Top 10 Castles in Scotland

Castles in Scotland | Tiny Tartan Tours of Scotland

Visitors are attracted to Scotland to visit our vibrant cultural cities, majestic Highland scenery, elusive water monsters, friendly local people and romantic castles.

The great news is that we have over two thousand castles in Scotland ranging from crumbling ruins, intact fortified military structures to less defensive buildings constructed for wealthy landowners or Royal families.

Many of our castles in Scotland are open to the public, some are furnished and some are not, some are free and others attract an admission charge and if you are planning to visit many on your trip, it may be worth purchasing an Historic Scotland explorer pass which is great value. This also has the benefit of allowing you to bypass any queues for tickets and walk right in at Edinburgh and Stirling Castle.

Another tip is that many castles not covered here, are owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland, and it may be worth joining them to allow access to multiple properties. English and Australian National Trust membership is reciprocated by the National Trust for Scotland.

Here is our top ten best Scottish castles blog to allow you to get the best out of your Scottish holiday and we have thrown in the odd palace and abbey in for good measure.

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1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castles | Castles in Scotland

Edinburgh Castle

Perched on top of the volcanic castle rock at the top of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s ancient thoroughfare, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of the city centre.

There is a mixture of eras of construction within this large site, the oldest still standing being the 12thC St Margaret’s chapel, which is sometimes used as an intimate wedding venue.

Research has shown that there have been no less than 26 sieges at Edinburgh Castle during its 1100 year history, making it one of the most besieged places in Britain and one of the most attacked.

There has been a Royal Castle on the rock since the 12thc and it continued to be a Royal Residence for the Stuart Kings and Queens until the Union of the Crowns with England in 1603. After this, it became more of a military castle so there is a really interesting mix of charming Royal buildings intended to dazzle and impress, to a wealth of military history including a jail.

Don’t miss the Scottish Crown Jewels (these are serious bling) and the historic Stone of Destiny.

Edinburgh Castle is also one of the most haunted sites in Scotland and visitors are bound to find the story of the ghostly Lone Piper quite moving. This site just oozes history and interest. 70% of visitors to Edinburgh visited the castle in a recent survey, some 1.5 million in 2015.

Our advice is, at peak periods, go early, and try to arrive when they open at 9-9:30am depending on the time of year. This is likely to pay dividends in the shape of a much enhanced visitor experience as the Castle should be relatively quiet first thing. Enjoy this gem!

2. Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle | Castles in Scotland

Stirling Castle

Smaller than Edinburgh Castle but perhaps a little more homely and less austere, Stirling Castle also sits on top of volcanic rock offering a great 360 degree vista and view to the Wallace Monument.

Marvel at the high status Great Hall, quite possibly the grandest interior of any building constructed in Scotland in the Middle Ages, the wonderful Royal Apartments, the dank old kitchens and the outer defences.

Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned on this site including the romantic but tragic Mary Queen of Scots.

We would recommend allowing at least two hours to visit Stirling Castle and many may wish to spend longer than this. If you are visiting Edinburgh as well as Stirling, a Historic Scotland 3 or 5 day explorer pass should save you some money and offer you direct access so beating the ticket queue.

If you are making a day of it in Stirling, the city centre is a short stroll from the castle through the old town, where you will find a huge array of restaurants and shops.

Other attractions in Stirling you may wish to visit include The National Wallace monument, The Battle of Bannockburn Experience, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum and The Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

One of Scotland’s smallest cities at 18000 residents, Stirling offers the visitor a great deal and comes highly rated by Tiny Tartan Tours.

3. Doune Castle

Doune Castle | Castles in Scotland

Doune Castle

Just ten miles away from Stirling so easy to combine both castles on a day trip, Doune Castle has rocketed to fame in recent decades as a film location, being used in Monty Python’s Holy Grail and, more recently, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

Originally built in the 13thC but wrecked by the English during the Wars of Independence, what you see today was built by Robert Stuart, the Duke of Albany and son of King Robert the second, in the 14thC.

It was used by the Stuarts as a Royal hunting lodge and saw military action during the Jacobite uprising period of 1689-1746, when it suffered major damage.

Restoration work took place in the 1880s allowing the visitor to walk in the footsteps of history, through the vaulted cobbled passages to the restored Lord’s hall. In the summer months, you can gain access to the battlements.

To get the most out of your visit here, Tiny Tartan Tours recommend that you get an audio guide from reception, and if you wish to recreate the Monty Python scene for yourselves, they will even lend you some coconut shells!

A fairly small site, 45mins to an hour would probably be long enough for most. Again owned by Historic Scotland so if you have an explorer pass, you can use it here.

4. Dunnottar Castle

Located in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, a visit to this ruined castle will surely be an unforgettable experience.

Wander through the extensive collection of buildings including the lodgings, the barracks, the stables and the drawing room and study, and just soak up the atmosphere.

It was here that a small group of soldiers held out for a full eight months against Oliver Cromwell’s army, saving the Scottish crown jewels, sceptre and sword in the process. These are now displayed next to the Stone of Destiny in Edinburgh Castle.

Owned by the Earl’s powerful family Marischal until it was confiscated by the government for their involvement on the Jacobite side of the 1715 uprising, it sat much neglected until 1925 when renovations and upkeep started once more.

This is another popular film location. It stood in for Elsinore when Mel Gibson starred in Hamlet and recently it was used for the filming of Frankenstein with Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe.

One of the great castles in Scotland and steeped in history, Tiny Tartan Tours can take you here. A Historic Scotland property so explorer passes accepted here.

5. Blair Castle and Gardens

A magnificent castle with its origins from the 13thC, Blair Castle is a formidable site, home to the Dukes and Earls of Atholl.

Heavily remodelled in the Victorian period in a Scottish Baronial style, a huge number of historical characters shape the story of the castle including Viscount Dundee, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Victoria.

It has a stunning fully furnished interior with impressive drawing room, beautiful gardens and short walks within the grounds and a good restaurant on site. It is lovely to see the peacocks strut their stuff around the grounds.

This castle is set within the wonderful landscape of Highland Perthshire. It is possible to visit as a day trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh among other Lowland locations. It’s on the railway line and only two hours drive to Inverness. Privately owned, not a Historic Scotland site.

6. Falkland Palace

A 16thC hunting lodge for the powerful Stuart Kings and Queens, Falkland Palace offers so much to the visitor as does the conservation village itself.

Partly ruined at the time of the reformation, the 16thC religious bigotry mainly directed from the Protestants against the Catholics but sometimes the other way around, most of the palace survived. It has a lovely interior featuring a wonderful painted ceiling and antique furniture, colourful gardens and don’t forget to visit the world’s oldest Royal Tennis court.

The conservation village of Falkland was recently used in the filming of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and appeared as Old Inverness in the series. Great pubs and restaurants, a few boutique shops, and wonderful historic architecture wherever you turn, Falkland is fabulous.

Not the easiest to get to using public transport, but you could perhaps combine this lovely village with St Andrews as a day trip. Run by the National Trust for Scotland, if you have an English or Australian National Trust card in your wallet or purse, this will allow free entry.

7. Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey | Castles in Scotland

Melrose Abbey

In the opinion of Tiny Tartan Tours, Melrose Abbey has to be the jewel in the crown of the Borders abbeys.

An impressive 12thC building and a very well preserved ruin, although some parts are intact, it is believed that the heart of Robert the Bruce, one of our Scottish national heroes, is buried within a casket here.

This abbey is known for its extensive selection of stone carvings, including saints, dragons, plants and animals. Very good audio guides are available.

A Historic Scotland property so your explorer pass is accepted here.

If you would rather spend time at Abbotsford House, the home of the Victorian novelist Sir Walter Scott, this is also very close by and offers a great visit. Scott was an incredible collector, and there are many interesting artefacts to be found inside. Not a Historic Scotland site.

The town of Melrose is also interesting in its own right with a fine Roman museum, local shops and some great Scottish eateries. You could combine a day trip to The Borders with a visit to Rosslyn Chapel, which you will find on the southern edge of Edinburgh, not a Historic Scotland site. Have a look at our Border Raiders tour itinerary for more information on these places.

8. Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle | Castles in Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

No top ten list of castles in Scotland would be complete without Eilean Donan, with views on a clear day to the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye.

The stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and Macrae for many centuries, it is often described as Scotland’s most photographed castle.

As the Mackenzies sided with the Jacobites in the 1719 pro-Stuart uprising, it was subsequently blasted to bits by government ships being rebuilt in 1911.

The castle has appeared extensively on the silver screen including Highlander, The World is Never Enough and Maid of Honour.

A great shop and café on site, not a Historic Scotland property but very reasonable admission charges.

It can become very busy at peak periods. Very, very photogenic, interesting webcam on their website.

9. Balmoral

Balmoral Castle | Castles in Scotland

Balmoral Castle

This is the Queen’s official highland residence and she loves it here. Nestled within the magnificent scenery of Royal Deeside and Lochnagar, the castle was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1856 and features impressive Scottish Baronial architecture.

Set within a working estate comprising around 50000 acres, there are grouse moors, forestry and farmland as well as herds of deer, ponies and Highland Cows. Not open all year round or when the Queen is in residence. Check their website for more details. Not a Historic Scotland property.

10. Kilchurn Castle

This castle is an atmospheric ruin but a fairly intact one and dates from the 15thC.

It was the principle seat of the powerful Clan Campbell of Glen Orchy who later became the Earl of Breadalbane when they relocated to Perthshire in the 18thC.

A great castle to explore, surrounded by towering mountains and great views from the fifth floor turret over part of our longest loch, Loch Awe. The access to the castle can be difficult at wetter periods of the year as the loch level rises and can be muddy.

Very photogenic, this castle cannot be reached by public transport so unless you have your own car, we would suggest using Tiny Tartan Tours.

Why not stop for lunch in Inverary a 20 minute drive from here where you will find a very different, lived in and furnished property, Inverary Castle.

Free access to Kilchurn from end of March until end of October, outside of these months the door will be locked but you can still walk out to view the castle from the outside.

Inverary Castle is owned by the Chief of the Clan Campbell who also happens to be the Duke of Argyll, not a Historic Scotland property. Tiny Tartan Tours visit Kilchurn and Inverary castles on our Castle Maniacs tour.

Top 10 Castles in Scotland Summary

So if you are into Scottish castles and are going to spend time visiting some of them, please use this brief guide which we hope you will find useful.

We are confident at Tiny Tartan Tours that all these sites listed are wonderful places to visit and it’s great to get out there into the country to explore and discover new things. We wish you well in your travelling and exploring.

Other great castles in Scotland include Brodie in Moray, Dunvegan Castle on Skye, Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, Craigmiller Castle in Edinburgh, Culzean Castle in Ayrshire complete with the Eisenhower suite, to name but a few.

Tiny Tartan Tours can organise castle themed tours from one day to several. Please send an email to info@tinytartantours.com or call us on +44 0131 2352142 for more information.

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