Castle itinerary for the Highlands

Explore the dramatic history of the Scottish Highlands as you take a tour around the various castles in the region. Built as strongholds, palaces and places of safety, each castle has a unique and turbulent history stretching back, in some cases, more than 1,000 years.

  • Dunrobin Castle and Grounds
    Dunrobin Castle and Grounds
  • Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Alsh
    Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Alsh
  • Loch Dunvegan and Dunvegan Castle
    Loch Dunvegan and Dunvegan Castle
  • Tapestry Room at Cawdor Castle
    Tapestry Room at Cawdor Castle
  • Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness
    Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness

In the very north of the mainland, Royal Family enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to the Castle and Gardens of Mey in Caithness, which was the favourite summer home of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. Visitors to the castle will see the rooms used by Her Majesty when she stayed here, including her bedroom, dining room and study. Have a delicious snack in the tearoom, browse in the shop and check out the animal centre or just wander in the grounds and gardens and view the magnificent scenery across the Pentland Firth to Hoy, the nearest of the Orkney Islands. On a clear day the Old Man of Hoy can be seen on the horizon.

Around the coast near Dornoch, architect lovers will marvel at the stunning French design of Dunrobin Castle. Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland's great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland. The Castle, which resembles a French chateau, has seen the architectural influences of Sir Charles Barry, who designed London’s Houses of Parliament, and Scotland’s own Sir Robert Lorimer. The castle was used as a naval hospital during the First World War and as a boys’ boarding school from 1965 to 1972.

Follow the coastal road to Inverness to pay a visit to Fort George, the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain. Built in 1746 as the ultimate defence against Jacobite uprising the fort is bristling with cannons, muskets, pikes, swords and ammunition. Explore the battlements and gain a fascinating insight into 18th century military life.

Begin your second day with a trip to Cawdor Castle, the 14th century home of the Thanes of Cawdor and famed for its literary connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Full of history, mystery and legend, Cawdor Castle is a fascinating attraction. From there, take a short drive through Nairn to Brodie Castle, the ancient seat of Clan Brodie. Brodie Castle also has literary connections with Shakespeare and is said to be near the hill known as ‘Macbeth’s Hillock’ where Macbeth is said to have encountered the Weird Sisters.

From there take a short drive to Ballindalloch Castle, known as the ‘Pearl of the North’ and one of the most romantic and renowned castles in Scotland. Highlights include a fine collection of 17th century paintings, one of the finest country house libraries in all of Scotland, the grand dining room with its magnificent fireplace, the vaulted hall and the delightful nursery with its antique toys. The Rivers Spey and Avon run through the estate offering excellent fishing and the cattle that graze there belong to the oldest Aberdeen Angus herds in the world.

Finally finish your day with a visit to the magnificent Urquhart Castle, on the banks of the famous Loch Ness. The castle has a distinctly Highland heritage and the site has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in Scotland’s history. This is where St Columba is said to have worked miracles in the 6th century, where acts of chivalry and defiance provided inspiration during the Wars of Independence and where the MacDonald Lords of the Isles struggled with the Crown for power.

On the third day of this castle itinerary head to the west of the Highlands, to explore the castles built near to, and on, the Isle of Skye. Begin with a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, an iconic Scottish monument and one of the most photographed places in the country. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breath-taking. Visitors have the opportunity to wander round most of the fabulous internal rooms of the castle viewing period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons and fine art. Historical interest and heritage are in abundance with informed guides happy to share a wealth of knowledge.

From there take the A87 across the bridge onto Skye to experience two of Skye’s most interesting and unusual castles. Begin with a visit to the Armadale Castle and Gardens, located near Ardvasar on the most southerly point of Skye. Built on the ancient lands of Clan Donald, the castle, museum and gardens offers a wide variety of activities for the whole family. The estate’s principal focal points are the restored historic gardens, and the beautiful walking trails threading through the 40 acres of woodland around Armadale Castle. Part of the castle has been restored and the striking ruined remains sensitively re-designed, to create an attractive landscape within the gardens.

Finally finish your trail with a visit to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, built on a rock in an idyllic loch side setting, Dunvegan is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. On display are many fine oil paintings and clan treasures, the most famous of which is the Fairy Flag. Legend has it that this sacred banner has miraculous powers and when unfurled in battle. Visitors can enjoy tours of an extraordinary castle and Highland estate, steeped in history and clan legend, delight in the beauty of its formal garden and take a boat trip onto Loch Dunvegan to see the seal colony.