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Scotland's best castles

Scotland’s best castles

You won’t believe your ears when you walk up towards some of Scotland’s best castles and hear bagpipes echoing out across the loch, because so many of them do stand proud on the shores of a loch. If castles aren’t your thing, they soon will be when you hear the pipers greeting you as you step off the hills at the end of a Scottish walking or cycling trail. Let their rousing sounds guide you through the thick walls of Scottish heritage and over the footbridges of former feuds, giving pause for thought about the struggles and strength of the Scottish people. 

Scotland's best castles
Eilean Donan Castle, where a piper greets you at one of Scotland’s most exquisite locations.

Inverlochy Castle

In the shadow of Ben Nevis, Inverlochy Castle is just 2.5km outside Fort William, the starting point for the Great Glen Way. Located on the banks of the River Lochy, it was built in 1280 by the powerful Comyn family as a defensive stronghold at the entrance to the Great Glen. This presence and power lasted until 1306 when Robert the Bruce took the throne and with it the life of John Comyn, followed by a defeat of their various strongholds around the country. This original castle is a ruin now, managed by Historic Environment Scotland, and is currently undergoing works and so not open to the public for wandering about, but you can’t miss the ruins anyway. It’s not to be confused with a nearby luxury hotel of the same name, which is a mansion dating back to the 19th century. 

Although Inverlochy Castle does not lie directly not on the walking holiday along the Great Glen Way, it is on our cycling one. However, it’s just a quick diversion from your walking holiday starting point, and it’s worth having an extra day in Fort William anyway. You can do the same on the West Highland Way walking holiday which finishes in Fort William. 

Invergarry Castle 

Located on the northern shores of Loch Oich, it’s a ruin with attitude, having been first built by the MacDonnell Clan of Glengarry during the 16th century and survived the Jacobite Uprisings of the 18th century. The MacDonnells held it until the 19th century when it was surrendered to the British government and, in between, it survived attacks by Oliver Cromwell and even hosted Bonnie Prince Charlie. If these walls could talk. Walk or cycle there on the Great Glen Way, located on its aptly named Castle Bay, where you may even manage a cheeky little dip

Scotland's best castles
Invergarry Castle is located on the shores of Loch Oich, a perfect pitstop on the Great Glen Way.

Urquhart Castle

One of Scotland’s finest remnants on the shores of Loch Ness, which features on our Great Glen Way holidays, it’s another stronghold created to protect the vulnerable valley. Dating back to the 13th century, it soon fell into English hands when Scotland was invaded by Edward I in 1296. After that, it changed hands between various clans, most notably Clan Grant and Clan MacDonald, making this a scene of much conflict over the centuries as Scotland fought for independence. For example, Urquhart Castle came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306 and, even after his death, the castle held out against the English. It was a major stronghold during the Jacobite Uprisings and was blown up by government forces when they marched out in 1692. 

Gaining entry is a lot easier today, with Urquhart Castle located just 3.2km from Kilmore or 2.6km from Drumnadrochit, both featuring on our Great Glen Way walking holiday, so just a quick taxi ride from your accommodation if you have time to fit in a trip. Although it’s a quicker diversion on our cycling holiday when you can just hop over on your bike. Do book your tickets in advance from Historic Environment Scotland which manages this iconic site, as it can get busy. You can also see the castle from the Loch itself by taking a 90mins rib boat experience from Fort Augustus, one of the overnight stops on the trail. 

Scotland's best castles
Take time to step off the Great Glen Way for a few hours to visit Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s finest on Loch Ness.

MacDuff Castle

A fine feature of Fife, you can see MacDuff on our Fife Coastal Path holidays, the complete Path covering 174km between Kincardine, north-west of Edinburgh, up to Newburgh, walking between the Forth and Tay estuaries. MacDuff’s Castle lies directly on your walking map, on the section of this stunning trail between Burntisland and Leven, although it was really Shakespeare who put it on the map in Macbeth. Macduff Castle was built in the 14th century by Clan MacDuff, a powerful Scottish noble family and somewhat doomed protagonists in the play. Its location on the headland overlooking the North Sea was a strategic one although its ruins seem quietly insignificant today, although Instagrammers might not agree. It’s free to enter and wander around as part of your walking adventure. You can also visit the nearby Wemyss Caves system, formed by erosion over eight thousand years ago, with six of them home to carvings done by the Pict people from 1,500 years ago.

St. Andrews Castle

Another of the castles sprinkled along the Fife Coastal Path, St. Andrews is as fine as the famous town in which it is located. It has a slightly more spiritual heritage than some, as it was built primarily as a residence and administrative centre for the bishops and archbishops of St. Andrews in the 12th century. However, it has also had its fair share of conflict, with the church not exactly immune to such over the years, notably, becoming a focal point during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century. It’s now a ruin, albeit a handsome one, overlooking the North Sea, with its walls, towers and underground prison still visible and visitable. Combine a visit to the castle with the town’s cathedral, also dating back to the 12th century, with colossal views across Fife from St. Rule’s Tower. 

Scotland's best castles
St. Andrews Castle stands tall on the shores of the Fife Coastal Path and North Sea.

Aberdour Castle

Aberdour is one of Fife’s greatest castles as it’s not as much of a ruin as some of the others. So much so that it featured as a monastery in the hit series Outlander. Built by the Douglas family in the 13th century and, like so many castles, extended over the centuries, it is now thought to be one of the oldest standing castles in Scotland. Standing right there on your walking trail along the Fife Coastal Path, on the section between North Queensferry and Burntisland. Although it’s undergoing some masonry work at the moment, under the management of Historic Environment Scotland, and you can’t access all of the buildings, you can visit the walled gardens. 

Eilean Donan Castle

Another of Scotland’s best castles, Eilean Donan isn’t directly on one of our walking or cycling trails but, if you are driving to the Isle of Skye for one of our holidays there, it’s a must visit. It’s located 15.4km ahead of your arrival at Skye Bridge, on a small tidal island at the point where three sea lochs, Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh meet. It’s another imposing 13th century construction, historically associated with Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae, with one of its distinctive features being the arched stone bridge that connects it with the mainland. Like so many castles, Eilean Donan was partially destroyed by government forces in an attempt to suppress the Jacobite Uprising and it was restored in the early 20th century by Lieutenant Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap, a descendant of the Macrae clan. An impressive job he did too and worthy of the bagpipe serenade. Another busy spot, it’s worth getting here early in the day before the coaches invade. 

Scotland's best castles
Eilean Donan Castle is so serene, it’s hard to imagine this was ever a place of conflict.

If you enjoyed our blog on Scotland’s best castles, we have a selection of our Scottish insights for you. Check out our blogs on Getting to know the Great Glen Way, The best hikes in Scotland, Wild swimming spots in Scotland, and How to deal with midges in Scotland. Scotland also features highly on our Walking holidays accessible by train blog.