From the Cairngorms National Park to the borders of the Highlands, Aberdeenshire has plenty to see, taste and explore. Whether you prefer to spend your time in five-star hotels, haunted castles or embracing nature – here are 50 things to do during your next visit to Scotland’s northeast coast.
Found just west of its namesake village, Corgaff Castle has a historic reputation for drama. Whether it’s being burned down by enemies, used to stop the then-illegal production of whisky or being used as a British army barracks, it’s a fascinating monument to take a tour of.
A unique art installation on the hills of rural Aberdeenshire, the Watchers are four twisting pieces of contemporary art. The pieces, carved with folded steel and found near the remains of Corgarff Castle, are designed to mimic the prehistoric standing stones that can be found across Scotland.
Alongside their famous coffees – provided to them by Williams & Johnson Coffee Co – Tarmachan Café has so much extra to offer. Stop by for their acclaimed Balmoral venison sausage rolls and relax in a café designed to support the local environment and make everything they do sustainable.
Found between Braemar and Ballater, the Highlands Bakehouse creates artisanal, local produce that gives back to the environment. Whether you’re popping in for a loaf of freshly baked bread, picking up some croissants or stopping in for lunch after visiting Balmoral Castle, they’ll make sure you always leave full and happy!
Inspired by Scottish flavours and celebrating the natural beauty of the region, the Braemar Chocolate Shop love everything local. Always experimenting with tastes, they’ll be happy to give you a sample of one of their creations, whether it’s inspired by bread, whisky or even cheese.
A five-star boutique hotel in the heart of Braemar, this Category B-listed building is the perfect place for rural relaxation. Complete a stay in one of their historic bedrooms with a visit to their on-site art gallery or dinner and drinks at one of their six bars and restaurants.
Once the favourite picnic spot of Queen Victoria, the Linn of Dee remains a popular walking and touring destination for travellers. Visitors must try the permanent orienteering sessions offered by the National Trust for Scotland here, getting to grips with nature on a 1.5km or 5km course.
Alternately known as the ‘Balmoral Pyramid’, this distinctive cairn is a memorial for the husband of Queen Victoria, who built Balmoral castle. As part of a popular, gentle woodland walk in the Cairngorms, it sits atop a hill and is a particularly unique structure to find in the heart of this national park.
Royal watchers will delight in attending a service at Crathie Kirk, most notably the location for family worship whenever the Royals are in town. Having been a place of worship since the 9th century, the historic church’s interiors are decorated with donated items from the royal family, including Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II.
Built on the shores of Loch Muick, Glas Allt Shiel took on a rather sombre nickname of ‘Widow’s Lodge’ following the death of Prince Albert. Often visited by Queen Victoria, it was incorporated into the Balmoral Estate in the 1940s and is now a popular hunting and sporting estate for visitors.
To the untrained eye, this may seem like an ordinary small-town beach. But its fame comes not from the beach itself – but its residents. This is Aberdeenshire’s premiere location for seal spotting, where the inquisitive mammals are likely to come and say hello if you visit.
Its ruins overlooking the North Sea, New Slains Castle – not to be confused with nearby Old Slains Castle – has long been linked to Bram Stocker’s thrilling novel, Dracula as inspiration for the character’s castle. Reconstructed in the Baronial style in the 1830s, it was stayed in by a variety of British nobles and politicians before falling into ruin in the 1920s.
Named for both a collapsed sea cave and its nearby village, the Bullers of Buchan is the perfect place to test out your strength. Lift one of two stones – one 59kg and the other 110kg. The cliffside is also popular with birdwatchers and hikers, as many seabirds call the area home throughout the year.
Historically known as Rattray Point, the very edge of the Aberdeenshire coastline is home to a clime-able lighthouse. Make the trip up to the top and down below, you’ll see the remnants of a handful of shipwrecks. But be careful when you go – the tide means it’s only accessible via a causeway at low tide.
A single row of houses makes up the village of Pennan, a former fishing village that’s now a popular holiday destination. Sitting right on the edge of the sea, the town became suddenly famous in the 1980s when it – and its local phone box – were used in the hit film ‘Local Hero’.
Serving delicious coffee and cake in a shabby chic locale by the water, Coastal Cuppie is the perfect place to unwind. As you munch on something delicious, you can be certain your money is going to a good cause; the café supports the Pennan Harbour Trust, which keeps the local harbour in good shape during bad weather.
Found to the west of Pennan, Cullykhan Bay is a sandy pebble beach sheltered by the surrounding hillside. Sitting below the remains of a Bronze Age fort, the beach is perfect for long walks both along the shore and up into the high cliffs.
A nature reserve cared for by the RSPB, Troup Head is internationally significant thanks to its resident seabird population. Bordered by Pennan and Gardenstown, tens of thousands of seabirds arrive at the reserve in the spring, including gannets and puffins. And from the cliffs, you can see the neighbouring dolphins and porpoises in the water.
This petite fishing town on the Banff coastline has been standing since the Neolithic era – though it’s now far more popular with holidaymakers! Built into the cliffside, this charming village is best enjoyed with a walk along the coastal path, where you can spot dolphins in the waters below.
With a history dating back more than 800 years, Fyvie Castle and Gardens was originally built in the Baronial style. Since then, it’s become a thriving hub of art with an enormous collection of portraiture. Once visited by royal guests, including Robert the Bruce, a guided tour will take you through the myths, legends and ghost stories of this magnificent castle.
It’s worth visiting just for the atmosphere. Named a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice for 2022, they aim to bring contemporary, delicious coffee to Banchory. Enjoy a delicious range of hot and cold drinks and food upstairs or browse the outdoor shop downstairs for all your outdoor apparel needs.
Indulge in some trainspotting at the Royal Deeside Railway, a heritage line 14 miles from Aberdeen. Running along its namesake river, it was the line most regularly used by the Royal family and other VIPs on their travels up to Balmoral and is now managed by a team of volunteers.
An extensive complex of independent retailers on the banks of the River Dee, Milton of Crathes is the perfect place to shop and support local creators. Have a bite to eat at the brasserie, explore the creations at the art gallery and (most importantly) stop by Hidden Scotland’s shop and use our journey planner to get the most out of your Scottish holiday.
Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, this beautiful castle stands on grounds gifted by Robert the Bruce. With a walled garden that’s been standing for more than three centuries, the castle is the perfect place for a nature walk – and there are plenty of red squirrels around to spot.
One of a handful only found in this region of Scotland, the Tomnavarie Stone Circle can be traced all the way back to the Bronze Age. A recumbent circle on a hilltop, a short walk will take you to this magnificent piece of history, where some believe the Bronze Age people used to chart the movement of the stars.
Considered to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle with its distinctive pink exterior, Craigievar Castle has something of the fairytale about it. Built in the Scottish Baronial style in the 16th century, you can still tour its interiors and see dozens of artefacts, art and weaponry collected over the centuries.
Though only the ruins remain of this 15th-century castle, Dunnottar is notorious in Scottish history thanks to its role in the Jacobite Uprising. It was here the Crown Jewels were hidden from Oliver Cromwell and where anti-royalists were kept prisoner before being shipped off to America. Now, what remains can be accessed and explored.
130,000 seabirds arrive on the cliffs of Fowlsheugh during the spring and summer – and birdwatchers of every persuasion will get a thrill out of spotting them here. Maintained by the RSPB, cliff walks will give you the best view of the visiting birds – as well as local dolphin, grey seal and porpoise populations.
Take an easy 1.4km walk around a guided trail to find the Crawton Waterfall. Find a little solitude and tranquillity here, where the waters dramatically tumble down into the North Sea. The walk is best enjoyed in dry, calm conditions as it can get slippery when wet.
Championing sustainably caught, locally sourced fish, Stonehaven’s The Bay are a multi-award-winning fish and chip shop. Having recently been awarded a coveted spot on the Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate Eatlist’, it’s no wonder their classic fish and chips have been named the best in the UK twice since they opened in 2006.
Ensuring your scoop is always the best scoop, Aunt Bettys is a highlight on the Stonehaven promenade. Made using only the freshest, high-quality produce, their ice creams are sustainably made and packaged, with plenty of exciting – and classic – flavours to choose from.
The picturesque edge of the fishing village of Stonehaven is a harbour that was destroyed and rebuilt not once, but three times! The largest recreational harbour in the region, it’s a popular docking spot for fishing boats, as well as a starting point for the walk up to Dunnottar Castle nearby.
Popular in town for its artisanal deli and food selection, Park Shop showcases some of the best local produce around. Try one of their delicious pies or a slice of homemade cake and wash it all down with an artisanal coffee or glass of wine, carefully selected by their knowledgeable team.
Sitting at the base of the Cairngorm mountains – and just a mile from Balmoral Castle – Royal Lochnagar Distillery uses the clear waters of the Scarnock Springs to create its distinctive malts. With the royal seal of approval, they offer tours of their distillery, alongside guided tastings and chocolate pairings.
Covering 1,166 hectares of land out to the River Dee, the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve was created to protect the wide variety of flora, animals and natural landscape found here. Highlights include the pink granite underfoot, Scots pines growing in the forests and lochs where wildfowl travel to for the winter months.
One of the largest tower houses in the country, Castle Fraser can trace its roots all the way back to the 14th century. A fascinating estate lived in for more than 400 years by the Fraser family, the castle, the traditional walled garden and the extensive grounds have dozens of fascinating stories to tell.
Come and visit us in picturesque Banchory, where we’ve created a space for inspirational travel. Built in a former sawmill, you can plan your journeys on our specialist Planning Station or explore the wide selection of gifts and goodies we sell, all handmade by Scottish artists and creators.
Just five miles south of Braemar is Loch Muick, a freshwater loch within the boundaries of the Balmoral Estate. Surrounded by a steep hillside, the loch is a popular walking trail and is the only place to get a visible glimpse of the famous ‘Widow’s Lodge’ built for Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
A luxurious country escape built in the Palladian style, Haddo House is an elegant paradise with more than 400 years of history. Tour the beautiful interiors and visit the extensive art collection with more than 85 exciting pieces on display by artist James Giles. For visitors in the autumn, the Haddo Arts Festival shouldn’t be missed.
As well as serving delicious cakes and coffees, all made in-house on the Ballogie Estate, you’ll want to stop by this café to see the famous Dinnie Stones. Made with granite, they’re named for the strongman who managed to lift these stones in 1860 at a combined weight of 332kg. Only 106 people have been able to lift them since!
A remarkable feat of Georgian architecture, Duff House was built in the Baroque style in the mid-1700s. Now home to one of the National Galleries for Scotland, this Category A listed building offers house tours, gallery viewings and its very own on-site golf course.
Established in 2006, the philosophy of Finzean Farm Shop is all about promoting local creators and artisans. Help support the local community by picking up fresh produce, creating your own hampers stuffed with Finzean favourites or picking up a souvenir from a local painter or designer.
Scotland’s oldest organic dairy makes its home in rural Aberdeenshire, where its award-winning gelatos and ice creams are produced on-site. Each of their flavours is made by hand and best enjoyed in a homemade waffle cone at their gelato garden or under the twinkling lights in their heated glass domes.
The beating heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is a charming, vibrant village nestled into the mountains. It’s a natural playground for the outdoorsy types. Come and visit during the summer for the Braemar Highland Games – which is regularly attended by the Royal Family – or enjoy hiking and hunting in the nearby hills.
Considered one of Scotland’s most scenic locations, Ballater sits at the east of the Cairngorms. With the Royal Deeside flowing alongside it, it’s famously home to Balmoral Castle, the royal summer retreat. Queen Victoria even once said that the area was her ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’.
Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, Pitmedden Garden is a glorious landscape paradise recreated in the Scottish Renaissance style. Vibrant topiary and floral designs from the past sit alongside natural trails, autumnal festivals and a new sustainable garden created by celebrity garden designer Chris Beardshaw.
With the ruins considered one of the finest ruins in the chateau Renaissance style, Tolquhon Castle is still a sight to behold centuries after being abandoned. Cared for by Historic Scotland, the house was believed to have been occupied from the 15th to the 18th century after the family fell on hard times.