The longer you stay in Aberdeenshire, the more you want to travel around. The region brims with beauty, history, and culture. From dramatic coastlines and rolling hills to charming villages and ancient castles, it’s a county with something for everyone. This is a guide to locations outside the city that roughly fall within an 80-minute drive of Portlethen. Of course, scenic journeys through Aberdeenshire are an attraction in themselves.
Cairngorms National Park and Royal Deeside
Hike through the UK’s largest national park, where snow-capped peaks, glacial valleys, and ancient forests await. Spot wildlife like red deer, golden eagles and even the occasional wildcat. Many of Britain’s rarest animals and birds, such as ospreys, red squirrels, otters and pine martens can also be found, although you may need to venture to the western section to give yourself the best chance. Beauty spots include Loch Muick, a serene lake nestled amidst the mountains, which include King Charles’s favourite, Lochnagar.
Royal Deeside sits inside the gateway to the Cairngorms and is home to the royal holiday retreat of Balmoral Castle. At certain times of year, you can explore the grounds, there is even a 10k run. You can also venture into the wider estate, walk the cairns or visit the Lochnagar Distillery. Ballater is the nearest village to Balmoral; it is known as the ‘Royal Warrant Village’ because so many have been awarded to local
businesses by members of the Royal Family. Further into the Cairngorms is Braemar, a picturesque village with its own castle, surrounded by wooded mountains and valleys. It’s a charming place with a big annual “Gathering” featuring Highland Games, pipe bands, Highland dancing and the like – it has been unfailingly attended by a royal since 1844. Glen Shee Ski Resort is just around the corner. Banchory is home to the Falls of Feugh, where salmon return each year to swim and leap upstream in the fast-flowing Rivers Dee and Don.
The north coast of Aberdeenshire is full of picture postcard fishing villages and towns. The likes of Portsoy with its annual boat festival, Pennan, a popular stop off for fans of the film Local Hero, with its single terrace of houses tucked in by the harbour and Cullen, home of the famous Cullen Skink soup are all worth a visit. Crovie takes the
biscuit for the most eccentric and beautifully preserved fishing village. A single row of houses nestles under the cliffs. It’s an unforgettable spot that makes Pennan look positively spacious. There is no road, no shops (and no phone signal!) – Larger towns like Banff and Fraserburgh are just as picturesque but have more to see and experience. Possible options include the magnificent Duff House in Banff, while in Fraserburgh, which is still a busy shellfish port, there is Kinnaird Head Castle and the Lighthouse Museum.
Stonehaven is a great little town just to the south. It’s the location of Dunnottar and it has pretty harbour and some good places to eat. The Tolbooth Museum is worth a visit and it’s one of those places where something is always happening. From beer and music Festivals to Highland Games, from the Harbour Festival to the Hogmanay fireball procession, check the calendar and book ahead if you need to.
Peterhead is a busy fishing port with 400 boats and a daily fish market just over an hour to the north. The small Maritime Heritage Centre celebrates the history of local sailors, whalers and fishermen and the Arbuthnot Museum features local archaeology amongst other artefacts. The town makes a good base for a day with nearby beaches and nature reserves.
Aberdeen is the county of castles. Some are ruins, others are very much intact. All have something to offer. Here is a pick of the best.
Dunnottar Castle is perched precariously on a clifftop just a few miles south from us. This iconic castle may be a ruin but you can explore its dungeons, towers, and battlements. It’s a great visit and open all year round – weather permitting. To the north is “New” Slaines Castle, another ruin, and the inspiration for Dracula.
Inhabited castles include the spectacular 7 storey Craigievar Castle, guided tours of the famous pink landmark will run year-round once again from later in 2024. Closer in, near Banchory, is Crathes Castle, a magnificent 16th-century building with an intricate maze of turrets, towers, oak panels and painted ceilings. Other notable castles nearby include Braemar, Fraser and Drum. You could spend your whole trip visiting castles, here’s a 6-day itinerary for the dedicated enthusiast.
By the Sea
Venture off the beaten path and discover hidden gems like the Bullers of Buchan, a series of sea caves along the coast south of Peterhead.
North of the town is Britain’s largest sand loch, the Loch of Strathbeg, which is an RSPB reserve full of birds.
Newburgh Beach is one of the most popular with our guests. It is famous for its
wildlife, especially the seal colony. Photographers enjoy the wildlife, the sandy expanses, the views of the Ythan Estuary and the dunes, all of which can be viewed at beach level or on the beautiful coastal path.
Other spots for nature lovers include RSPB Fowlsheugh to the south of Stonehaven with its colony of puffins, and further south, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve which is just a stunning spot with its combination of volcanic cliffs and golden sands.
Haddo House and gardens is twenty miles to the north and has a celebrated annual arts festival. Pitmedden near Ellon has a fabulous walled garden and Farming Museum.
The recumbent stone circle at East Aquhorthies is the largest of its type – the smaller “Aquhorthies” site is very close to us, and fascinating, if less impressive. East Aquhorthies is close to Inverurie, a pretty market town known as the Heart of the Garioch. Here you can see Pictish picture stones and lots of ancient history including the battlefield where the Romans defeated the Picts.
You can also conquer the local hill, Mither Tap, for a great Aberdeenshire panorama that takes less effort than the likes of Ben Macdui or Lochnagar.
Wherever you turn in Scotland, there are secret spots of beauty, history, intrigue and delight – and Aberdeenshire is particularly rich. We hope we have given you some good ideas but we are safe in the knowledge that you can’t go far wrong in our wonderful corner of the world.