Welcome to Royal Deeside. The River Dee flows through the heart of Aberdeenshire to the city of Aberdeen. Forming part of the truly spectacular Cairngorms National Park and sitting on the river are the lovely Victorian towns of Braemar, Ballater, Aboyne and Banchory. With royal connections, highland games, fairytale castles and Munros to bag, here is what to get up to in Royal Deeside.
The 10 best things to do in Royal Deeside
- Visit Balmoral Castle and Estate – the home of the Queen in Scotland is open from April to July for visitors. Explore the estate to find the Balmoral Cairns, historical memorials to the Royal Family including a huge stone pyramid for Prince Albert.
- Visit The Braemar Highland Games Centre – learn about the history of the famous Highland Games attended by the Royal Family each year. Visit the Braemar Highland Games Centre.
- Take a trip on Royal Deeside Railway – take a steam train along the Royal Deeside Railway on a 1-mile restored section of track – the return ride along the river takes about 20 minutes.
- Explore Burn O’Vat – explore the Burn O’Vat sunken cavern along a 4 mile walk through the pretty Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.
- Visit Glen Tanar and the Tower O’Ess – visit this beautiful glen on a variety of walks including a fairy pool and beautiful pinwoods, along with one of the best routes up munro Mount Keen. Look out for the gorgeous gatehouse. Visit Glen Tanar.
- Photograph Craigievar Castle – said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle, Craigievar has a bright pink exterior. Definitely one not to miss! Visit Craigievar Castle.
- Explore the Mar Lodge Estate – managed by the NTS the Mar Lodge Estate is Britain’s largest National Nature Reserve with 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the UK. Visit Mar Lodge Estate.
- Climb Lochnagar – meaning ‘little loch of the noisy sound’ in Gaelic, Lochnagar is one of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains. Climb Lochnagar.
- Visit the Linn of Dee – a favourite royal picnic spot, visit this beautiful spot on the River Dee. Visit the Linn of Dee.
- Try a dram at Royal Lochnagar Distillery – awarded a Royal Warrant in 1848 after a visit from Prince Albert, Royal Lochnagar is located on the Abergeldie Estate. Tours of the distillery are available where you can try Royal Lochnagar’s 12 year old whisky. Visit Royal Lochnagar.
So why is it called Royal Deeside?
Deeside gets its royal moniker as the area is home to the summer residence of the Royal Family in Scotland – Balmoral Castle. Attended by the Queen herself, the Braemar Gathering is probably the most famous of all the Highland Games. Generations of Royals arrived in style along the Royal Deeside railway – and you can now take a trip on the train yourself.
Things to do Braemar
Sitting at the top of the River Dee, Braemar is a pretty village home to the Braemar Gathering and provides a gateway to the Cairngorms National Park and the ski fields at Glenshee.
Love mountains? Then drive the Snow Roads – The 90 mile ‘snow roads’ take you through the heart of the Cairngorms from Blairgowrie to Grantown on Spey, via Braemar and the edge of Aberdeenshire. The Cairngorms National Park has some of Scotland’s highest mountains and best walking in Scotland. Drive the Snow Roads
Stroll the Linn of Dee – the pretty gorge and bridge at the Linn of Dee can be visited on either a short 15 minute stroll, or a longer 1¾ miles walk to spot red squirrels in the pine woods. Walk the Linn of Dee circuit.
Vist Braemar Castle – a large tower house sitting on the River, the grounds of Braemar Castle are always open to visitors. The castle is now community-run and tours are available.
Head to the Braemar Gathering – held on the first Saturday in September at the Braemar Highland Showground, the gathering is attended annually by the Royal Family. The next Braemar Gathering will take place in 2022.
Things to do Ballater
The main hub of Deeside, Ballater has a bustling high street full of boutique shops and has a lovely restored train station which once brought the Royal family to Balmoral Castle.
Explore Craigendarroch Oakwoods – climb this small hill outside of Ballater for a great view over the town. Visit Craigendarroch.
Walk around Loch Muick – explore the Balmoral Estate on this walk around Loch Muick.
Visit The Old Royal Station – now a restaurant, the Old Royal Station at Ballater has been restored to its former glory, you can still visit the platform and waiting room and a replica carriage in which once brought Queen Victoria to Ballater.
Photograph Craithie Kirk – the pretty parish church at Crathie is the Royals local church when they visit the Balmoral Estate.
Walk around Cambus o May – explore the woods and lochans of this pretty woodland on a 3 mile walk. Visit Cambus O May.
Things to do Aboyne Royal Deeside
A pretty village sitting on the River Dee, Aboyne is a great spot from which to explore Deeside and Glen Tanar.
Walk around Birsemore Loch – Hidden away above Aboyne is the pretty Birsemore Loch – a walk around the loch will take around 20 minutes.
Visit Craigievar Castle – probably the most insta-famous of all of Aberdeenshire castles, Craigievar is a vision in fairy tale pink.
Climb Mortlich – climb this short hill from the centre of Aboyne for great views over Deeside. Climb Mortlich.
Things to do Banchory
The biggest town in Deeside, Banchory is just 18 miles from Aberdeen. Here is what to do in Banchory:
Ride the Royal Deeside Railway – take a ride on a steam train running alongside the River Dee. Visit the Deeside Railway.
Visit Crathes Castle – set within beautiful gardens, this 16th-century castle is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Visit Crathes Castle.
Find the Falls of Feugh – spot salmon leaping up the river Dee from this very pretty spot. Visit the Falls of Feugh.
Where to stay in Royal Deeside Aberdeenshire[Affiliate links]
- The Queens Hut, Aboyne – gorgeous self catering hut on the edge of its own loch
- The Fife Arms – glamorous art hotel with a spectacular interior
- Ballater Hostel – tourist hostel in Ballater.
- Howe of Torbeg – glamping pods in the countryside outside of Ballater.
- The Boat Inn, Aboyne – pub and restaurant with rooms in Aboyne
Read next More things to do in Aberdeenshire
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Love, from Scotland x
I’m Kate – a travel writer and photographer living in Scotland. Love, From Scotland is the Scotland travel guide that shows you where to stay and how to get outside in Scotland.