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7 must-see castles in the Scottish Highlands

written by Cliona Elliott September 30, 2021
Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

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

One of the best things about the Scottish Highlands is that you’re never too far from an ancient castle or fortress. Some now stand in crumbling ruins, while others have been restored to their full glory. Often perched on a rolling hill, the banks of a deep loch or a tidal island, 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 shaped history, here are some of our favourite castles to uncover the history and mystery of the Highlands.

1. Urquhart Castle, Inverness 

Located on the banks of Loch Ness – the home of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster – it’s not hard to imagine how splendid Urquhart Castle was in its heyday. Though 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 marvel at fairy tale turrets, tall ceilings, dazzling chandeliers and magnificent fireplaces. Then make your way outside to explore 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. Old Inverlochy played a big part in Scottish history as the strategic location allowed clans to defend their land. Few castles from this era have survived the test of time, 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 imagine how epic it would’ve looked way back when.

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

Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye

Armadale Castle on the charming Isle of Skye was the last ancestral home of Clan Donald (Macdonalds of Sleat), one of Scotland’s largest and most powerful clans. You can learn all about the rich history of Clan Donald in the museum before strolling through 40 acres of beautiful gardens and woodlands. 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. 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 island. 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 supposedly brought luck to the Macleod clan in winning battles and victories. Oh, and don’t forget to take a boat ride on the loch to see the colony of grey seals that live on the neighbouring islets.

6. Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie 

Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie

Stood on a small tidal island and surrounded by rugged peaks and three great sea lochs, Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most iconic Scottish landmarks. You might even recognise it from famous movies including James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999). The castle was built in the 6th century, but the building you see today was constructed in the 1930s as most of the original structure was destroyed in the Jacobite uprisings. Inside you’ll find a maze of winding corridors, grand rooms and rare artefacts. The castle is supposedly haunted by a Spanish soldier and an apparition called Lady Mary, so keep your eye out for any spooky happenings as you walk around.

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 inspired by it. 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. If you do spend the day there, discover the best Inverness restaurants to visit.

Discover the mystery and magic of these castles for yourself on a Scottish Highlands tour.

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