14 Beautiful Castles in Scotland — From Cliffside Ruins to Present-day Royal Homes

These Scottish castles offer fascinating history, stunning architecture, and sweeping grounds.

Balmoral Castle is the summer residence of the British Queen in Scotland. Old stone castle with several towers and a large garden.
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More than 1,500 castles are spread throughout Scotland, the earliest believed to date to the 11th century. Many of the Scottish castles are simply ruins today, while others have been rebuilt and restored over the centuries, ending up as residences or castle stays. They were originally built as fortifications, usually set on a high point for security. The benefit today is that most castles afford spectacular views along with a glimpse into Scotland's past.

Spending a night in a castle is a thrill for many visitors, and others enjoy the history, architecture, and atmosphere of castles. Landscaped gardens, stunning locations, and captivating stories of battles and past residents of the castles add to the appeal. These are some of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, and at least a few should be on every visitor's itinerary for a complete picture of this fascinating country.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle in the centre of the City of Edinburgh in Scotland, built on what is known as Castle Rock.
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Standing strategically on Castle Rock 430 feet above sea level, Edinburgh Castle was home to royalty for centuries. Actually a series of buildings constructed at different periods in history dating back to the 11th century, it has also served as a fortress, military base, and prison. Centrally located in Scotland's thriving capital city, Edinburgh Castle is available for a variety of tours including the Great Hall, St. Margaret's Chapel, and the National War Museum.

Stirling Castle

Scenery in Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important fortification castles in Scotland
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One of the largest and most historically important castles in Scottish history, Stirling Castle was the early childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. In recent times it served as a filming location for Game of Thrones, Outlander, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," among others. Year-round tours offer glimpses of the Great Hall, Royal Palace, Great Kitchens, Queen Anne Gardens, and Galleries.

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie in the Scottish Highlands
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This beautiful, romantic castle located on its own small island is actually a mock medieval castle built in the 1920s-30s amid the ruins of a 13th-century castle. The history of the original fortress is a bit blurred since it was totally bombarded in the early 1700s and left to decay for the next 300 or so years. Visitors can explore its incredible artifacts and furnishings. The castle has been the backdrop for many movies, and it serves as a spectacular wedding venue.

Dunnottar Castle

The medieval fortress of Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Scotland
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Despite this majestic cliff top fortress being mostly in ruins, the stunning views alone are reason to visit. Rich in Scottish history dating back to the Middle Ages, Dunnottar Castle inspired the movie "Braveheart," and in the 1600s it famously served as the safest place to guard the Scottish crown jewels from Oliver Cromwell's invading English army. Comfortable footwear is suggested to maneuver a great number of steps leading to the castle. The more ambitious may want to venture to the breathtaking shoreline below.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is the summer residence of the British Queen in Scotland. Old stone castle with several towers and a large garden.
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Balmoral Castle is a favorite of Queen Elizabeth as the Scottish holiday home of the British Royal Family. Purchased by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, the original Balmoral Castle was deemed too small, and the present-day castle was completed in 1856. Through the years, successive generations have added to the 50,000-acre estate. Though some rooms are private, tours include the Castle Ballroom, the Carriage House Courtyard, and the extensive gardens.

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle from the Garden,
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Pronounced "glams," this majestic castle is the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kingshorne. It provided inspiration for Shakespeare's "Macbeth," where legend has it Macbeth murdered Duncan to become King of Scotland. Queen Elizabeth spent her early childhood at Glamis Castle, and her sister Princess Margaret was born there. Rumored to be the most haunted place in Scotland, ghost stories abound. The castle has a secret chamber where it is alleged that a horribly deformed heir to the throne was imprisoned for life. Guided seasonal tours are available.

Culzean Castle

The Beautiful Culzean Castle near Maybole, Carrick on the Ayrshire Coast of Scotland, United Kingdom.
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Designed by Robert Adam in the late 18th century, this romantic cliff top castle boasts gardens, beaches, woods, trails, and adventure playgrounds for kids. Guests can reserve the top floor Eisenhower Apartment, presented to honor President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his role during World War II. The over-the-top elegant interior and impressive gardens are matched only by its gorgeous sunset views. The castle is open late March through October, and the park is open year round.

Dunrobin Castle and Gardens

Dunrobin Castle and gardens, Sutherland, Scotland, Britain
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Located in the northern Highlands and visually compared to a Disney castle, Dunrobin has spectacular views of the Moray Firth and Dornoch Bay. This majestic castle offers lots of outdoor space, beach access, and a cafe serving tasty treats. Self guided tours are available, and a friendly, informative staff is on hand to assist visitors. A twice daily falcon show is a bonus. The museum building contains a large display of hunting trophies, appropriate at the time, interesting to some and offensive to others.

Craigievar Castle

Nestled on a picturesque hillside, the elegant pink tower of Craigievar Castle is spellbindingly beautiful,
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Originally designed in the 17th century, Craigievar Castle has undergone many renovations throughout the years, including a return to its original shade of pink in the early 2000's. Set in the hills of Aberdeenshire and home to the Forbes family for 350 years until 1963, it's more of a tower house than a castle, with small rooms and narrow stairways. Intimate guided tours are offered seasonally in small groups of 12 at a time. The Instagrammable exterior is accessible year round.

Blair Castle and Gardens

Blair Castle, a popular tourist attraction, is located in the grassy hills near the Village of Blair Atholl.
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Showcasing more than 700 years of Scottish history, Blair Castle is rich in period furnishings and historical artifacts. Guests are captivated by its exquisite staterooms, Georgian staircase, and tapestry room. The extensive gardens and surrounding woodlands encompass the nine-acre Hercules Garden, landscaped pools, statues, an Oriental bridge, and an orchard. Self guided tours and enthusiastic staff make for a memorable visit.

Urquhart Castle

View of Loch Ness and ruined Urquhart castle, with vegetation.
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This medieval fortress sits proudly on the scenic shore of Loch Ness. Though in a state of ruin, the fortress offers stunning views and beautifully manicured grounds. A short film details the impressive history of the castle. Myths of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, date back to the 6th century, and "sightings" have been recorded as recently as the 1930's. Hoax or fact? Urquhart is the perfect spot to take in Scotland's gorgeous scenery and decide for yourself.

Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle near Nairn, Highlands, Scotland.
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Owned and operated by the Cawdor family since 1370, the castle is referenced in William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth." Spared from attack, Cawdor Castle is in very good original condition. Points of interest include the Drawing Room with its original fireplace and the Tapestry Bedroom, rich in 17th-century furnishings and wares. The historical gardens and Flower Garden are especially enchanting in the spring. Self guided and private tours are options, along with separate garden tours.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle and its beautiful surrounding landscape, Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Set on the rocky shores of Loch Dunvegan, the castle has been the ancestral home of the MacLeod family since the 13th century. The interior contains paintings and heirlooms dating back to the 15th century. Five acres of spectacular gardens include exotic plants, waterfalls, streams, and even a children's wildwood play area. Leashed dogs are permitted in the gardens. The MacLeod Tables Cafe provides a tasty meal or snack and makes use of fresh produce from the castle's garden. An added treat is the 25-minute seal watching trip around Loch Dunvegan offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Guided, self guided, and group tours are available.

Inveraray Castle

Photo of Inveraray Castle in the Scottish highlands, taken during autumn
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This castle is the family home of the Duke of Argyll, whose lineage can be traced back to Colin, 1st Earl of Argyll, who died in 1493. Repairs and renovations through the years included the addition of the third floor and conical roofs on the corner towers. Several rooms, as well as the grounds, are open for visitors from April through October. Inveraray Castle played the role of the fictional Scottish home, "Duneagle Castle," in the Christmas 2012 episode of Downton Abbey.

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