Nestled along the Moray Firth coastline, the picturesque village of Portsoy is a study in timeless beauty. This 17th-century harbour village is a treasure trove of Scottish heritage and tradition with its cobbled streets, quaint stone cottages, and the salty tang of the sea hanging perpetually in the air.
Best known for its historic fishing harbour, local whisky distilleries, and annual boat festival, Portsoy offers a serene coastal experience for all visitors to this highly recommended region of Scotland.
Portsoy is one of those hidden gems that you’ve probably never heard of, but if you get the chance to explore this quiet part of Aberdeenshire you really should take the time to check it out.
Nestled in a small bay on the picturesque Moray coast between Cullen and Banff, Portsoy is a small sea-trading village that time appears to have forgotten about.
Quaint wee cottages line the roads that wind their way down to the seafront, and it’s there in the 17th-century harbour where you’ll find some of the warehouses that stored the Portsoy marble the village was once famous for.
This red and green serpentine marble is renowned for its quality and was at one time shipped all over the world, and even today you’ll likely come across examples of jewellery and statues made from it if you ever visit the Palace of Versailles in France.
Other commodities that travelled through the old port were coal which was imported for domestic fires and linen which was exported to England.
It must have been a busy place in its heyday but it’s difficult to imagine the commotion nowadays because it’s so peaceful – at least until the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival starts in June.
For the rest of the year, Portsoy draws visitors who mainly come to see the picturesque harbour which is a real step back in time.
It’s reminiscent of the old fishing villages that line the coast of Cornwall, and while the weather isn’t usually as nice as you’ll find down south the village is equally pretty.
1: There are good walks along the coastline in both directions. I recommend heading east around Strathmarchin Bay as it’s a good place for dolphin spotting.
2: If you’re looking for somewhere to have a picnic you won’t go far wrong by walking from Portsoy harbour to Links Bay. There’s a nice grass area with picnic benches and fantastic views over the North Sea.
1: Combine a visit to Portsoy with the coastal village of Cullen which is situated 6 miles to the west.
3: If you’re after food and gifts there’s a gift shop in the harbour that sells arts and crafts and delicious ice cream. There’s also a small pub in the harbour that serves food.
Recent years have seen the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival held in the old harbour where a celebration of the region’s fishing heritage can be enjoyed in a variety of events including competitive sailboat racing and demonstrations by traditional craftsmen.
Many of these skills are dying out so it’s nice to see them still being used in boat restoration and building, and looking at the classic sailboats as they race past the harbour you get the feeling that machines will never replace the human hand.
But there’s more to the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival than boats. The event offers a wide variety of activities from live music to kids’ fun parks but it’s the food that many people come for with the mouth-watering aromas of fresh-cooked fish filling the air.
Up to 16,000 people attend the event which is as good an excuse as any to visit Portsoy to sample another of its secrets – Portsoy ice cream.
Made locally and available in a dizzying array of flavours it’s the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing summer’s day in this lovely historic village.
Outside of the festival you can discover the history of Portsoy at the Salmon Bothy museum – a former working salmon house that displays artefacts and information about the harbour and the salmon fishing trade that was one of the main sources of income for the villagers.
Although it’s quite small the museum is really interesting and I was surprised to learn that it’s entirely managed by volunteers.
Admission is free but the staff will be grateful for any donations you’d like to give.
The 113,000-square-foot harbour with its 660-foot quay has since become popular with visitors who are keen to take advantage of the photo opportunities on offer.
Meanwhile, a little exploring to the western side will take you up a small embankment to gorgeous views overlooking both the village and the North Sea.
A sculpture of a dolphin at the top of the mound gives some clue as to why nature lovers also flock to Portsoy, as pods of dolphins are frequently seen swimming by and playing close to the shoreline.
Although Portsoy was well-known as a fishing port in the 16th century the harbour that we see today wasn’t constructed until 1693 when the 8th Earl of Boyndie decided that the Aberdeenshire fishing industry would benefit from improved berthing and materials storage in Portsoy.
Take a close look at the old harbour and you’ll notice that the stone walls have been laid with horizontal rather than vertical stones as it was thought the walls would resist the crashing waves better, and I guess they must have been right because it’s still standing over 300 years later.
The ‘new’ harbour was built in 1825 to keep up with the demands made by the herring fishing industry but as the trade in herring declined in the 1900s Portsoy became less and less used.
Today you’ll find more pleasure craft than fishing boats but thankfully the charm and character of the place remain intact.
Things to do
Visit the Portsoy Boat Festival: This historic maritime event showcases traditional sailing boats and celebrates the seafaring heritage of Portsoy. Visitors can admire the vessels, watch boat races, and enjoy live music, craft stalls, food, and drink.
Explore the Portsoy Salmon Bothy: This building used to be a hub for salmon fishing in the 19th century. Now, it’s a fascinating museum featuring a collection that includes fishing equipment, photographs, and historic artefacts related to the sea. Visitors can gain an understanding of the harsh conditions faced by the fishermen and the importance of this industry to Portsoy.
Wander around the Old Harbour: Built in 1679, the Old Harbour is a charming place where you can stroll around the quaint, cobbled streets, admire the stone cottages, and enjoy the stunning views of the North Sea. The harbour area is also home to a variety of local shops and eateries, perfect for a leisurely lunch or a spot of souvenir shopping.
Discover Portsoy Marble: Located in the picturesque setting of the Old Harbour, the Portsoy Marble Shop is an outlet for the famous marble that was once transported the world over. Find unique ornaments and jewellery made from the polished stone as well as a range of locally made knitwear, textiles, and soaps.
Hike the Moray Coast Trail: For those who love the great outdoors, the Moray Coast Trail offers stunning coastal views and the chance to spot local wildlife, including dolphins. The trail runs through Portsoy and offers a mix of terrain from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs, making for an exhilarating and scenic walk.
Old Harbour: The town has an Old Harbour that was constructed in 1692. It is one of the oldest harbours on the Moray Firth and was used for trading with the Baltic countries.
Portsoy Marble: Portsoy is famed for its unique Serpentine stone, often referred to as ‘Portsoy Marble’. This beautiful stone has been used for centuries for various purposes, including jewelry making.
Scottish Traditional Boat Festival: Portsoy hosts the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors. The festival celebrates Scotland’s maritime and cultural heritage with boat races, music, and craft demonstrations.
Salmon Bothy Museum: The Salmon Bothy Museum is a local attraction that showcases the salmon fishing history of the Moray Firth coast.
Film Location: Portsoy has served as a film location for several productions. Most notably, it was featured in the movie adaptation of ‘Whisky Galore!’ in 2016.
Things to do nearby
1: Duff House. Banff AB45 3SX. 15-minute drive.
A grand Georgian country house set in magnificently manicured grounds. The house is under the management of Historic Environment Scotland and also the National Galleries of Scotland which look after the extensive collection of portraits that are on display. Visitors can explore the house and grounds on a self-guided tour.
2: Cullen. 8-minute drive.
A coastal village and former royal burgh. Cullen boasts a very clean golden sand beach backed by a golf course overlooking the North Sea. The village is famous for being the birthplace of one of Scotland’s favourite dishes – Cullen Skink.
3: Sunnyside Beach. Buckie AB56 4SS. 8-minute drive to Cullen plus a 30-minute walk.
A secluded beach to the east of Cullen that can only be accessed by following a footpath that runs along the coastline or a narrow track that threads through fields. The beach is surrounded by low cliffs on each side and there is a winding path that offers clifftop walks between Cullen and the small village of Sandend.
4: Boyndie Visitor Centre. The Old School, Boyndie, Banff AB45 2JT. 9-minute drive.
A six-acre recreation site that includes managed gardens, ponds, woodland, a restaurant, a garden centre and a gift shop.
5: Banff Heritage Trail. Banff AB45 1AY. 14-minute drive.
The historic town of Banff borders Banff Bay and the River Deveron. There are many historic buildings in the town centre which can be discovered by following the heritage trail that aims to show visitors the story of this quaint coastal town.
Frequently asked questions
Which county is Portsoy?
Portsoy is situated in the county of Aberdeenshire.
Address: Aberdeenshire, AB45 2RX.
Directions map: Google Maps
Is Portsoy a nice place to live?
Portsoy is considered one of the nicest places to live in Aberdeenshire. The historic harbour is a major tourist attraction, the port village benefits from a spectacular coastal setting, and it offers access to the Cairngorms in just over 30 minutes.
What is the population of Portsoy?
The population of Portsoy is around 1,800. The 2001 census lists Portsoy as having a population of 1,734.
When was Portsoy harbour built?
The old harbour was built by Sir Patrick Ogilvie – the 8th Earl of Boyndie – in 1693. The new harbour was built in 1825 due to demand from the growing Scottish herring fishing industry.