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7 must-see castles in the Scottish Highlands

written by Intrepid Travel September 30, 2021
Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

No trip to Scotland is complete without visiting one of these enchanting castles. 

The Scottish Highlands has a way of reminding you of the old world. It might have something to do with the fact that medieval castles and fortresses are everywhere. OK, not everywhere, but you’re never too far from one. Some now stand in crumbling ruins while others have been restored to their full glory. Often perched on cliffs or tidal islands overlooking beautiful lochs, Scottish castles ooze romance. But don’t be fooled – these stone walls have seen some serious stuff go down. From gruesome murders and bloody battles to wars that have shaped history, they’ve seen it all. There’s no better way to uncover the history and mystery of the Highlands.

1. Urquhart Castle, Inverness 

Located on the banks of the Loch Ness – the home of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster – it’s not hard to imagine how splendid Urquhart Castle was back in its heyday. Although it now stands in ruins, you can still climb the Grant Tower to look out for Nessie in the murky loch, peek inside eerie prison cells or wander through the old great hall where magnificent banquets took place. Urquhart Castle was also where some of Scotland’s most pivotal battles happened including the Wars of Independence and the Jacobite Uprisings.

2. Dunrobin Castle & Gardens, Golspie 

Dunrobin Castle in Golspie

Dunrobin Castle is nothing short of magical. It has been the family home for the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for over 700 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited stately homes in Britain. It’s also the biggest castle in the northern Highlands with a mighty 189 rooms. Wander through a maze of grand corridors and rooms and marvel at fairy tale turrets, tall ceilings, dazzling chandeliers and magnificent fireplaces. Then make your way outside where you can get lost in zig-zagged hedges, colourful flower gardens and stunning views that stretch far over the Moray Firth.

3. Old Inverlochy Castle, Fort William  

Old Inverlochy Castle in Fort William

This medieval fortress was built around 1280AD on the banks of the River Lochy. The strategic location allowed clans to defend their land and Old Inverlochy played a huge part in Scottish history. Very few castles from this era have survived unharmed in Scotland, so it’s a pretty incredible feeling walking around the walls among so much history. Old Inverlochy was defended by a three-sided moat, four round corner towers and two opposing entrances protected by barbicans – one of which still stands at full height. The moat silted up long ago, but you can see the outline and how epic it would’ve looked way back when.

4. Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum, Isle of Skye 

Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye

Set on a 20,000-acre working estate on the charming Isle of Skye, the ruins of Armadale Castle ooze romance. It was the last ancestral home of Clan Donald (Macdonalds of Sleat), Scotland’s largest and most powerful clan. You can learn all about the rich history of Clan Donald in the museum before strolling through 40 acres of gardens and woodland parks where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale. The castle is perfectly perched in the middle of the gardens with sweeping views over the Sound of Sleat. You don’t have to think too hard to imagine how impressive it was in its prime. 

5. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Isle of Skye 

Dungevan Castle on the Isle of Skye

Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and is easily one of Scotland’s most beautiful fortresses. It has been the ancestral home for the Chiefs of the MacLeod clan for over 800 years. The castle is carved into sheer rock on the shore of Loch Dunvegan with breathtaking views over the Isle of Skye. Inside you’ll find exquisite antique furniture and family heirlooms dating back to the middle ages. You’ll also get a glimpse of the Fairy Flag which has supposedly been very lucky for the Macleod clan in winning battles and victories. No trip to Dungevan is complete without taking a boat trip on the loch to see the colony of grey seals that live on the neighbouring islands. 

6. Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie 

Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie

Picturesque doesn’t quite capture the beauty of Eilean Donan Castle. Stood on a small tidal island surrounded by mountains, three great sea lochs and views of Skye in the distance, it’s one of the most iconic Scottish landmarks. You might even recognise it from Scottish shortbread biscuit tins or films such as James Bond or The Highlander. The castle’s history goes all the way back to the 6th century, but the building you see today was rebuilt from ruins in the 1930s as most of the original structure was destroyed in the Jacobite uprisings. Inside you’ll find a maze of winding corridors, rooms, side passages and rare artefacts. Keep your eyes open for any spooky happenings as you’re walking around… the castle is supposedly haunted by a Spanish soldier and an apparition called Lady Mary.

7. Inverness Castle, Inverness 

Calling all Shakespeare lovers! Inverness Castle is the fictitious setting for Macbeth, and it’s easy to see why the literary genius was so inspired. The red sandstone castle sits on the banks of the River Ness with impressive views over the city. The only sections open to the public are the grounds and the north tower as the castle is now where the Inverness Sheriff Court is based. It’s definitely worth climbing the tower, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: make your way over to the river bank opposite the castle for sunset to see the red sandstone glow in the last bit of sunlight. You won’t regret it.


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