Best Castles in the Highlands, Scotland

Castles in Scotland EILEAN-DONAN-CASTLE

See where the mighty clans of Scotland lived during the Middle Ages as you wander around the ruins of fairytale-like castles and visit the lavish family homes chock full of artefacts with plenty of legends bursting to be heard too. One thing’s for sure, the Highlands contains some of the most dramatic castles in Scotland and whether you visit a couple or many, you can’t go wrong planning a visit to some of the most historic and beautiful Scottish Highlands Castles.

16 castles to visit in the Scottish Highlands

1. Dunrobin Castle

Castles in Highlands-Dunrobin-Castle

This striking stately home built in the style of a French château with views over the Moray Firth is the seat of the Earl of Sutherland and has been in the family for 700 years, the Earls originally being Dukes. It boasts 189 rooms making it the largest in the Northern Scottish Highlands and, dating back to the 1300s, it is also one of the UK’s oldest continuously inhabited houses though it was not always used as a family home; in WW1 it was used as a naval hospital and from 1965-1972 became a boys’ boarding school.

Where: Sutherland
When:
14th century
Style:
French Renaissance/Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Yes. Open April, May, and October 10.30 am – 4.30 pm

2. Eilean Donan Castle

Best castles in Highlands-Eilean-Donan-Castle

The most recognisable Highlands castle, Eilean Donan is just as beautiful in real life as it is in the pictures. Located on a tiny island where 3 great sea lochs meet and overlooking the Isle of Skye with a backdrop of forested mountains,  it is surrounded by scenery to take your breath away and is one of the most visited and photographed placed in Scotland. A fortified castle has stood on this site since the 13th century though much of what is seen today dates from the 20th century when the ruined castle was restored with a bridge added for easy access. This means that rather than Eilean Donan being a stunning shell, only admired from the outside, visitors can enjoy the internal rooms getting a taste of Jacobean interior design.

Where: Dornie by Kyle of Lochalsh
When:
13th century
Style:
Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Open 10am-4pm February-March, April-October 10am-6pm, October-December 10am-4pm. Closed 24th-26th December. Check website for other Winter closure dates.

3. Strome Castle

Famous Castles in Highlands-Strome-Castle

This ruined tower house built on a rocky bluff on the shore of Loch Carron is surrounded by the sea on 3 sides would have looked stunning in its heyday. Historically, little is known about this castle compared with other castles in the Scottish Highlands but records from 1472 tell us that it was owned by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles. In 1602 it was destroyed, blown up by gunpowder, by the Mackenzie clan after a long siege.

Where: Lochcarron, Stromemore
When:
15th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 24/7

4. Urquhart Castle

Castles in Highlands-Urquhart-Castle

Located above the banks of the infamous Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle has been the site of some of Scotland’s most dramatic history. Now standing in ruin, it started off as a fort, used for 500 years until the castle that we see today was built. During the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands between the Scots and English numerous times, with the Lords of the Isles later raiding the castle regularly. Finally, in 1692 the castle was blown up during the Jacobite Risings when the last of the government troops left. Today, visitors can climb the Grant Tower to admire the views with the exhibition in the visitor centre providing a detailed history of the castle.

Where: Drumnadrochit, Inverness
When:
13th-16th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 9.30 am-6 pm April-May. 9.30 am-8 pm June-August. 9.30am-6pm September, 9.30am-5pm October and 9.30am-4.30pm November-March.

5. Castle Leod

Best castles in Highlands-Castle-Leod

The seat of the Mackenzie clan who have lived here for more than 500 years and whose name pops up throughout Highland Scottish history, Castle Leod is a tower house and the current family home of the Earl of Cromartie. Built on the site of an ancient wooden fort that was likely taken over by the Viking Invaders, the tower house was built in the medieval period and remodelled extensively in the 17th century with extensions being added in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Does it look familiar to you? It was the inspiration for Castle Leoch in the TV series Outlander.

Where: Strathpeffer, Easter Ross
When:
14th century
Style:
Medieval Tower House
Open for visit:
Occasional public open days, see website for details.

6. Inverness Castle

Famous Castles in Highlands-Inverness-Castle

Standing on the site of a former 11th-century fort Inverness Castle is formed of 2 imposing red sandstone buildings built in 1836. Tales of crime and passion are forever linked with Inverness castle, this being the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth whilst in the real modern world, it’s the County Hall and the location of Inverness Sheriff Court. Though this is a working building visitors can enter the North Tower and admire the views over the River Ness from the viewing platform.

Where: Inverness
When:
19th century
Style:
Neo-Norman
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 11 am-6 pm April-May, 10 am-7 pm June, 9 am-10 pm July-August, and 11 am-6 pm September-October.

7. Cawdor Castle and Gardens

Castles in Highlands-Cawdor-Castle-and-Gardens

Linked to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the architecture of Cawdor Castle that we see today grew from a 15th-century tower house. At its heart is a ‘thorn tree’ (holly tree) which the castle grew around an which can still be seen in the guard room today, it dates from approximately 1372! As well as admiring the exterior of this beautiful castle visitors can step inside to admire the luxurious interior with the drawing-room, dining room, tapestry bedroom, and kitchens all accessible. Outside, 3 gardens can be enjoyed, the oldest being the 16th-century walled garden and there’s also a 9-hole golf course on-site for the non-history/garden lovers!

Where: Cawdor, Nairnshire
When:
15th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open mid-April- beginning October 10 am-5.30 pm

8. Brodie Castle

Best castles in Highlands-Brodie-Castle

The home of one of Scotland’s most important families for 400 years, beautiful Brodie Castle with its pale pink facade is one of the most unique looking castles in the Highlands. Take a guided tour inside the z-plan tower house to admire the decorative ceilings, furniture, porcelain, and art that hangs on the walls. Then, get lost in the wonderful grounds, kids will adore the Playful Garden with its giant bunny sculpture whilst the grown-ups can admire the landscaped garden before taking a walk on the nature trail.

Where: Brodie, Forres, Murray
When:
16th century
Style:
Renaissance
Open for visit:
Yes. Open from 10 am March-October. Closed 25th-26th December and 1st January.

9. Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens

Famous Castles in Highlands-Ballindalloch-Castle-and-Gardens-(xana)

Known as ‘The Pearl of the North’, this beautiful Highlands castle has been home to the Macpherson-Grant family since the 16th century making it one of the few privately owned castles to still be lived in by the family whom it was built for. Originally a fortified tower house in 1546, Ballindalloch Castle was modified into the country retreat that we see today during the Victorian period. Step inside to see the collection of 17th-century Spanish paintings, furniture, china, and other family heirlooms as you move from the library to the dining room right up to the nursery filled with antique toys.

Where: Banffshire, Ballindalloch
When:
16th century
Style:
Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Yes. Open Sunday-Friday 10 am-5 pm from mid-April-September.

10. Ardvreck Castle

Castles in Highlands-Ardvreck-Castle

The forlorn ruins of Ardvreck Castle, once a 3-storey L-plan tower house and the home of the MacLeod lairds of Assynt, are located on a rocky headland that extends out into Loch Assynt. Although only a fragment remains of the castle, information boards give you insight into the history of this place and the views are certainly not to be scoffed at.

Where: Lairg, Sutherland
When:
16th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 24/7

11. Old Keiss Castle

Best castles in Highlands-Old-Keiss-Castle

Overlooking Sinclaire’s Bay is a partially ruined Z-plan tower house that was built by George, 5th Earl of Caithness on the site of an older fortification. Due to George Sinclair defying the King, James VI, the castle was seized and had fallen into ruin by the 18th century. It is called Old Keiss Castle because of a newer castle, Keiss House, that was built close by to replace this castle in about 1755.

Where: Wick, Caithness
When:
16th-17th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 24/7

12. Girnigoe Castle

Famous Castles in Highlands-Girnigoe-Castle

One of the earliest seats of the Sinclair Clan who were the earls of Caithness, the ruins of Girnigoe Castle which date back to 1470 sit beside the ruined extensions of the later enlarged17th-century castle which was renamed, Sinclair Castle. In its dramatic coastal setting, the Castle Sinclair Girnigoe complex is one of the best surviving examples of a late medieval fortified complex not just in the Highlands but in all of Scotland.

Where: Wick, Caithness
When:
15th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 24/7

13. Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum

Castles in Highlands-Armadale-Castle,-Gardens-&-Museum

Located on the Isle of Skye, a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal, you’ll find 1,500 years of history just waiting to be explored. Armadale Castle, which now stands in ruin, was the last ancestral home of the Macdonalds of Sleat of whom you can learn about in the on-site Museum of the Isles. You can also admire the castle from the 40 acres of formal gardens with woodland walks on part of the wider 20,000-acre estate.

Where: Armadale, Sleat, Isle of Skye
When:
18th-19th century
Style:
Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 10am-3pm March, 9.30am-5.30pm April-October and 10am-3pm November.

14. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens

Best castles in Highlands-Dunvegan-Castle-&-Gardens

For 800 years this castle, situated amongst stunning scenery on the Isle of Skye, was the ancestral seat of the MacLeod clan. Take a tour of the award-winning castle, originally a Highland fortress, as you learn its history and its legends whilst admiring the paintings, Dunvegan Cup (a unique ‘mazer’ from the Middle Ages) and Jacobite and Bonnie Prince Charlie relics which are on display. You can also enjoy 5 acres of formal gardens where you’ll find a 17th-century sundial, ornate bridges leading to a pond and waterfall, a glasshouse and botanical delights around each and every corner.

Where: Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
When:
13th – 19th century
Style:
Mock Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes. Open April – mid-October 10 am – 5.30 pm

15. Kinlochaline Castle

Famous Castles in Highlands-Kinlochaline-Castle

This 4-storey Scottish tower house, also known as Butter Castle or Caisteal an Ime was the seat of the MacInnes clan, built on the site of an older fortification opposite the Isle of Mull. Why Butter Castle? It is said that Dubh-Chal (Lady of the Black Veil), paid the architect in butter in equal size to the castle! Restored, altered, and remodelled over the centuries following a fire, sieges, and neglect, Kinlochaline Castle today has been rebuilt into a modern family home.

Where: Morvern, Argyll
When:
15th century
Style:
Restored Medieval
Open for visit:
No, private residence.

16. Duart Castle

Castles in Highlands-Duart-Castle

The ancient ancestral seat of the Clan MacLean for more than 700 years, Duart Castle is located on the sea cliffs overlooking the Sound of Mull and is one of the last surviving privately owned Clan Castles in the Scottish Highlands. Having fallen into ruin during the 18th century, Duart Castle was refurbished in 1911, it’s thanks to this refurbishment that we can now enter into the rooms of Duart Castle to admire the great hall, state bedroom, and others. An exhibition centre on the top floor of the castle tells the story of the Chiefs of the Clan.

Where: Craignure, Isle of Mull
When:
13th century
Style:
Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 11am-4pm April and 10.30am-5pm May- mid October

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