Scottish castles are a photographer’s dream. They are so picturesque that even an amateur with a basic camera will find it hard not to get good pictures. There is something eerily beautiful about a medieval fortress that is sitting isolated high on a bluff or an island standing guard over a loch, river or sea that just begs to be photographed.
Whatever the weather or time of day, these fortresses stand proud of their historic past, just waiting for a click to capture their glorious past. Even basic photo editing software should have a button to convert colored photos to black and white. Try it; the castle’s appearance will take on a whole new dimension.
There is something quietly peaceful and beautiful about castles found in woodlands. Many of Scotland’s castles were not built as defense mechanisms, but rather as family homes where the same family has lived for centuries. They sit surrounded by the vibrant greens of forests and formal gardens, with rooms filled with antique furnishings.
Scottish castles are filled with history, especially battles among clans and with the English who periodically invaded. Castles in Scotland were destroyed and rebuilt. Most housed Scottish royalty, from Robert the Bruce to Mary, Queen of Scots over the centuries. Each castle has its own story to tell, each waiting for travelers to tell this story through photographs.
1. Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle is more like a huge estate mansion than a castle. Located in Crathie, it is a private residence where the British royal family spends holidays, beginning with Queen Victoria. Prince Albert commissioned the present castle, which is considered a good example of Scottish Baronial architecture. The grounds, gardens and exhibitions of this working estate are open to the public, usually from April through July.
2. Braemar Castle
Located in the Scottish Highlands overlooking the River Dee, Braemar Castle was built as a hunting lodge in the 17th century. It was destroyed in 1689 during the first Jacobite uprising to restore Catholicism to Scotland. Since rebuilt, it is owned by the Clan Farquharson. Holdings include a piece of tartan worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Ghosts are reported to haunt the castle, making themselves known through sight and sound.
3. Craigievar Castle
With its iconic towers with cone-shaped roofs, Craigievar Castle is a fairy tale castle that was built as a family home in 1628. Unlike other castles in Scotland, it was never intended for defensive purposes. Considered a prime example of Scottish Baronial architecture, the castle is noted for its original plaster ceilings. One of Scotland’s most loved castles, it is filled with family portraits and furnishings collected over the centuries.
4. Crathes Castle
Aerial photos of Crathes Castle show this tower house sitting in a stunning setting of forests, walkways and formal gardens that make it one of the finest gardens in Scotland. The Aberdeenshire castle started out as a fortress built on an island in the middle of a bog. It is notable for painted Scottish Renaissance ceilings and the Green Lady’s Room, which is said to be haunted.
5. Dunnottar Castle
Historic Dunnottar Castle is nothing short of spectacular, sitting high atop a 50-meter (160-foot) high premonitory overlooking the North Sea at the northeast coast of Scotland. The impregnable medieval fortress is best known as the place where Scotland’s crown jewels were protected from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army in the 17th century. Access is via an uphill path that involves climbing more than 200 steps.
6. Stirling Castle
Sitting on a volcanic crag, Stirling Castle is a Renaissance castle that is considered one of the most important castles in Scotland. It is where the Stewart kings lived, with each successive ruler making the castle even more lavish and palatial. The massive stone structure was also important to Scottish independence. Today, it’s a living history museum with staff garbed in 16th century dress as they tell the castle’s history.
7. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle, considered Scotland’s most famous castle, dominates the view in the Scottish capital; it is the city’s icon. Mary, Queen of Scots once lived in the castle over which England and Scotland fought wars. The castle is more peaceful now, home to the annual Military Tattoo that brings together military musicians from around the world. The Royal Palace showcases the crown jewels and the Throne of Destiny where Scottish rulers were crowned.
8. Fyvie Castle
One legend about the stately Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire has it that each of the five clans that owned it added a tower. A second legend is that the castle is haunted by the ghosts of two women and a phantom trumpeter, with one woman’s ghost dating back to the 13th century. Besides ghosts, visitors to the castle can see lavishly furnished rooms, paintings by Rubens, and a collection or armor.
9. Castle Stalker
Castle Stalker is best known from its role in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The current castle was built by Sir John Stewart sometime around 1446. The name ‘Stalker’ loosely translates from the Gaelic as Hunter, or Falconer. From the start the castle was wrapped in violence and intrigue. In 1463 Lord Stewart was murdered at his wedding while his sun Dugald killed his father’s murderer 5 years later. Another murder followed in 1520, when Sir Alexander Stewart of Invernahyle was killed while fishing just off the islet next to the castle.
10. Dunrobin Castle
The sumptious Highlands home of the Earls of Sutherland, this French style turreted castle has its origins in the Middle Ages. The earliest parts of the current building date to the 1320s, during the rule of William the 3rd. In 1401 a stone keep was added to the earlier fortifications. Most of the medieval defensive features are hidden today behind the astonishing French-style chateau created by Sir Charles Barry beginning in 1845.
11. Duart Castle
Perched on remote Black Point with spectacular sea views, Duart Castle was built in the 13th century as the seat of the MacLean clan. It was it razed in 1756 by the English and rebuilt as a home in 1911. It’s presently privately owned and still a part-time residence of the MacLeans. Despite the private ownership, it’s open to the public: visitors have access to about half of the castle buildings.
12. Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle, which today resembles a French chateau more than the medieval fortress it once was, claims to be the setting for Shakespeare’s MacBeth. The murderous MacBeth aside, numerous murders were committed here. Legend has it that King Malcolm II was killed here in the 11th century when Glamis was but a hunting lodge; in more recent years, Princess Margaret, was born here. An elaborate family chapel is a must-see.
13. Inveraray Castle
It’s quite easy to imagine knights riding white horses up to Inveraray Castle that has been standing on the Loch Fyne since the 15th century. Inveraray Castle is a massive gray stone structure with towers with conical roofs that were added in the 19th century. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, the castle today includes neoclassical rooms open to the public; family quarters are closed to the public.
14. Kilchurn Castle
Dating back to the 15th century, Kilchurn Castle doesn’t seem as large as other Scottish castles, but its setting is just as impressive, sitting with Loch Awe on one side and mountains on the other, making it one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The original five-story tower house is essentially complete today, overshadowing the rest of the castle complex, with other structures added later.
15. Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle is unique among Scotland’s castles, since it is triangular rather than square or rectangular. It also is surrounded by a moat, also shaped like a triangle. This 13th century, undefeatable stone structure is considered the quintessential medieval fortress. The castle is in ruins today but worth visiting to see the countryside with wooded pathways as well as the Renaissance-style courtyard residences.
16. Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, has been the home of the Clan Macleod chiefs for 800 years, making it the oldest continuously lived-in castle in Scotland. Visitors definitely will want to see the formal gardens as well as the Fairy Flag, a banner the clan carried into battle to make them undefeatable. The castle also contains oil paintings and priceless heirlooms that date back to medieval times.
17. Eilean Donan
Eilean Donan is another of Scotland’s iconic, well photographed castles, sitting on an island where three lochs meet. It is named after a 7th century Celtic saint who reportedly established a church there. The castle dates back to the 13th century; it was destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719 and restored in the 20th century. The ceiling beams in the banqueting hall are Douglas fir from British Columbia.
18. Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle is another Scottish castle that claims to be associated with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, though the present castle was not around in the 11th century. The castle is located on the banks of the River Ness across from the Inverness cathedral. The castle was destroyed by invaders a couple of times. When it was rebuilt for the final time, it was as a town hall. Some remnants of earlier castles can be found on the site.
19. Castle Tioram
The ruins of Castle Tioram, which means “dry castle,” sit majestically on a tidal island in Loch Moidart in the Highlands, giving it control of surrounding waterways, including the River Shiel. It was the traditional home of the Clan MacDonald. Because Castle Tioram is falling apart, the castle is closed to visitors, but it is possible to visit the island at low tide.
20. Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle, which overlooks Loch Ness, has a bloody history as the site of clan wars and British invasions that went on for 500 years. It played a prominent role in the fight for Scottish independence in the 14th century. The castle lies in ruins now, though it was once one of Scotland’s largest medieval fortresses. The visitor center has a large collection of artifacts found on castle grounds.
21. Brodie Castle
Brodie Castle is the ancestral home of the Brodies, one of Scotland’s most ancient clans. The 16th century castle provides a glimpse of what life was like centuries ago. Located in Morayshire, it is filled with antiques, ceramics and paintings that were acquired by the Brodie clan over the years. The grounds feature formal gardens, a pond, walkways through the foods and a nature trail offering wildlife sightings.
22. Kisimul Castle
Kisimul Castle is one travelers can’t walk to, even at low tide. Located on an island in the Outer Hebrides, this impregnable medieval castle can only be reached in good weather via a five-minute boat ride, which is included in the admission price. The fortress is mostly in ruins now, and in some places difficult to get around, so visitors need to walk cautiously.