Explore Scotland’s 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

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Explore Scotland’s 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Explore Scotland’s 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Explore Scotland’s 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023: The exact number of castles in Scotland remains uncertain, but it is generally agreed that there are around 3,000. This makes Scotland home to more castles than anywhere else in the British Isles, an impressive feat given the abundance of historic UK cities with castles.

Visiting castles is the ultimate way to experience Scotland’s rich history, whether you choose to explore a medieval fortress, a tower house, or a royal residence. This comprehensive guide is filled with Scotland’s finest castles, each with its own unique story or claim to fame. These are the most thrilling castles to explore, sure to inspire castle enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to be inspired by Scotland’s remarkable castles.

1. Inveraray Castle

Explore Scotland's 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Inveraray Castle is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable castles in Scotland, and for good reason. It has been the ancestral home of the Clan Campbell for generations, with the current Duke and Duchess of Argyll residing there. In addition to its rich history, the castle’s stunning architecture was even featured as the setting for the 2012 Downton Abbey Christmas special. It’s no wonder we had to include it on our list of must-visit Scottish castles.

Unlike the always-busy Edinburgh Castle, a visit to Inveraray Castle offers a more intimate experience. You’ll have the opportunity to tour all of the private rooms and floors, delving deeper into the castle’s past and the stories of its previous owners and architects. The Scottish baronial architecture is simply breathtaking.

Located near the charming village of Inveraray, on the edge of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, the castle is a perfect destination for a day trip from Glasgow, Oban, or as part of a Scottish road trip.

Inveraray Castle is open from Thursday to Monday, from March to September (10 am to 5 pm), and in October (10 am to 4 pm). Admission fees are $19.

2. Blair Castle And Gardens

Explore Scotland's 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Blair Castle is undeniably one of Scotland’s most historically significant castles, having been the home of the Atholl family for over seven centuries. Its walls have withstood some of the country’s darkest moments, with some of the most influential politicians and soldiers have passed through its 30 rooms.

Dating back to 1269, Blair Castle’s impressive display of armor throughout the centuries is a fitting tribute to Scotland’s turbulent past, making it a must-visit destination on our list of Scottish castles.

Blair Castle and Gardens are located near the picturesque village of Old Blair, just beneath the stunning Cairngorms National Park. The backdrop of the national park is simply breathtaking, making it an ideal spot for sightseeing. If you have a few days to spare, the Cairngorms National Park is a perfect complement to a visit to Blair Castle.

Inside the castle, the design spans multiple eras, with some features reflecting medieval Scotland, while others pay homage to Victorian styles.

Touring Blair Castle is a fascinating experience, given its long and significant history. You can clearly see the various influences of each era, making it feel like a museum come to life.

The castle is open Monday through Sunday from April to October, from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission fees are $20.

3. Floors Castle

Explore Scotland's 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Floors Castle is undoubtedly one of the best castles in Scotland and is located in the Scottish borders, just an hour away from Edinburgh. Nestled in a stunning estate, the castle’s 52 acres feature a Victorian Walled Garden and a Millennium Garden, with plenty of woodland and riverside trails crisscrossing the estate’s grounds.

Floors Castle is not only an indoor attraction, but it’s also a fantastic spot to spend a day outdoors. It’s no surprise that it’s the largest inhabited house in Scotland. We adore the variety of activities and pop-up events available at Floors Castle, making it a must-visit destination on our guide.

Built-in the 18th century, Floors Castle initially served as a “country house” or refuge for the first Duke, who used it to escape the pressures of Parliament in London. Nine Dukes later, the castle was finally opened to the public in 1977. It is a fascinating castle that always has something new to offer, whether it’s an activity or an event.

Floors Castle is open from May to October, from 10:30 am to 5 pm. Admission fees are $21.

4. Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle is a stunning Scottish castle located on the Isle of Skye. As the property of Clan MacLeod, it is steeped in tradition and tales of magic, making it one of the most fascinating castles in Scotland. The castle has been occupied by the same family for over 800 years, and it is full of stories and legends passed down through the generations.

Additionally, Dunvegan Castle is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. The most prized possession in Dunvegan Castle is the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, which is said to hold magical powers of guaranteed victory in battle. This silk flag is believed to date back to the 4th century and is thought to have originated from Syria or Rhodes.

You can take a self-guided or guided tour through Dunvegan Castle, and it is a wonderful spot to get a more intimate taste of Scottish history. We love the added element of magic and superstition that this castle provides.

Hours: April-October: 10 am to 5:30 pm Entry Fees: $19

5. Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle is a sight to behold with its bright pink exterior in the Scots Baronial style. It is rumored to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, making it a dream come true for children and earning it a place on our list of the best castles in Scotland. Located in the village of Alford, between Cairngorms National Park and Aberdeen, it offers stunning views of the Scottish Highlands.

Built-in 1626, Craigievar Castle features Jacobean elements and has witnessed Scotland’s fight for independence. The castle offers visitors exciting exhibits about the country’s history, and you can tour its many rooms and exhibits. Once you’re done exploring the castle’s interior, you can spot wildlife such as pine martens and deer outside on the castle grounds.

Hours: Open from dawn to dusk Entry Fees: $17

6. Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle, located in the Northern Highlands, is the largest castle in the area. It has been a private residence for over 700 years and has many titles, including one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland and the most northern of Scotland’s great houses. The castle’s ties to Scotland’s and the UK’s history are impressive, as it was a naval hospital during WWI and shares an architect with the Houses of Parliament, Sir Charles Barry.

Parts of Dunrobin Castle date back to 1275, making it an essential stop for history enthusiasts. The on-site museum offers informative exhibits, and the castle’s coastal location overlooking the Moray Firth is a fantastic sight.

Dunrobin Castle is easy to visit during a North Coast 500 road trip, and our Dunrobin Castle guide has all the necessary details and inspiration.

Hours: April-September: 10 am to 4:30 pm Entry Fees: $16

7. Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle is the epitome of luxury and grandeur, offering visitors a classic castle experience. Dating back to the 16th century, the castle boasts a deer park on its grounds, where families can interact with friendly deer. Inside, visitors can admire the stunning drawing room and oval staircase.

Previously owned by Clan Kennedy, Culzean Castle is now managed by the National Trust for Scotland and remains open year-round for public access, while still retaining its private residence feel.

The clifftop location of Culzean Castle overlooking the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran adds to its charm, making it a must-visit for anyone traveling to Scotland. Just an hour’s drive from Glasgow, the castle is also easily accessible for a day trip from the city.

Hours: 10 am to 4 pm Entry Fees: $12

8. Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle is a captivating Scottish castle steeped in history and legends, making it a must-visit attraction. Literature enthusiasts will recognize the castle as the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s ‘Thane of Cawdor.’

The castle’s medieval tower is built around a legendary holly tree, adding to the castle’s mythical charm. According to legend, the thane of Cawdor dreamed of a donkey carrying a coffer of gold, which laid down at the best place for a new castle where it would forever prosper.

Following the dream’s guidance, the thane built a new castle at the holly tree where the donkey stopped, and the rest is history. You can explore the castle’s interior and grounds on a self-guided or guided tour. Located in the quaint village of Cawdor, the castle is a 20-minute drive from Inverness.

Hours: April-October: 10 am to 5 pm Entry Fees: $17

9. Braemar Castle

Braemar Castle, dating back to the 17th century, is an iconic fortified castle situated in the heart of Cairngorms National Park. The castle has played host to some famous visitors, including the current British royal family, and is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of the Farquharson Clan, one of the most famed clans in Scotland.

The castle has witnessed the involvement of several ordinary figures in Scotland’s history, from the standard bearer for Mary Queen of Scots to warriors of the Battle of Culloden. It is exciting to visit Braemar Castle to learn about this other side of history, involving ordinary people instead of just influential and wealthy figures.

Braemar Castle is located just a stone’s throw away from the Scottish Highland Games, so consider combining the two if you visit at the right time of year. Note that Braemar Castle will be closed for interior renovation for a period in 2023. Please check the website for updates regarding opening hours and entry fees.

10. Eilean Donan Castle

Explore Scotland's 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

If you’re looking for a stunning Scottish castle with a breathtaking location, Eilean Donan Castle is a must-visit. The castle stands on a tidal island that sits at the intersection of three lochs. The loch setting is enchanting, and Eilean Donan Castle is easily one of the most picturesque castles in Scotland.

The 13th-century castle was once the stronghold of the MacRae family until it was destroyed during the Jacobite Uprising. In 1932, the Scottish castle was restored to its former glory and opened to the public.

Eilean Donan Castle is a beautiful place to visit, and you can’t miss the multiple scenic viewpoints around the loch shoreline. Inside, you can take tours of the rooms and exhibits. But the main draw is the castle’s aesthetic and the fact that it was resurrected from despair with renovations.

Hours: February-December: 9 am to 6 pm (varies by month) Entry Fees: $13

11. Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is a stunning royal residence and one of the most iconic castles in Scotland. Originally purchased by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, the castle is a favorite spot of Queen Elizabeth II. Many people are unaware that the original Balmoral Castle was deemed too small for the royal family, and a new castle was commissioned by Prince Albert in 1856.

Balmoral Castle is an excellent place to learn more about the British monarchy, and its links to the royal family make it a must-visit attraction.

Located in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park near the village of Balmoral, the castle offers breathtaking views of the River Dee and its surrounding nature. Whether you’re interested in exploring the castle’s history or taking a walk through its stunning grounds, Balmoral Castle is an excellent destination for visitors of all ages.

Hours: April-July: 10 am to 5 pm Entry Fees: $20

12. Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is an exceptional medieval castle with over 650 years of history, and it is regarded as one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. The castle is famous for its supposed link to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is owned by the Strathmore family since 1372.

It is even reputed to have been visited by Mary Queen of Scots and was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who also gave birth to Princess Margaret there.

Glamis Castle offers an insightful glimpse into the history of Scotland and its links to royalty. Additionally, the castle features a Macbeth Trail, which brings the play to life. Glamis Castle is located outside the village of Glamis, approximately 20 minutes north of Dundee.

Hours: March-October: 10 am to 5 pm Entry Fees: $9

13. Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle is one of the most striking castles in Scotland, perched on a 160-foot rock overlooking the North Sea. Believed to have been the first fortified castle, the oldest parts of the castle date back to the Early Middle Ages, while the surviving parts that visitors see today are dated to the 16th century.

Despite its ruined state, Dunnottar Castle is one of the most famous castles in Scotland and a romantic addition to our top picks. The castle has seen the likes of Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace cross its threshold, and with over 1000 years of history, it offers an unparalleled experience of historic Scotland. Dunnottar Castle is located in the coastal town of Stonehaven, along Scotland’s east coast, and is a two-hour drive from Edinburgh. We suggest spending a few nights there, especially since it is near the Cairngorms National Park.

Hours: 10 am to 6 pm Entry Fees: $11

14. Stirling Castle

Explore Scotland's 15 Best Castles to Visit in 2023

Stirling Castle is a central building in Scottish history, dating back to the 12th century. Once a Renaissance royal palace, it was full of luxuries such as a great hall for balls and feasting and a royal hunting lodge. Strategically located in Stirling, it was used as a stronghold during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Due to its advantageous position on a volcanic rock, many battles were fought around Stirling Castle, including Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn, making it a hub of conflict. Today, Stirling Castle is a fascinating attraction for visitors interested in Scottish history, especially the Wars of Independence.

Visitors can tour different rooms, try on period costumes, and chat with the costumed character actors. Despite its somber history, Stirling Castle is family-friendly and offers a fun experience for all. It is surrounded by battlefields, making it an excellent place to gain insight into this period of Scottish history. Don’t miss out on a visit to Stirling Castle.

Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm Entry Fees: $18

15. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle needs no introduction, as it is arguably the most famous castle in Scotland. Situated atop Castle Rock in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the medieval castle offers a proud display of Scotland’s history.

It is the second most visited attraction in the UK, so we highly recommend booking skip-the-line tickets in advance to avoid crowds. It’s best to visit during the off-season when there are fewer people, allowing you to truly appreciate the castle’s rich history. Edinburgh Castle houses numerous exhibits, including the Scottish crown jewels, known as The Honours of Scotland.

As one of the best-preserved castles in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Scottish history. With a full day’s worth of educational and informative experiences, you won’t be disappointed. And for those lucky enough to find accommodations in Edinburgh with views of Castle Rock, you’ll enjoy bonus points for a memorable stay.

Hours: 9:30 am to 5 pm Entry Fees: $22

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