The Complete Itinerary for the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail

Share it or save it:

Last updated on May 6th, 2020

A guide to the Aberdeenshire castle trail

dunnotar castle

Aberdeenshire has long been hailed as Scotland’s castle county, and with good reason, as this remote area of Britain is home to more castles per acre than anywhere else in the nation.

In fact, there are nearly 300 grand castles in just this one corner of Scotland. Some are perched high on top of the remotest cliff tops, some are nestled deep in thick pine forests, others sit majestically on top of high mountain passes and yet others lie in glorious open countryside.

The only thing that could possibly be more diverse than the different style of castles is the differences in the landscape, where mountains and lochs meet sea-battered cliffs and quaint fishing towns. It’s fair to say that Aberdeenshire is a perfect microcosm of Scotland at large.

The reason for the number of fortified buildings in this area of the country is simple. Surrounded to the north and east by the sea, the county was prized as an area of strategic importance for hundreds of years and the resulting invasions, uprisings, rebellions and all-out wars led to the requirement for vast fortified castles to keep their occupants safe.

Aberdeen Castlegate Square
Historic Aberdeen

Today, tourists can enjoy a rather more sedate experience as they meander around any one of the old fortified buildings, and many have been renovated to exactly how they would have looked when they were originally built.

Some are under the stewardship of the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Environment Scotland Trust, while others are privately managed, yet all are worth visiting to really appreciate the history of Aberdeenshire.

The National Trust for Scotland offers particularly good value membership and as well as allowing free entry to their historic buildings once you join, you’ll also be contributing towards the upkeep of some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside and coastal areas. Click the advert below for further details.

What better way is there to discover peaceful nature reserves and golden, sandy beaches than by setting off on an adventure to find an ancient castle?

With this thought in mind, I’ve put together a list of the most magnificent and culturally important castles in this Aberdeenshire castle trail, and each one is guaranteed to offer you a fantastic time exploring them.

The Aberdeenshire castle trail – day one

  1. Dunnottar Castle
  2. Crathes Castle
  3. Drum Castle

Click map for directions

Google Map of dunnottar castle scotland

Dunnottar Castle

Possibly the most recognisable castle in Aberdeenshire, Dunnottar Castle sits proudly on top of a remote pinnacle of rock near the coastal town of Stonehaven.

The castle was once home to the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland, and although there have been chapels and other buildings on the rock since the 7th century, the castle as we see it today is mainly from the 15th and 16 centuries.

Over its long history Dunnottar Castle has been involved with many pivotal points in Scotland’s history, including the Jacobite uprising where it passed into hands of both the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, and the Civil Wars of the 17th-century where it served as the hiding place for The Honours of Scotland; the crown, sword and sceptre that now resides at Edinburgh castle.

Visiting Dunnottar today rewards tourists with an unusual experience as they walk up the winding path that leads into the main cliff-top fortifications.

From here you’ll be confronted with fantastic views of the north sea to the east and the Aberdeenshire countryside to the west, while the haunting ruins of the castle provide fantastic photo opportunities for anyone with a camera.

You may also like...  The Complete Guide to Visiting Tantallon Castle in East Lothian

Opening times:

Summer Season (1st April – 30th Sep)

  • 9:00 – 17:30 every day

Winter Season (1st October – 31st March)

  • 1st Oct – 28th Oct: 10:00 – 16:30
  • 29th Oct – 11th Nov: 10:00 – 15:30
  • 12th Nov – 25th Nov: 10:00 – 15:00
  • 26th Nov – 20th Jan: 10:00 – 14:30
  • 21st Jan – 3rd Feb: 10:00 – 15:00
  • 4th Feb – 17th Feb: 10:00 – 15:30
  • 18th Feb – 24th Feb: 10:00 – 16:00
  • 25th Feb – 31st Mar: 10:00 – 16:30

Address: Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, AB39 2TL
Telephone: +44 (0) 1569 762173
email: Contact form here

Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle near Banchory is managed by the Scottish National Trust who have ensured that the building still looks every inch the imposing tower house that it was originally designed to be.

Built in the mid-16-century by the Burnett of Leys family, the castle features one of the most significant collections of portraits in Aberdeenshire, while externally there are over 530 acres of woodland and fields to explore.

Perhaps the most striking feature though is the four-acre walled garden that includes a dizzying variety of plants and even has a croquet court on it’s immaculately manicured lawns.

The main castle building can be viewed by means of a designated route that runs through the enormous maze of rooms, while the castle grounds have a number of walking trails that will take visitors on a journey around woodlands, marshes, ponds and fields.

The more adventurous might like to have a go at the SkyWall, which is a tall climbing wall built on the site near the cafe, and the SkyTrek which is a high-level adventure activity near the car park.

Opening times:

Castle:

  • Jan – Mar, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 30 Mar – 1 Oct, daily, 10.30 – 17.00
  • 1 Nov – 23 Dec, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00

Garden:

  • 1 Jan – 31 Jan, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Feb – 30 Mar, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Apr – 31 Oct, daily, 10.30 – 17.00
  • 1 Nov – 23 Dec, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 23 Dec – 2 Jan 2019, closed

Address: Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, AB31 5QJ
Telephone: 01330 844525
email: [email protected]

Drum Castle

Once the ancestral seat of Clan Irvine, Drum Castle is an impressive series of buildings that have been added to the original 13th-century tower house over the course of more than four hundred years.

The castle played an important role in the nation’s history several times, most notably in the 1600s when it was captured twice by hostile troops during the Civil Wars.

This castle is a mix of buildings from several different centuries and the warren of rooms in various architectural styles makes visiting Drum Castle quite unique compared to others you may have been to before.

As you walk around the buildings you can’t fail to be surprised by the number of twists and turns that the maze of rooms will take you through as you explore each section. Unlike many ancient castles, this one is quite modern by most standards and the Victorian-era modernisation might lead you to wonder what it would be like to live there yourself.

In fact, the Irvine family had continued to live at Drum Castle right up until 1975 so you’ll get a real sense of what it’s actually like to live in an aristocratic family home as you explore every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of Scottish history.

Opening times:

Castle, shop & tea room:

  • 6 Jan – Mar, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 30 Mar – May, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
  • Jun – Aug, daily, 11.00 – 16.00
  • Sep – Oct, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Nov – 22 Dec, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 23 Dec – 6 Jan 2019, closed

Garden of historic roses:

  • 2 Jan – 29 Mar, closed
  • 30 Mar – 31 Oct, daily, 11.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Nov – 31 Mar 2019, closed
You may also like...  Top 25 Things to do in Edinburgh: Location, Details + Videos!

Grounds:

  • All year, daily

Address: Drumoak, Banchory, AB31 5EY
Telephone: 01330 700334
email: [email protected]


The Aberdeenshire castle trail – day two

  1. Castle Fraser
  2. Tolquhon Castle
  3. Haddo House

Click map for directions

Google Map of castle fraser

Castle Fraser

The elegant Castle Fraser is situated close to Kemnay in Aberdeenshire and has been a dominant fixture on the landscape since construction on it began in 1575.

This magnificent fortress is one of the largest tower houses in Scotland and is a fantastic place for lovers of history to soak up over 400 years of family ownership thanks to the care given to it by the Fraser family.

In recent years the castle has become extremely popular with tourists not only for the beautiful architecture but also for the 300 acres of landscaped grounds within which the castle sits.

Visitors can spend all day walking around the mixture of farmland, woodland and walled gardens that comprise the outside grounds, while inside the main building both adults and children can enjoy secret staircases, hidden trap doors and the many colourful stories behind one of the largest portrait collections in Aberdeenshire.

Although Castle Fraser was officially completed in 1636 it has been extensively modernised over the intervening years with new additions like the stable block and landscaped gardens added in the 18th-century. Today the castle is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland and entry is free for NTS members.

Guided tours of around one and a half hours duration are available which let you in on secrets that you might otherwise not discover, such as the little spy holes that were installed in the walls in the Great Hall and the revealing stories behind the artefacts that were collected over years of globe-trotting by the Fraser family.

There are play areas outside for children to burn off energy, and waymarked walks on the estate allow nature lovers to spot the frogs, newts, bats and myriad bird species that live on the estate. All-in-all this castle offers a great family day out.

Opening Times:

Castle:

  • 2 Jan – 27 Mar, closed28 Mar – 30 Jun, Wed – Sun, 10.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Jul – 31 Aug, daily, 10.00 – 16.001 Sep – 31 Oct, Wed – Sun, 10.00 – 16.00
  • 1 Nov – 31 Mar, closed

Garden:

  • All year, daily, 10.00 – 16.00

Grounds:

  • All year, daily

Address: Sauchen, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, AB51 7LD
Telephone: 01330 833463
email: [email protected]

Tolquhon Castle

The Historic Environment Scotland Trust cares for the very grand Tolquhon (pronounced ‘toh-hon’) Castle, and anyone with a love of history is guaranteed to enjoy wandering around these picturesque ruins.

Located around 2 miles south of Tarves, Tolquhon Castle was built by William Forbes between 1584 and 1589 and was designed to impress visitors with its lavish carvings and fine details. Features like the elaborate gatehouse still impress visitors today while the central courtyard and the huge main hall are fascinating to walk around.

Although the castle is impressive in size it sadly fell into ruin after the Forbes family fell into debt at the end of the 18th-century, and so it really is just a shadow of its former glory.

However, many interesting footnotes from history still remain to be discovered by visitors, such as the secret compartment in the laird’s quarters where he hid his valuables and the hidden area below-stairs in the main house.

Opening Times:

  • 1 April to 30 September: Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 5.30pm
  • 1 October to 31 March: Closed

Address: Tarves, Aberdeenshire, AB41 7LP
Telephone: 01651 851 286
email: NA

Haddo House

Haddo House is a stately home located 20 miles north of Aberdeen which has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1979.

Originally the home of the Gordon family for nearly 300 years, the house is a spectacular example of early 18th-century architecture and features extensive collections of portraits, musical instruments and beautifully ornate furniture.

You may also like...  12 Best Castles to Visit in Scotland - Ultimate Guide + Videos

Externally there’s a magnificent terrace garden full of flower beds while an avenue of lime trees leads to the equally impressive Haddo Country Park.

Perhaps the most famous resident of Haddo House was George Hamilton-Gordon who was Prime Minister of Britain from 1852 to 1855.

An avid art collector, he became fascinated by Renaissance artworks and eventually acquired the famous portrait of the ‘Haddo Madonna’ which still hangs in one of the grand rooms. This painting is thought to be the work of the famous 15th-century Italian artist Raphael and is one of the few examples of its kind in the country.

Guided tours are available that will take you through the interesting stories that live on in the artefacts that line the halls and decorate the rooms of this enormous building, while the outside grounds are definitely worth a visit as they not only feature extensive woodland walks but also include a wildflower meadow, a play park and several bird hides.

If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a summer picnic in Aberdeenshire, Haddo House really should be at the top of your list.

Opening Times:

House

  • 2 Jan – 29 Mar, Closed
  • 30 Mar – 30 Jun, Daily Tours, 12.00-15.00
  • 1 Jul – 31 Aug, Daily Tours, 11.00-16.00
  • 1 Sep – 4 Nov, Daily Tours, 12.00-15.00
  • 5 Nov – 31 Mar 2019, Closed

Garden & grounds

  • Open all year, Daily, 09.00 – Sunset

Address: Methlick, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, AB41 7EQ
Telephone: 01651 851440
email[email protected]


The Aberdeenshire castle trail – day three

  1. Fyvie Castle
  2. Delgatie Castle
  3. Kinnaird Head Castle & Lighthouse

Click map for directions

Google Map of fyvie castle

Fyvie Castle

Fyvie Castle dates back to the 13th century when it was built by William the Lion as a royal stronghold, and it remained under royal ownership until the late 14th century, at which point it passed into several generations of noble Scots families; first Preston, then Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and finally Leith.

Today the fortress is owned and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland and it has to be on the top of the list of historical attractions to visit in Aberdeenshire.

Within the rooms of the 800-year old castle are some of the finest collections of antiquities, armour, portraits and furniture that you’re likely to find in any castle in Scotland, and you’re free to wander around the rooms either as part of a guided tour or by yourself.

This place drips with history in every corridor, gallery and staircase, and the guided tours are definitely worth taking as you’ll learn surprising facts about Fyvie that you might otherwise miss.

For instance; the castle’s guests have included Robert the Bruce and Charles I, there’s a skeleton entombed within the walls of one of the bedrooms, and there’s a secret room somewhere in the castle that legend says must never be opened.

In fact, there’s an entire history of ghostly goings-on at Fyvie Castle which led to the TV series ‘Most Haunted’ presenting a show dedicated it, so if you’re a fan of spooky tales you might enjoy hearing a few from the expert guides as they take you on a tour.

Moving through the rooms of the portrait collections you’ll find works by Raeburn, Romney, Gainsborough and many others, as well as lots of interesting additions to the castle including an ice house, a bird hide and a glass-roofed racquet court.

There’s even a loch in the outside gardens with its own resident collection of wildfowl, and your visit can be rounded off with a visit to the Victorian kitchen tea room.

Opening Times:

Castle and shop 

  • 2 Jan – 29 Mar, closed
  • 30 Mar – 31 May, Sat – Wed, 11.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 16.15)
  • 1 Jun – 31 Aug, daily, 11.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 16.15)
  • 1 Sep – 31 Oct, Sat – Wed, 11.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 16.15)
  • 1 Nov – 31 Mar 2019, closed
You may also like...  The Complete Guide to Visiting Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow

Address: Turriff, Ellon, AB53 8JS
Telephone: 01651 891266
email[email protected]

Delgatie Castle

Delgatie Castle has been standing on this site near Turriff since the late 16-century, but it’s known that a fortification of some kind has existed there since at least the 11th-century.

A fine example of a Scottish keep, Delgatie Castle consists of the main keep building, an adjoining house and two wings that are offset from the main building.

Although the castle was initially owned by the Earl of Buchan, after the Battle of Bannockburn it was given to Clan Hay where it remained their family home until passing into the care and ownership of the Delgatie Castle Trust.

Inside you’ll find some of the finest painted ceilings in Scotland, a bedchamber visited by Mary Queen of Scots, various collections of paintings, and the widest turnpike stair in Britain.

Externally there’s a large area of pasture land where horses roam freely and there are cottages that are available for guests to rent as well as a river that’s a very popular trout fishing site.

One of the main draws to Delgatie is the Yester Room which serves fantastic traditional afternoon teas on vintage china and tableware (the food there won the Scottish Baking Award in 2015 and 2016), and the gift shop which sells a variety of gifts in the Clan Hay tartan.

Opening Times:

  • 10am to 4pm – 8th January to 31st March and 1st October to 20th December
  • 10am to 5pm – 1st April to 30th September

Address: Delgaty, Turriff, AB53 5TD
Telephone: 01888 563479
email[email protected]

Kinnaird Head Castle and Lighthouse

Kinnaird Head Castle and Lighthouse is one of the most unusual fortifications in the entire British Isles. Originally built by Sir Alexander Fraser in the late 16th-century, it served as a family home until 1787 at which point it passed into the ownership of the Trustees of the Northern Lights, who converted it into Kinnaird Head Lighthouse.

Although no longer used as a lighthouse (a smaller unmanned beacon now takes that role), Kinnaird Head Castle retains many of the original lighthouse features that have been preserved just the same as the day when the last lighthouse officer walked out of its doors.

The location is perfect for taking photographs of the rugged Aberdeenshire coastline and there are plenty of interesting things to discover there, such as the nearby three-storey stone tower that was used as a storehouse but has legends of hauntings from the Fraser family member that leapt to her death onto the rocks below.

It’s quite incredible to find a working lighthouse tower built inside a castle, and thankfully the entire site has been carefully maintained by the Kinnaird Head Trust. The attraction is formed into two parts, with the castle and lighthouse combined in one section and the nearby Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in another.

The lighthouse features a climb up a spiral staircase which leads out to some amazing views across the north sea, while the museum exhibits some interesting displays of lighthouse artefacts that have kept ships clear from the rocky Scottish coastline for hundreds of years, including the largest lens collection in Britain.

Opening Times:

  • Winter Opening Hours (November to end March).
  • From Tuesday to Sunday, tours leaving: 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm
  • Summer Opening Hours (25th March to end October).
  • Monday – Sunday, tours leaving: 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm

Address: Castle Terrace, Fraserburgh, AB43 9DU
Telephone: 01346 511 022
email: NA

Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland. With passes starting at just £35 (as of 2019) it’s an absolute bargain!

If you’d like to find free attractions in Aberdeenshire read this guide: Free Attractions in Aberdeenshire and Moray.


Share it or save it:

Craig Smith

A proud native of Scotland, Craig Smith loves writing about the country almost as much as he loves exploring it. His aim is to visit every Scottish attraction and share his experiences with the world. Follow Craig's adventures on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.