The great thing about Scotland is that wherever you are, you’re never far from a castle! As characteristic of the Scottish landscape as its lochs and mountains, the country’s castles are among the most iconic in the world. With over 3,000 castles, that’s one for every 26km2, we’ve set ourselves the tough task of selecting 10! Here are those that never fail to leave us speechless.

The most famous castles

You may not know their names… but you have certainly seen some of them! In history books, documentaries, reports, or even in films, some Scottish castles are real stars! Let’s go for our selection of the most famous Scottish castles.

1-Edinburgh castle

Edinburgh castle (©Leading Lines)

Located on an extinct volcano overlooking the capital, Edinburgh Castle is arguably Scotland’s best known and most important castle. Its buildings house the crown jewels. A must-see on a trip to Scotland. Plan to arrive in time to see the One o’clock gun. Check out our travel ideas for Edinburgh.

2-Balmoral Castle

Queen Victoria described Balmoral as her “dear Highland paradise”. Today the castle is still the private residence of the royal family. When the King is not in residence, visitors can enjoy the exhibitions in the castle’s ballroom, the largest room, and stroll through the charming gardens of the estate.

3-Inveraray Castle

The austere façade of Inveraray Castle, seat of the Dukes of Argyll, contrasts with its luxurious interiors, which embody the height of 18th century neo-classical elegance. Among other things, visitors come to admire the sumptuous Beauvais tapestries in the Great Hall and the breathtaking views of Loch Fyne.

4-Eilean Donan Castle

Eeilan Donan is surely one of the most photographed castles in the world. With its picturesque location on an island at the entrance to Loch Duich, Eilean Donan is steeped in Jacobite tradition. Among the rare artifacts on display is a sword believed to have been used at the Battle of Culloden.

5-Dunnottar Castle

Spectacular is not a strong enough word to describe the effect of this formidable cliff-top bastion. Perched on a huge rocky outcrop overlooking the north-eastern coastline of Scotland, Dunnottar has witnessed many crucial moments in Scottish history. The view from this castle against the setting sun is mesmerizing.

6-Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle offers a taste of the Highlands. Discover 1,000 years of drama, and get a glimpse of medieval Scottish life. Also enjoy breathtaking views of Loch Ness from the ruins of the largest castle in the Highlands. Climb the Grant Tower overlooking the loch, peek into a wretched prison cell, said to have held the legendary Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn, and imagine the splendid banquets held in the Great Hall.

7-Dunrobin Castle

The seat of Clan Dunrobin, Dunrobin Castle on NC500 dates back to the Middle Ages. The majority of the current structure has been here since its construction between 1835 and 1850. The castle is located north of Dornoch on the east coast and is one of the largest castles in the Northern Highlands. Don’t miss the grounds and exterior of the building, as well as the quiet beach at the bottom of the hill.

8-Stalker Castle

Stalker Castle is situated on an island in Loch Linnhe, a few miles north of Oban. The island lies in the middle of a shallow bay called Loch Laich, and is only accessible by boat. The castle is a small, well-preserved tower house which originally had a courtyard, of which almost nothing remains today.

The most beautiful abandoned castles

Abandoned castles are legion in Scotland! The atmosphere that reigns there, as strange as it is fascinating, feeds the imagination… These relics of bygone eras are no longer of any use in the 21st century, except as a testimony to their more or less glorious past.

9-Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle is a 15th century ruined castle at the north-eastern end of Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute. It is the ancestral home of the Campbells of Glenorchy, who later became Earls of Breadalbane, and are also known as the Breadalbane branch of the Campbell clan. The first construction of the castle was the keep and Laich Hall (facing Loch Awe). Today it is a picturesque and romantic place and the castle is one of the most photographed structures in Scotland.

10-Dunalastair Castle

Dunalastair is a large ruined baronial manor house dating from the mid-19th century and occupying a prominent (though now overgrown) site overlooking the eastern end of Loch Rannoch. It is not signposted and is fenced off for safety reasons as the building is in a dangerous condition. It is a large baronial manor house with a central round tower containing the main entrance door, and wings extending to the rear and surrounding a central courtyard. It was occupied until 1952.

11-Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle

Sinclair Castle is a ruined castle on a promontory north of Wick. It was the residence of the Earls Sinclair of Caithness, and is currently being restored. To reach the castle it is a half mile walk. The castle – known as Girnigoe Castle – originally consisted of a tower with a courtyard occupying the whole peninsula and separated from the mainland by a ditch cut in the rock. This part of the castle is not yet open to the public. During the reign of the 4th Earl of Caithness, the whole castle was rebuilt as a sumptuous palace and renamed Castle Sinclair.

12-Buchanan Castle

Buchanan Castle is a ruined country house in Stirlingshire, Scotland, located 1.6 km west of the village of Drymen. The house was commissioned by James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose and built in 1852-1858 as a house for the Montrose family, serving as such until 1925. It was built as a replacement for Buchanan Auld House, which is 800 metres to the north-west, but was destroyed in a fire in 1852. The old house and surrounding land had been owned by Clan Buchanan but passed to Clan Graham in the late 17th century. The roof of the building was removed in 1954 and the condition of the house has since deteriorated, but it remains the seat of Clan Graham.

13-Keiss Castle

Keiss Castle is a partially ruined castle in Scotland, which stands on steep cliffs overlooking Sinclair Bay, less than a mile north of the centre of the village of Keiss, Caithness, Highland, Scotland. It is protected as a Scheduled Monument. The old castle was replaced by Keiss House around 1755. The castle was built as a Z-plan tower house with 4 storeys plus an attic and a vaulted basement. It had a pair of corner towers at opposite corners of a square central block, the main tower being very narrow for its height with high chimneys.

14-Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is a mid-14th century fortress situated three miles east of North Berwick in East Lothian, Scotland. It stands on a promontory overlooking the Firth of Forth, south of the island of Bass Rock. The last curtained castle to be built in Scotland, Tantallon actually has only one wall protecting the access to the promontory, the other three sides being naturally defended by cliffs overlooking the sea. The castle was built in the mid-14th century by William Douglas, Earl of Douglas. It passed to his illegitimate son, later made Earl of Angus, and despite many vicissitudes remained in the ownership of his descendants for much of its history. It is now a major tourist attraction and is Grade A listed and Scheduled Ancient Monument. In 2009, photographs were published in the British press showing a supposed ghost appearing in one of the castle windows.

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