TL, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am to 5.15 pm (15th July – 30th Sep), 10 am to 3 pm (Off-season)
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £8.00, Child aged 5-15 - £4.00, Child under 5 - FREE

Book Your Tour of Dunnottar Castle

Crathes Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Crathes Castle
Crathes Castle / Pixabay

Aberdeenshire provides a wealth of castles of all kinds, not least of which is Crathes Castle. The castle boasts excellent interior displays and stunning painted ceilings. Its grounds recently revealed the world’s oldest calendar in the form of a set of ditches dated to 8,000 BC. A number of other castles owned by the Trust are a short drive away. These include Drum, Fraser and Craigievar, all exhibiting unique styles from early medieval to 17th century baronial.

  • Address: Crathes, Banchory AB31 5QJ, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10.30–16.00 (6 Jul–31 Oct), 11.00–16.00 (1 Nov–31 Dec) closed (23 Mar–5 Jul)
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £6.00, Child aged 5-15 - £3.60, Child under 5 - FREE

Best Castles of the Scottish Highlands and Islands

Trekking west from Aberdeenshire towards Scotland’s world-famous Western Isles takes you through some of the best Highland scenery that Scotland has to offer.

Urquhart Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle / Pixabay

Along the way, it is well worth a stop at Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. Nessie spotting aside, this is one of Scotland’s most atmospheric ruins.

  • Address: Drumnadrochit, Inverness IV63 6XJ, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily, 9.30 am to 6 pm (1 August to 30 September), Daily, 9.30 am to 5 pm (1-31 October), Daily, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm (1 November to 31 March)
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £9.60, Child aged 5-15 - £5.80, Child under 5 - FREE

Eilean Donan Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle / Pixabay

From there, any list of Scottish castles would be remiss if it did not include Eilean Donan Castle near the otherworldly Isle of Skye. This is one of the most photographed castles in the world alongside international treasures such as Germany’s Neuschwanstein or Spain’s Alhambra. A Jacobite stronghold, it was devastated by English ship gunnery in the 1740s and remained so until being lovingly restored in the early 20th century.

  • Address: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10.00 am – 4.00 pm (1st Feb – 28th March), Daily 10.00 am – 6.00 pm (29th March – 26th Oct), Closed in Nov and Dec
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £10.00, Child aged 5-15 - £6.00, Child under 5 - FREE

Book Your Tour of Eilean Donan Castle

Duart Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Duart Castle
Duart Castle / Robert Guthrie / CC BY-SA 2.0, Wiki Commons

After meandering down the west coast to Oban, take the ferry across to the Isle of Mul. Here you will see the unforgettable view of Duart Castle, arising on a rocky crag like a sentinel overlooking the channel. Home to Clan MacLean, Duart sat at the heart of the Lordship of the Isles, the Gallic kingdom that struggled for supremacy with Scotland’s kings until the 15th century. The isles, despite their remote reputation today, were superhighways for trade and warfare until their utter suppression following the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century. Here the staff are on a first-name basis with the castles’ laird (Scots for lord) and are a mine of information and local tales.

  • Address: Isle of Mull PA64 6AP, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Daily 11 am to 4 pm (1st April to 18th October 2020) closed all other times.
  • Admissions Fees: Adults - £8.00, Child aged 5-15 - £4.00, Child under 5 - FREE

Wrapping Up

The circuit now completed, you find yourself at the gateway to the majestic Western Isles, and the train journey from Oban to Glasgow or Edinburgh is unforgettable for its rugged beauty. However, with between 750 and 2,500 castles (depending on how you count them) these are just the tip of the Scottish castle iceberg. Nonetheless, their architectural distinctiveness, historical richness and lingering sensation of timelessness make this castle trail a fine introduction to the real Scotland.


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