Scotland's Castle Trail
With over 260 castles, stately homes and ruins dotting its landscape, Aberdeenshire is unsurprisingly known as 'Scotland's Castle Country.' There are more castles per acre here than anywhere else in the UK, and you can discover 19 of the most famous and dramatic castles in the region on Scotland's Castle Trail.
Get inspiration from VisitScotland’s suggested six-day itinerary and simply follow the distinctive brown and white Castle Trail road signs through the heart of Aberdeenshire.
There are plenty of castles near Aberdeen, so you can easily base yourself in the city for your first day on the trail, which takes you to the impressive ruins of Dunnottar Castle, on to the fairy-tale Crathes Castle and finishes at Drum Castle, a fine Jacobean mansion house.
Start at Stonehaven, which can be reached by heading south from Aberdeen on the A90/A92, and you'll be met by the well-preserved ruins of Dunnottar Castle, perched on a dramatic cliff some 160 feet above the North Sea. Fought over by William Wallace and Oliver Cromwell, it was used as a set for Franco Zeffirelli's 1991 film Hamlet. If you're lucky, you may even see puffins or dolphins from the castle ramparts.
Heading north from Stonehaven on the A957 brings you to Crathes Castle, a few miles east of Banchory. Crathes is a classic storybook castle standing in superb grounds with a range of woodland trails on offer to help you explore. Inside, spiral staircases lead to rooms famous for their Jacobean painted ceilings and resident ghost, the Green Lady. Outside, the gardens feature large yew hedges and a colourful double herbaceous border. The wider estate offers six separate walking trails to enjoy, as well as a Go Ape! treetop adventure park and children's adventure playground.
Located five miles east of Crathes Castle, near Drumoak, Drum Castle features a late 13th-century tower, a fine Jacobean mansion house and later Victorian additions. Superb furniture and paintings are on display while the estate's woodland trails and exceptional walled rose garden are well worth exploring.
Day two on the trail takes you west and north of Aberdeen. Head to Castle Fraser and enjoy the splendid interiors of this grand castle before travelling north through the beautiful Grampian countryside to Tolquhon Castle and on to Haddo House, an elegant mansion.
About 16 miles west of Aberdeen, near Sauchen, stands Castle Fraser, one of the grandest castles of Mar. This magnificent building contains an evocative Great Hall, fine furniture and paintings. Enjoy the beautiful secluded walled garden, extensive woodland walks with fine views of the castle plus a children's adventure playground. Visit the tearoom and enjoy homemade cakes in the ambience of the 19th-century castle kitchen, before browsing the shop.
Tolquhon Castle at Tarves is one of the most picturesque of the castles in the Grampian countryside. Largely built in the late 16th century by the Forbes family, it houses the Tolquhon Tomb, one of the best examples of Scotland's so-called Jacobean 'Glorious Tombs'. Don't forget to look for the secret compartment in the laird's quarters where he hid his valuables.
Haddo House near Methlick is an elegant mansion house boasting sumptuous Victorian interiors beneath a crisp Georgian exterior. Noted for fine furniture and paintings, including artworks by Sir Thomas Lawrence and James Giles, the historic home designed by William Adam also has a terraced garden. Explore the grounds and adjacent country park with its lakes, walks and monuments.
On the third day of your tour you'll travel from Aberdeen to Fraserburgh, located on the glittering Moray Firth coastline. Stops include Fyvie Castle, where you can see a treasure trove of fascinating objects, Delgatie Castle, which boasts magnificent painted ceilings, and Kinnaird Head Castle, home to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
Begin your day at Fyvie Castle, Turriff, about 50 minutes north of Aberdeen. Fyvie is an outstanding example of Scottish baronial architecture. Begun as a simple castle in the 13th century, five powerful families each added significantly to it until it reached its present form. Inside, the magnificent sweeping staircase is the most dramatic feature while many treasures are on display including a superb collection of arms, armour and paintings. You can also stroll around the loch or visit the racquets court and bowling alley.
Heading north on the A947, you encounter Delgatie Castle at Delgaty. The castle dates from the 11th century and is steeped in Scottish history yet still has a surprising lived-in atmosphere. It has some of the finest painted ceilings in Scotland and also boasts an award-winning restaurant and coffee shop.
Bring your third day to a close at dramatic Kinnaird Head Castle, which is now home to the fascinating Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. Built by the Frasers of Philorth in 1570 the castle was altered in 1787 to incorporate a Stevenson Lighthouse Tower, which is built through the heart of the castle. Take a tour of the museum to discover Kinnaird Head's fascinating transformation from castle, to lighthouse, to museum.
Either spend your evening in Fraserburgh or travel west along the sparkling coastline to Banff, where your itinerary begins tomorrow.
On the fourth day of your trip you'll visit a gorgeous historic mansion, Duff House, before enjoying a circular tour around three splendid ruins, Huntly Castle, Spynie Palace and Balvenie Castle.
Your first stop of the day is Banff's Duff House, one of Scotland's architectural masterpieces. This Adam-designed historic house is a treasure house and cultural arts centre operated by a unique partnership between Historic Environment Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council. It also boasts extensive grounds and woodland walks by the River Deveron.
Huntly Castle served as a baronial residence for the Gordons for five centuries and is remarkable for its impressive architectural features including fine heraldic sculpture and inscribed stone friezes.
Spynie Palace, a few miles outside Elgin, was the residence of the bishops of Moray for 500 years and its mighty tower house, David's Tower, was one of the largest in Scotland. It also had a bowling green and reputedly, according to one account, a tennis court. The beautiful surroundings and wildlife make the palace a wonderful place to visit.
Almost 15 miles west of Huntly on the A920, Balvenie Castle is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. Originally the seat of the powerful Comyn Earls of Buchan, it later became the home of John Stewart, Earl of Atholl. The Stewarts changed the formidable medieval stronghold into a pleasing Renaissance residence.
Day five features three very different castles. Leith Hall is packed with treasures for you to uncover, Kildrummy Castle offers great views of the wild lands of Strathdon and Corgarff Castle gives an insight into barrack life in the 1700s.
Seven miles south of Huntly, Leith Hall is a typical Scottish laird's residence brimming with family treasures amassed throughout the lifetimes of 10 generations of the Leith-Hay family. The house was used as an auxiliary hospital during the First World War and an exhibition tells the story of military men and the part they played in battles through the decades. Enjoy a visit to the beautiful gardens with features including a rock garden which is being restored to its original 1900s design.
Head south on the A97 to reach the great castle of Kildrummy. This stronghold of the Earls of Mar dominates the landscape around Strathdon. Although ruined, it retains many fine features including its hall and chapel.
Set in a striking moorland setting 18 miles south west of Kildrummy, Corgarff Castle's tower house is surrounded by a distinctive star-shaped perimeter wall. View the reconstructed barrack rooms and feel the atmosphere of barrack life at the castle in 1750, when Government redcoats were stationed here.
The final day of your tour takes you through the heart of Royal Deeside. Begin at Braemar Castle and see the interesting curios of this 17th-century stronghold. Travel on to Balmoral Castle, the splendid Scottish holiday home of the Royal Family, and finish your day at fairytale Craigievar Castle, which is decorated with turrets and gargoyles.
Begin your day in the charming town of Braemar and visit Braemar Castle, the seat of Clan Farquharson. Most recently furnished with many interesting curios in the 1950s by the flamboyant first wife of the Laird, the castle is best known for its unusual star-shaped outer wall. Take a guided tour of the castle with a local volunteer or discover more with an audio guide.
Head back east on the A93 to explore Royal Deeside, home to the famous Balmoral Castle, a firm favourite with the Royal Family. The estate has been in the family since 1848, after it was purchased by Queen Victoria. Enjoy a stroll around castle gardens, visit the ballroom and special exhibitions or relax with a drink in the coffee and gift shop.
Some 45 minutes east of Ballater is one of Scotland's most iconic and best-loved castles, Craigievar. The riot of turrets, gargoyles and high corbelling work create the bewitching appearance which is said to have inspired Walt Disney. Visitors can also enjoy the fine grounds and waymarked trails surrounding it.