The United Kingdom has long excelled in dramatic and colorful history. To this day, the many castles and manors scattered across the country are windows into the past. Scotland, in particular, is an outstanding example, where mostly medieval castles can be seen in their full glory, often surrounded by the untamed and rugged Scottish landscape.
Many have been famously featured in films and TV shows, and while some are known across the world, others are much more off the beaten path and can be an unexpected surprise.
Let’s have a look at some of the best castles in Scotland:
1. Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is perhaps the most widely-recognized Scottish castle. Set in a picturesque highland landscape on a small island which is enclosed by three sea lochs – Loch Alsh, Loch Duich, and Loch Long.
Clans have a significant role to play in Scottish history, and Eilean Donan Castle was the stronghold for the Mackenzie and Macrae clans. The castle itself dates back to the 13th century. The castle was destroyed in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 20th century.
Nowadays, a stone footbridge connects the castle and the island to the mainland.
Films like Highlander and James Bond – The World is Not Enough have featured the castle, and to this day it is prominently featured in photographs, books, and other visual platforms as one of the most picturesque castles on the British Isles.
2. Edinburgh Castle
The main attraction in the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, is the Edinburgh Castle. Sitting on top of Castle Rock, it graciously overlooks the city, and more than 1.5 million tourists visit each year.
Historically, Edinburgh Castle has significance as a stronghold, but it has also been a royal residence.
As one of the most important Scottish fortresses and strongholds, the castle has been involved in historic disturbances and conflicts, including Wars of Scottish Independence and the Jacobite rising. A recent study has shown that the castle has undergone well over 20 sieges making it the most besieged place in the United Kingdom and the whole world.
St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest part of the castle that has survived to these days. It dates back to the early 12th century.
3. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle in East Scotland in the lowland valley of Strathmore has an eventful history. Shakespeare featured Glamis Castle in one of his most famous bodies of work “Macbeth” even though the historical King Macbeth never resided in the castle.
Since the 14th century, Glamis Castle has been the ancestral seat of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. In more recent history, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother called Glamis Castle her childhood home and Princess Margaret was born there.
The original stronghold in this location was built around the 10th or the 11th century. Before the castle became a royal seat, it was used as a Royal Hunting Lodge.
The design of the castle is based on an old tower house. The castle has undergone additions and improvements from 17th up to the 19th century.
4. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is one of the most significant castles in Scotland historically and architecturally. An impressive fortress sitting on top of a crag on Stirling Sill, it was also a royal residence prior the union between Scotland and England.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned in Stirling Castle in 1542 and so were other Scottish Kings and Queens.
Due to tumultuous past, many Scottish and English castles have undergone sieges, and so has Stirling Castle with at least eight sieges.
Even though the majority of current buildings date back to a time period between the 15th and 17th centuries, the castle itself dates back to at least the 12th century.
Around the 17th century, the castle’s significance as a royal residence declined, and it was used mainly for military purposes, including as a prison.
5. Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle is located in the North East of Scotland in Aberdeenshire. Since the mid-19th century, the castle has been used by members of the British Royal Family. To this day the castle remains in private possession of the royal family.
The original castle, due to its size limitations, was demolished after the current castle was built in 1856. Built in Scottish Baronial architecture style, the castle’s design was created by an Aberdeen-based architect William Smith, however, Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, made significant changes in the design. The castle features a tower and pepperpot turrets, which are signature to this architectural style.
Technically, Balmoral Castle isn’t really a castle but country house.
At the time of Princess Diana’s untimely death in 1997, Queen Elizabeth II was residing at Balmoral Castle.
6. Floors Castle
Another significant country house for the royalty, bearing the name of a castle, is Floors Castle in South-East Scotland. It is the residence of Duke of Roxburghe.
Floors Castle was built during the 1720s as an excellent example of rather simple but symmetrical Georgian architecture, and additional turrets and battlements were added later on in, in the 19th century.
Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland.
Nowadays the castle is filled with fine art collections as well as porcelain, and unique and newly-restored tapestries.
7. Culzean Castle
Something you would probably not expect from a Scottish castle is utter opulence and glamour. Yet Culzean Castle has both. The dramatic castle rises above lush gardens and overlooks the coast of Firth of Clyde.
Culzean Castle was built in the late 18th century, originally as an L-plan castle. 10th Earl of Cassilis wanted the old simple castle rebuilt into a more dazzling country house. Thus the building was reconstructed and featured a circular saloon within the drum tower overlooking the sea, as well as a grand oval staircase and luxurious apartments.
Beneath the castle, there lies a complex of sea caves open for public during the summer months.
8. Castle Fraser
You could find many Z-plan type castles in Scotland, and Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire is the most elaborate of its kind. A Z-plan castle features a square or rectangular tower house with wings or towers at diagonally opposite corners.
The construction of the current castle started in 1575, however, there is evidence that an older tower stood in the same place around the 15th and the early 16th century. The building of the current castle took over 50 years.
The castle has five floors, and the interiors were largely reconstructed in the early to mid-19th century.
9. Duart Castle
Located on the Isle of Mull, Duart Castle is the seat of Clan MacLean. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle has a strategic location – sitting on a high crag it controls the surrounding waterways.
From the 18th century onwards the castle was in the state of ruins until it was reconstructed in the early 20th century by Sir Fitzroy Maclean.
Anyone visiting the castle can not only take in its beautiful surroundings but also the magnificent Great Hall, State Bedroom & Dressing Room, as well as the Clan Exhibition.
Duart Castle has also been featured in the famous 1999 film Entrapment with Sean Connery Catherine Zeta-Jones.
10. Craigievar Castle
At the foothills of Grampian Mountains lies Craigievar Castle – the charming harled tower house in a slightly pink hue. This Aberdeenshire castle was once the seat of Clan Sempill until 1963, when William Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill gave Craigievar Castle to the National Trust of Scotland.
Due to the several turrets, gargoyles, and corbelling, the castle could easily fit into any fairytale setting without looking out of place.
The castle is an example of Scottish Baronial architecture style. The castle dates back to the 17th century.
Several defensive elements like a walled courtyard and four round towers were originally a part of the castle, yet only one of the round towards remain today.
11. Fyvie Castle
Another impressive Aberdeenshire-based Scottish castle is the Fyvie Castle. The fortress is an example of Scottish Baronial architecture. The castle is surrounded by vast and beautiful 18th-century walled grounds, and the interiors are filled with valuable and noteworthy antiques which tell the history of the castle’s 800-year long past.
The castle’s Tower House is four storeys high. Many of the castle’s chambers have plaster ceilings, tempera painting, and walls panelled in wood.
The castle is famously known to be haunted. The story arises from the time when the castle was being renovated in the early 20th century and the remains of a woman had been found and laid to rest, after which the disturbances began.
12. Thirlestane Castle
Thirlestane Castle is a 16th-century castle set amidst a beautiful landscape with extensive parklands. A family home of the Duke of Lauderdale, the current castle was built in three phases – in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries.
In the 16th century, the 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane wanted to exhibit his position within the society, so he ordered the building of an impressive three-storey rectangular stone keep with circular drum towers at each corner. Later, the 2nd Earl of Lauderdale turned the keep into a palace.
The decorative plasterwork ceilings at Thirlestane Castle are some of the finest examples in Europe.
13. Dunrobin Castle
A very unusual castle for the Scottish landscape is the Dunrobin Castle in the Highland area. Not only is it the largest castle in Northern Highlands but it is also the most northerly great house in Scotland. The castle has an impressive number of rooms – 189 in total.
The reason why Dunrobin Castle seems so unusual for a Scottish castle is that it resembles a French chateâu thanks to the towering conical spires.
The castle is perched amidst a stunning landscape above walled gardens overlooking the North Sea.
The castle has been the home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century. The original castle was a fortified square keep. It attained its current appearance in the late 19th century.
14. Castle Stalker
What could be more fairytale-like than a castle set on an island amidst a beautiful Scottish loch? That’s certainly the case with Castle Stalker. The four-storey tower house sits on a tidal islet on Loch Laich.
The castle has been famously featured in the cult classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The original fort was built in the first half of the 14th century by Clan MacDougall, but it gained its current shape around the 1440s.
The castle is privately-owned but can be visited by booking in advance.
15. Inveraray Castle
One of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture style in Scotland is Inveraray Castle in Argyll. Since the 18th century, it has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell.
The current castle replaced an earlier castle and the building work began in 1743. Interestingly, the village of Inveraray was moved further back around the 1770s to allow the castle to be set in a more isolated setting.
While the castle is open to the public, the 13th Duke of Argyll still resides in a part of the castle with his family. Parts of the famous TV show Downton Abbey have been filmed at Inveraray Castle.