Scotland is a land of magnificent castles. In total, there are as many as 3,000 castles in the country. During our road trip, we discovered many of them. Driving along a loch (lake), we regularly saw a castle on a deserted island. Looming out of the fog, the castle made for a romantic picture. But these castles used to be the scene of bloody battles between the many clans (families). Or later in the fight against the English for independence. From the 17th century, opulent castles that looked more like palaces began to appear. In our opinion, these are the 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland.
The 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland
We think these are the 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland. Some are large, majestic and beautifully restored. Of others, little more than a ruin remains. Yet they all have something special.
Edinburgh Castle towers high above the Scottish capital on an inactive volcano. The castle reflects the roles it has played over the centuries: defensive fortress, royal palace, garrison site and prison. It is a huge complex, with plenty of highlights.
The castle is home to Britain’s oldest crown jewels. But also the legendary Stone of Destiny. On this, all Scottish kings were crowned. Other attractions include the Great Hall, the palace, the northern stronghold Argyle Battery and the Governor’s House.
The site is also home to the monstrous Mons Meg. This impressive cannon from 1449 could shoot a 150-kilo stone ball as much as 3.5 kilometres away. Every day (except Sundays), the “one o’clock gunshot” sounds at exactly 1 p.m. A tradition from earlier centuries that served as a time indicator for locals and ships in the area.
Tip: to avoid queues, buy your ticket to Edinburgh Castle in advance online.
Just outside the town of Stirling is Stirling Castle. It was the most important castle during the centuries-long struggle for Scotland’s independence. Queen Mary I was crowned here in the Royal Chapel. She was only six years old at the time. Mary I is the most famous Scottish monarch and was nicknamed Mary, Queen of Scots.
Now Stirling Castle is an ornate Renaissance castle. It was the favourite holiday home of the Stuart dynasty. The castle has been beautifully restored and has many attractions. Like the palace, the great hall and the royal chapel, decorated with beautiful frescoes. One of the buildings houses the regimental museum of the Highlanders.
Despite visiting Stirling Castle on a wet day, the visit made a big impression. This was also because of the good information inside the castle. For instance, costumed characters told fascinating stories about the history of the fort and its inhabitants.
The Isle of Skye is famous for its beautiful landscapes. But also on this island, we could marvel at an extraordinary castle: Dunvegan Castle, not far from the village of the same name.
Dunvegan Castle is beautifully situated on Loch Dunvegan. What is special about this castle is that it has been family-owned since the 11th century. From that time, the leaders of the MacLeod clan have lived here. This makes it the oldest continuously inhabited castle in the country.
The family has opened part of the castle to the public. There, you can admire many of the clan’s special treasures with special stories. Like the Fairy Flag. According to legend, this sacred banner has special powers. The clan could never lose a battle if they have the Fairy Flag with them. Also special is the Horn of Sir Rory Mor. This drinking horn required the clan leader’s son to drink it empty in one gulp. If he succeeded, he was a worthy future leader. In addition, the lush gardens of Dunvegan Castle are a feast for the eyes.
Tip: From the water you have the best view of the castle. And by boat, you can sail to the seal colony in Loch Dunvegan. A special outing. You can buy tickets on the spot. Usually it is not crowded.
Eilean Donan Castle
On your way to Isle of Skye, you can’t miss this magnificent castle. Mythically situated on a small eilean (the Scottish word for island) lies Eilean Donan Castle. We think it is one of the most photographed locations in the country. The view from every side of the castle and the bridge leading to it is phenomenal.
As early as the 6th century, Bishop Donan settled on this spot and built a small monastery. In the 11th century, the first castle arose. It served to defend against Norman raids. In 1719, the castle was the battleground during the Jacobite uprisings. The British stormed the castle with cannons and took it. They then blew up the castle with the supply of gunpowder they discovered in the gunpowder tower. It was then a ruin for almost 200 years. In the early 20th century, the castle was restored. The then occupant also built the bridge from the mainland.
Eilean Donan Castle has served as the setting for several feature films. The castle even features in two James Bond films: The world is not enough and Skyfall.
A manor house stood on this estate as early as the 13th century. But Balmoral Castle in its current form is from much later. Queen Victoria bought the grounds in 1852. They had a new castle built, which was completed a few years later. For the queen, this became her country residence.
The castle is still privately owned by the royal family. Traditionally, Queen Elizabeth spends the month of August at this place. When the royal flag hangs in the top, she is present at the palace. At those times, you cannot visit Balmoral.
When Balmoral is open, a visit to the Castle Ballroom is the highlight. This is the largest hall in the palace. You can also enjoy a stroll in the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle.
On our way to Oban, we suddenly saw a beautiful little castle in a lake. This turned out to be Castle Stalker, located in Loch Linnhe. Unfortunately, the castle is not open to visitors. However, we could enjoy the beautiful sight from the nearby Castle Stalker View Cafe. The clan MacDougall built a fort on this site in the 14th century. But the current castle dates from the 15th century.
Fans of Monty Python films may also remember this castle. It appears in the final scene of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur besieges the castle in search of the Holy Grail.
Frankly, Urquhart Castle is little more than a castle ruin. So why does it still feature in this top 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland? It has to do with its location on the world-famous Loch Ness. It is almost the country’s biggest lake of all. Best known, of course, for the monster.
Urquhart Castle used to be one of the largest castles in the country. From 1308, it was in royal hands. But only one king stayed there once. In 1692, government troops blew up the castle. This prevented the Jacobites from taking it.
The castle sits, as it were, on a small headland. A nice viewpoint of the castle is a few miles to the north on the A82. There you have a great view of the remains of this famous castle.
Just north of Inveraray, on the banks of Loch Fyne, lies Inveraray Castle. It was the castle of Dukes of Argyll. The leaders of the Campbell clan also lived there.
The exterior of the castle is somewhat sleek and austere. But inside, you enter an opulent and luxurious interior. Many works of art, beautiful furniture and colourful tapestries give the castle a regal feel. From the castle, you have great views of Loch Fyne. In addition, the castle garden is well worth a visit.
Tip: a great view can be had from across Loch Fyne, about the height of The Lodge hotel.
Near the beautiful Cairngorms National Park is Glamis Castle. A royal hunting lodge stood here as early as the 11th century. But the current castle dates from the 17th century. Standing in front of Glamis Castle, you imagine yourself in the Loire region. It is clearly reminiscent of castles in that French region.
The castle was long the home of Queen Elizabeth I. She gave birth in this castle to Margaret, sister of the current English queen. Duncan’s Hall is the most special place to see. It is the oldest hall in the castle. It is also where William Shakespeare had the king killed in the famous play Macbeth.
This castle does have the most spectacular location of Scotland’s 10 most beautiful castles. This is also the reason we mention Dunnottar Castle. It sits on a large cliff on a headland. From this spot, the castle lords could defend themselves against attacks from the North Sea.
The castle dates back to the 13th century. It played an important role in Scotland’s history. In several wars, this place was the scene of great battles. The castle served as a repository for the Scottish crown jewels. The Scots wanted to protect them from an attack by the British in 1652.
Unfortunately, they did not hold out. After an eight-month siege, the English overpowered the castle. During the 18th century, the castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
The view from the castle on the cliff is phenomenal. Especially at sunrise or sunset. That is why it is one of the most photographed spots in the country for a reason. The silhouette of the castle against the setting sun is mesmerising.
Frequently asked questions about the 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland
In our humble opinion, Eilean Donan Castle is the most beautiful castle in Scotland. Its magnificent lakeside location, the long bridge to the castle and the castle are unique.
You can visit almost all the castles in our list. Castle Stalker is the only castle you cannot reach due to its remote location on an island.
You can do so at any castle. Keep in mind that they are paid parking spaces. Often you can pay with your credit card at the parking meters. But in some cases, this is only possible with cash. On busy days in high season, parking spaces fill up quickly.
This is definitely recommended. Some castles are very popular, such as Edinburgh Castle. There are often long queues at the ticket offices. On some days, tickets are sold out in advance, especially on weekends in high season. In that case, booking online in advance is definitely recommended.
Unfortunately, this is not possible at the 10 most beautiful castles in Scotland. Fortunately, it is possible at many other castles. Here's a handy overview of castle stays in Scotland.