The Best Castles in Scotland

Scotland’s finest castles range from medieval palaces and Renaissance residences to hilltop fortresses and stately homes. Some have interesting histories (the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, the burial site of Robert the Bruce), while others showcase ornate halls, charming courtyards, and formal gardens. One castle even served as the setting for both Monty Python and Game of Thrones.

Kirkgate, Linlithgow EH49 7AL, UK
The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542, Linlithgow Palace was built and added to over two centuries by Stuart kings, resulting in a magnificent Renaissance residence. Complete with high towers overlooking lush greenery and a sparkling loch, it served as an ideal place for royals to break up the journey between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. Today, visitors can step inside the ruins to gain unique insight into the domestic life of Scottish royalty. Admire the elegant architecture, including the oriel windows in the king’s and queen’s bedchambers, then head outside to see the ornate fountain, which allegedly flowed with wine when Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in 1745. If it’s a nice day, relax in Queen Margaret’s Bower and enjoy views over the park and lake to the Forth bridges, or have a picnic by the lake.
Castle Hill, Doune FK16 6EA, UK
Built as the home of Regent Albany, “Scotland’s uncrowned king,” Doune Castle is one of the finest surviving examples of late-14th-century palace architecture. The duke’s rich tastes can be seen clearly in the medieval courtyard, which has since been featured in everything from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Game of Thrones and Outlander. While the castle is restored, it’s not dolled up with fancy furniture or tapestries, so visitors must use their imagination to picture life here in the Middle Ages. Envision the cathedral-like Great Hall filled with Albany’s guests, or the kitchen busy with servants preparing a great banquet. Before leaving, be sure to admire the views from the battlements over the River Teith and toward the Menteith Hills and Ben Lomond.
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5TL, UK
You can just imagine the hunting parties that must have gathered at this magnificent castle, surrounded by the wooded glens of the Perthshire Highlands. In one hall, the walls are lined with 175 pairs of antlers. Situated on the historic estate of the dukes of Atholl, Blair Castle was repeatedly modified over the centuries, though the Cumming Tower reputedly dates back to the 13th century. In 1936, the castle became one of the first stately homes to open its doors to the public, allowing visitors to tour 30 rooms full of furniture, arms, china, lace, and portraits.

Walk through the baronial entrance hall, featuring weapons used in the Battle of Culloden; the ornate dining room, with plasterwork by Thomas Clayton; the plush living room, complete with Louis XVI gilt chairs, Chipchase settees, and Bulloch cabinets; the tapestry room, lined with the Mortlake Tapestries that belonged to King Charles I; and the grand ballroom, which continues to host Highland balls, wedding receptions, and private dinners to this day. Then head outside to the grounds to explore the nine-acre walled garden, extensive wooded grove, ruined kirk, red deer park, and Gothic folly. Keep an eye out for the peacocks, which roam freely and provide a popular photo op for visitors.
Perth PH2 6BD, UK
One of Scotland’s most important stately homes, Scone Palace has a colorful history. It’s believed to have been the capital of the prehistoric Pictish people, who inhabited much of northern Britain in the early centuries B.C.E., and also served as the seat of parliaments and the crowning place of the Kings of Scots, including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce. The palace visitors see today only dates to 1802, though parts of a 17th-century house, erected on top of a 12th-century abbey, remain. The famous Stone of Scone, upon which royalty sat to be crowned, was here until 1296, when it was stolen by Edward I of England (today, it’s housed at Edinburgh Castle).

Visit the castle and tour the main State Rooms, full of everything from porcelain, ivories, and clocks to furniture, paintings, and other important family belongings. Then explore the expansive grounds, home to the Market Cross, the Old Scone graveyard, a 16th-century archway that once served as the grand entrance to the city of Scone, and a pinetum full of giant redwoods and noble firs.
Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK
Perched on a great rock above Edinburgh’s New Town, this impressive castle dominates the city. Iron Age warriors understood the site’s military potential and built a fort here in the late first century C.E. It changed hands several times during the Wars of Independence, but was retaken from the English in 1314 and served for many years as the home of royalty, from Queen Margaret to Mary Queen of Scots. From the 1600s onward, the castle functioned as a military base with a large garrison and later held prisoners of war. Today, it’s a world-famous attraction, home to the Stone of Destiny on which kings were enthroned for centuries.

Guests can tour the Great Hall and the Royal Palace, admire the Scottish crown jewels, and visit Edinburgh’s oldest building, St. Margaret’s Chapel. Also on-site is the National War Museum, which details 400 years of Scotland at war, and the Scottish National War Memorial, honoring those who gave their lives for the nation. For even more military history, check out the cavernous stone vaults beneath the Great Hall that once held war prisoners, or head to the Regimental Museum, which cover everything from the Covenanters to Napoléon and Waterloo. Visit in the early afternoon and you’ll witness the firing of the One O’Clock Gun—a beloved Edinburgh tradition.
Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX, UK
The Palace of Holyroodhouse remains the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she visits Scotland, and guided tours here include her public reception rooms in the main part of the pile. History buffs, however, will want to see the palace’s oldest section, where the personal assistant to Mary Queen of Scots was assassinated—a bit of skulduggery orchestrated by Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley. In adjacent rooms are exhibitions linking Mary to Queen Elizabeth I, while the grounds feature beautiful gardens and ruins of the original abbey.
East Port, Falkland, Cupar KY15 7DA, UK
Built in 1500 by King James IV as a royal hunting lodge, this Renaissance palace was a favorite residence of Mary Queen of Scots, who took advantage of the vast estate to pursue falconry and play games of tennis on what is now Britain’s oldest court. Tour the palace to view intricate wood paneling, impressive painted ceilings, and beautifully carved furniture, then head to the south wing, where you’ll find twin, three-story gate towers with a unique mix of Gothic, Corinthian, and Palladian architecture. Visitors can also stroll through the formal gardens and orchard, complete with a living willow labyrinth.
St Margaret's Street, Dunfermline KY12 7PE, UK
Founded as a priory by Queen Margaret in the 11th century, Dunfermline was turned into an abbey by David I and later became a royal mausoleum. It’s believed that Robert the Bruce is buried here, along with seven other Scottish kings. Following the Protestant Reformation of 1560, Queen Anna of Denmark built an imposing palace on the site, with the abbey complex at its center. It was here that Charles I—the last Scottish-born British king—was delivered in 1600.

Today, visitors can explore the abbey remains, admiring the impressive nave and towering monks’ refectory. You can also wander through the palace, checking out the refectory floor and kitchen area, before heading outside to admire the breathtaking views across the glen.
Caerlaverock, Dumfries DG1 4RU, UK
Unique in its triangular shape, this red-sandstone castle is something of an unknown treasure. First attacked by England’s Edward I in 1300, Caerlaverock (pronounced kah-liver-ick) was repeatedly placed under siege and rebuilt over the centuries. Miraculously, the massive double tower, moat, ramparts, and interior palace all remain today, though in various states of ruination. On the grounds, a massive siege engine called a trebuchet indicates the awesome weapons that were once used to bombard the castle.
Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX, UK
Eilean Donan is the über-castle of the Highlands, perched on a rocky islet in a tidal loch on the road to the Isle of Skye. After crossing an arched stone bridge, visitors may recognize the setting from such films as Highlander and The World Is Not Enough. The seat of Clan MacRae, the castle dates to the 13th century, when it was erected to deter Viking invasions. Destroyed and rebuilt four times as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded, it was restored to its former glory in 1932 and remains open to visitors to this day.

Guests can climb the steps to the Keep Door, explore the Billeting Room and its historical artifacts (Chippendale furniture, cannonballs fired during a 1719 bombardment, Liverpool china tea sets, dueling pistols), and marvel at the Banqueting Hall, featuring timber ceiling beams shipped from British Columbia during the castle’s restoration. Should you wish to spend the night, there’s even a cottage overlooking the castle, available for both weekly and four-night stays.
Stirling Castle, Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s most impressive castles, particularly for its role in Scottish history—several kings and queens were crowned here, including Mary Queen of Scots. Tour the Great Hall, the lavish Royal Palace, the elegant Chapel Royal, and the Great Kitchens, then check out Argyll’s Lodging (Scotland’s finest 17th-century town house, built just beyond the castle walls for a great nobleman serving the royal court). Also worth exploring are the peaceful Queen Anne Gardens and the Stirling Heads Gallery, which features 16th-century oak medallions carved with images of royalty, Roman emperors, and characters from the Bible. When you’re done roaming the interiors, head outdoors and walk the ramparts to appreciate the castle’s commanding position above the Royal Burgh of Stirling.
Castlebay - Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra HS9 5UZ, UK
Nicknamed the “Castle in the Sea,” this stone tower sits on a rock in the sheltered harbor of Castlebay—the largest town on the Isle of Barra. In fact, you need to take a small boat across the bay to visit Castle Kisimul, which serves as the seat of the chief of Clan MacNeil. The only significant medieval castle to survive in the Western Isles, it features a curtain wall enclosing a central courtyard, and stone spiral stairs that lead to a great hall where worthies once dined. When visiting, be sure to climb up to the tower house battlements for panoramic views of Castle Bay.
MacLeod Estate, Dunvegan House, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye IV55 8WF, UK
The oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, Dunvegan has served as the ancestral home of Clan MacLeod for more than 800 years. Restored between 1840 and 1850, the castle features a unified exterior complete with defensive battlements running the length of the roofline, but actually comprises five separate buildings, each with its own story to tell. Tour the interior to see several beautiful paintings and important heirlooms, like the sacred Fairy Flag and Sir Rory Mor’s ceremonial drinking horn, then head outdoors to explore the castle’s surroundings, from formal gardens to wild woodlands. From here, you can take a 25-minute boat trip to visit the Loch Dunvegan seal colony, or head out for a two-hour fishing expedition to catch pollock, mackerel, and coalfish.
Duart Castle, Lochdon, Isle of Mull PA64 6AP, UK
The ancient home of Clan Maclean, Duart Castle towers over the Sound of Mull, making a statement with its huge curtain walls and solid keep. It spent more than a century in ruins before Sir Fitzroy Maclean had it refurbished in 1911, and now serves as the top tourist attraction on the Isle of Mull. Start your visit in the Great Hall, where you can view family portraits and clan crests or admire the robust walls, which range from 10 to 23 feet thick. Next, you’ll want to tour the State Bedroom (furnished for the wartime honeymoon of Lord Maclean and his bride) and the Dressing Rooms, which feature more family photos and a collection of military uniforms and dresses dating back to 1750. Upstairs, a fascinating exhibition features relics, wall hangings, and memorabilia tracing the Macleans back to their early times as lords of the surrounding islands. When you’re done exploring indoors, walk the ramparts atop the castle and imagine fighting alongside the clan to protect their treasured castle.
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