5 Magical Castles in Scotland That Completely Blew Us Away! 

Best Castles in Scotland

One of the biggest draws to Scotland are the majestic castles dotted around the country. On our recent road trip through the Scottish Highlands, we were able to experience some of the most historic it has to offer! Here’s 5 of the best castles in Scotland, some quick history, and everything to know before you go. 

How Many Castles Are There in Scotland?

Believe it or not, there are over 1,500 castles in Scotland! The range from small stone fixtures and historical ruins to massive fortresses that still stand today. It’s estimated that at one point there were around 3,000 Scotland Castles in this part of the United Kingdom. 

The coolest part about these attractions is that there are many ways to visit them. Many travelers go on day tours from major cities like Edinburgh or rent a car and include it in a longer road trip. Some of Scotland’s Castles even double as hotels or unique camping spots.

5 Best Castles in Scotland

Our Scotland Castle Road Trip

We mentioned renting a car as a great way to experience the castles of Scotland, and that’s exactly how we chose to see them. Our road trip took us from Stonehaven on the northeast coast to the Isle of Skye, and ended in the capital city. Be sure to check out Discover Cars to compare the best rates and companies before your visit.

When planning our itinerary out we made sure to include some of the most famous Scotland castles in our route. Many were easy to get to, while others were a bit out of the way. Still, we had no regrets at the end of our journey. They were all so unique from each other, displaying the incredible history of Scotland in an interesting way. 

As you read through our Scotland castle guide, know that these are just a few of the amazing fortresses to see around the country. We hope it gives you some fun ideas to include in your own trip to Scotland!

10 Day Scotland Road Trip Itinerary: Our Epic Highlands Adventure

Scotland Castle Road Trip

Quick Tips For Visiting The Best Castles in Scotland

Pre-Book Your Tickets: With a few exceptions, most of the castles in Scotland can be booked online beforehand. This is particularly important in the summer months of July and August when many travelers head to the country. Typically, if you’re on a group tour the Scotland castle entries will also be included. 

Prepare for Weather: If it’s your first visit to Scotland then know that the weather can be unpredictable. Be sure to bring sturdy shoes, a rain jacket, and warm clothes even in the summertime. 

Pay for Parking: Don’t forget to pay for parking on your trip to any of these magical castles in Scotland. Most car lots have electronic pay stations which are sprinkled around the car park. All the ones we used took credit cards. You’ll just need to input your license plate and leave the printed receipt on your vehicles dashboard. 

Take Your Time: There’s no rush to experience these amazing Scottish castles! Take your time enjoying the history exhibits and views out to the lochs and sea. Remember that you will be driving far distances to get to many of these historic structures. There is no reason to not slow down and fully embrace this part of Scotland’s history.

Bring Your Camera: One of the best things to bring with you to the castles of Scotland is your camera! You will get so many great photo opportunities along your road trip.

Best Castles in Scotland

Our 5 Favorite Castles in Scotland

1. Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar was the first castle in Scotland we visited and ended up being one of our favorites! We actually spent a few weeks in the beautiful town of Stonehaven before starting our Scottish Highlands road trip. From Stonehaven, there is a 30-minute scenic coastal walk along the cliffs to get there. It’s also an easy drive from Aberdeen and just a short stroll from the parking lot. 

As you get closer to this historical landmark, you’ll notice that it sits atop a massive rock formation. The story of Dunnottar starts in the 5th century with a Christian missionary named St Ninian. It would be attacked relentlessly in the centuries that followed starting with the Vikings around 900 AD. Dunnottar would then play a huge part in the Scottish Wars of Independence and William Wallace even made his presence known here.

The Keith Family is responsible for much of what you see today here at this Scottish Castle. From the outside, it may look as if Dunnottar lays in ruins. However, once you head up into this Scotland Castle you’ll be in awe of what still stands. 

Allow for at least one hour to explore the castle grounds. You can even bring a picnic and have a seat on the large green lawn in the middle of Dunnottar. Also, don’t miss out on the small beach to the left of the castle in the warmer summer months.

→ How to Visit Dunnottar Castle & Magical Stonehaven Coastal Walk

Scotland Castle Dunnottar

2. Balmoral Castle

In comparison to Dunnottar, Balmoral Castle seems quite modern! You may have heard of it before as it doubles as the royal residence of the British monarchs. What started as a small hunting lodge, was bought by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert in 1852.

Construction started shortly after to create one of the very best castles in Scotland! In the years which followed up until the present day, Kings and Queens have visited Balmoral every summer. It was a favorite of the late Queen Elizabeth II, and it’s easy to see why she loved it so much. 

Even though it’s graced by the royal family every August, Balmoral Castle is open to the public from April to July. It was located perfectly at the start of our Scotland Road Trip between Stonehaven and the entrance to the Scottish Highlands.

We really enjoyed the self-guided audio tour through the flower gardens and viewing the remarkable exterior. Unlike other Scotland castles on this list, you won’t be able to go inside Balmoral aside from a small exhibit in the ballroom. 

→ Is Balmoral Castle Worth It? Our Day at the Royals’ Summer Estate

Castles in Scotland Balmoral

3. Eilean Donan

Ready to see another amazing part of Scottish History? Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland and somewhere everyone should visit in the Highlands region.

The rich history of this Scotland castle dates back to the 6th century. Saint Donnan of Eigg is said to have visited during this time to work his healing magic on the residents of the small island. 

The original castle was not built until the 12th century by King Alexander II. It was then inhabited by Scottish Royalty and different clans up until a Jacobite Uprising in 1719. Unfortunately, this is when British soldiers destroyed the castle and it was left in ruins for the next 200 years. 

Don’t worry though… The story of Eilean Donan castle was not done! The MacRae family purchased the land in the early 1900’s and the Scottish castle was officially reopened in 1932. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Eilean Donan is one of the only Scotland castles which you can’t pre-book tickets for. Due to this, you may want to show up early during the peak summer months.

This is also one of the smallest castles in Scotland we visited. You won’t need to plan for more than a couple hours here on your drive around the stunning Loch Duich.

→ Eilean Donan: Fun Tour of the Famous Scotland Castle

Castles in Scotland Eilean Donan

4. Urquhart Castle

Onto more of the best castles in Scotland! Urquhart is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country because of its location on world-famous Loch Ness. The fortress was built around the 13th century when King Alexander II granted the Lordship of Urquhart to his son in law.

Like many other castles in Scotland, Urquhart would see plenty of bloodshed at the hands of the British and rival clans. The MacDonald’s were one of the most notorious clans to roam the Highlands and made many daring attacks on the property. The most damaging raid was in 1545 when they took everything from the livestock to artillery, and even the doors on the walls.

So what can you expect at Urquhart Castle today? Much of its greatness was reduced to rubble during the Jacobite Rising of 1692. However, you can still see parts of the Grant Tower and the surrounding walls which sit on the loch. We loved reading all the history placards which told the story of this castle in Scotland. 

One popular way to visit Urquhart Castle is by taking a Loch Ness boat tour. The cruises pull right up to the fortress ruins and you’ll have about an hour to explore the grounds. To ensure we had more time at Urquhart, we actually took a Loch Ness Cruise from the Caledonian Canal and drove to the castle to see it for ourselves.

→ 10 Amazing Facts About Urquhart Castle On Loch Ness

Scotland Castle Urquhart

5. Edinburgh Castle

We saved the most famous castle in Scotland for last! Sitting high above the capital city are the walls of a timeless fortress. Those visiting Edinburgh should know this is #1 thing to do. You can pick from the endless guided tours or simply take on the vast historical attraction yourself.

We recommend booking a time slot a few days before as it can be busy between May and August. Honestly, you could spend an entire day strolling around the many exhibits.

Some of our favorite parts were the Scottish Crown Jewels, the National War Museum, and taking in the epic views of the city from the walls. If you’re there around 1pm, they actually shoot off a ceremonial cannon every day except Sundays.

After you’re done discovering one of the most incredible castles in Scotland be sure to walk the Royal Mile. This is where Scottish Kings and Queens held there royal processions between here and Holyroodhouse Palace for over 500 years. There is also the fun outdoor Grassmarket and plenty of great restaurants and cafes to enjoy.

5 Awesome Edinburgh Castle Tips to Help Plan Your First Visit

Edinburgh Castle

More Scotland Castles Not to Miss

As we mentioned, we only visited a small portion of the thousands of castles in Scotland. Unless you have months to visit or are planning on moving there, you will only be able to experience a select few on your vacation. Here are some of the most popular and exciting Scotland castles to see on your own trip! 

  • Braemar Castle
  • Blair Castle
  • Inveraray Castle
  • Cawdor Castle
  • Stirling Castle
  • Glamis Castle
  • Duart Castle
  • Dunvegan Castle
  • Inverness Castle
  • Dunrobin Castle
  • Craigievar Castle

Scotland Castles Guide

Have any questions about this article or want to share more of the best castles in Scotland? Leave us a comment below!

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

 Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar

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Scotland Castles

Scotland Travel Planning

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 Rental Car: The best way to get around Scotland is by rental car! We always use Discover Cars when traveling in Europe and have found some great deals by booking in advance.

Transportation: Omio is a great place to search for trains, buses, and transfers while traveling through Scotland.

 Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for activities all over Scotland. You can find everything from a Scottish Highlands tour from Edinburgh to a Loch Ness boat cruise, Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour, and even chocolate making classes.

 Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from London to Aberdeen for $30 USD and Edinburgh to Budapest for less than $80! 

 Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for the best prices such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also,  Hostelworld should be your go-to if you’re traveling on a budget. 

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials

Scotland Travel

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