Top 6 Castles To Visit In Aberdeenshire

By: Alison Chino

We are fortunate to live near what it is commonly known in Scotland as The Castle Trail. Since we are from a country that is really too young to have many castles, we are positively enchanted with visiting these fortresses and strongholds from ages ago. We have not seen them all, as there are over 2000 in Scotland, but we have managed to visit quite a few and here are the top ones that you can see as an easy day outing from our home in Aberdeen.

1. Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle is only 15 miles from Aberdeen and it has the unusual advantage over many other castles of being open longer in the season. Most of the area castles close at the end of October, but Crathes Castle is open from March to December. The castle tour is self-guided so you can go at your own pace, but the friendly members of Scotland's National Trust have loads of history to share if you are curious. This castle is well suited for outings with children, with beautiful grounds for playing and lots of walking trails in the surrounding woods. Also, there is a Go Ape ropes course for older kids that is very fun if you like being in the tree tops. A nearby playground with a mini zipline is a fun option for younger kids. Our whole family loves this castle and we have been several times to walk in the woods, tour the castle and swing through the tree tops!

2. Dunnottar Castle

Another favorite castle near Aberdeen is Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, which is around 30 minutes south of the city. This castle is a ruin perched atop a rock outcropping in the sea. It does not seem possible that a castle could have been built so high up on this cliff, especially such a long time ago. From its dramatic position, the fortress was a great stronghold in many important events in Scotland. Rich with history that is sometimes troubled, Dunnottar was visited by many of the most important figures in Scottish history, including William Wallace. Since the castle is a ruin, our boys were able to run and play all over the grounds, imagining their own battles. This castle by the sea has been their favorite one we've seen so far.

3. Kinnaird Head Lighthouse

A really different castle to visit is up on the coast in Fraserburgh where an old 16th century castle was turned into a lighthouse in 1787. Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, which is part of the Scottish Lighthouse Museum, was actually built on top of the castle. The whole building has been lovingly restored to preserve the memory of the days when lighthouses were manned by keepers, who blew the foghorns and kept the lights burning for ships at sea. Kinnaird Head is completely different from the other castles on the trail in Aberdeenshire, and we enjoyed seeing this fun twist on a castle.

4. Drum Castle

Drum Castle is just a little ways away from Crathes Castle, so you could visit them both in one day if you wanted. There are three different mile long trails that leave from Drum Castle that we love to walk. There is a farm trail, a forest trail and a garden trail. They are all very flat and easy walks through old pine forests and along lanes surrounded by fields of sheep and ancient stone walls. We have really enjoyed how many of the castles have such lovely walking trails nearby. They make a day out to the castle a perfect treat for us since we are currently city dwellers.

5. Castle Fraser

Castle Fraser is perhaps the most child-friendly castle we have seen. In addition to a playground and a woodland garden that has been built for the imagination of a child, there are loads of activities planned at this castle with children in mind. There was a craft table full of projects the day we were there, and there was a sort of treasure hunt on the self-guided tour of the inside of the castle where you were trying to find an object in each room. On Saturdays, the castle has a place set up where you can buy plants and produce that have been grown in the castle garden. We considered it a special treat to take home royal "neeps and tatties." (turnips and potatoes)

6. Balmoral Castle

I have to mention Balmoral Castle, even though we have not yet been inside. We are watching for the first opportunity to go because it is not open as often as the other castles. The reason for this is that Balmoral is the Queen's residence in this part of the country. Set in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, Balmoral is supposed to be one of the highlights of The Castle Trail. We have done walks in the surrounding hills and they are positively breathtaking. When we moved here the Queen was "in residence," which means the castle is closed to visitors. It is traditionally open from April to July.

For more information on The Castle Trail, including maps, admission fees and opening times, you can visit The National Trust of Scotland or Visit Scotland. Both places have been wonderful sources of information for us as we have explored our new home. (Tip: Drum Castle, Crathes Castle and Castle Fraser are all National Trust properties, so if you are planning to visit all three, it could be a good idea to go ahead and join The National Trust.)

There is so much to see in Scotland, but the castles which are full of history and happily situated amidst the natural beauty of the hills, the woods and the sea, have definitely been a highlight of our new home country!


About the author

Expat Blog ListingAlison Chino is an American expat living in Scotland. Blog description: Chino House is a family travel and food blog about an American family living in Scotland. Adventures will abound.
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Contest Comments » There are 7 comments

Sharon wrote 10 years ago:

Ah, I do love to visit castles. Thanks for posting this.

Ann wrote 10 years ago:

So, I read through two of your castle lists, turned to my husband and said: Ok, when are we going to go to Scotland again? We went on our honeymoon and again a few years ago, but we have not done anything resembling a castle trail and now I have to do this.

Kerry wrote 10 years ago:

You're so lucky! And you will love Balmoral. I think I enjoy the forest (which I'm convinced is full of Ents) more than the castle itself!

Derek wrote 10 years ago:

Always wanted to take a 'theme' trip somewhere and this sounds like the perfect adventure while in Scotland. Definitely on the to-do list now.

V. Palmer wrote 10 years ago:

Have lived in Scotland for almost three years now and somehow missed the memo about the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse. Will definitely check it out. Thanks!

Jessica wrote 10 years ago:

How cool is it to see castles anytime you want? I haven't been to any of these but I need to get over to that side of the country and put my National Trust membership to better use!

Adelina wrote 10 years ago:

Castles pretty much right in your backyard? Too cool! Sounds like the making of a great themed holiday.

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