In keeping with the country’s long and eventful past, the Scottish landscape is home to a huge number of castles. Ranging from handsome city strongholds to remote highland ruins, they represent a quintessential part of the nation’s history. There were once as many as 3,000 castles across Scotland, and those that remain have stirring stories to tell – here, we’ve selected some of our favourites.
(northern Scotland, 75 minutes north of Inverness)
The most northerly of Scotland’s stately homes is a 189-room colossus, complete with fairy-tale turrets and manicured gardens. The earliest parts of the castle date back to the Middle Ages, and it remains the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland. It stays open to visitors until the end of October, reopening at the start of April.
(west coast of Scotland, 1 hour 40 minutes west of Inverness)
The gloriously photogenic Eilean Donan is one of the country’s best-known castles. Sitting on a small island where three lochs meet, it was founded in the mid-13th century. It lay ruined between 1719 and 1911, before being restored to its current glory. It features in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. The castle is open all year apart from January.
Still sitting atop the city skyline as it has done for centuries, Edinburgh Castle is a bona fide Scottish icon. There’s a huge amount to see, from the 900-year-old St Margaret’s Chapel and the ceremonial Great Hall to the oldest crown jewels in Britain. The castle runs regular themed events and remains open to visitors year-round.
(western Scotland, two hours northwest of Glasgow)
The spectacular ruins of Kilchurn Castle are the remnants of a fortification built in the 15th century. The castle spent 150 years as a stronghold of the powerful Campbells of Glenorchy, and its location at the head of Loch Awe makes it an evocative attraction year-round. It remains open to visitors until the end of October, reopening at the start of April.
(central Scotland, 1 hour 35 minutes west of Aberdeen)
Best known as a royal holiday home – it’s been one of the official residences of the Royal Family since the 1850s – Balmoral is a grand highland castle that has remained largely unchanged since the reign of Queen Victoria. The castle is open for tours on selected Wednesdays and Saturdays in October, November and December, and offers a fascinating visit.
(eastern Scotland, 1 hour 45 mins north of Edinburgh)
A baronial vision of turrets, towers and battlements, Glamis has a history of myth and intrigue. It is perhaps best known for featuring in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but was also the actual childhood home of the Queen Mother. The castle – which still boasts opulent interiors and gardens – is open daily until the end of October, then at weekends during November and December.
(west coast of Scotland, 1 hour 40 minutes northwest of Glasgow)
The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll sits on the shores of Loch Fyne, the longest sea loch in the country. It’s a fine stately home with a world-class collection of tapestries, furniture and weapons. The castle welcomes visitors until the end of October, then again at the start of April.
(east coast of Scotland, 35 minutes south of Aberdeen)
If there’s one castle in Scotland that best fits the description of a remote, romantic fortress, it’s surely Dunnottar, where its craggy medieval ruins sit on a dramatic coastal clifftop, looking out across the North Sea. The castle remains open to visitors year-round, but can be closed in high winds or bad weather, for safety reasons.