The 10 Best Castles in Scotland

| Published: | Updated: September 11, 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. There is something for everyone with what is possibly the highest concentration of them in all of Europe. With the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 2019, these living historical sites experienced an unprecedented influx of tourists. The number of visitors to Scottish castles keeps growing yearly.

The best part is that you may visit Scotland's castles. For a single sight, we are accustomed to traveling four hours via Canada or the USA. Scotland is intimately small, therefore you won't experience this issue there. Major cities and towns can be reached quickly from many castles. Those who aren't are only a short distance away by bicycle, bus, or car through breathtaking terrain.

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 . 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 an excellent value for anyone with a consistent interest in Scottish history and heritage.

It is worthwhile to purchase an Explorer Pass from Historic Scotland (HS) if you intend to visit more than three or four of these castles, especially the larger and more expensive ones like Edinburgh and Urquhart. You will have immediate access to all HS properties for three or seven days. Similar deals are available with the Discover Pass from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) every three, seven, and fourteen days. You'll have access to a huge number of castles, gardens, estates, and well-known battlegrounds like Culloden and Bannockburn thanks to this. Any person who has a constant interest in Scottish history and tradition will find membership to either organization to be a great bargain because it grants free access to all of their facilities.

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

1. Craigmillar Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Craigmillar Castle Scotland
Craigmillar Castle - Stuart Yeates, from en: FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Only 1.5 miles south of the city center, Craigmillar Castle offers a more personal castle experience for those visiting the Edinburgh area (HS, Open All Year). One of the best castles to visit south of the Highland line, its curtain wall is among the best in Scotland, and it has several nooks and corners that twice hosted Mary, Queen of Scots. Fortunately, you frequently have it to yourself, so feel free to pretend to be king of the castle.

Book Your Tour of Craigmillar Castle

2. Tantallon Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Tantallon Castle Scotland
Tantallon Castle - D. Gordon E. RobertsonCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tantallon Castle is located not far from North Berwick, a beach retreat, to the east of Edinburgh. Its nearly 100-foot-high towering walls. They offer stunning vistas of Bass Rock and the Firth of Forth. The dovecot at the castle, where pigeons were kept for winter feasts, is of very high caliber. Its numerous tiny compartments create an optical feast like a ziggurat or labyrinth.

  • 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

3. Bothwell Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Bothwell Castle Scotland
Bothwell Castle - Rosser1954CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, Bothwell Castle is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Glasgow. Bothwell, a stronghold of the powerful Moray and Douglas families, saw one of the greatest sieges in Scottish history. In 1301, Scotland was invaded by King Edward I of England. He had to construct a special siege tower in order to take on Bothwell's enormous fortress. Today, it is a ruin, but keep an eye out for distinctive details like an etched Douglas heart insignia and graffiti that a young David Livingstone cut into the stonework of the keep's ground level.

4. Caerlaverock Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Caerlaverock Castle Scotland
Caerlaverock Castle - Orikrin1998CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Caerlaverock Castle, the only triangular stronghold in the UK, swoops south into Dumfries. It is the kind of castle that lovers of the Middle Ages fantasize about. With a moat around it, Caerlaverock experienced one of its own 300 moments in 1300 when 68 Scots held out against nearly 6,000 English soldiers who were also under Edward I's command. Even a duplicate of Edward's mangonel, a siege machine, is present. This is situated there, along with a fantastic interpretation center that takes you through the appearance and sensations of a medieval siege.

  • 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

5. Doune Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Doune Castle Castle
Doune Castle - Andrew Shiva, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Returning to Perthshire, turn back north, and join the hilarious pilgrimage to Doune Castle, which served as the backdrop for a significant portion of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An audio guide is narrated by Python alumnus Terry Jones and upon request, a reception will give you coconuts to clack through the hallways (HS, Open All Year). In addition, it contains one of the most impressive tower houses in all of Scotland, measuring an intimidating 95 feet in height, and a beautifully renovated great hall. In addition, Doune plays the role of Winterfell in the HBO television series Game of Thrones' first episode, and she is the star of the upcoming Starz drama Outlander.

6. Dunnottar Castle

Best Castles in Scotland | Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle

Turn northeast from Doune to reach the most breathtakingly beautiful natural setting for a castle in the UK. In Aberdeenshire, near Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle has been a fortified location at least since the 7th century AD. Here, ancient conflicts from a time before Scotland or England existed, reached a turning point. William Wallace dragged the English garrison into the chapel of the castle, where he set it on fire, killing everyone who was there. 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

7. Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle Scotland
Crathes Castle - Graeme ChurchardCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are several different types of castles in Aberdeenshire, not the least of which being Crathes Castle. The castle has beautiful painted ceilings and superb interior displays. On its grounds, a group of ditches with an 8,000 BC date recently turned up the world's oldest calendar. The Trust owns a few other castles that are only a short drive away. These include Drum, Fraser, and Craigievar, each displaying distinctive architectural designs from the early medieval period to the 17th century.

  • 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, Children 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.

8. Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle Scotland
Urquhart Castle - LornaMCampbellCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

9. Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle - DiliffCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From there, any list of Scottish castles would be incomplete without Eilean Donan Castle, which is close to the fantastic Isle of Skye. Along with world treasures like Germany's Neuschwanstein or Spain's Alhambra, this castle is among the most photographed in the entire globe. It was a Jacobite stronghold that was completely destroyed by English ship gunnery in the 1740s and stayed that way until it was painstakingly repaired 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

10. Duart Castle

Mull Duart Castle Scotland
Duart Castle - PaulT (Gunther Tschuch)CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take the ferry over to the Isle of Mull after wandering along the west coast of Scotland to Oban. You can see Duart Castle from here, which rises like a sentry on a rocky crag and looks out over the channel. Duart, the seat of Clan MacLean, was at the center of the Lordship of the Isles, a Gallic monarchy that fought Scotland's kings for control until the 15th century. The isles were major thoroughfares for trade and conflict up to their complete subjugation following the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century, despite their remote reputation today. Here the staff are on a first-name basis with the castle’s 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 is 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. These are only the tip of the Scottish castle iceberg, as there are somewhere between 750 and 2,500 of them (depending on how you count them). Nevertheless, this castle route serves as a wonderful introduction to actual Scotland because of its architectural uniqueness, historical depth, and lingering sense of timelessness.


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