Last updated on March 15th, 2020
The Out About Scotland complete guide to Aberdour Castle in Fife
Category: Castle, Event, Gardens, Religious site
Suitable for ages: 0 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 7 out of 10
About Aberdour Castle
Aberdour Castle is located in the quiet village of Aberdour in Fife, and it’s notable for being one of the oldest masonry castles that’s still standing in Scotland.
Built in the early 1100s, the castle is built around a hall house which was gradually extended over several centuries, and although a large portion of the early structure is in ruin the later complex of buildings are in remarkably good condition thanks to the efforts of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) who now maintain it.
As the castle is so close to Edinburgh it’s an easy journey across the Forth Road Bridge to get to this historic building, so if you’re in the Edinburgh area there’s no reason why you couldn’t include Aberdour in your itinerary.
But there’s more this attraction than history and visit is worth the journey not only for the castle but also for the manicured gardens that surround it.
There’s a fragrant walled garden to the east and an equally nice terraced garden to the south (both of which offer lovely views across the Firth of Forth) with a tabled seating area that’s practically begging guests to whip out their cheese sarnies for a summer picnic.
If you’re a fan of the Outlander TV series you’ve got another reason to visit Aberdour as it was the setting for Sainte Anne de Beaupré’s monastery in France in the last episode of season 1 where the Old Kitchen and Long Gallery were both used as filming locations.
This part of Fife has got several filming locations where you can follow in the footsteps of Clare and Jamie (take a look at my guide to Culross) and the official Visit Scotland website has got a really good location map if you want to include Aberdour into an Outlander pilgrimage.
Next door to Aberdour Castle is St. Fillan’s Church which is another medieval building that’s worth taking a peek inside.
Also built during the 1100s, St. Fillan’s Church is an interesting wee building that offers great views across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh, with the rising Pentland Hills nestled on the skyline behind the city.
Once you’ve had enough of history and taking photos of the scenery you can head back to the castle for a light lunch in the cafe which overlooks the terrace (although on my last visit in February 2020 it was unfortunately closed).
Things to do at Aberdour Castle
Although Aberdour Castle isn’t particularly big there’s more than enough activities to keep a family occupied for a few hours thanks to the gardens and church, but you’ll probably want to start your visit with a walk around the castle interior.
As I mentioned earlier, the hall house is one of the oldest surviving structures of its kind in Scotland (the other is Castle Sween in Argyll) and there are some interesting points of interest to take note of as you make your way around it.
There’s a fairly impressive painted ceiling in the east range which dates all the way back to the early 1600s that’s well worth taking a look at, and if you move on into the Long Gallery you’ll get a really good insight into how medieval Scottish castles would have looked back in the day.
While it’s quite bare inside it’s been extremely well renovated by HES, and thanks to the information panels they’ve installed you’ll get a good idea of what everyday life would have been like 900 years ago.
Unfortunately, not all of the castle complex is in such good condition and a large part of the original tower house is in ruin due to a fire that occurred in the 1680s. Even so, there are enough nooks, crannies and hidey-holes that kids will undoubtedly start a game of hide and seek as soon as they get near it.
Once you’ve had your fill of the old buildings you can head out into the two gardens, both of which offer a pleasant short walk.
The terraced garden is formed by four L-shaped levels which descend down in steps towards the Firth of Forth, but it’s the upper terrace where you’ll find the enormous beehive-shaped dovecote that was once used to keep the pigeons that fed the castle’s occupants.
This dovecot is enormous, one of the biggest I’ve seen, and apparently there are over 600 nesting boxes inside (I couldn’t be bothered to count them all) so I guess they must have really liked pigeon meat back in the day.
The walled garden to the east has a small orchard inside it and it also partially encloses St. Fillans Church. While the church isn’t exactly extravagant it’s very pretty and has a definite peaceful feel which you sense as soon as you walk through its doors.
The view towards Edinburgh is very picturesque as well, as long as the haar* hasn’t rolled in of course…
*A haar is a Scots word for a thick cold mist that rolls inland off a body of water – as frequently happens along this coastline.
The history of Aberdour Castle
The very earliest section of the castle is the hall house which is believed to have been built in the 1100s by Sir Alan de Mortimer who acquired the barony of Aberdour in the early part of the century.
Although there’s no record of what became of the de Mortimer’s, historians know that Robert the Bruce granted Aberdour to Thomas Randolph – the Earl of Moray – in 1325 as a gift for his service during the Scottish wars of independence.
The Randolph’s then kept Aberdour in their possession for the next two generations until they granted it to Sir William Douglas in 1351.
At this time Sir Douglas already had a residence in Dalkeith near Edinburgh so Aberdour was used only as a secondary home, but the rising power of the Douglas’s meant that they could afford to expand on the original tower house by building new stair towers and an extension to the south block.
The Douglas’s continued to use Aberdour as a joint seat of barony alongside Dalkeith for several hundred years, and with their increasing fortune came even more extensions to the castle, including the central range built in the 1500s and the east range built in the 1600s.
The decline of the Douglas family began with William Douglas in the 17th-century when mounting interest from loans caused the family to get heavily into debt. After a catastrophic fire broke out in 1688 they found themselves unable to repair the buildings so in 1725 they finally moved out and abandoned the property.
Thankfully, Aberdour was placed into state care in the early 1900s and is now listed as a Category A building, which means it has the highest level of protection possible for a historic building in Scotland.
What I liked about this attraction
- The house and gardens are interesting to walk around
- The church next door is very pretty
- There’s a good cafe on-site
My top tips
- Check out nearby Aberdour Silver Sands beach which looks out over Inchcolm Island and abbey
Photos and video
Address and map
Tickets and opening times
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.
- 1 April 30 September: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm
- 1 October to 31 March: Daily except for Thursday and Friday, 10am to 4pm. Last entry 3.30pm
- Telephone: 01383 860 519
- email: NA
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Car park on-site, Train station nearby
Getting around: Easy-access paths, Disabled access, Pushchair access
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant, Snacks, Toilets