Awe-inspiring castles in Scotland for a historical and magical trip

These dramatic castles in Scotland sit among some of the country's wildest landscapes

A photo of one of the castles in Scotland set against a Loch with mountains behind
(Image credit: Travelpix/Getty Images)

Visit one of these iconic castles in Scotland for an unforgettable experience. Scotland once had over 3,000 castles across its land, and today hundreds of them still stand centuries after the clans and families who once owned them left. 

All turrets, towers, and tumultuous history, Scotland’s many castles offer a fascinating insight into the country’s past. Many of them were abandoned and left to ruin, but plenty of Scottish castles are now preserved by organizations like the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland. Others, though, are still living, breathing residences, from the Queen’s estates to historic clan seats where families have lived for centuries. 

Best castles in Scotland for a magical trip

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, don’t miss out on one of these fascinating, fairytale castles. Need somewhere to stay? Look at our guide to the best lodges with hot tubs to complete the experience. And, if you want to make the most of your Scotland break, be sure to read our guide to the most scenic Scottish road trips.

1. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

Edinburgh castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Undoubtedly the most famous castle in Scotland, Edinburgh’s fortress sits atop an extinct volcano and lords over the capital city. The royal seat from the 12th century to the 17th century, its ramparts still stand tall today, and it’s a truly compelling place to visit. Don’t miss sights like the Great Hall, with its superb vaulted wooden ceiling and impressive collection of swords and shields, and listen out for the One O’Clock Gun, which is fired daily. While in Edinburgh, you might also want to check out the impressive Palace of Holyroodhouse, which sits just at the tip of the Royal Mile, the Scottish capital's most famous street. 

2. Balmoral, Aberdeenshire

Balmoral castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If Edinburgh is the most famous castle, Balmoral Castle must be the second most renowned building in Scotland. This is the Queen’s favorite getaway, and it’s here that she spends the vast majority of her holidays. Built by William Smith for Queen Victoria in the 1850s, Balmoral is a beautiful example of Scottish baronial architecture. When the royals aren’t in residence, you can visit the castle and its vast estate to see the ballroom and some lovely gardens. There are even holiday cottages on the estate, so if you’d like to holiday with the Queen then book into one of their properties.

3. Stirling Castle, Fife

Stirling Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of Scotland’s most important castles, Stirling is a fascinating place. Dating largely from the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle comprises various structures including the royal palace where Mary Queen of Scots grew up, and the elegant Chapel Royal, built by King James VI as one of the first protestant kirks in the country. 

Stirling Castle was a focal point during the Wars of Independence, changing hands eight times over the course of 50 years, and it’s now an enthralling attraction with fascinating tapestries, vast ancient kitchens, and the lovely Queen Anne Gardens.

4. Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Dunvegan Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The seat of the MacLeod clan for 700 years and still lived in by the same family, Dunvegan Castle is a remote but important site on the Isle of Skye. Originally constructed in the 13th century, it has been built on and demolished numerous times to create its current form, with classic Victorian pepper-pot towers and defensive ramparts making it an imposing construction. Perched on a mound overlooking the Loch Dunvegan, its location is spectacular, and the surrounding estate makes for excellent, easy walking territory—which isn’t always a given on the Isle of Skye.

5. Inveraray Castle, Argyll and Bute

Inveraray Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On the shore of Loch Fyne, Inveraray Castle almost looks more like an idyllic French chateau than a Scottish stately home. With four turreted corners and crenellations along the rooftops, it’s a veritable fortress as well as the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll. 

The first stone was laid in 1746 and it took over 40 years to complete, but a fire destroyed much of the original building in the 1800s. It’s still home to the Duke and his family and is the seat of Clan Campbell, one of the largest and most powerful Highland clans. There are holiday homes on-site, glorious gardens, and inside the castle, you can see the Armoury Hall, the elegant State Dining Room, and countless French and English antiques. 

6. Eilean Donan Castle, the Highlands

Eilean Donan Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sitting on an island in the middle of where three lochs (sea inlets) meet, Eilean Donan is small but imposing. A bridge connects the island to the mainland area of the Kyle of Lochalsh and its tall ramparts really give the feel of a medieval castle. But it’s not so. What you see today was actually built in the early 20th century when Lieutenant Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the castle and restored it to its 13th-century glory. If you're considering a trip to the Highlands to enjoy its rugged landscapes, you might want to check out our guide to wild camping in Scotland first.

7. Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Craigievar Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pink castles are not only the preserve of Disney princesses—Craigievar is a truly magical, fairy-tale building. The fortress is actually thought to be an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, but these 17th-century walls never housed a real-life royal. The castle now contains an impressive collection of artworks, including some Raeburn portraits, armor, and weaponry, and its upper floors have no electricity or artificial lighting, so you can see what it would have looked like back in the 1600s.