5 Best Castles in Scotland to Explore

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While this country is known for its rugged terrain, distinct culture, and friendly folk, all guided Scotland tour packages include one of their top attractions – the most beautiful and stunning castles.

As there are approximately 3000 of them, it gives you a wide variety of options to choose from!

Most of the castles in Scotland are remarkably well-preserved and hold great historical or cultural significance. While it is highly unlikely that even the Scottish have seen even a small part of it, you have to start somewhere.

So, check out our recommendations for the top 5 best castles in Scotland to visit!

1. Edinburgh Castle

Image of Edinburgh Castle on top og a hill with green tress below

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Naturally, ranking high among the most popular and visited castles in Scotland is their signature landmark – Edinburgh Castle. So let’s see what a thorough visitation here can offer you!

Perched upon Castle Rock, the mansion is one of the oldest monuments in Scotland and has overcome many dramatic changes over the years. Depending on the time in history, the fortress has served many different purposes, though it is mainly well-known for being the stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Being a royal residence since approximately the 12th century during the reign of David I, the mansion, just like most castles in Scotland, was involved in many historical conflicts. Starting with the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, Edinburgh Castle gradually became the most besieged place in Great Britain and most likely one of the most attacked in the world!

Despite all of its downfalls and strikes, Edinburgh Castle remains one of the most well-preserved objects of the Middle Ages in Scotland, and tourists are very welcome. However, you might want to set aside a reasonable amount of time to thoroughly enjoy it because, best you believe – there are plenty of things to see!

Some of the highlights of Edinburgh Castle include the Royal Palace, where many queens and kings used to reside. The Palace was destroyed during the Lang Seige but then successfully restored in the 17th century, and now open for your inspection!

The Crown Jewels are also held in Edinburgh Castle and are one of the most anticipated sights here. Otherwise known as the Honours of Scotland, it includes a jewel-encrusted crown, a sword, and a scepter. Book a tour right now and see all of it up close!

Speaking of, we suggest guided tours. While you have the option of roaming the castle by yourself, there is plenty of exciting stuff to learn if you opt for guided tours. These usually involve an audio usher telling you all kinds of stories about Edinburgh Castle.

2. Balmoral Castle

stunning wide stone made castle surrounded by tall trees and green grass

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Yet another one of the most interesting and popular castles in Scotland to visit is the marvelous Balmoral Castle. Stay tuned to learn more about its origins, history, and present purpose!

Near the village of Crathie, in Aberdeenshire, stands the gem of Scottish baronial architecture and an extremely significant site for the Brits – Balmoral Castle. The Historic Environment Scotland taking care of Scottish monuments, classified the mansion as an A-list building!

Initially, Balmoral and its whole estate were bought in 1852 by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. However, the royal couple quickly decided that the original building was too little for their enjoyment and soon commissioned a reconstruction into what you now know as Balmoral Castle.

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert started spending more and more time at Balmoral Castle, they unknowingly began some of the Royal Family’s most valued traditions. Generation after generation followed Queen Victoria’s habit of taking long walks in nature and animal hunting.

However, contrary to popular belief, Balmoral is not one of the castles in Scotland that belongs to the Royal Family. While it has been a preferred summer residence for many monarchs since the 19th century, it still solely belongs to one person only, not the whole family. In the present day, the owner is King Charles III.

While many architects refer to the castle as being ordinary and somewhat typical, it is not how it looks to the general public. Displaying many features of Victorian times, Balmoral is one of the most impressive and architecturally appealing castles in Scotland and buildings in the UK! Balmoral’s characteristics and primary function are those of a country house, but make no mistake – you will be stunned by its beauty!

See the rugged Scottish natural terrain, perfectly-preserved grounds, exhibitions serving as reminders of many monarchs, and the famous Castle Ballroom. You can also tour the impressive lengths of 52 bedrooms and several dining rooms!

Remember to check availability! This is crucial since Balmoral is only open for tourists at specific periods of time, depending on whether or not the Royal Family is on holiday. Additionally, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Balmoral is still in the Period of Mourning at the moment.

3. Blair Castle

white stone castle named Blair Castle beside tall trees near a road

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Blair Castle, the one with stunning historical background and remarkable stories, stands on the grounds near the village of Blair Atholl in Perthshire. To travel quickly and comfortably between the castles in Scotland, we suggest purchasing some convenient Scotland train tickets and navigating your journey as pleasant as possible!

Located strategically in the center of the road leading to the Scottish Highlands, Blair Castle is one of the most stunning sights to behold once you enter the eastern part of Scotland. So, if you are on your way to see some exceptional wildlife, make sure to stop by!

Similarly to many other castles in Scotland, Blair also had its role to play many times in history. For example, the court was invaded and taken by senior commander Oliver Cromwell’s army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and then tossed around into many hands of war headmen.

However, probably the most interesting and exciting piece of Blair Castle’s history is the fact that it was once the ancestral home of the Clan Murray, a Highland Scottish clan of great traditions and relations to nature. At that time, Blair Castle was ruled by their chief, the Duke of the Atholl, though nowadays, the current duke lives in South Africa.

Following his decision to stay in South Africa, the duke placed Blair Castle and its estates in a charitable trust. If anything, it was done to protect the establishment from inheritance taxes and ensure it stayed in Scotland’s control. This is what also allows you to visit the mansion!

Overcoming both turbulent and peaceful times, Blair Castle stayed regal in its architecture and appearance, and you can see it all for yourself during your travels. As it was once home to politicians, agriculturalists, and even soldiers, the court is fully furnished and preserved to serve as a time machine back to the 18th century.

If you are a fan of manicured nature, take a walk along Blair’s mighty gardens. The exterior designs and yard work makes up a large part of why the mansion is so popular! With perfectly-preserved flora and fauna, lovely patterns, and peaceful grooves, the outside of Blair Castle proves to be just as impressive as the inside!

4. Inveraray Castle

Image of Inveraray Castle with green plants and flowers in between a stone pathway

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Carrying on your journey to find the very best castles in Scotland, Inveraray is a must-stop. If the first thing you imagine when thinking of Scotland is gloomy panoramas, iconic stonework, and rugged detailing, you are in for a treat with this one!

Set in the county of Argyll, Inveraray Castle is an impressive establishment of Gothic Revival style. Surprisingly, there are not very many of those in the country, at least compared with the Scottish Baronial architecture or even the French Renaissance!

If you desire to tour the establishment further away from the city noise and crowds, Inveraray serves perfectly. In order to give the castle a more secluded setting and independence from its surroundings, the Scottish demolished Inveraray village in the 18th century and rebuilt it further away. Just to have some distance!

The castle was called grim, ugly, and even forbidding in its appearance many times in history, and yet it remains peoples’ favorite. While some find all the grey stone a bit unsettling, we guarantee you will have a great time here! Just keep an open mind and remember you are here to learn!

As the residence for the Duke of Argyll, Inveraray is super important and an essential part of Scotland’s history, no matter how small. While it is unlikely to run into the Duke and his family, they do still live in the private apartments, even when there are open visitations. So, you might as well keep one eye open – who knows?

Inveraray is one of those castles in Scotland exhibiting the most iconic and impressive collections of weaponry and tools. These include over 1300 pikes, muskets, swords, and other kinds of ammunition. If these are the type of exhibits you are excited to see, take your time exploring Inveraray!

Also, did you know that the castle is media famous? Maybe you have seen it somewhere? Some big TV shows adored and loved in the UK?

Yes, Inveraray Castle was a part of the celebrated TV drama production of Downton Abbey. While it will probably be challenging to recognize the surroundings at once, we suggest rewatching the Christmas episode of 2012. Then, make up a little game and start looking for familiar sites!

5. Cawdor Castle

startue of a man holding crown he was about to wear - Statue of Macbeth

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Last but not least, for the most gorgeous castles in Scotland, let’s head to Cawdor in Nairnshire and explore this iconic, historically well-known, and exciting court of Cawdor. Get ready for some fun facts, delicate surroundings, and stunning architecture!

While there is still yet to be a specific date when the castle was built, its earliest documentation reaches back to 1454. Admittedly, it is quite frustrating now knowing the details, but architectural historians have spent loads of time trying to decipher Cawdor’s year of birth. Finally, after heavy research, they estimate the late 14th century.

Whenever the mansion was built, it had some great legends and stories, loved by both tourists and the folk! It was discovered that the castle, interestingly enough, was built around a living holly tree. According to folklore, a donkey laden with gold decided to rest beneath the tree and gave a sign to build a castle there.

Whether or not the tale is accurate, you can still see the remains of the tree! While the main body died in the 14th century, at least according to the scientists, there are still pieces you can inspect on the lower levels of Cawdor Castle. You might as well believe the story of a golden-laden donkey now!

Home to many earls, counts, and lords, Cawdor is said to be one of the most entertaining castles in Scotland, especially knowing the many exciting and entwined stories. We have war tales, love connections, family ties, and betrayals. So many things have happened here, and if you listen closely enough, you might just hear about them!

The mansion has eleven rooms to visit, which hold some unusual and interesting pieces. For example, would you expect to see an old leather wheelchair or minstrel gallery in the middle of a medieval castle? See it for yourself! Also, you will be pleased to know that Cawdor was never attacked, preserving most of its original state and authenticity.

However, if you are a fan of classic literature, the name Cawdor is familiar to you. It is still run by and belongs to the Thanes of Cawdor, a family popularized by William Shakespeare in his famous play Macbeth. Macbeth was indeed the Thane of Cawdor, but, unfortunately, the timeline of real life and Shakespeare’s lovely fiction does not correlate. Still, it is very cool that the castle played a part in such an essential piece of work!

5 Best Castles in Scotland Summary

There you go! Five lovely, significant, and entertaining castles in Scotland you should absolutely visit!

Remember to purchase the tickets in advance to ensure a place on tour, and keep in mind that these fortresses take time to explore. Maybe a bespoke private tour can help you see the most of your vacation. If you’re traveling around Scotland as part of a European trip or as a digital nomad, be sure to add these castles to your bucket list.

Other than that, relax and let yourself be taken away by Scotland’s history. Best of luck!

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Guest Author Bio

Viktorija Oksaite is currently working as a copywriter and tenders writing services online in Lithuania. More often than not, she creates engaging articles about traveling and planning trips. Viktorija has been writing articles for a few years now, giving her insight into the client’s needs and allowing her to pay more and more attention to details. The aim of her work is to help people pick the perfect destinations and arrange a fulfilling holiday!

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