Looking for the most beautiful castles in Scotland to visit? You’ve come to the right place
I first visited Scotland in 2021 and found myself completely smitten by the breathtaking country. The nature, the people, the scenery and the castle! Completely smitten, I returned within the year to embark on a proper tour of the best castles in Scotland.
Below is a list of the 10 best castles in Scotland to visit, I hope this makes your trip planning that much easier!
Tips for Visiting the Castles in Scotland
Most Scottish Castles Close for the Winter Season
- Most of the castles in Scotland are closed to tourism from November – March. Year-round tours seem to be the exception more than the rule, so I’ll make sure to note when these castles are open to tourism.
Don’t forget your sunscreen
- Most of the castles in Scotland offer expansive gardens and fortified walls worth climbing. Scottish weather is infamous for its moodiness, but you should definitely pack sunscreen if visiting during the summer months. Here’s the only sunscreen I’ve used for the past 7+ years.
Most Beautiful Castles in Scotland
Balmoral Castle is best known for being the preferred summer residence of the British royal family. But it’s not hard to see why, Balmoral is easily one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. Every summer, like clockwork, the royals make their annual weeks-long pilgrimage to Scotland to soak up the great outdoors.
Originally built in 1390, this breathtaking castle didn’t get added to the royal family’s impressive castle collection until 1852. Prince Albert purchased the estate for his beloved wife, Queen Victoria (ah, to be
royalty rich) who was smitten with the Scottish countryside.
But as it sometimes goes with royalty, girlfriend found the estate too small for her liking. Thankfully she didn’t need to stress the oversight too long because the solution was simple — the royal duo built an additional castle on the estate (the Balmoral Castle we know today).
The original castle was torn down when construction on Balmoral Castle was completed in 1856. Today the estate spans and impressive 50,000 acres and houses 15 buildings. It’s been said many times that Balmoral Castle was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite palace.
She was so fond of it, in fact, it’s where she passed away on September 8, 2022. So yeah, getting to tour Queen Elizabeth’s favorite stomping grounds definitely deserves a spot on this list of the best castles in Scotland.
Dating back to 1103, you can’t miss Edinburgh Castle even if you tried. This monolithic masterpiece looms over the city and can be seen from most vantage points. The castle, one of the oldest fortified buildings in Europe, has been used as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress.
Attracting more than 2 million visitors per year, Edinburgh Castle is the most visited castle in Scotland. The entire structure is a sight to behold. The grounds are impressively preserved and touring the royal rooms are fascinating to tour.
Edinburgh Castle is open for tours year-round, book tickets early because they sell out in advance (especially in summer).
Set among the scenic rolling hills of the Grampian Mountains in Aberdeenshire, construction on Craigievar Castle started in 1576. But the castle wasn’t completed until 1626, when a wealthy merchant by the name of William Forbes purchased the incomplete building for himself.
Forbes built his wealth through international trade with the Baltic states, and while known for being shrewd, he spared no expense on completing this enchanting seven-storey Scottish castle.
Every detail, from the pale pink shades to the turrets and gargoyles give off the impression of a fairytale. Indeed, those searching for fairytale castles in Scotland would be remiss to skip this one. In fact, Craigievar Castle is considered one of the best preserved Scottish castles.
So smitten by this beautiful castle in Scotland, the Forbes family resided here for 350 years, until the property was given to the National Trust of Scotland in 1963. The castle has a cozy interior full of era-specific decorations and rare antiques.
When the Forbes family gifted the castle to the National Trust of Scotland they requested that no artificial lights be installed in the upper floors. As such, the upper levels of the castle will be seen in the same shifting light since construction completed in 1626.
Note: Craigievar Castle is closed for renovations from Fall 2022 – Spring 2024. I’ll update this page when I get more information.
Considered the crown jewel of the Highlands, Dunrobin Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. Found along the North Coast 500 route, this castle is no stranger to crowds — attracting about 120,000 visitors a year.
Dating back to the 1300s, the castle’s claim to fame is that it’s one of the oldest continuously occupied castles in Scotland. Previously home to the Dukes of Sutherland, this impressive home boasts 189 elaborate rooms.
The most northerly of all Scotland’s castles, Dunrobin Castle was originally built on the site of a medieval fort. The earliest iteration of the castle was a humble square keep with thick 6-foot walls, but over the years the house was altered and extended.
The biggest renovations occurred between 1835 and 1850 when Sir Charles Barry remodeled the castle in a Baronial style. A fire destroyed the roof and much of the castle’s interior in 1915 and then later restored.
The castle was eventually converted into a boarding school for boys from 1965 to 1972, before opening to the public in 1973. The Sutherland family still retains private accommodations inside the castle.
Make no mistake, this is one of the best castles to visit in Scotland. The location alone is guaranteed to take your breath away. The French-château inspired build overlooks the breathtaking beauty of the Northern Highlands.
Dunrobin Castle is open for tours from April 1- October 31st every year.
Sitting high atop a volcanic outcropping and surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides, Stirling Castle originally guarded the lowest crossing point in Scotland. Today, in more peaceful times, the castle serves as a link between the Highlands and Lowlands.
Stirling Castle was important to Scottish royalty and was one of the most used royal residences. Several Scottish Kings and Queens (including Mary, Queen of Scots) were crowned at Stirling. There’s been at least eight sieges on Sterling Castle, including one failed attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Stirling Castle is considered one of the most important castles in Scotland because it stands as a symbol for Scottish independence and national pride.
Most of this castle’s buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, although the outer defenses weren’t improved until the 18th century, following an attempted Jacobite invasion in 1708. Visitors are welcomed to tour the gardens and interior of the palace (and gawk at the incredible decor).
Open year-round, Stirling Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland. How do I know? It attracts half a million visitors per year.
Cawdor Castle & Gardens
Dating back to 1370, Cawdor Castle was built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor, in whose possession it remains to this day. The castle is bestknown for its literary connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth wherein the main character is the Thane of Cawdor.
The play made the family name famous, but that didn’t keep the drama at bay. When the Earl of 6th Earl of Cawdor died in 1993, he left the castle to his second wife (not his heir).
Some legal battles ensued but Cawdor Castle remained the home of Dowager Countess Cawdor (stepmom of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl of Cawdor). She uses this as her private winter residence, which is why the castle isn’t open for tours in winter.
Shakespeare references aside, this is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland thanks to the breathtaking gardens. The Walled Garden was originally planted in the 17th century (imagine!) and the flower garden dates back to the 18th century.
The newest addition is the Wild Garden, which was added in the 1960. Take your time strolling the grounds aimlessly, everything was planted with purpose and some of the plants are very rare.
Whether you’re coming for the castle tour or to admire the beautiful gardens, there’s no denying that Cawdor Castle is one of the best castles to tour in Scotland.
Best Castles Scotland | Cawdor Castle is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm April 29 – October 1, 2023. You can book tickets on the official website.
Glamis Castle is one of the best castles to visit in Scotland because it’s the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth (and the Queen Mother). This beautiful Scottish castle is the birthplace of Princess Margaret, the first royal baby born in Scotland since 1600.
The castle has served as the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since being built in 1372.
Open for tours during the spring, summer and fall months, visitors will get an opportunity to follow the footsteps of history. The castle has a connection to Mary, Queen of Scots, James V, Bonnie Dundee and James VIII.
The self-guided tour is well designed, but if you’d like a proper tour conducted by a pro, opt for the guided tours. Note: Photos are not allowed inside the castle. While touring the castle, pay special attention to the Great Sundial. Build in 1671, this is one of the largest sundials in Scotland.
Best Castles Scotland | Glamis Castle is closed in the winter months, opens mid-March. Opening times + ticket info here.
Eilean Donan Castle
Built in one of the most picturesque pockets of the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle couldn’t be prettier. The original castle dates back to the 13th century when it became a stronghold for Clan Mackenzie. However, after the clan’s involvement in the Jacobite Uprising, the government destroyed the castle in 1719.
The castle lay in ruins, destined to be forgotten for 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap purchased the island with the intention of restoring the beautiful Scotland castle to its former glory.
The castle you see today was reconstructed from the original and took 20 years to complete. Today Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most visited castles in Scotland, largely thanks to its prime location in the Highlands.
Best Castles Scotland | Eilean Donan Castle is open for tours year-round. Opening hours + buy tickets.
Perched atop a steep ocean cliff side, Dunnottar Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland if not for the epic scenery alone. This Scottish castles has played a crucial role in history for more than 1,000 years and has the old walls to prove it.
From hosting Mary, Queen of Scots to protecting the Scottish Crown Jewels from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 1650s — this important Scottish castle has some stories to tell. The ruins of this fascinating medieval fortress date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
Attracting 135,000 visitors per year, Dunnottar Castle is one of the most visited castles in Scotland. It was toured by King Charles III (then the Prince of Wales) in 2019.
Best Castles Scotland | Dunnottar Castle is open year-round. Opening times + ticket info here.
Designed by the 10th Earl of Cassillis, Culzean Caslte is often billed as one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, but not without reason.
Eager to display his status and wealth, the Earl of Cassillis spared no expense in building this monolithic palace perched upon the Ayrshire cliffs. The castle was constructed in stages over the span of 15 years (1777-1792).
The star of the show is the large drum tower that overlooks the sea. Every detail of this Scottish castle oozes opulence, from the extravagant decor to the impressive gardens and coastline.
But don’t just take my word for it, attracting 334,000 visitors a year, Culzean is one of the most visited castles in Scotland.
Best Castles Scotland | Culzean Castle is open April 1 – October 29. Opening times + ticket info here.
The Castle & Gardens of Mey
The Castle of Mey was built between 1566 and 1572 on the site of an earlier fort by the 4th Earl of Caithness. The castle fell into a state of neglect and disrepair for several years before being purchased by the recently-widowed Queen Mother in 1952, after her husband, King George VI, died earlier that year.
The Queen Mother was keen to restore the castle to its former glory with the intention of using it as a holiday residence. She removed some of the 19th century additions and reinstated this Scottish castle’s original name. Part of the restoration efforts including supplying the castle with water and electricity for the first time.
It’s said that the Queen Mother fell in love with this estate and considered this her favorite castle in Scotland. She visited the castle regularly between 1955 until her death in 2002. Her last visit occurred in October 2001, five months before she passed.
Upon her death, the Queen Mother bequeathed the Castle of Mey to the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust, which opened it up to the public for tours. The castle can be toured seven days a week from May through Septmeber.
However, the castle is closed to the public last week of July and beginning of August because King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort spend their summer holiday at the residence.
Attracting an average of 29,000 visitors per year, The Castle & Gardens of Mey isn’t one of the most visited Castles in Scotland, which is a pity. The tour is top-notch and the gardens are splendid, this is definitely one of the best Scottish castles to visit in my book.
Best Castles Scotland | The Castle of Mey is open May-September. Opening times + ticket info here.
One of the most popular castles in Scotland, Doune Castle will look familiar to fans of Monty Python, Game of Thrones (it’s Winterfell!) and Outlander.
This medieval stronghold is located near the charming village of Doune in the historic countryside of Perthshire. The castle dates back to the 13th century but was damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence.
It was rebuilt into its present form in the 14th century by the son of King Robert II of Scots (Regent of Scotland from 1388 until his death in 1420). The castle has remained relatively untouched since the rebuild, which makes it one of the best preserved castles in Scotland.
Of all the best castles in Scotland to visit, we enjoyed the tour at Doune the most because of the impressive kitchen fireplace. The fireplace is larger than my apartment!! Plus, the audio guide provided at the start of the tour is actually entertaining, which makes self-touring this Scottish castle a ton of fun.
Best Castles Scotland | Doune Castle is open year-round. You can buy tickets + check admission times here.
Prettiest Scottish Castles (FAQ)
The oldest castle in Scotland is considered to be Castle Sween. Architecture studies the building dates back to the 1100s and it’s assumed the castle was occupied for 500 years.
That’s a hard question to answer. After visiting most of the castles in Scotland firsthand, I’d say it’s a toss-up between Edinburgh Castle and Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands.
Attracting more than 2 million visitors per year, Edinburgh Castle is the most visited castle in Scotland.
Best Castles Scotland (Post Overview)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the most beautiful castles in Scotland.
- Balmoral Castle
- Edingburgh Castle
- Craigievar Castle
- Dunrobin Castle
- Stirling Castle
- Cawdor Castle & Gardens
- Eilean Donan Castle
- Dunnottar Castle
- Culzean Castle
- Glamis Castle
- The Castle & Gardens of Mey
- Doune Castle
What do you think?