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Stirling castle in Scotland
Travel tips

7 Scottish castles that you should visit on tour now

May 02, 2022 by Jamie Gallerani

Hearing bagpipe music, seeing traditional kilts, stepping inside castles that date back hundreds of years—there are a lot of things to love about visiting Scotland! But, back to the castles for a minute… these historic sites house everything from armor to glittering crown jewels, and are often surrounded by the stunning Scottish countryside to boot. In short: They’re amazing.

How many castles are in Scotland?

There are more than 1,000 Scottish castles, but we’ve narrowed them down to seven of the best. Read on to see which Scottish castles to visit while exploring Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and beyond.


1. Edinburgh Castle

If seeing Scottish castles calls to your travel-loving heart, then this gem should be at the top of your list—it is one of the 19 most beautiful castles in the world, after all. “Edinburgh Castle has something for everyone: panoramic views of the city, tons of history, even royal paraphernalia on display,” said staffer Andy, who visited the castle on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour. “It’s well worth the climb!”

Experiences to have in this famous Scottish castle:

  • Admire stained glass in the oldest corner of the castle. “St. Margaret’s Chapel at the top of the Castle Rock is the oldest part of the castle and nearly 1,000 years old,” said staffer Jim, who studied in Scotland for two years. “The little stained glass window of William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace is my favorite!”
  • Take in the bird’s-eye view. If you think the city of Edinburgh is good at ground level (it really is), just wait until you see it from above! “Edinburgh Castle has really cool views overlooking the whole city,” said staffer Nic. It’s a photo op not to miss—the view alone makes this royal spot one of the best castles in Scotland.
  • See Crown Jewels that rival the collection in England—they’re one of the top attractions in our Edinburgh Travel Guide. “One of my favorite parts was seeing the Honours of Scotland, which are essentially the Crown Jewels,” said staffer Jim. “They’re older than nearly the entire English collection held at the Tower of London, since the Honours of Scotland were hidden from Cromwell during the English Civil War, while the English Crown Jewels were melted down.”

Visit Edinburgh Castle on tour

Stirling Castle in Scotland and the famous Unicorn Tapestry inside

2. Stirling Castle

It’s hard to say what’ll impress you the most about Stirling Castle: the staggering architecture, the views of the surrounding Scottish countryside, or all that history! “If you’re interested in Scottish royal history, Stirling will be one of your favorite castles,” said staffer Nic. “Several Scottish kings and queens were crowned and lived there, including Mary Queen of Scots, and her mother, Queen Mary of Guise.” Yep, it’s one of the coolest castles in Scotland for good reason.

Experiences to have in this famous Scottish castle:

  • Step into the time of Mary Queen of Scots. “I had always been peripherally aware of the story of Mary Queen of Scots, but her story really came alive when I visited Stirling Castle, which was her childhood home and where she spent some of her adult life,” said staffer Arlena after returning from her Scotland tour. “What a life she had! I was so inspired, I bought her biography, My Heart is My Own, at the gift store. I keep my Stirling Castle entrance ticket in it as my bookmark.”
  • See the the Stirling Heads, a unique collection of carved portraits. “These shouldn’t be missed!” said staffer Jim. “For a fun scavenger hunt, see how many times you can find the Scottish thistle and Tudor Rose intertwined in the decorations; the castle was extensively renovated for the marriage of Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) and James IV of Scotland in 1503.”
  • Check out the unicorn tapestries. “Inside there are re-creations of seven handwoven tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn,” said staffer Nic. “They’re very similar to the tapestries that hung in the castle during Queen Mary of Guise’s time.” Staffer Kelly also called these tapestries out as one of her favorite parts of this Scottish castle. “It was probably the most well-preserved tapestry exhibit I’ve ever seen, and one of the most beautiful,” she said.

Visit Stirling Castle on tour


3. Inveraray Castle

If you have your heart set on visiting one of the most striking castles in Scotland, then Inverary Castle is the place to go—after all, you have an open invitation from the Duke of Argyll, who still lives here with his family! This Scottish castle is sitting pretty on the shores of Loch Fyne in the Scottish Highlands, and everything from the symmetrical architecture to the surrounding natural landscape will wow you. (Fun fact: This iconic site even had a cameo in the TV show Downton Abbey!)

Experiences to have while visiting this famous Scottish castle:

  • Peruse the Campbell family archives. “One interesting fact about Inveraray Castle is that it houses the private ancestral archives of the Campbell family, which is one of the most popular last names in Scotland,” said staffer Lael, who helps design all of our tours as part of our Market Innovation & Development Department. “They have records and original documents that date back to the 13th century. I got a private tour of the archives when I was there a while back, which was very cool.”
  • Stroll through the gardens, which sprawl out for over two acres, and include formal lawns, flower beds, and a forest dotted with rare trees.
  • See thousands of artifacts in the Armoury Hall. This hall houses everything from muskets to axes to swords that date back to the Battle of Culloden in the 1700s. As if the display isn’t impressive enough, the Armoury Hall ceiling is almost 70 feet high!

Visit Inverary Castle on tour


4. Eilean Donan Castle

This is one of the top castles to visit in Scotland, especially if you’re after that perfect photo in the Scottish Highlands with the Isle of Skye as your backdrop. “There’s a reason this castle is the #1 most photographed castle: it’s GORGEOUS,” said staffer Andy, who visited the castle on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour.

Experiences to have while visiting this famous Scottish castle:

  • Capture a classic Scotland photo. “This is one of Scotland’s most stunning castles, located at the confluence of three different sea lochs,” said staffer Jim. “If you’re going to get one picture that says Scotland, Eilean Donan is it!” Getting the chance to snap a frame-worthy picture is one reason why visiting this Scottish castle made our list of top things to do on the Isle of Skye.
  • Walk along the nearby bridge. “This castle in Scotland is actually on a small island and you have to cross a long bridge to get in,” said staffer Nic. “Walking on the long bridge gives you time to soak in the castle you’re about to enter and adds to the majesty. The surrounding water also creates a unique and beautiful background.” We can see why this castle was one of the filming locations featured in the TV show Outlander!
  • See the artifacts in the Billeting Room, which include cannonballs from the 1700s, dueling pistols, and other historic knickknacks that’ll get any history lover’s heart beating.

Visit Eilean Donan Castle on tour


5. Urquhart Castle

“Who wouldn’t want to visit ruins on the shores of Loch Ness?” asked staffer Jim. It’s a fair question—we always jump at the chance to visit this medieval castle ruin that’s been situated next to Scotland’s most famous lake since the 13th century! While Urquhart Castle isn’t as architecturally grand as other Scottish castles, the landscape and history alone make it well worth a visit (and have earned it a spot in our Scottish Highlands Travel Guide). Plus, you might even spot Nessie, the famous Loch Ness monster, as you snap your perfect castle-and-lake photo!

Experiences to have while visiting this famous Scottish castle:

  • Take in the views from the ramparts. “Although the castle itself is more of a ruin, the setting is breathtaking,” said staffer Andy, who visited on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour. “Climbing the ramparts to look out over Loch Ness is an unforgettable experience.”
  • Learn about the history while reading the plaques. “These castle ruins sit on Loch Ness and you’re able to explore it at your pace,” said staffer Nic. “There are plaques situated around the grounds that tell the story of the multiple times the castle had been overthrown and occupied until finally it was destroyed by cannon.”
  • Marvel at what remains of the drawbridge. The castle may be a ruin, but all it takes is a little imagination to picture what it must have been like when it was surrounded by a moat! Plus, there are remaining sections of Grant Tower, a prison cell, the kitchen, and more to admire. Cool, right?

Visit Urquhart Castle on tour


6. Blair Castle

No visit to Perthshire is complete without a visit to this four-story Scottish castle. With its whitewashed walls, towers, and surrounding mountainous landscape, it’s stunning—to say the least. “This was one of my favorite Scottish castles!” said staffer Nic. “It’s packed full of historical artifacts.” In fact, it was the former home of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, and you can dive into that history on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour.

Experiences to have while visiting this famous Scottish castle:

  • Count the narwhal tusks—yep, you read that right! “If you’re interested in war history there is a plethora of weapons decorating the interior,” said staffer Nic. “Also mounted on the wall are narwhal tusks! During the time of Mary Queen of Scots, narwhal tusks were marketed as unicorn horns. Unicorn horns were said to counteract poison.”
  • Stroll through the walled Hercules Garden. This Georgian-style gem was planted in the 1700s, and sprawls out in nine resplendent acres. There are ponds, a Chinese bridge, and an orchard of fruit trees, which are always lovely. But, this garden is even prettier in the summertime, when everything is in bloom. A July trip to Scotland? Yes, please!

Visit Blair Castle on tour


7. St Andrews Castle

Looking for an easy day trip from Edinburgh on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour? Visiting the university town of St Andrews on an added excursion is just the ticket. It’s home to golf, the oldest university in Scotland (where Prince William and Kate Middleton met!), and a 13th-century castle overlooking the North Sea.

Experiences to have while visiting this famous Scottish castle:

  • Step into the siege tunnels. “Not only are these dramatic ruins built on a cliff over the North Sea beautiful to look at, but they’re also historical; the preserved siege tunnels from the 1500s are among the longest remaining siege tunnels in Europe!” said staffer Jim.
  • Simply take in the view. “I studied at St Andrews, and the University English department luck out because the English buildings sit adjacent to St Andrews Castle,” said staffer Steph. “I can say from experience that the breathtaking view of the castle ruins offers a tempting distraction to discussions on Chaucer’s contemporaries.”
  • Use free time to stroll past the castle at night. “I imagine venturing inside these castle ruins would be particularly magical during a full moon,” said staffer Steph. “The spot provides spectacular views of the Castle Sands beach, so seeing everything illuminated in moonlight is an unforgettable experience.”

Visit St Andrews Castle on tour

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Know before you go
About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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