Highland Castles

Some of the most spectacular and iconic castles on the planet.

The Highlands of Scotland boast some of the most spectacular and iconic castles on the planet. Their strategic positions, perched above stunning lochs, coasts and glens, are made all the more dramatic by the awe-inspiring landscapes that frame them. As well as playing leading roles in the Highlands’ colourful history, our castles have inspired film makers, artists and photographers for generations. Where once these castles were the forbidding bastions of warring clan chieftans, today’s visitors can expect the warmest of highland welcomes. Our castles range from perfectly preserved architectural masterpieces to atmospheric ruins steeped in history. But whether you are coming to explore the fine interiors, to admire from a distance or to enjoy a stay in one of the many castles that now provide luxurious accommodation, you will not be disappointed.



Experiencing a Highland castle is something that will stay with you forever. Whether it’s the baronial splendour of Dunrobin with its formal gardens, and a majesty to rival any French chateau, or the rugged charm of Eilean Donan which has graced the covers of hundreds of books and millions of shortbread tins, you will be entranced by the experience.

The Jewels in the Crown

With such a wealth of architectural and historical gems in extraordinarily beautiful settings, it is hard to choose which castles are unmissable, and you will undoubtedly find your own favourite, but most people would agree that the Highlands’ most iconic castles are Eilean Donan, Dunrobin and Urquhart  Castle.

The Jewels in the Crown

Dunrobin Castle

Golspie, Sutherland KW10 6SF

01408 633177 |  dunrobincastle.co.uk


The most northerly of Scotland’s great houses, Dunrobin Castle, dramatically located overlooking the Moray Firth just north of Dornoch and Golspie, is truly extraordinary. This architectural masterpiece would not look out of place on the banks of the Loire or in a Disney fairytale with its conical pointed spires and immaculately laid out formal gardens.

Dating back to the early 1300s, Dunrobin is one of the oldest continually occupied houses in Scotland and is the ancestral home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Over the centuries the Castle has evolved to become the largest house in the north of Scotland, comprising 189 rooms. Its current design owes its stunning looks to Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament in London, and Sir Robert Lorimer, one of Scotland’s most celebrated architects.


After life as a School, Dunrobin has now been restored to its former baronial splendour and is open to the public. Visitors can explore its sumptuous interiors, visit the castle’s fascinating Museum, explore the ancient historic buildings incorporated within the remodelled 19th Century exterior and admire its imposing architecture from the castle’s immaculately manicured formal Gardens.


Images of the Castle are dramatic enough but nothing can prepare you for the enchanting beauty of the beauty of the building and its setting when you visit in person. 

The Jewels in the Crown

Eilean Donan

Dornie, by Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX



You will have seen Eilean Donan long before you visit. Located on Scotland’s rugged west coast, he castle’s dreamlike island setting has inspired artists, photographers and filmmakers, making it an icon of Scotland, appearing in films, books and brochures and hanging on gallery walls. But none of these images will quite prepare you for the enchanting reality. Eilean Donan may not be the largest castle in the world but it must be one of the most perfectly formed and located. It is open to the public and available as the romantic backdrop for unforgettable weddings. 

Visitors to the castle will embark on a journey through time and history as they discover the castle’s chequered past. Situated on a strategic island located where three great sea lochs meet, the first castle was built in the early 13th Century to stand guard over the lands of Kintail providing a stronghold for the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan MacRae. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built. Partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719, Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to lovingly restore the castle to its former glory. After 20 years of labour and toil, the castle was re-opened in 1932.


Since then, the castle has garnered global admiration and millions of visitors have crossed the bridge to enter its fortified gateway. Many would argue that its setting, reflected in the clear waters of the surrounding lochs, make this the most beautiful castle in Scotland but the only way to judge that is to make the journey west and see for yourself.

The Jewels in the Crown​

Urquhart Castle

By Drumnadrochit, near Inverness, IV63 6XJ

01456 450 551  | Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle was once one of the largest in Scotland. Nestled in the heart of the Great Glen, in a commanding position overlooking Loch Ness, it was also one of Scotland’s most important fortresses. Its ruined state now is testament to that strategic importance – it was blown up, by departing British troops, in the aftermath of Jacobite rebellions in 1692.

The iconic ruins of this vast Castle sprawl over a rocky peninsula jutting into the deep waters of Loch Ness.  Grant Tower still rises from the ruins and provides a stunning vantage point to watch the boats travelling up and down the Caledonian Canal and scan the Loch for other, more mysterious, inhabitants of its waters. The castle is now run by Historic Environment Scotland and visitors can explore the castle’s extraordinary history using a special audio guide which brings the medieval castle vividly back to life as you peer into the prison cell of Domhnal Donn, examine local artefacts, imagine the banquets that would have taken place in the Great Hall and see a working trebuchet. 


There are over 1000 years of history locked in the walls of Urqhuart Castle. From the pictish fort believed to have welcomed St Columba in 582 to the stronghold taken by Edward I “Hammer of the Scots” and used by subsequent English monarchs to quell the Highlands, a visit will bring that history rushing back. There are few castles in the world that are more dramatic and atmospheric and even fewer where you might just spot a real-life monster. No wonder it’s one of the most visited castles in Scotland.


Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

While the Highlands three most iconic castles will feature on a typical Highland tourists bucket list, there are many other architectural gems with stories that are just as fascinating and settings that are just as stunning. Some have been the homes of Kings and Queens while others have been the refuge for the great clan chieftans and their ancestors for generations. All enable the visitor to take a fascinating look into the Highlands’ rich past. 

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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

Cawdor Castle

Cawdor, Nairn IV12 5RD

01667 404 401  |   cawdorcastle.com

Dating back to 1380, Cawdor is a traditional Scottish castle that has evolved over time to become a sumptuous country home and visitors can admire its stunning historic interiors. It has been home to the Cawdor family for over 800 years although it has to be pointed out that they had no link to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. who was never the Thane of Cawdor, as the play suggests. The castle was constructed around a holly tree that was selected by a donkey who chose to rest there, wearied by the burden of gold it was carrying. The donkey was no fool. The riverside location it chose is stunning and the gardens and woods around the castle are a delight for visitors to explore.


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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

Brodie Castle & Estate

Forres, Moray IV36 2TE

01309 641700  |  Brodie Castle

Located 3 miles east of Forres, just off the A96, Brodie Castle is a wonderfully preserved Z plan castle that dates back to 1567. It was the historic stronghold of the powerul Clan Brodie who were gifted the lands on which it sits in 1160 by King Malcolm IV. Like so many other Scottish castles it suffered at the hands of a rival clan when it was partially destroyed by fire in 1645. It was then lovingly restored and remodelled in the 19th century to create the wonderful baronial mansion that visitors can see today. Within its stunning interiors, you will find a magnificent collection of furniture, ceramics and artwork including works by 17th-century Dutch masters and wonderful modern watercolours.


Visitors can also wander the extensive estate that surrounds the Castle walking along it’s leafy paths which come alive with daffodils in Spring. Kids will be enchanted by the Playful Garden – home to Brodie Bunny – a 6.5metre stone statue reputed to be the largest rabbit in Scotland. And, for a truly unforgettable experience of Brodie Castle, you can actually stay in a wing of the castle which is available to hire as holiday accommodation.    

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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

Blair Castle

Blair Atholl, Pitlochry PH18 5TL

01796 481 207  |  www.atholl-estates.co.uk

Home of the Clan Murray and the Dukes of Atholl for over seven centuries, Blair Castle has had a fascinating and turbulent history. Today it is wonderfully peaceful, nestled in its highland glen where it has been beautifully remodelled to meet the needs of the politicians, soldiers, agriculturalists and entrepreneurs who have made it their home over the last 750 years. Visitors to the castle can explore 30 of the castle’s room, where the family’s (and Scotland’s) history is brought vividly to life against a wonderful backdrop of fine 18th century interiors.

The experience does not stop inside the castle. Visitors can admire the castle’s wonderful Perthshire setting from the gardens and grounds. Laid out and landscaped in the 18th century, they feature a nine-acre walled garden, a wooded grove, gothic folly, a kirk ruin, and an extensive deer park. The estate also offers a variety of holiday accommodation so you can extend your time  at one of Scotland’s favourite castles as long as you like.


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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures


Balmoral, Ballater, Aberdeenshire AB35 5TB

013397 42534  |  www.balmoralcastle.com

Few can resist the romantic allure of a Highland castle and the Royal Family is no exception. Balmoral was bought by Prince Albert as the ultimate gift for Queen Victoria in 1852. Since then, it has been the treasured Scottish home of the British Royal Family and a place they have found genuine peace and refuge at times of crisis. 


The privacy it has afforded has been preciously guarded by Britain’s Kings and Queens but now, at certain times of year, visitors can gain access to this, the most exclusive of all Scotland’s castles. The grounds, gardens and exhibitions are open to the public to see the famous royal residence at close quarters, and for those wishing for a closer look at Royal Highland life, experienced guides can take you on a historical journey through several of the castle’s most beautiful rooms.


So while other Highland castles may be described as gems, this is literally one of the crown jewels.

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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan, Isle of Skye IV55 8WF
+44 (0) 1470521206  |  www.dunvegancastle.com


Ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod, Dunvegan Castle lies at the heart of a 41,000 acre estate overlooking Loch Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. It is quite possibly the greatest of all the Hebridean castles and the only Highland fortress to have been continuously occupied by the same family for 800 years. Its creation involved 10 separate periods of building work starting in the 1200s and culminating in the 1850s in the unified romantic design we see today. Like Eilean Donan, its beauty is enhanced by its stunning lochside setting. Visitors to the castle will get a true insight into the authentic spirit of the Isles, exploring a wonderful collection that has been curated to capture the essence of Gaeldom and what is represents for the Highlands and Islands. 


As well as the Castle, visitors  can explore lush gardens fed by the gulf stream, explore local wildlife on one of the estate’s seal trips and extend their stay by booking into the estate’s extensive holiday accommodation or camping facilities.


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Crown Jewels and Clan Treasures

Castle of Mey

Mey, Thurso, KW14 8XH

01847 851473  |  castleofmey.org.uk


Built by the Earl of Caithness between 1566 and 1572, the Castle of Mey enjoys panoramic views from its vantage point on the north coast of Scotland, 6 miles west of John o’ Groats. On a clear day, you can see the Orkney Islands far across the Pentland Firth. In the centuries after it was first constructed, the castle underwent a wide range of improvements before falling into disrepair. 

In 1952, its fortunes were transformed when it was bought by the recently bereaved Queen Mother. She fell in love with the castle and spent the next 3 years undertaking an extensive restoration of the building and the 80 acre estate surrounding it. The result was the pristine royal residence you can visit today. Other members of the Royal Family love the Castle as much as the Queen Mother, particularly King Charles who heads the trust devoted to preserving the castle and Garden.


A visit to the castle is not just a fascinating glimpse into medieval history but into the history of our Royal Family. For an extended stay at the Castle, visitors can book into Granary Lodge, the estate’s own B&B.

Escape to the Highlands is sponsored by Tomatin Distillery