Which lesser-known Scottish castles are worth visiting?

11 June 2024

As you plan your next travel adventure, Scotland's breathtaking landscape and rich history may well call you. The country boasts a plethora of castles, each revealing a unique chapter of Scottish history, providing stunning views and making for an unforgettable visit. While the likes of Edinburgh and Stirling castles may be well-known, there’s a host of lesser-known Scottish castles that are equally steeped in history and majesty. Which ones are worth visiting, you ask? Allow us to guide you on a journey through time and unravel the mysteries hidden in the ruins of these remarkable castles.

Dunvegan Castle: An Heirloom of Clan MacLeod

Perched on a rocky promontory on the beautiful Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is an impressive sight. It is the seat of the MacLeod clan, and the castle has been continuously inhabited by the clan chiefs for more than 800 years, making it one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland.

Dunvegan is well-known for its enchanting gardens that stretch over 1 mile and offer an extraordinary diversity of flora. As you wander through the gardens, you’ll encounter the Walled Garden, the Woodland Garden, and the Water Garden, each with its own unique charm.

The castle itself houses a rich collection of paintings, clan treasures and ancient relics. The most famous of these is the Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with mystical powers that has been associated with the MacLeods for centuries. Take your time to explore the castle’s history and enjoy the stunning views over Loch Dunvegan.

Dirleton Castle: A Tale of Siege and Reconstruction

East of Edinburgh, nestled in the peaceful village of Dirleton, you'll find the ruins of Dirleton Castle. This fortress was built in the 13th century by the De Vaux family and has a turbulent history marked by several sieges and reconstructions.

Beyond its dramatic history, Dirleton Castle is renowned for its beautifully manicured gardens, which hold the world record for the world's longest herbaceous border. The gardens are a sight to behold in the spring and summer, with a riot of colour bursting from the numerous flowers and plants.

As you tour the castle ruins, you'll get a sense of the fortress's past grandeur. The robust fortress walls, the cavernous pit-prison, and the striking 16th-century Ruthven Lodging are particular highlights that paint vivid pictures of life in medieval times.

Caerlaverock Castle: A Triangle in the Marshlands

Down in the South, near the English border, Caerlaverock Castle holds a unique place among Scottish castles. Its distinctive triangular shape, surrounded by moats and marshlands, sets it apart from the more traditional rectangular or square castles.

Built in the 13th century, Caerlaverock played a central role in the conflicts between Scotland and England. Today, you can explore the castle’s ruins and immerse yourself in its history through a series of informative displays and a siege warfare exhibition.

From the castle, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Solway Firth and the surrounding marshlands, a view that is particularly stunning at sunset. Make sure to also take a stroll around the beautiful grounds, which host a variety of wildlife and seasonal flowers.

Dunottar Castle: A Cliff-Top Fortress

Further north, on a rugged cliff overlooking the North Sea, lies the dramatic Dunottar Castle. This fortress has witnessed many significant events in Scotland’s history, from the early Pictish times to the Jacobite risings.

Dunottar Castle is well-known for its breathtaking location. The castle offers an unbeatable view of the sea and the surrounding coastline, a sight that is especially spectacular during sunrise and sunset.

Despite its ruined state, the castle still boasts several intact buildings, including a chapel, a tower house, and barracks. Each of these structures tells a story about the people who lived and sought refuge in this cliff-top fortress, including a certain Scottish queen who found safety here during turbulent times.

Castle Stalker: A Gem in the Loch

On a small island in Loch Laich, Castle Stalker stands as a testament to Scotland's feudal past. The castle was built in the 14th century and has changed hands many times over the centuries, from the Stewarts to the Campbells, and finally to the Allward family, who currently owns it.

Castle Stalker is truly a sight to behold. As you approach it by boat, the castle appears to rise majestically from the loch, offering a picture-perfect view. Inside, the Keep is well-preserved and offers an insight into the daily life of the Scottish nobility.

Remember, to tour Castle Stalker, you need to pre-book as the castle is privately owned and only opens for a limited number of tours each year. The effort is well worth it, as the view from the top of the Keep across Loch Laich is nothing short of spellbinding.

Inveraray Castle: The Jewel of Argyll

In the heart of Argyll, on the shores of Loch Fyne, stands the striking Inveraray Castle. This fairy-tale-like Scottish Castle, with its Gothic revival architecture, is a site of magnificent beauty and historical importance. A stronghold of the Campbell Clan, it serves as a symbol of their enduring lineage and power.

As you approach the castle, you'll be awed by its imposing façade and the four turreted towers that frame it. Inside, the castle boasts an exquisitely decorated interior. The Armoury Hall, with its impressive collection of weaponry, and the lavishly adorned State Dining Room, are certainly worth exploring.

The castle's grounds are equally impressive. The garden, which spans 16 acres, is meticulously maintained and hosts an array of plant species that provide a riot of colour throughout the year. The woodland walk offers a peaceful retreat where visitors can enjoy the tranquillity of the nature surrounding the castle.

Remember to visit the castle's tearoom for a traditional Scottish tea experience. It offers a wide range of treats, including homemade scones and a selection of the finest teas. Make sure to also check out the gift shop for unique souvenirs and local crafts.

Balmoral Castle: The Royal Retreat

Further north, nestled in the Scottish Highlands, you'll find Balmoral Castle. This Scottish castle is perhaps best known as the summer residence of the British Royal Family, but it's also a stunning architectural gem in its own right.

The castle was purchased by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852 and has since been a beloved retreat for the British monarchy. The castle's granite façade and towering battlements make it a standout in the landscape.

The estate itself is vast, covering a staggering 50,000 acres of heather-clad hills, ancient Caledonian woodland, manicured gardens, and flowing rivers. The castle and its grounds provide an idyllic setting for nature walks and picnics.

Although the castle's private apartments are closed to the public, you can visit the castle's ballroom, the only room open to visitors, which houses an exhibition of royal artefacts. You can also explore the castle gardens and the wider estate, which are open to the public from April to July.


Scotland is a land of captivating beauty, historical significance, and architectural splendour. This is nowhere more evident than in its wealth of castles. Each Scottish castle has its own unique story, rooted in the annals of Scotland's rich and diverse history.

From the rugged cliffs of Dunnottar Castle to the enchanting gardens of Inveraray Castle, from the medieval grandeur of Dirleton Castle to the royal splendour of Balmoral Castle, there's a castle in Scotland to suit every interest.

So, while Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle may be the most well-known, don’t forget about the lesser-known gems. Because sometimes, the road less travelled can lead to the most unforgettable experiences.

Whether you're a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates beautiful landscapes and stunning architecture, these lesser-known Scottish castles are well worth a visit. So, pack your bags, don your tartan, and set off on your Scottish castle adventure. You won't be disappointed!

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