To come to Scotland and not see a castle is a bit like going to Italy and refusing to eat. It’s just ridiculous. Every visitor to the country should see at least one of these old fortresses up close, and luckily, there are so many castles spread around Scotland that you are hardly ever far from one. Visitors to the highland capital of Inverness are especially blessed, because not only is there a castle right in the center of the city, but there are several famous castles within easy driving distance. The largest concentration of castles in the area is to the east of the city, and two of these (Castles Stuart and Kilravock) rent out rooms to travelers who want the closest experience possible with a Scottish castle.
Map of Castles Near Inverness
Right in the heart of Inverness, this red sandstone castle might look a little less authentic to visitors, and there is a good reason for that. The current castle was built in 1836, but a fortress has stood on the site since about 1100. The Inverness Castle has been destroyed at least three times, most famously (and recently) in 1746, when the Jacobite leader Bonnie Price Charlie used explosives to destroy the castle to keep it from falling into enemy hands. Today, it is one of the few castles in Scotland actively used for government work, and it houses the Inverness Sheriff Court. Visitors can walk the grounds, and the Drum Tower is open throughout the summer season with an exhibition of relics from the original castle.
Wine lovers might not usually think of Scotland as one of Europe’s vineyard capitals, but this castle just outside of Inverness, built in 1580 by Clan Fraser, has reinvented itself as a winery. The castle is still in Fraser hands, and the family business still produces fine wine, liqueurs, meat sauces and fruit preserves. Tours are available of the house and grounds.
Urquhart is one of the most visited castles in Scotland, both for its own sake and because it lies on the shores of Loch Ness, and gives one of the best views of the famous loch. Built in the mid-13th century, the castle was destroyed in 1692 during the war between the Williamites and Jacobites. Today, it is a national historical treasure, and one of the essentials of a trip to the Highlands.
>> Read more about Scotland’s most famous loch in our travel guide to Loch Ness
The Clan Stuart (or Stewart, depending on which branch of the family) is one of the most historically important clans in Scotland, having at one time held not only the crown of Scotland, but briefly of England as well. Though the name might suggest that this is the clan seat, the clan was never based here. This was the home of the Earls of Moray, a line of local noblemen. The castle had fallen into disrepair until it was transformed by another of the Stuart family into a high-end castle hotel, and was voted the “2nd best castle in Europe for accommodation” by TripAdvisor in 2008. The views of the Moray Firth from Castle Stuart are especially magnificent.
>> For booking information, go to Castle Stuart’s official site.
Most famous for its association with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this beautifully restored castle is definitely a recommended stop for travelers headed east from Inverness. There are tours of the castle, but more notable are the grounds, including one of the most beautiful and well-maintained castle gardens in Scotland. Cawdor can be reached on foot from the town of Nairn, and the path along the River Nairn is one of my favorite single-day walks in Scotland.
>> Read more about Cawdor Castle and Nairn
Last, but certainly not last in my mind, is Kilravock Castle, home and family seat of the Clan Rose, my family. The Roses have lived here since 1293, but the castle was built later, in 1460. It is operated as a bed and breakfast, giving visiting Roses a chance to sleep where their ancestors have slept for 700 years. Naturally, everyone else can stay here too, and tours are given daily not only of the castle itself but also of the lovely grounds and gardens.
>> For booking information, go to the castle’s official site.