Whenever we think about Scotland, one of the first words coming to our mind is Castles. The ruins of a castle reflected on a loch is a picture we dreamt about it before coming here. Scotland is the land of castles, built over the centuries all around the region. From the ruins of the Dunnottar Castle to the modern and still in use Dunvegan Castle, every building has a different story, and a magic aura surrounding it. And we wanted to explore them all!
Delicious Tip: Castle-safari can be expensive! Decide what you want to visit first, and check the “Historic Scotland” membership card. Several castles belong to this fund (the equivalent of the “English Heritage” in England), and it may be worth buying a one-year membership rather than several single entrances!
The map shows the locations of all the spots on our Castle Trail, and we are eager to hear what’s your favorite castle!
1.) Eilean Donan Castle
Let’s start with an absolute gem. Eilean Donan castle is, simply put, the image of Scotland we dreamt about before coming here. The castle sits on a small island at the point where three lochs connect. It was part of a line of fortifications built during the 13th century to defend Scotland against Norse Invasion, and it’s been the stronghold of the Mackenzie clan until its destruction, at the end of the first Jacobite rising in 1719. The current structure is the result of the intensive restoration works at the beginning of the 20th century.
Inside, the castle offers some beautiful panoramas over the lochs and the mountains, while other rooms are dedicated to its history over the centuries.
Delicious Tip: If you plan to reach Skye by car through the Skye bridge, you will drive near the castle twice, in both directions. Plan to get there once during the evening, and once during the day. The castle is lit up during the night, and the view is incredible!
2.) Inveraray Castle
One of the most iconic buildings in Scotland, Inveraray Castle is a 18th-century country house north of the Loch Lomond national park. The castle hosts an impressive collection of weapons and some interesting neoclassical architecture. It’s a beautiful place and an impressive building for some great pictures. This location has also been used as a location for an episode of Downton Abbey, can you spot the reference?
3.) Kilchurn Castle
Among the finest ruined castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle deserves a special place. This evocative building has been the stronghold of The Campbells of Glenorchy during his whole life. Built in the 15th century, it has been a central point in the wars for the control of the Central Highlands until the end of the Jacobite rising, halfway through the 18th century.
4.) Duart Castle
The only castle on the Isle of Mull. The building sits on a small isolated outpost facing the strait between Mull and the mainland. An incredible location, where sea, sky, and land merge into beautiful landscapes.
After a visit to the castle, with a beautiful dining room and the possibility to walk along the external walls, take some time to explore the area between the castle and the sea, where we could get some beautiful pictures of the panorama.
5.) Urquhart Castle
The Loch Ness is the most famous loch in Scotland. But apart from funny monster tales, the reason for traveling to the rivers of this lake is Urquhart Castle, one of the largest castles in Scotland.
The ruins of this splendid building are the remains of a magnificent castle which constituted the greatest defense against the MacDonald clan. The loch behind the castle, with the mountains surrounding it, adds an aura of mystery to them.
There is also the possibility to do the tour of the lake by boat. It’s a relaxing cruise on the water, arriving directly at the foothills of the castle!
6.) Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle is a small castle less than 20 minutes far from Inverness. The building is small, with few halls to explore. The real treat is the gardens. An extensive estate surrounds the manor, divided into different blocks. A large part is left to wild nature, with several paths offering lovely walks among the woods. On the left and the right side of the castle, there are neatly maintained gardens. Do not miss the labyrinth and the rose garden, especially at sunset!
The teahouse of the castle is offering an extensive selection of teas and some delicious scones, perfect for a nice rest between the walks!
7.) Blackness Castle
This is one of the most impressive defensive buildings you will ever find in Scotland. The purpose of Blackness Castle was to protect the access from the sea to Edinburgh and Stirling, on the southern coast of the Firth of Forth. The building has the peculiar shape of a ship, a feature that caused the castle to be nicknamed as “The ship that never sailed”.
Shortly after its construction, the place became royal property. Over the centuries, it’s been used as a prison and as a military garrison. There are no dining hall nor lord’s private rooms. The military vocation of the place is evident.
It’s a perfect place for some stunning photos of the Forth and the castle facing the water, especially from the pier on the left of the castle. Be careful though; high winds always afflict the place, hold your camera!
8.) Braemar Castle
Braemar Castle is the nearest castle to Balmoral Castle, the royal residence in Scotland. It’s a small building at the bottom of the valley, beautifully merged with the surrounding forest. The last inhabitants of the castle were the 16th lord of Farquharson and his wife, an ex-editor for Vogue during the first half of the 20th century. She left a substantial mark on the castle, with several modern interior design choices and an impressive collection of clothing. The castle is scarcely known, making this a perfect place for taking great pictures without any nuisance!