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

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

Aerial view of Edinburgh with the castle in view
Photo:

Rory Fuller/Travel+Leisure

There are more than 1,500 castles spread throughout Scotland, the earliest dating to the 11th century. While many Scottish castles stand in ruins today, others have been rebuilt and restored over the centuries, ending up as residences or hotels. Spending a night in a castle is a thrill for many visitors, and others enjoy the history, stunning architecture, landscaped gardens, and atmosphere of these regal estates.

Here are 14 of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. Note that many of these castles close seasonally, so be sure to check opening times before you plan your visit.

Edinburgh Castle

Aerial view of Edinburgh with the castle in view

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Standing strategically on Castle Rock 430 feet above sea level, Edinburgh Castle was home to royalty for centuries. The castle, made up of a series of buildings dating back to the 11th century, has 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 visiting 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 significant 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 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 blurry since it was bombarded in the early 1700s and left to decay for the next 300 years. Today, 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

Dunnottar Castle in Scotland

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This cliff-top fortress stands in ruins today, but 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 was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II 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. Access to the castle is currently limited due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, so check the website for opening details.

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle from the Garden,
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Pronounced "glams," this majestic and historic castle is the family home of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and it inspired Shakespeare's "Macbeth." 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. 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 April 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, open April through October, offers lots of outdoor space, beach access, and a cafe serving tasty treats. Self-guided tours are available, and a twice-daily falcon show is a bonus.

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 2000s. 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. The castle is currently closed until 2024 due to a conservation project, so check the website for reopening details.

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 ponds, statues, and an orchard. Tickets for self-guided tours and seasonal events are available online.

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. Myths of "Nessie," the Loch Ness Monster, date back to the 6th century, and "sightings" have been recorded as recently as the 1930s. 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 are especially enchanting in the spring. Like many other castles on this list, Cawdor Castle is open seasonally.

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 plants, waterfalls, streams, and even a children's 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, and the castle is open seasonally.

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, First 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 2012 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.

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