Aberdeenshire, Scotland | A 3-day itinerary

Although quieter than the likes of tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh or Glasgow, the beautiful Aberdeenshire is a must-see for any trip to Scotland. From charming coastal towns to glorious countryside, it’s easy to spend a few jam-packed days in this gorgeous area. Here’s a local’s guide to 3 days in Aberdeenshire!

Aberdeenshire's beautiful countryside
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Day 1 - Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms

Royal Deeside is the name given to the area around the south-west of Aberdeenshire, which includes areas such as Ballater, Banchory and Braemar. The area was a favourite of Queen Victoria who, after visiting, became infatuated with the area’s natural beauty. It’s also the location of the Scottish home to the Royal Family, Balmoral Castle.

Kick-off your day early with a hike in the Cairngorms National Park, and get some beautiful views over the Scottish Highlands. One of the most popular hikes in Aberdeenshire is up the fearsome Lochnagar, although there are countless mountain trails across the area. If you want something a little gentler there’s a route at the base of Lochnagar that runs right around the stunning Loch Muick. A morning spent in the beautiful Scottish countryside will set the scene perfectly for your stay in Aberdeenshire.

Loch Muick in Aberdeenshire
Loch Muick (above)

If the Scottish weather lets you down, there’s plenty to do indoors too. Pay a visit to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, just one of the many whisky distilleries across Scotland. Whisky tours are a great way to learn about the history of the land while sampling a delicious dram. It’s located within the grounds of the Balmoral Estate, easily accessible via a short uphill walk from the Balmoral car park if you’re there already.

A brisk walk would definitely have helped you build up an appetite, so it’s time to grab a bite to eat. The Royal Deeside area is full of cute eateries. One of the most incredible places to eat in Aberdeenshire is at the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar. The eccentric interior of this hotel is one of a kind, matched by the exceptional service delivered inside. At their cosy Flying Stag bar, you can enjoy dishes from a traditional Scottish menu.

After lunch, it’s time to visit the previously mentioned world-famous Balmoral Castle and Estate. Although you can only visit the castle when the Royal Family aren’t in residence, the grounds of the estate are open year-round. There are some lovely walks around the area, including the famous Balmoral Cairns Walk. There are 11 cairns at Balmoral, each erected in memory of a different member of the Royal Family. The largest of these is the Prince Albert Memorial, a massive stone pyramid on the hilltop. This unique monument is definitely worth the hike and gives incredible views over the Scottish countryside.

Balmoral pyramid
Balmoral pyramid (above)

While you’re on the Balmoral Estate, you’re bound to also spot some highland cows. This is a definite must-do while you’re in the Scottish Highlands, so it’s handy to know that you can always find some here! There are many more highland cows to be found along the Victorian Heritage Trail, which will take you through many more historical landmarks too if you have the time.

Balmoral is located within Ballater, which is the perfect spot for some window shopping or buying souvenirs. There are plenty of independent boutiques and stores with picturesque storefronts to peruse. Close by you can also find the Old Royal Station, a beautifully restored station now converted into a museum & restaurant. It’s worth visiting the area for this building alone - a great place for pictures.

Old Royal Station, Balmoral
Old Royal Station, Balmoral (above)

Day 2 – Castles and Coastal Towns

There are hundreds of castles in Scotland, so you should make sure to do some castle hopping when you’re in the area. Many of them are free to visit, although there may be a small charge for parking. If you’re planning to visit a few castles while you’re in Scotland, you might want to look into a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) card. This covers all parking charges for NTS sites, which also include many museums and galleries across Scotland.

When you’re making your way out of Royal Deeside and heading north, there are plenty of castles to stop by. One of the most iconic castles is Craigievar, located in Alford. The castles striking pink exterior contrasts beautifully against the rolling green hills it sits upon. It is said that this castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. It’s not hard to see why – visitors to Craigievar will agree that it’s totally enchanting!

Craigievar Castle
Craigievar Castle (above)

Other castles such as Drum, Fyvie and Fraser are open for tours year-round, and all within a short driving distance to one another. For something a bit different, you could head east to the ruins of Slains Castle perched right on the edge of the cliffs.

Once you’ve had your fill of castles, it’s time to head to the coast. Along the northern rim of Aberdeenshire, you’ll find plenty of picturesque port villages that are a great place to stroll around. Particularly during the summer months, this is a beautiful part of Scotland to spend your time.

The port village of Portsoy is one of the more undiscovered spots but serves up some of the best ice creams in the area. Walk around the 17th-century harbour and enjoy the sea air as you take in the charms of this little village.

To the east of Portsoy, you can find Banff & Macduff, 2 seaside towns connected by a bridge. First, stop in by Duff House in Banff, a stunning Georgian mansion that houses art exhibitions within its halls. In Macduff, you can visit the marine aquarium or take a walk along the bay.

Day 3 – South to Stonehaven

On day 3, it’s time to head south to cover the last section of Aberdeenshire on your route. This drive will take you south from Macduff to Stonehaven, stopping at a couple of towns on the way.

Your first stop will be Inverurie, a lovely town located west of the city of Aberdeen. The town was founded by the great-great-grandfather of Robert the Bruce, so has a lot of historically significant landmarks worth visiting. One popular attraction is the site of the East Aquorthies Stone Circle. Such artefacts always draw a certain fascination, since there is usually no story to why they were erected, and this one is no different. It’s one of Scotland’s best-preserved stone circles, and it’s estimated that it was put together over 4,000 years ago. Make sure to visit while you’re in the area and try and come up with your own theory as to why this stone circle exists.

One of the north east’s most popular hikes is located around Inverurie too – the summit of Bennachie. This hill is a much easier climb than those you’d find in the Cairngorms, so you’ll find people of all ages and abilities making their way to the famous Mither Tap. A short climb will lead you to the open summit where you can get spectacular views over Aberdeenshire.

For your final stop, move south towards the coastal town of Stonehaven. Despite its proximity to Aberdeen, Stonehaven isn’t a place many people consider on a trip to Scotland.

There are some beautiful walks around the area, offering spectacular coastal views and a glimpse of the local seabird habitats. There’s yet another gorgeous castle here, a ruined fortress on the edge of the cliffs. This one has a really interesting history behind it, so history buffs should consider taking a tour.

To round off your day, make sure to grab some fish & chips and find a spot on the beach to enjoy them. The northeast of Scotland serves up world-famous fish suppers, so no trip is complete without trying some!

Bonus Activities in Aberdeenshire

Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, there is plenty more that you can get involved in during your stay in Aberdeenshire.

In summer, you should try and experience the Highland Games. These events take place across the country and are totally unique to Scotland. The Braemar Highland Games Centre has events year-round and is always happy to welcome visitors. Expect a fun-filled day where you can watch sporting events such as toss the caber and shotput. There’s usually a pipe band or bagpipes being played somewhere too – a proper Scottish day out!

During winter, you can go skiing or snowboarding within the Cairngorms National Park. The Lecht and Aviemore & Glenshee (both located just outside the boundary of Aberdeenshire) are popular spots for snow sports when the weather allows. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, it’s definitely worth a trip to Aberdeenshire to see the beautiful landscape transformed into a winter wonderland.

That rounds up your itinerary for this beautiful part of Scotland. 

Where to stay in Aberdeenshire?

Aberdeen, Dyce and Peterhead are some of the cities that are popular with travellers visiting Aberdeenshire. In addition to these places, there are other cities and towns as well where you can base your holiday. 

Hopefully, this guide by Emma of ‘The Hobby Traveller’ gives you an appreciation for all the beauty Aberdeenshire has to offer. If you have more time, definitely check out the Visit Scotland website for information about seasonal events or activities going on while you’re in the area.

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