They may not be as well-known as some of Scotland's famous fortresses, but these fairytale castles are nothing short of enchanting.
From wonderfully preserved medieval strongholds to romantic clifftop ruins, from turreted fairy-tale châteaux to haunted tower houses, Scotland is bursting with spellbinding castles that will leave you breathless. Steeped in legend and architectural grandeur, uncover the unique stories behind these marvellous monuments. Get off the beaten track and uncover these lesser-known gems of Scotland.
1. Dunrobin Castle
On the northern coast near Dornoch, architecture lovers can marvel at the stunning French design of Dunrobin Castle. The most northerly of Scotland's great houses, Dunrobin is the largest castle in the northern Highlands with 189 rooms. It dates back to the early 1300s, and is home to the Earls, later known as the Dukes, of Sutherland. Its interiors were designed by Scotland's own Sir Robert Lorimer while its magnificent architecture and fairy-tale spires were added by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed London's Houses of Parliament.
2. Floors Castle
Situated in Kelso in the heart of the Scottish Borders and overlooking the River Tweed and Cheviot Hills, Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh and their family. Filled to the brim with fine works of art, including timeless tapestries and priceless antiques, Floors Castle boasts a truly splendid interior. In its imposing grounds you can see the holly tree that is said to mark the spot where King James II was killed in a seige in 1460.
3. Fyvie Castle
Once a royal stronghold, Fyvie Castle near Turrif in Aberdeenshire began as a simple castle in the 13th century. It passed through the hands of five powerful families, each of whom added significantly to its splendour by adding a tower to this magnificent Scottish Baronial fortress. Inside, admire period furnishings and rich interiors that still look as glorious as when they were installed; the magnificent sweeping staircase is probably the most dramatic architectural feature while many treasures are also on display.
4. Culzean Castle and Country Park
With its dramatic clifftop setting, captivating history, striking surroundings and Robert Adam architecture in his trademark neo-classical Georgian style, it's easy to see why Culzean Castle is one of Scotland's most popular visitor attractions. Situated near Maybole on the Ayrshire coast, and surrounded by over 600 acres of Culzean Country Park, which encompasses lush woodland, landscaped gardens and rugged coastline, this 18th century Scottish castle couldn't be better placed for a great day out.
5. Drummond Castle Gardens
There's no doubt that Drummond Castle Gardens' boasts one of Europe's finest gardens. The gardens have made appearances in the film Rob Roy (1995) and TV series Outlander. Located near Crieff in Perthshire, the 15th century castle is not open to the public but its formal terraced gardens can be explored, and are one of the largest in Scotland. The dominant feature of the horticultural design is a St Andrew's Cross with the multiplex 17th century sundial at its centre, and the gardens offer marvellous views of the castle and surrounding countryside.
6. Kilchurn Castle
There are few more scenic castles in Scotland than Kilchurn near Dalmally in Argyll. Built on a small, rocky isthmus joined to the shore at the tip of Loch Awe, it's one of numerous castles erected by the powerful Campbell clan, who exercised control of much of western Scotland in the late medieval period. Don't miss the view from the top - stand on the tower house's battlements and gaze out over Loch Awe, with the peak of Ben Cruachan in the backdrop. It's easily one of the most photographed castles in Scotland!
7. Brodie Castle
Dating from the 16th century, Brodie Castle, set in Morayshire parkland near Forres, has unusual plaster ceilings, a major art collection and tells the fascinating story of the Brodie family. In springtime, the grounds are carpeted with many varieties of daffodils for which Brodie Castle is rightly famous.
8. Dirleton Castle
Many of Scotland's castles impress because of their gloomy grandeur and violent history, but the charming and romantic 12th century Dirleton Castle, which is set on a natural rocky outcrop near North Berwick in East Lothian, is best known for its splendid gardens which include a Victorian garden and the Arts and Crafts herbaceous border. Did you know that the herbaceous border has been authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest?
9. Kelburn Castle and Country Centre
Next on the list is Kelburn Castle near Largs in Ayrshire. Loved by all those who see it, the castle's exterior walls feature a mural depicting interwoven cartoons. Quite unusual, isn't it? It's been named as one of the best examples of urban art in the world. The inside of Kelburn Castle is in stark contrast to its exterior - lush and sophisticated - and in its grounds you'll find a secret forest with a Chinese garden, waterfalls and a gingerbread house - perfect for an amazing day out.
10. Castle Fraser
Movie buffs might recognize Castle Fraser from The Queen (2006), starring Helen Mirren (it appeared as a backdrop), but this baronial five-storey tower house in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, is one of the grandest, most romantic-looking castles in the country. Venture through the castle and up to the round tower and admire panoramic views of the gardens and estate beyond. Legend has it that a princess was murdered in the Green Room, that she still walks the castle at night, and unexplained ghostly piano music has been heard. Do you still dare to visit?
11. Caerlaverock Castle
Imagine a castle in the shape of a triangle, with imposing sandstone walls and a tower or two at each corner. Along with its atmospheric green moat and setting within a nature reserve, these features rank the spellbinding Caerlaverock Castle near Glencaple in Dumfries & Galloway among the most powerful-looking castles in the world and give it a story-book quality. There's simply no other castle in the world like it!
12. The Black Watch Castle & Museum
Treasures from Scotland's oldest Highland regiment, the Black Watch, are housed in the grandiose Balhousie Castle in Perth. Uniforms, paintings, medals, photographs, weaponary and equipment bring this glorious regiment's past vibrantly to life.
13. Blackness Castle
Blackness Castle near Linlithgow in West Lothian was built in the 15th century by one of Scotland's most powerful families, the Crichtons. Its unusual nautical shape has earned it the nickname of 'the ship that never sailed'. From the castle you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Firth of Forth and Fife.
14. Duart Castle
Perched upon a hill overlooking the Sound of Mull, Duart Castle passed to a Scottish chief as part of the dowry his bride brought to the marriage back in the mid 14th century, and for the last 400 years it has been considered the ancestral home of the Maclean clan. Ruined in the late 18th century, it was restored in 1911. Walk through the dungeons and admire the castle's strategic position at the end of a peninsula of the Isle of Mull.
15. St Andrews Castle
One of the most scenic castles in Scotland, let alone Fife, St Andrews Castle stands on a high clifftop site, defended by sheer coastal cliffs and by rock-cut ditches facing inland. The castle saw its fair share of important visitors, including James I, who was educated here, and James III, who was born here. Interesting features include the siege tunnels that were dug in 1546 and the 'bottle dungeon', one of the most infamous castle prisons in medieval Britain.
16. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
Built on a rock in the middle of a loch on the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Admire the many fine oil paintings on display, delight in the beauty of its formal garden, or why not take a boat trip to Loch Dunvegan?