Must See Castles in Aberdeenshire
We were lucky to spend a week in the gorgeous Aberdeenshire area of Scotland. This is the northeast part of Scotland, stretching east of the Highlands all the way to the North Sea. The area has beautiful scenery for everyone – rugged coastlines, beaches, dense forests, and rolling hillsides. Not to mention it is home to over 300 castles and estate homes! In this area there are more castles per square acre than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, so following the Castle Trail is a must do.
We were lucky to spend 3 nights in the beautiful Douneside House, a lovely estate near Tarland. The estate is now a luxury hotel, open to the public but also dedicated to members of the British Armed Forces. The estate was purchased in 1888 by Sir Alexander and Lady MacRobert. The MacRoberts had three sons, all of whom tragically died in aviation related incidents. Their eldest son died in a pre-war aviation accident, and the younger two sons were Royal Air Force pilots killed six weeks apart from each other during World War II. Following the death of her sons, Lady MacRobert set up a charitable trust in their honour. The Douneside House is owned by the MacRobert trust, and until recently, was a retreat exclusive for military personal and their family. The estate and gardens are so tranquil, making it the perfect place for people to relax and recharge.
We loved our stay at Douneside and were so lucky to be able to call it home during one of our house sits. Our garden and forest walks were some of the best times we have had so far in Scotland! Because of our location while staying at Douneside, we followed the Castle Trail through the Royal Deeside area and then along the coast near Aberdeen. All in all we saw 7 castles in this area, all of which were unique and worth a visit.
This castle dates back to the 17th century and is considered to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Its candy pink colour is definitely fit for a princess, and makes the castle quite different from others in the area. We visited the castle on a day when it was closed, which was kind of nice because we had the grounds all to ourselves. Although we couldn’t go inside the castle, we really enjoyed walking around the grounds and admiring the castle’s exterior.
Inside the castle is a great display of armour, weapons, and art. We also read that there is no artificial lighting above the ground floor, as the former owner’s wanted people to enjoy the castle interior and art with the natural sunlight – how those who previously lived in the castle would have enjoyed it.
The castle grounds at Crathes castle are large and great for a family outing. We easily spent 1.5 hours in the gardens, admiring the various plants, trees, and designs – all while enjoying the large castle in the background. There is also a café and adventure park on the grounds for those looking for some excitement for their children.
The castle dates back to the 16th century, and was home to the Burnett family for almost 400 years. We did a self-guided tour inside, and got to visit every part of the castle. There are guides inside who can provide more information about the castle, and there are also reading cards inside to provide more information depending on the room you are in. The castle has beautiful woodwork, painted ceilings, antique furniture, and many family portraits.
Our favorite part of this castle was definitely the gardens. Even in fall the colours were beautiful! We could only imagine how gorgeous it would be in the spring and summer.
We really enjoyed our tour of Drum Castle. Fortunately the castle is still open in October, and they offer guided tours so we really got a bunch of information during our walk through. One of our favourite rooms in the castle was the library. It contains over 4,000 books and looks like such a cozy room to relax as you read and look into the garden. We also really enjoyed the tour up through the tower. You can go all the way up to the roof and check out the scenic views from the castle.
We visited Drum Castle late in the afternoon on a beautiful fall day. We loved the fall colours on the castle grounds and in the back near the chapel – we couldn’t believe how red some of the leaves were! They were beautiful. The chapel was also gorgeous, and is quite an old building dating back to the 1500’s.
This castle is one of the largest tower houses in Scotland, and unfortunately it was another castle we visited on a day it was closed. However, we really enjoyed looking at the exterior and walking through the gardens. The gardens at Castle Fraser were not as large as Crathes Castle, but they had huge trees! We enjoyed our walk through the fields and couldn’t believe how large and colourful the trees are.
The walkway to the castle is lined with trees and gives you a gorgeous view of the castle. It was another castle that was nice to visit while it was closed because we got to have great views without anyone around us. The Fraser family lived here for over 400 years, and part of the castle is believed to date back to the 1450s. Although we couldn’t go inside, we read that the inside of the castle is full of family history, portraits, and art by Raeburn.
New Slains Castle and Old Slains Castle
We had such a unique opportunity to have an Airbnb that was built on the remains of the Old Slains Castle. There are only a few ruins left, but the experience was very cool! It was located right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the North Sea, so in addition to seeing castle ruins outside of our windows, we had great views of the rough sea.
Old Slains Castle was built in the 13th century, and was destroyed by gunpowder and cannons in 1594. The owner of the castle at the time, Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, built the New Slain Castle a few miles north once he returned from exile.
There aren’t many remaining ruins of Old Slains Castle, but if you are in the area it is worth walking along the coast. There is a beautiful trail that will take to past the ruins and along the coast. New Slains Castle is really cool and definitely worth a visit. It is surprising very large, and not blocked off to the public so you can roam around and explore everywhere. We had a great time flying our drone over the ruins, taking pictures from the edge of the cliff, looking at huge rocks and cliffs along the edge of the coast. It was a very picturesque location, and even though the castle is in ruins, it’s quite pretty.
This castle is a little out of the way from the others, as it’s located just south of Aberdeen, but another castle worth seeing. We only visited from the outside, and we did a little walk on a trail along the farm fence to see the castle from afar. The weather wasn’t so great when we visited, so we had a quick visit before we headed back to the car to escape the rain.
Dunnottar Castle is full of cool history. Parts of the castle date back to the 4th century, in the 9th century it was attacked by Vikings, and it was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland - Earls Marischal. By far the coolest part of the castle is its dramatic location on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. The whole time we were there we couldn’t help but think how crazy it must have been to construct the castle on top of the cliff top. It would have been quite challenging!
There are two castles in the area that we didn’t have a chance to visit that would definitely be worth seeing if you are in the area: Balmoral Castle and Fyvie Castle. Balmoral Castle is the summer residence for the British Royal Family, and the Queen stays in the large estate between August and October each year. We visited in early October, so tours of the castle were not available, but if you are visiting between April and July it would be a great place to visit. We also heard that if you are lucky you may be able to see the Queen on Sunday mornings as she drives to church. That would be such a cool thing to see!
One important thing to note is that most of these castles are part of the National Trust for Scotland. If you are not members of the National Trust, on average you will pay £12 per adult to enter the castles and gardens, plus £3 for parking. When we went to our first castle, we talked to the information desk about becoming members. We were able to join as a couple for £96, and that gives us free access to all National Trust for Scotland places, free parking at their car parks, and worldwide access to National Trust organizations throughout the UK and Ireland (even Canada!). Since we are visiting Scotland for two months then moving on to England and Ireland, this seemed like a no brainer for us. We used our membership for three castles above, so the membership has already almost paid for itself!
We loved our time in Aberdeenshire. In addition to the Castle Trail, you are close to the Whisky Trail and Coastal Trail so the possibilities are endless for road trip fans! We loved driving around and taking in the beautiful scenery - especially with the beautiful autumn colours.