The city boasts spectacular architecture and captivating museums, fascinating history, a wealth of art and culture and a lively social scene. Aberdeen’s famous ‘Granite Mile’, Union Street, is the gateway to over 800 shops, restaurants and bars. Visitors can chill-out in lovely flower-filled parks – Aberdeen is 13 times winner of Britain in Bloom. Best of all, the city has its own golden sandy beach.
The city centre features the opulent Marischal College and the colonnaded art gallery with its fine collection, which have been preserved as museums. Union Street continues west to the cosmopolitan West End, where much of the city’s nightlife can be found. To the south, the harbour heaves with boats serving the fishing and oil industries, while north of the centre lies attractive Old Aberdeen, a village neighbourhood presided over by King’s College and St Machar Cathedral, and influenced by the large student population. Aberdeen’s long beach, with its esplanade development, marks the city’s eastern border, only a mile or so from its centre.
Scotland’s Castle Trail
With over 300 castles, stately homes and ruins dotting its landscape, Aberdeenshire is unsurprisingly known as ‘Scotland’s Castle Country.’ There are more castles per acre here than anywhere else in the UK. Scotland’s only dedicated Castle Trail lets you discover 18 of Aberdeenshire’s most famous and dramatic castles with our suggested 4-day itinerary and downloadable map. Simply follow the distinctive brown and white road signs through the heart of Aberdeenshire.
Basing yourself in the city of Aberdeen, start following the trail by heading south on the A90/A92 to Stonehaven where you’ll be met by the well-preserved ruins of Dunnottar Castle, perched on a dramatic cliff some 160 ft above the North Sea. Fought over by Wallace and Cromwell, it was used as a set for Franco Zeffirelli’s 1991 film of Hamlet. More recently, it narrowly missed out on becoming Virtualtourist.com’s eighth wonder of the world in 2013. If you’re lucky, you may even see puffins or dolphins from the castle ramparts.
Heading north from Stonehaven on the A957 brings you to Crathes Castle, a few miles east of Banchory and Drum Castle, 5 miles further east on the A93. Crathes is a classic fairytale castle standing in superb grounds with a range of woodland trails on offer to help you explore. Inside, spiral staircases lead to rooms famous for their Jacobean painted ceilings and resident ghost, the Green Lady. Outside, the gardens feature large yew hedges and a colourful double herbaceous border. The wider estate offers six separate walking trails to enjoy, as well as a Go Ape! treetop adventure park and children’s adventure playground.
Drum Castle combines a unique mix of a late 13th-century tower, fine Jacobean mansion house and later Victorian additions. Superb furniture and paintings are on display while the estate’s woodland trails and exceptional walled rose garden are well worth exploring. In 2015, the castle is working in partnership with Aberdeen Art Gallery to house the city’s iconic modern art collection themed on the concept of ‘Human Presence in Domestic Space’.
Some 15 miles further north on the B977 stands Castle Fraser, one of the grandest castles of Mar. This magnificent building contains an evocative Great Hall, fine furniture and paintings. Enjoy the beautiful secluded walled garden, extensive woodland walks with fine views of the castle plus a children’s adventure playground. Visit the tearoom and enjoy homebaked cakes in the ambience of the 19th century castle kitchen, before browsing the shop.
Tolquhon is one of the most picturesque of the castles in the Grampian countryside. Largely built in the late 16th century by the Forbes family, it houses the Tolquhon Tomb, one of the best examples of Scotland’s so-called Jacobean ‘Glorious Tombs’. Don’t forget to look for the secret compartment in the laird’s quarters where he hid his valuables.
Haddo is an elegant mansion house boasting sumptuous Victorian interiors beneath a crisp Georgian exterior. Noted for fne furniture and paintings, including artworks by Sir Thomas Lawrence and James Giles, the historic home designed by William Adam also has a terraced garden. Explore the grounds and adjacent country park with its lakes, walks and monuments.
Around 10 miles further west, Fyvie Castle at Turiff is an outstanding example of Scottish baronial architecture. Begun as a simple castle in the 13th century, five powerful families each added significantly to it until it reached its present form. Inside, the magnificent sweeping staircase is the most dramatic feature while many treasures are on display including a superb collection of arms, armour and paintings. You can also stroll around the loch or visit the racquets court and bowling alley.
Heading north on the A947, you encounter a series of enticing properties. Delgatie Castle at Delgaty dates from the 11th century and is steeped in Scottish history yet still has a surprising lived-in atmosphere. It has some of the finest painted ceilings in Scotland. A Best Visitor Experience award winner, the castle also boasts an award-winning restaurant and coffee shop.
Using Banff as your base for the evening, your last stop must be the town’s Duff House, one of Scotland’s architectural masterpieces. This Adam-designed historic house is a treasure house and cultural arts centre operated by a unique partnership of Historic Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council. With extensive grounds and woodland walks by the river Deveron you’ll find a day is not enough.
The market town of Huntly is the base here, home also to Huntly Castle. Huntly Castle served as a baronial residence for the Gordons for five centuries and is remarkable for its impressive architectural features including fine heraldic sculpture and inscribed stone friezes.
Spynie Palace, a few miles outside Elgin, was the residence of the bishops of Moray for 500 years and its mighty tower house, David’s Tower, was one of the largest in Scotland. It also had a bowling green and reputedly, according to one account, a tennis court. The beautiful surroundings and wildlife make the palace a wonderful place to visit.
Almost 15 miles west of Huntly on the A920, Balvenie Castle is one the oldest stone castles in Scotland. Originally the seat of the powerful Comyn Earls of Buchan, it later became the home of John Stewart, Earl of Atholl. The Stewarts changed the formidable medieval stronghold into a pleasing Renaissance residence.
Leith Hall is a typical Scottish laird’s residence brimming with family treasures amassed throughout the lifetimes of 10 generations of the Leith-Hay family. The house was used an auxilary hospital during the First World War and an exhibition tells the story of military men and the part they played in battles through the decades. Enjoy a visit to the beautiful gardens with features including a Rock Garden which is being restored to its original 1900’s design.
From your base in Ballater, head north east on the A97 to reach the great castle of Kildrummy. This stronghold of the Earls of Mar dominates the landscape around Strathdon and although ruined, it retains many fine features including its hall and chapel.
Set in striking moorland setting 18 miles south west of Kildrummy, Corgarff Castle’s tower house is surrounded by a distinctive star-shaped perimeter wall. View the reconstructed barrack rooms and feel the atmosphere of barrack life at the castle in 1750, when Government redcoats were stationed here.
After a 30 minute drive further south east on the A939 and then the A93, you’ll find Braemar Castle, the seat of Clan Farquharson. This 17th century stronghold was most recently furnished with many interesting curios in the 1950s by the flamboyant first wife of the Laird. It is best known for its unusual star-shaped outer wall. Take a guided tour of the castle with a local volunteer or with an audio guide. Throughout 2015, the castle is hosting a must-see exhibition celebrating the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
Head back east on the A93 to explore Royal Deeside, home to the famous Balmoral Castle, a firm favourite with the Royal Family. The estate has been in the family since 1848, after it was purchased by Queen Victoria. Enjoy a stroll around castle gardens, visit the ballroom and special exhibitions or relax with a drink in the coffee and gift shop.
Some 40 minutes east of Ballater is one of Scotland’s most iconic and best-loved castles, Craigievar. The riot of turrets, gargoyles and high corbelling work create the fairytale appearance which is said to have inspired Walt Disney. Visitors can also enjoy the fine grounds and waymarked trails surrounding it.