There are over two thousand castles and strongholds in Scotland, with many of these, tucked away in the remote and beautiful areas of the Scottish Highlands. From fairy tale châteaux with towers and turrets inspired by the French Renaissance to modern castles that are a work of architectural beauty, there are so many jaw-dropping sights to add to your bucket list on vacation to this unique corner of the world. And never believe that when you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. Because of the thousands of fortresses and fortifications, each one is utterly unique.
Whether you’re looking for exquisite castle grounds and gardens to walk around in, a luxury wine and dine experience with a magnificent setting, a photo opportunity that puts postcards to shame, or charming historic ruins, the Highlands is home to palaces of every style and ambiance. Here are some of the best Scottish castles to visit.
A holiday home to the Royal Family, Balmoral is one of the most well-known castles in the whole of the UK. This world-famous estate is set in the spectacular surroundings of Cairngorms National Park, with lush green landscapes, gentle hills and wooded areas on all sides. Set along the River Dee and by Crathie Tourist Information, you’ll find a number of walks nearby. The castle itself has several guided tours available as well as a café and gift shop.
Whilst Royals have frequented the estate often, the most interesting residents are the rare and declining red squirrels. They can often be seen feeding on the grounds, so a stroll around is worth it for nature lovers.
Known as the ‘capital of the Highlands’, the city of Inverness is a fantastic day out and is not to be missed if you’re enjoying a vacation in Scotland. The structure is made of red sandstone and was built by architect William Burn in 1836. The castle today houses Inverness Sheriff Court but the grounds are still open to the public, and it has one of the best viewpoints in town. Set atop a cliff overlooking the River Ness, you’ll get to witness a wonderful panoramic.
Tickets cost £5 for adults and £3 for children to go up to the Castle Viewpoint, and it’s open until 8 pm during the summer season.
While in Inverness, don’t miss other sights and attractions, such as Inverness Cathedral, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Inverness Botanic Gardens, the Victorian Market and the Ness Islands.
Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens
Ballindalloch Castle in Banffshire is referred to as the “Pearl of the North” in Scotland. Home to the Macpherson-Grants since 1546, this estate is utterly spectacular and is one of the finest surviving examples of Scottish Baronial architecture. Visitors will get to take in more than five hundred years of Highland history, walk through acres of formal gardens, and enjoy a tour of the fairytale castle with its remarkable interiors.
There are also nature trails along the river, a fantastic children’s playground, a lovely picnic area, and a tearoom and gift shop on site. The castle estate also houses the Ballindalloch Single Malt Distillery, which has tours and tastings throughout the year.
For serious whiskey connoisseurs, this area makes a great base for exploring local distilleries. Nearby venues that are open to the public include Cragganmore Distillery, Glenfarclas Distillery, The Glenlivet Distillery Brand Home, Tomintoul Distillery, Tamnavulin Distillery, and The lost Auchorachan Distillery.
Eilean Donan Castle
One of the most famous and most photographed Scottish castles in the Highlands region, Eilean Donan boasts a unique location, at the meeting of three sea lochs. Central to Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, this picturesque castle can be seen reflected in the water on a beautiful day with clear skies and good lighting. Many people drive by when they take the A87 road from the mainland to Skye. Make sure to stop to walk around in this fully-restored 13th Century fortress with its own café and shop.
A ruined castle located close to Dufftown, Balvenie Castle (previously known as Mortlach Castle) is a rare example of medieval military architecture in Scotland. There’s a large ditch that goes all the way around this stunning curtain-walled castle, built in the 13th Century for the Earls of Buchan.
The stronghold later became an elegant lodging for the most noble of guests. Having been visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 as well as King Edward I of England and the Marquess of Montrose, it’s had its fair share of royal callers.
Aldourie Castle Estate
This beautiful castle estate on the southern shores of Loch Ness has now been transformed into a lavish hotel and is also available to hire for private events and weddings. Enjoy amazing castle hospitality and glorious views of the surrounding Highlands. The famous loch edge is the perfect spot to try and spot the legendary Loch Ness monster, and the gorgeous gardens are home to the most spectacular, rare and wonderful Highland wildlife.
Bethan Brodie Castle
This magnificent turreted castle dates back to the 16th Century and is set in the stunning Morayshire parkland near Forres. It features a lovely garden where the flowerbeds make way for over 400 different varieties of brightly colored daffodils. Inside the castle, you will discover unusual plaster ceilings as well as a great art collection.
For families traveling with children, the garden features a fun play area, Scotland’s biggest rabbit sculpture, and also a miniature version of the castle for little ones to climb into. Indoors you will find a soft play, which is ideal for when the weather outside it wet.
This Baronial style mansion, once the ancient stronghold of the Frasers of Lovat, was built in 1880 and is set along the banks of the Beauly River close to the town of Beauly in Inverness-shire. The grounds include a private Roman Catholic chapel, along with the castle ruins beside the main house. It is a category A listed building, with its spectacular grounds included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes (a prestigious national listing of significant gardens in Scotland).
This is one of the most charming spots for an afternoon walk. Take the ornamental route that leads along the Bruiach Burn, southwards from the castle grounds to the Walled Gardens and Nursery.
Another castle in the Highlands region that ranks highly as the most photographed is, the mid-15th Century, Kilchurn Castle. This spectacular ruined fort is set atop a rocky peninsula at the northeastern section of Loch Awe. It’s one of Argyll and Bute’s most iconic landmarks and offers breath-taking scenery all around. Magnificent in the spring and summer, atmospheric in winter, and utterly spellbinding in the fall when the autumnal colors set in. This is one of the many castles erected or occupied by the powerful Campbell clan. Other castles that have been home to the family include Innis Chonnell Castle, Inveraray Castle, Caisteal na Nigheann Ruaidh on Loch Avich, Castle Campbell in Dollar, and Cawdor Castle.
Whilst you’re here, don’t forget to explore the city of Inverness and take a day trip to the charming village of Fort Augustus at the southern tip of Loch Ness.
Experience the Scottish wilderness from one of Scotland’s most extraordinary modern castles, Corrour Estate near the popular town of Fort William in the Highlands. The building is recognized as a contemporary work of art, an architectural treasure that’s palatial in its size and unique in its structure. Expect clean lines and geometric silhouettes, with exquisite interiors including seven bedrooms and a children’s bunk room, sauna and hot tub, big living spaces and a games room.
The building was finished in 2003, designed by Moshe Safdie, and is a rare example of first-class 20th Century architecture. Constructed of granite, glass and steel, this regal abode is set between the surviving arms of its Victorian predecessor on the bank of Loch Ossian, with plenty to do on the extensive grounds.
For a fairytale experience, Dunrobin Castle is a must. It’s one of Scotland’s great houses and is the most northerly estate of its kind. As a palace, it’s the largest in the Northern Highlands section, boasting a massive 189 rooms inside. This spellbinding castle overlooks the Dornoch Firth, offering the most magnificent scenery for visitors at any time of year. It’s been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th Century, who were one of the most powerful families in Britain. They secured many matrimonial and territorial alliances, and today their home is one of the oldest inhabited castles in the country.
The castle has largely been a place of residence throughout its history, apart from a short period of time when it was used as a boys’ boarding school in the 1960s, before being converted back into a home again. Located a mile north of Golspie and a few miles south of Brora, this is the perfect base for exploring the rugged coastline in the far north.
Castle Leod is a must if you’re touring Outlander sites in and around Inverness and Loch Ness. This category A listed building is said to be the inspiration behind the fictional Castle Leoch, home to the head of the Mackenzie Clan in the popular Outlander television series.
As well as the building itself being listed, the grounds and gardens are included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Scotland, making it the perfect place to enjoy a stroll in spring or summertime when flowers are in bloom. The castle is open to visitors all year round and is also a highly coveted wedding venue for romantic couples.
If you’re looking for a fine fortress with beautiful gardens, be sure to make time for a visit to Drummond Castle in Perthshire. Located right on the fringe of the Highlands, this is a destination that connects you to Lowland towns and cities such as Perth, Dundee and Stirling. The dazzling capital, Edinburgh, is also less than an hour and a half.
Plan your trip here to take in the exquisite flora of the 17th Century Scottish Renaissance garden, which was redesigned in early Victorian times and reworked once again in the 20th Century from careful preservation. There is no doubt that this is one of the finest gardens in Europe, and there are breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.
This is another location that has featured on the TV drama, Outlander. The gardens are open daily until 6 pm and discounted family tickets are available.
In the heart of The Cairngorms is Braemar Castle, a 17th Century structure that has played host to ghosts and villains, Jacobites and the high fashion crowd. It has been residence to the chiefs of Clan Farquharson since the middle of the 18th Century, and in recent years it was leased to the community of Braemar. It is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm during the peak summer months but be sure to check opening hours in other seasons. This castle is also located very close to the famous royal residence of Balmoral, so you can tour both castles on the same day.
Built in a beautiful loch-side setting on the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan is one of the longest standing fortresses in the country. It is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and played home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.
The striking castle and well-maintained gardens sit right in the heart of the 42,000 acre MacLeod Estate, with plenty of pathways for walking, mind-blowing scenery on all sides, nearby fairy pools, and rowing boats on Loch Dunvegan. Inside, you can admire the collection of fine oil paintings and grab a bite to eat at the café.
Find out more about the stunning and spacious living space at our contemporary castle, Corrour Lodge. It’s a 20th Century masterpiece with a dining hall that seats up to 40 people, making it ideal for private events.