Almost a year ago I was celebrating my 5 year anniversary with my husband touring the beautiful highlands of Scotland. Though we enjoyed some great hikes, food, and scenery; the majority of our days were filled touring castles and ruins. We toured a total of 24 castles and ruins in our 8 days there. Each place was worth a visit, as they each have a fascinating story to tell, but I somehow narrowed it down to the my top 10 from that trip.
Considered the most photographed and famous castle in all of Scotland. Nestled on a small island where 3 Loch’s meet, I had dreamed about seeing this castle for years. A picturesque setting with a vivid history; this castle exceeded my expectations. It was the hardest castle to leave and for that this place tops the list. The rest on this list are in random order; but this one easily takes the number one spot.
Most people head to the famous Loch Ness to try and catch a glimpse of its famous resident monster; but this castle is the real reason to visit. The castle offers a stunning views of the water and rolling green hills. Staring at the scenery from the tower ruins, makes you wish you had a view to wake up to like that every day. It’s ideal location along the Great Glen made it prone to attacks and raids through the years. When there be sure to check out the visitor’s center to learn more of its history.
This baronial home felt like something out of a fairy-tale story. I could imagine a big carriage pulling up to this impressive residence and Cinderella stepping out. The tour of the house was filled with ornate decorations from various time periods; and it was enjoyable to learn of the places in the house that were used to spy on visitor’s. The views from the top of the tower of the lovely grounds, made me sigh in contentment. There's something so romantic about this place that just made me swoon. (Seriously can someone hire me to plan a destination wedding here?)
Located in the beautiful Isle of Skye, it is said to be the oldest occupied castle in Scotland. It has been occupied by the Clan MacLeod continually for over 800 years. You can learn about this family as your tour their residence and admire some of their furniture and artwork. The gardens are worth a nice stroll and you must head around back to catch the back view of the house from the ocean coast. A highlight for me was seeing and hearing the story of the Fairy Flag. It is a tale worth Googling.
From Outlander, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and even a little Game of Thrones; it is quickly easy to see why Hollywood likes this location. The castle and courtyard are in great shape, with lots of big open rooms. My favorite part was the kitchen area and you can still see grooves in the rock from where the staff sharpened their knives hundreds of years ago. I admit this castle was more of a fan-girl moment for me as I pictured Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe standing in certain spots throughout the keep. Even if you are not a wee bit Outlander obsessed like me, it is still a remarkable place to tour.
Perched on the remains of a volcanic plug overlooking the town, this castle has some significance in Scotland’s rich history. From the castle views you can see the National Wallace Monument and Old Stirling Bridge. Though not the same bridge from the famous Battle of Stirling bridge that William Wallace helped defeat the English, you still get a sense that something important in this area. The inside of the castle is just as impressive as the outside. When you are inside down forget to look up at the impressive head carvings of some of its past residences. The tapestries are also a must see and the story of the unicorn was my favorite.
This one is not like the rest, in that you don’t have to pay for admission. These ruins are on a private property but allowed visitors (there is a mile hike). Upon arriving it is quick to see why these grounds are rumored to have inspired Bram Stoker’s castle in Dracula. It is dramatically perched on tall cliffs while the ocean waves crash below. The setting at first glance screams intrigue and secrets. Just keep in mind that since it's not maintained by a trust, there are some pro’s and con’s. The pro’s are you can pretty much walk and do what you want. The con’s are that previous visitors have not been respectful to the site. There is some garbage around and people have fallen to their deaths.
The birth place of Mary Queen of Scots, felt like a never ending maze. It was a big square with many levels, stairways, and passages that all connected in various spots. We kept walking around every corner never really quite sure where we were in this massive palace. Though it is more ruins, it is still a big building in impeccable shape. The biggest highlight was the stunning fountain in the middle of the courtyard.
I first heard about this castle before our trip on the Travel Channel. They did a segment about a these weeping stones and a curse placed upon this palace. This estate is filled with various legends and ghost stories. Once I knew we would be in the area, I had to see this pinkish colored home for myself. The entire house was filled with lavish interior designs and I loved beautiful chapel (and they do weddings there as well). The charter room was an interesting highlight as it is a sealed room. It is believed if you open it that the laird of the home will die, and his wife will go blind. Supposedly this has happened twice. Both lairds died, one wife went blind, and the second wife had vision problems.
This may seem an odd one to make my list while other impressive ones like Edinburgh or Blackness Castle did not. Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was that we were the only ones there, or maybe it was the awesome person working the shop that day; but this is one ruin worth the stop. Nestled in the beautiful countryside, it's a peaceful place. The flowing river behind it and views of the quiet landscape; make you want to spend all day there in quiet reflection. It creates a presence, that you can sense in its glory it was a magnificent residence. Its one of those places that if I was a local, I would visit repeatedly.
There you have it. Though we toured some other amazing places, these are the ones that stuck with me the most. If you have traveled to Scotland, I would love to hear some of your favorite castles. I hope to go back some day as there were several we just didn't’ have time to visit.
Tip: If you plan to visit Scotland and tour a bunch of attractions like these, it is worth looking into the Scottish Heritage Pass. Not all the castles on this list are part of that pass but many were, and it saved us a lot of money.