Up in the north-east shoulder of Scotland, Aberdeenshire is a land of castles. A spectacular coastline meets the North Sea, while inland, the mountains of the Cairngorms rise in a dramatic display of natural beauty.
Studded along the coast are pretty villages and rugged enclaves, interspersed with golden stretches of dune-backed beaches. The land is steeped in history and heritage, from the austere ruins of once impregnable castles to peculiar ancient standing stones.
The great outdoors is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do in Aberdeenshire. The rich culture shines through in a packed calendar of traditional events and a passion for locally produced food and drink. For a memorable holiday, look no further than Aberdeenshire.
The cities, towns and villages in Aberdeenshire
Along the coast, amidst the mountains and within the countryside, are scattered numerous pleasant towns and villages, not to mention the thriving city of Aberdeen. Read on to discover some of our favourite places to visit in Aberdeenshire.
There are so many fun things to do in Aberdeen, the only problem you’ll have is picking what you want to add to your holiday itinerary! If you’re looking for things to do in Aberdeen for couples, why not try whisky tasting at CASC? Or if you’re after things to do in Aberdeen for families, try the Maritime Museum, Aberdeen Science Centre or Duthie Park.
Catch a show at His Majesty’s Theatre, or the Music Hall or simply wander around Old Aberdeen and admire the fabulous architecture of some of Scotland’s historic buildings.
Good to know
Best attraction: Aberdeen Maritime Museum – telling the story of Aberdeen’s relationship with the sea, covering everything from its industries to offshore energy
Place to eat: Amuse by Kevin Dalgleish – a Michelin Guide restaurant serving gorgeous dishes in a relaxed yet elegant environment
Place to stay: Milton Burn Farmhouse | sleeps 10 + 2 dogs
In the eastern reaches of the Cairngorms National Park, Ballater is a pretty, Victorian village with royal connections. It is the closest village to Balmoral Castle, which makes for a lovely day out when you’re in the area. There’s an 18-hole golf course, plenty of eateries and the famous Royal Lochnagar Distillery where you can sample a dram or two of whisky.
Set within the Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is a jumping-off point for all the adventure activities you can do here, including walking, skiing and sightseeing. With the Grampians being your nearest playground, there are plenty of Munros to tick off your bucket list, and an ancient castle to explore when you want to take the pace down a notch. To find out even more, read our guide to exploring Braemar, the perfect town all year round and whatever the weather!
A little coastal village perched precariously on a cliff ledge in a bay also occupied by Gardenstown, Crovie (pronounced ‘crivie’) is rugged, unique, and impossible to access by car. Locals leave their cars at one end and walk to their houses, while visitors are encouraged to park on top of the cliffs and take the steep walk down the steps and path to the harbour. The temperament of the sea transforms the village, sometimes peaceful and picturesque, at other times raging and tempestuous.
Huntly is a characterful town with plenty to charm visitors. It’s a foodie haven, known for its whisky, ice cream and shortbread. The ruins of Huntly Castle hark back to times when key figures, including Robert the Bruce, stayed there. An alternative attraction is the Huntly Falconry Centre, where you can admire the majestic birds of prey.
Set beside the River Don, Inverurie was founded by the great-great-grandfather of Robert the Bruce. It has a fascinating history and is a great base for exploring places such as the hill of Bennachie, Aberdeen, Castle Fraser and the Glen Garioch Distillery.
Good to know
Best attraction: Garioch Heritage Centre – a free museum with interesting exhibitions about the history of the area
Place to eat: Fennel – delicious local produce served in an elegant setting
Place to stay: The Sutherland Suite | sleeps 3 + 1 dog
This attractive harbour town has a fiery side! Stonehaven throngs with crowds on Hogmanay (31 December), out to witness the Fireballs Ceremony which sees daredevil men and women parading up the high street twirling flaming balls. It’s much more peaceful at other times of the year and is a great base for visiting Dunnottar Castle, and the RSPB Fowlsheugh Reserve where breeding seabirds flock in the warmer months.
Good to know
Best attraction: Dunnottar Castle – dramatic castle set on a towering rock jutting out into the North Sea
Place to eat: The Tolbooth – fine food and fine views on the quayside
Place to stay: Latrigg | sleeps 4 + 1 dog
The beaches in Aberdeenshire
The rugged coast of Aberdeenshire is punctuated by gorgeous peaceful idylls, with golden sand, soft dunes and seaside villages. Scotland's beaches are notoriously beautiful, and Aberdeenshire's offerings are no exception.
The beautiful arc of Aberdeen Beach is a lovely summer spot for fresh air and frolicking in the waves, with the added benefit of the city’s amenities and attractions just a short distance away.
The coastal resort of Stonehaven boasts an attractive sand and shingle beach, with a heated, open-air swimming pool at the north end of the beach offering a warm alternative if the sea is a little too chilly!
If you like your beaches large and unspoilt, head for Balmedie Beach, just north of Aberdeen. Backed by grass-topped dunes, the flat and expansive beach offers walkers mile-upon-mile of uninterrupted coastal beauty.
Surfers flock to Inverboyndie Beach in the north-east of Aberdeenshire. Here the waves are good and the facilities for families abound. There’s a children’s play area, lots of places to pitch up for a beach picnic and public amenities close by.
A hotspot for nature is Newburgh Beach, where a seal colony can be watched from the south side of the estuary. Other critters you’ll encounter here are seabirds, with many species nesting in this natural haven. It’s a quiet beach, with little in the way of amenities, so perfect for a peaceful stroll.
Other beaches in Aberdeenshire
Other beaches of note include sheltered Collieston Beach, 1.5-mile Cruden Bay Beach, pebbly Cullykhan, stunning Fraserburgh and cute Portsoy Beach. Add to these Peterhead Lido, St Cyrus and Sandend and you’re sure to find the perfect beach for your day out. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly, dog-friendly, surfer-friendly or swimmer-friendly, you’ll be spoilt for choice for beaches in Aberdeenshire.
The attractions in Aberdeenshire
The attractions in Aberdeenshire and places to visit are varied and exciting, ranging from awe-inspiring historic sites such as Dunnottar Castle, to the breathtaking landscapes of the Cairngorms National Park.
If there’s one thing you can’t miss when you’re on holiday in Aberdeenshire, it’s a visit to a castle, of which there are many! They are omnipresent in this part of the UK, with Dunnottar Castle, Balmoral, Fyvie and Craigievar being among some of the most visually arresting. For more information, take a look at our blog post about the ruined castles of Aberdeenshire.
Of course, in an area famous for its whisky, it would be remiss not to mention the plethora of distilleries which are open to visitors. Royal Lochnagar, Glen Garioch, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh are amongst some of the most esteemed. Stop by for a tour and a dram to get a real flavour of Scotland.
The Cairngorms National Park invites visitors to engage in action and adventure. Munro bagging is a popular pastime here, with Ben Macdui, Lochnagar, Mount Keen and Carn Aosda some of the favourites to conquer. At 1,309 metres tall, Ben Macdui is the highest mountain in the Cairngorms, and the second tallest in Britain. Climbing it is a gruelling challenge which should only be undertaken by experienced hill walkers in summer. The remote and wild scenery is the reward for what is a highly demanding climb.
Other active things to do in Aberdeenshire include taking to two wheels on the thrilling trails at Aboyne Bike Park or enjoying a round of golf on one of the many golf courses (see below).
Little legs won’t be up to exploring some of the more remote scenery, but luckily there are plenty of family attractions and things to do in Aberdeenshire. Aberdeen Maritime Museum is packed with interesting displays to engage children and adults and the Science Centre is sure to inspire young minds. Dive into a fascinating underwater world at Macduff Marine Aquarium, or enjoy the outdoor spaces and play area at Haddo House and Country Park. A trip on the Royal Deeside Railway will keep mini train enthusiasts happy, and pick any one of the castles which are open to the public and you’ll all enjoy walking in the footsteps of the knights of the realm.
If you’re on the hunt for unusual things to do in Aberdeenshire, you won’t be short of options either. Fraserburgh’s Museum of Scottish Lighthouses gives an interesting and elevated perspective on the seaside town, while elsewhere in Aberdeenshire, Peterhead Prison Museum is a fun and insightful day out for families. Last but not least, you can leave dry land behind and head off on an excursion to spot bottlenose dolphins which frequent the waters off Aberdeenshire – it’s sure to be a memorable trip!
The golf in Aberdeenshire
There are a purported 55 golf courses in Aberdeenshire, so even if you plan to play one round a week for a year, you won’t run out of new ground to cover.
Given the fabulous scenery of Aberdeenshire, the area’s golf courses are blessed with stunning surroundings and amongst them are some of the most beautiful links courses in the world.
Golf courses in Aberdeenshire
Below is a selection of the most celebrated golf courses in Aberdeenshire.
- Royal Aberdeen | AB23 8AT
- Trump International Golf Links – Scotland | AB23 8YE
- Cruden Bay | AB42 0NN
- Murcar Links | AB23 8BD
- Fraserburgh Golf Club | AB43 8TL
- Peterhead Golf Club | AB42 1LT
- Newmachar Golf Club | AB21 7UU
- Meldrum House Golf Course | AB51 0AE
- Duff House Royal Golf Club | AB45 3SX
- Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club | AB41 6BY
For more information, read our guide to golf breaks in Scotland.
The food and drink in Aberdeenshire
Aberdeenshire is a treat for foodies, with lots of locally grown or reared produce, and numerous fantastic restaurants and cafes in which to sample said food.
Where you can find local produce
Huntly is a great place to start when you’re looking for food made in Aberdeenshire. It’s home to Dean’s of Huntly, purveyors of delicious traditional Scottish shortbread which is exported to 30 countries worldwide!
Similarly, ice cream makers Rizza’s of Huntly have been producing mouthwatering flavours for 100 years. The fourth-generation family business uses cream from local dairies to make their well-loved ice cream – found in homes throughout Scotland.
If you’re a meat eater, a trip to Aberdeenshire wouldn’t be complete without sampling Aberdeen Angus beef raised on the rich pastures of Royal Deeside. It’s not hard to find local restaurants that serve Aberdeen Angus, but a good place to start is Vovem Meat and Liquor in Aberdeen.
Whisky has come up a lot in this blog post already, but one more mention should be made in this section, because it really is synonymous with this area of Scotland. If you have to pick one distillery in Aberdeenshire to visit, plump for Royal Lochnagar. Just 1 mile from Balmoral Castle, it earned itself the royal title following a visit in 1848 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A concoction of malted barley and water from the local Scarnock springs make this a delicious tipple to take home.
A mention must also be made of one of Scotland’s other liquid exports. Brewdog’s state-of-the-art brewery is located in Ellon, to the north of Aberdeen, and welcomes visitors on a brewery tour or visit to the taproom.
As for fruit, vegetables and other staples, there are lots of farm shops to stock up your holiday pantry cupboards. Marshall’s in Inverurie, Castleton in Laurencekirk and Finzean Estate in Banchory are great ones to look out for.
Where you can eat out
As you would expect from an area rich in local produce, there’s a wealth of choice when it comes to places to eat in Aberdeenshire. Below we’ve picked out some of the most highly esteemed eating establishments, but be sure that wherever you’re heading, you’ll find pubs, cafes and restaurants aplenty.
Michelin-guide restaurants in Aberdeenshire
These places to eat in Aberdeenshire have the stamp of approval from the prestigious Michelin Guide.
- Fish Shop, Ballater, AB35 5QE – seafood served in a smart environment
- Clunie Dining Room, Braemar, AB35 5YN – dishes created from Scottish ingredients in quirky surroundings
- Kildrummy Inn, Kildrummy, AB33 8QS – beautifully presented meal with a luxury feel
More places to eat in Aberdeenshire
Other restaurants of note include Eat on the Green in Ellon, Moonfish Cafe in Aberdeen, Tarragon by Graham Mitchell in Aberdeen and the Cock and Bull in Balmedie.
The walks in Aberdeenshire
Thanks to its position in northeast Scotland, there are walks in Aberdeenshire to suit all tastes. Enjoy refreshing walks along the coast, scenic rambles in the countryside, and challenging yet rewarding hikes in the mountains.
A scenic route is the 7.7-mile circular walk around Loch Muick on the Balmoral Estate. Fairly level, and with plenty of interesting things to look at en route, it takes in the Glas-allt-Shiel lodge built by Queen Victoria.
For a hill walk with spectacular views, head for the Bennachie Visitor Centre from which a choice of trails branch off and several events run throughout the year. Families can try the wheelchair and pushchair-friendly discovery trail, or the easy Colony Trail through the woods. The steep Mither Tap Timeline Trail requires the most effort, but the trials of the walk will be forgotten upon seeing the impressive views at the top.
As for coastal adventures, striking Dunnottar Castle is the highlight of the coastal walk from Stonehaven Harbour. It’s a 3-mile linear route, or in the summer, you can catch the Land Train for a novel return journey.
A couple of long-distance walking routes take in vast swathes of the varied Aberdeenshire terrain. Among them are the 41-mile-long Deeside Way from Aberdeen to Ballater and the 54-mile Formartine and Buchan Way along a former railway line.
The festivals in Aberdeenshire
Aberdeenshire festivals are the highlights of the calendar, and with so many throughout the year, you can be sure that there’s never long to wait for a celebration.
Taste of Grampian, Aberdeen: A food and drink festival with demonstrations and events
Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, Portsoy: A flotilla of heritage boats and accompanying land-based celebrations
Aberdeen Highland Games, Aberdeen: Everything you would expect from a traditional Scottish highland games
Scottish Week, Peterhead: A week of family fun and music
Turriff Show, Turriff: The largest two-day agricultural show in Scotland
Aboyne Highland Games, Aboyne: A show of strength in traditional Scottish events
Ballater Highland Games, Ballater: Heavy events and games, with something for everyone
The Braemar Gathering, Braemar: A highlight of Scotland’s sporting calendar, regularly attended by the reigning monarch
Hogmanay Fireball Festival, Stonehaven: A daring procession of flailing fireballs through the street
Map of things to do in Aberdeenshire
With so many fun things to do in Aberdeenshire, you’re sure to have a memorable getaway. Here our handy map shows where to find all the places we’ve mentioned above.
The accommodation in Aberdeenshire
Scattered across the northeast of Scotland, our Aberdeenshire holiday cottages provide the perfect base for your explorations. Rest up after walking in the Cairngorm mountains, freshen up following a day at the beach, and cook up a storm with local ingredients amassed on your travels.
With plenty of romantic things to do in Aberdeenshire, it’s a lovely destination for a couples’ holiday, or perhaps you’re planning to head north for a fun-filled family getaway. You needn’t leave the four-legged member of the family behind either, as we have a whole host of dog-friendly hideaways where your pooch can enjoy a holiday too.
For a romantic break – The Garden Rooms at Fasque Castle
Sleeps 2 + 1 dog | Near Fettercairn
Enjoy a fairy-tale getaway in this quirky turreted cottage. With its arched windows, unique shape and decadent décor, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about this little gem. What’s more, it’s set within a walled garden on an extensive estate, so there are peaceful walks from the doorstep.
For a family-friendly holiday – Kinnairdy Castle
Sleeps 7 + 2 dogs | Huntly
What could be more exciting for children than a stay in a bona fide castle? Kinnairdy Castle is a 14th-century tower house, whose interior is packed with thrilling nods to its history. Think coats of arms, huge fireplaces, a banqueting table and stained-glass windows, juxtaposed with all the mod cons you need for a comfortable stay.
For a dog-friendly stay – Headhouse Farm
Sleeps 5 + 2 dogs | Clatt
Two pups are welcome to join you at this lovely family property, where the piece de resistance is the rustic BBQ hut for sizzling up a feast come rain or shine. The interior of the cottage is comfortable and welcoming, with plenty of space for humans and hounds to enjoy time together.
For a big group getaway – Newton House
Sleeps 14 + 2 dogs | Methlick
A gorgeous, detached, period property with a private hot tub, Newton House is a great destination for a family celebration or get-together with friends. A traditional and comfortable home for guests young and old, there’s a convenient en-suite bedroom with a wet room on the ground floor.
Stay with us in Aberdeenshire
If the above properties have piqued your interest, why not have a browse of our entire collection? With cottages dotted throughout Aberdeenshire, you're just a few clicks away from discovering the perfect base for your next holiday.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.