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With 263 castles, 165 miles of dramatic coastline & one very famous Count (Dracula, that is) here is why you should visit Aberdeenshire.
Have you fallen into the trap of heading straight to the west coast and bypassing much of Scotland’s east coast altogether? Then you are simply missing out. Before you plan your next trip to the west coast, here is why you should visit Aberdeenshire instead.
- Aberdeenshire is frankly, huge – still mostly untouched by tourism, Aberdeenshire has a gorgeous coastline, the gorgeous Royal Deeside, the Cairngorms National Park and the quirky city of Aberdeen – at 6000 sq km, Aberdeenshire is the fourth largest region in Scotland and is perfect to explore on a road trip.
- Aberdeenshire has 165 miles of coastline – from Stonehaven in the south to Cullen in the north, the Aberdeenshire coast has cute harbour villages, waves crashing over towering sea cliffs, and huge swathes of beautiful beaches to discover.
- There are 263 castles to visit – Aberdeenshire has more castles per acre than the rest of the UK – from the majestic Dunnottar, to the Instagrammable (and bright pink) Craigievar Castle and Balmoral, the home of the Royal Family in Scotland.
- The city of Aberdeen has pretty villages, street art and dolphins – plus anyone who thinks Aberdeen is the grey city is wrong – the city competes for the title of the sunniest city in Scotland, with nearly 1500 hours of sunshine a year.
- Aberdeenshire is famous for its food – did you know that enough oats are grown in the north-east of Scotland every year for 700 million servings of porridge? Along with beef from Aberdeen Angus cows, Aberdonian butteries, Aberdeenshire has some of the best food in Scotland. Hungry yet?
Things to do in Aberdeenshire
Looking for things to do in Aberdeenshire? Here is how to plan your trip.
1/ Go on a road trip
Fancy a road trip? Try one of these 3 Aberdeenshire Itineraries:
Want to see the best bits of Aberdeenshire? Drive the North East 250. This epic 250 mile road trip takes you through the Cairngorms National Park to Royal Deeside, through the city of Aberdeen, and up Scotland’s east coast to the Moray Firth and Speyside around the spectacular edge of Aberdeenshire. I recommend driving the North East 250 over a 4 day trip.
Love beaches and coastal walks? Try the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail – drive the entire 120 miles of Aberdeenshire’s 165 mile coast from St Cyrus to Portsoy – visit Dunnottar Castle, stop for fish and chips in Stonehaven and the visit the tiny coastal villages hugging the Banffshire coast. Drive the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail.
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 – why not go munro bagging along the way?
2/ Explore the Banffshire Coast
The Banffshire coast stretches from Cullen to Peterhead along the Moray Firth. With picturesque harbour villages, waves crashing over towering sea cliffs, huge swathes of beach, incredible changing light, a visit to Banffshire should be your first stop on your trip to Aberdeenshire. Don’t miss…
- Seeing the small boats at Portsoy – Boasting the oldest harbour on the Moray Coast (much of what was built in 1692 remains) the Portsoy fishing heritage is still celebrated at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, which takes place each year in June.
- Visiting the MacDuff Marine Aquarium – telling the story of the Moray Firth habitats, the aquarium has a unique kelp reef, daily talks and touch shows, as well as some greedy stingrays! Tickets for the MacDuff Marine Aquarium are Adult: £7.25 and Child aged 3-4: £2.90 – and are valid all day so you can come and go for the shows.
- Photographing Gardenstown and Crovie – the most picturesque of the Moray Firth villages – Gardenstown has a lovely 19th Century Harbour and Crovie has no road with the cottages are only accessed by foot. If you want to take the popular shot of Crovie there is a car park at the top of the village with a good viewpoint of the string of cottages below.
3/ Visit Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms National Park
The River Dee (famous for its Salmon fishing) flows from the Cairngorm Mountains through the heart of Aberdeenshire to Aberdeen. Sitting on the river are the Victorian towns of Braemar, Ballater, Aboyne and Banchory. Royal Deeside forms part of the truly spectacular Cairngorms National Park home to ospreys, reindeer, pine martens and red squirrels, and a seemingly endless artic tundra where temperatures can drop as low as -27 degrees… burrr!
The biggest attraction of the Deeside towns are the Scottish Highland Games – visit the new Braemar Highland Games Centre to learn about the history of the famous Highland Games attended by the Royal Family each year. Then 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. Visit the newly restored The Carriage cafe in Ballater located within the Old Royal Station which once brought the Queen to the highlands, you can take afternoon tea in a traditional train carriage!
Feeling energetic? Climb Lochnagar – meaning ‘little loch of the noisy sound’ in Gaelic, Lochnagar is one of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains. You can either climb Lochnagar from Glen Muick (12 miles) or do the full circuit of the White Mounth Munros – a tough day out bagging five Munros (19 miles). You can also climb the second highest mountain in Scotland – Ben Macdui – the approach from Deeside in Aberdeenshire up Ben Macdui one of the best, but longest routes up this remote mountain (18 miles).
More things to do in the Cairngorms National Park
4/ Discover the quirky city of Aberdeen
With pretty villages, street art, dolphins and fine food, here is why you should visit Aberdeen:
- Discover Aberdeen’s street art – see artworks from SmugOne and Ernest Zacharevic, along with the Painted Doors project. Visit: The Nuart Festival.
- Dine with dolphins – order fish & chips at the Silver Darling and watch the bottlenose dolphins swim by.
- Visit the Brig o’ Balgownie – stroll amongst the pretty cottages and along the River Don to the Donmouth Nature Reserve.
- Explore Footdee – a quirky & colourful fishing village at the mouth of the River Dee.
- Find the Powis Gate – visit Old Aberdeen to find this incredible Game of Thrones a’like doorway.
- Do the Aberdeen Festivals – from 10 days of Jazz and Blues performances at the Aberdeen Jazz Festival (March), to a celebration of Aberdeen’s dolphins at Dolphin Fest -there are 9 festivals throughout the year to enjoy.
5/ Go on an Aberdeenshire castle hunt
With more than 250 castles, it is no wonder Aberdeenshire is called castle country. These are my favourite castles in Aberdeenshire:
- Craigievar Castle – said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle, Craigievar is the star of many an instagram shot due to its bright pink exterior. Definitely one not to miss! Visit Craigievar Castle.
- Fyvie Castle – Managed by the National Trust for Scotland, Fyvie Castle has a stunning interior and a huge portrait collection – including works by Gainsborough and Sir Henry Raeburn and the £22 million life-size Pompeo Batoni portrait of Colonel William Gordon. Entry to Fyvie Castle is free for National Trust for Scotland members or £13 for adults.
- Dunnottar Castle – located just to the south of Stonehaven near Aberdeen is one of Scotland’s most famous castles. Perched on 200ft high sea cliffs and accessed from a tiny strip of land it is dramatic, foreboding and breathtaking. Dunnottar Castle is privately owned by the Dunecht Estates and controlled by Clan Keith. Entry to the castle is £7 for adults. Visit Dunnottar Castle. You can walk from Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle – stroll along the cliffs to Dunnottar Castle for great views of Stonehaven Harbour and the Black Hill war memorial. The return trip is 3.5 miles.
- Balmoral Castle – 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.
To visit the best castles in Aberdeenshire, follow the castle trail to visit Crathes Castle, Castle Fraser, and Braemar Castle. Download the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail route map.
6/ Go walking in Aberdeenshire
From the coast to the mountains, there are lots of walks to help you explore Aberdeenshire by foot.
- Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle – stroll along the cliffs to Dunnottar Castle for great views of Stonehaven Harbour and the Black Hill war memorial. The return trip is 3.5 miles.
- Walk around the Pitfour Estate – with a lovely fishing loch (once home to alligators) and canal, visit at sunset for and follow the path around the loch (it will take you about 20-30 minutes) to a tiny Theseus temple with its water bath.
- 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.
- Climb Bennachie – pronounced “benna-hie”, Bennachie is a popular range of hills near Inverurie – climb the highest hill of the range Oxen Craig (528 metres / 1,732 ft) and nearby Mither Tap with its iron age fort for fantastic views of the Aberdeenshire countryside. The walk up Bennachie is only 5 miles but steep!
If you haven’t hill walked before, read my guide to hillwalking in Scotland.
7/ Drink Whisky
Love whisky? Then try my two favourite Aberdeenshire drams…
Glen Garioch, Oldmeldrum – pronounced Glen Geery, Garioch means grain – the distillery sits in the Valley of the Garioch renowned as a barley producing region. Glen Garioch produces two regular whiskies – the Founder’s Reserve and a 12-year-old Bourbon and Sherry cask. Visit Glen Garioch Distillery.
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.
More distilleries in Aberdeenshire to visit:
8/ Discover Unusual things to do in Aberdeenshire
Prefer to get a little off beat? Here are my favourite unusual things to do in Aberdeenshire
Count Dracula and New Slains Castle – New Slains Castle sits on the coast beside Cruden Bay and is said to be the inspiration for Count Dracula’s castle; Bram Stoker visited Aberdeenshire in 1895 and Dracula was published two years later. You can also see Bram Stoker’s signature in the guest book at the Kilmarnock Arms in Cruden Bay near the castle. Do not confuse Slains Castle with the one in Aberdeen – it is a Dracula themed bar!
Visit Peterhead Prison Museum – a visit to the Victorian HM Convict Prison Peterhead is one of Scotland’s best quirky experiences. Discover 125 years of prison life, meet the guards and learn the history of this fascinating prison and its dangerous inmates – along with the story of only time the SAS were used to end a domestic siege on mainland Britain. Peterhead Prison is Scotland’s Alcatraz. Visit Peterhead Prison Museum. Entry is £9 for adults.
Dolphin spot in Aberdeen city centre – Did you know Aberdeen is one of the best places in Europe to see Dolphins? The best time to see dolphins is in the afternoon and on an incoming/rising tide which brings in the food for the dolphins. RSPB staff and volunteers provide information on the Aberdeen dolphins from Thursday to Sunday at the Torry Battery from 11am-6pm.
9/ Visit Aberdeenshire’s filming locations:
Love films and TV? Aberdeenshire has lots of filming locations for you to visit.
- Outlaw King (2018) – The Battle of Barra (or Inverurie) was fought by Robert the Bruce in 1308 against John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan. Barra Hill is located to the south of Oldmeldrum, or as the local’s pronounce it – Old-meal-drum. Legend has it that Bruce was too ill to fight the battle, so he just sat on a rock and watched.
- Mary Queen of Scots (2019) – Poldullie Bridge in Strathdon is famous for the scene in the movie where Mary is ambushed whilst stuck in a herd of cows. I’d honestly be terrified, I am not a fan of coos.
- The Crown (TV series) – the most recent Netflix series of The Crown was filmed all over Aberdeenshire including Balmoral (obviously) and at Cruden Bay and Slains Castle.
- Whisky Galore (2016) was filmed in Aberdeenshire, Portsoy Harbour, Mill Beach and New Aberdour Beach in Pennan stood in for the island of Todday.
- Local Hero (1983) – the Banffshire village of Pennan represents an a-typical Scottish seaside village in the movie, Local Hero. Did you know the famous red phone box in the movie was actually a prop and was removed after filming. An outcry led to the phone box being returned – although it is in a slightly different location.
Where to eat in Aberdeenshire
Did you know that over a quarter of Scotland’s food and drink exports are from the North-East? Local specialities include Rowies / Butteries – a kind of salty croissant. These are my favourite restaurants in Aberdeenshire:
- The Boat Inn (Aboyne) is a cute and quirky pub beside the River Dee. Serving real ales on the bar and hearty soups, doorstop sandwiches along with vegan and veggie options, this is a great stop when exploring Deeside.
- The Kilmarnock Arms (Cruden Bay) serves locally caught fish in seaside village of Cruden Bay – they even have local lobster in summer. Bram Stoker visited the Kilmarnock Arms when he was writing Dracula – look for his signature in the guest book.
- The Bay (Stonehaven) – try traditional Fish and Chips at the Bay in Stonehaven, voted one of the Lonely Planet UK’s best food experiences.
- The Silver Darling (Aberdeen) housed in a former customs house, the Silver Darling serves up exceptional fish & chips from Peterhead and shellfish from Fraserburgh. With a view overlooking the mouth of the River Dee watch out for big ships leaving the harbour and pods of dolphins feeding in the bay. The Silver Darling is one of 9 Aberdeen restaurants in the Michelin Guide.
- Vovem Meat & Liquor (Aberdeen) like steak? Then head to Vovem, Aberdeen’s newest steakhouse. With sharing cuts, Argentinian grilling, Highland cattle cuts, and Scottish wagyu from Dunblane, Vovem hits all the meat lovers boxes. Veggies and fish eaters are also catered for – try the Scottish langoustines.
- Foodstory (Aberdeen) run as a community cafe, Foodstory is one of Aberdeen’s gems. Serving mostly plant based food, their menu is also mostly gluten free. Upstairs Foodstory sell veg boxes and zero waste refill goods.
- Meldrum House (Oldmeldrum) a two rosette restaurant in a country house hotel offering up Scottish favourites such as scallops and Stornoway black pudding, Highland venison with sticky red cabbage, goats cheese wellingtons and stunning aged steaks from local butcher Presly’s of Oldmeldrum.
Where to stay in Aberdeenshire
My favourite places to stay in Aberdeenshire
Saplinbrae, Mintlaw* – At Buchan’s heart is the village of Mintlaw home to the Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges perfectly positioned for exploring the pretty villages of the fabulous Banffshire Coast. Built as a coaching inn by Lord Pitfour in 1756 for visitors to his estate, with wood-panelled rooms, huge roaring fires, four poster beds, crisp dressing gowns and candle-lit dining, Saplinbrae Hotel has the country house feeling in spades.
Meldrum House Hotel* – Sitting within its own 240-acre Estate, Meldrum House Country Hotel has its own wee herd of shaggy highland coos and 800 year old cave bar. Choose from suites in the old manor house, modern Scottish touches in the stables, or the super modern new wing and dine in Meldrum House’s two rosette restaurant before trying a dram of Glen Garioch, the very local distillery just down the road.
Aberdeen Altens Hotel* – The 4 star Aberdeen Altens Hotel is a comfortable business hotel located to the south of Aberdeen city centre. With a spa and pool, huge rooms and comfy beds with all the amenities including wifi and Nespresso machines along with a bar on site, it is a good value stopping point for visiting the city.
How to get to Aberdeenshire
By train – there are direct trains from both Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen with Scotrail. The journey time is between 2.5 and 3 hours. Within Aberdeenshire there are trains to Huntly, Insch, Inverurie, Dyce, Portlethen, Stonehaven and Laurencekirk.
By air – There are flights to Aberdeen airport from most UK airports, thanks to the oil industry. You can fly to Aberdeen from Cardiff, Bristol, Humberside, London, Manchester, Newquay, Norwich, Southend, Southampton, Durham and Belfast, and onwards in Scotland to Kirkwall in Orkney and Wick and Shetland, as well as flights across Europe. You can also fly to Inverness to visit Banffshire and the Moray Firth coast.
From the airport – The Jet Service 727 will take you into the centre of Aberdeen in around 40 minutes for £5 return. Service 747 will also take you to Montrose, Stonehaven, and Peterhead.
By road – Aberdeen is around 2.5 hours northeast of Edinburgh and Glasgow. You can also get to Aberdeen by the Angus Coastal Route. The drive from Edinburgh to Banffshire will take you around 3.5 hours.
Map of things to do in Aberdeenshire
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