No trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting a castle or two. Luckily, Scotland’s majestic castles are literally countless. Scottish castles range from picturesque ruins to meticulously restored royal palaces. Here are a few of our top picks for must-see castles during your next trip to Scotland. Each one has a unique history and setting, and some are fully restored to give you a glimpse of castle life throughout the centuries.
Beautiful Kilchurn Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. It commands a powerful position at the head of Loch Awe, and the peak of Ben Cruachan rises behind to make this castle incredibly dramatic. Built in the mid-1400s, Kilchurn was the seat of the earls of Breadalbane, a powerful family of Clan Campbell. The castle was used as a garrison, then abandoned, in the 1700s. Today you can visit its picturesque ruins throughout spring and summer, and get that perfect photo for yourself.
Strikingly beautiful Glamis Castle was the childhood home of the Queen Mother. Today its exterior is most similar to a French chateau, but within its fanciful turrets, the original tower house which dates back to the 15th century still stands. The castle is home to a number of ghost stories and legends, and is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Still a home of the Earls of Strathmore, guided tours take you through richly decorated rooms dating back to the medieval period.
There isn’t a castle calendar in the world that’s complete without a photo of Eilean Donan. Of all Scotland’s castles, this is always a crowd favorite. This island castle (eilean loosely translates to island) sits at the head of three major lochs, a major defensive position against feuding clans and, earlier in history, Viking raiders. It would be largely destroyed in 1719 by the English government during the Jacobite uprising, but Eilean Donan’s massive walls didn’t go down without a fight — it took three days of bombardment. Eilean Donan was painstakingly rebuilt in the early 20th century and became the attraction it is today: a beautiful addition to the wild landscape. Inside, artifacts dating back through the centuries are on display.
This royal palace dominates the Edinburgh skyline, as it has done since medieval times. Perched atop a volcanic crag called Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle has withstood sieges, seen the rise and fall of kings and queens, and hid the crown of Scotland for over a century. Today Edinburgh Castle’s spectacular exhibits (including the Honours of Scotland: the crown, scepter and sword once hidden within a sealed chamber) are a must-do during any trip to Scotland.
Royal since the twelfth century, Stirling Castle was Scotland’s most important castle for centuries. Its medieval origins were greatly expanded during the Renaissance, when the Stewart kings brought European influence to Stirling. One example you can visit to day is the Great Hall, built by James VI in 1503 and the largest banqueting hall in Scotland. Stirling Castle offers a fascinating look at Renaissance-era life for the royal family and nobility, who lived as richly as their counterparts in London or Paris.
Scotland is home to countless castles, from plain tower forts to royal palaces. This little list is just the beginning! Start castle-spotting for yourself: visit Scotland with Virgin Vacations. Choose from escorted tours which take you deep into Scotland’s cultural touch points, or build your own flexible tour with car rental or train travel to get from place to place.
Taking your first trip to the United Kingdom? Independently-minded travelers can explore Edinburgh along with London with this multi-city vacation package, including flights.
To see more (and spend less time planning!) try an escorted tour, which includes admissions, cultural experiences, a full-time tour manager, a curated itinerary and helpful conveniences like transfers and most meals. Dip your toe with our 8 or 10-day Affordable England and Scotland tour.
Or, go all in with our Kaleidoscope of Scotland. You’ll taste a wee dram at a traditional distillery, visit with a shepherd and his sheepdogs, tour Stirling Castle and more.
Discover Scotland with Virgin Vacations at our website, and be sure to visit at least one of these great Scottish castles while you’re there!