5 days in Aberdeenshire Travel Itinerary

Written by Chris Thornton | 3rd of May 2024
5 day Aberdeenshire travel itinerary

Aberdeenshire is an area with so much to offer and is often overlooked by tourists in favour of Edinburgh or the North Coast 500 (NC500). It's a real shame tourism isn't as active in the northeast of Scotland as it has just as much to offer as the more publicised areas. Grand castles, sweeping coastal trails, and the highest concentration of ancient stone circles anywhere in the country.

I live about 70 miles from Aberdeen and went to university there in 2002. I've explored a great deal in this area and feel well-placed to write a well-rounded travel itinerary of Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City.

This guide will assume you are staying in Aberdeen City, so all directions links will begin there. Let's get started on this five-day adventure!

Table of Contents

Getting to Aberdeen

Aberdeen is the largest and only city in Aberdeenshire, and it has fantastic transport links via road, rail, and air.

Aberdeen by road

If you are travelling from the south, Aberdeen is accessed via the A90 motorway from Dundee. A more coastal/scenic route can be taken on the A92, which takes in Arbroath and Montrose before reconnecting to the A90 at Stonehaven.

Aberdeen now has a bypass road streamlining journeys further north to Fraserburgh on the A90 or west towards Moray on the A96, which goes all the way to Inverness, the Highlands capital.

Aberdeen Bus Station is also located near the railway station, ideal for continuing your journey.

Aberdeen by rail

Getting to Aberdeen by train is easy, with major routes from Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh. The coastal views from Edinburgh to Aberdeen are stunning, first crossing the historic Forth Bridge and following the coast for a good portion of the journey.

It's possible to catch the train from Aberdeen to visit many of the towns on the Aberdeen to Inverness line, such as Huntly and Keith.

Aberdeen by air - Aberdeen Airport

Aberdeen Airport is the biggest Airport in North Scotland and is the easiest and fastest way to get to Aberdeen from abroad or London. The airport is out of the city, but taxis and buses are available to take you to Aberdeen City Centre, which takes about 20 minutes.

Day 1 - Aberdeen City

Let's explore the city first today before heading out into the countryside.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

This exceptional museum, located in the historic Shiprow, offers an in-depth look into Aberdeen's long-standing relationship with the North Sea. The museum stands out for its captivating exhibitions and unique architecture, seamlessly blending an old building with a modern twist.

Upon entering, you'll be greeted with many displays that bring the city's maritime heritage to life. The museum hosts an extensive collection from shipbuilding, fast sailing ships, and fishing to oil and gas exploration. One of the highlights is the intricate model of the Murchison oil production platform, which provides detailed insight into the offshore oil industry that has shaped Aberdeen's economy.

In addition to the historical insights, the museum provides a cosy café where you can relax and enjoy a cup of coffee with a view of the bustling harbour.

Directions to Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Aberdeen Maritime Museum - Image: Iain Cameron.

Aberdeen Science Centre

After immersing yourself in maritime history, head to the Aberdeen Science Centre, a hub of scientific exploration and interactive learning. Located on Constitution Street, this centre is ideal for families, students, and anyone with a curious mind.

The recently renovated and expanded Aberdeen Science Centre offers an engaging and educational experience. It's a place where science is brought to life through interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. The centre is divided into thematic areas, each dedicated to different aspects of science and technology. From exploring the wonders of the human body to delving into the principles of robotics and engineering, there's something to spark the interest of every visitor.

Directions to Aberdeen Science Centre.

St Machar's Cathedral

Located in Old Aberdeen, St Macher's Cathedral is one of my favourite buildings in the city, a striking example of Scottish ecclesiastical architecture and a testament to the city's rich medieval history.

St Machar's Cathedral, believed to have been founded around 580 AD by Saint Machar, stands as one of the oldest cathedrals in Scotland. The present building dates back to the 15th century and is renowned for its impressive fortified west front and twin spires, which dominate the skyline of Old Aberdeen.

I attended a spectacular wedding here 13 years ago; what a fantastic venue!

Directions to St Macher's Cathedral.

St Machers Cathedral Interior
Interior view of St Machers Cathedral. Image: Tom Parnell.

Duthie Park and David Welch Winter Gardens

Conclude your first day in Aberdeen with a peaceful visit to the Duthie Park Winter Gardens, one of the largest indoor gardens in Europe and a true gem of the city. Nestled within the spacious Duthie Park along the banks of the River Dee, this tranquil oasis offers a delightful retreat from the city's hustle and bustle.

As you enter the Winter Gardens, you're greeted by a lush, green world of diverse plant life. The gardens house a wide range of plant species, from local Scottish flora to exotic plants from across the globe. The temperature-controlled environment supports a variety of ecosystems, including a tropical house, an arid house, and a temperate house, each showcasing unique and fascinating plant life.

The highlight for many visitors is the stunning collection of cacti and succulents in the arid house, which boasts one of the most extensive collections in the UK. Another must-see is the Victorian Corridor, which transports you back in time with its charming design and historic ambience.

Adjacent to the gardens, the park offers ample green space, a boating pond, and playgrounds, making it a perfect spot for families and individuals alike. The café within the gardens provides a range of refreshments, allowing you to relax and take in the beautiful surroundings.

Directions to Duthie Park Winter Gardens.

Duthie Park and David Welch Winter Gardens. Explore Aberdeen.
Duthie Park and David Welch Winter Gardens.

Other places to visit in Aberdeen:

  • Union Terrace Gardens: Visit the newly revamped Union Terrace Gardens in the city centre just off Union Street, which reopened in 2023 after a £28.3 million refurbishment. The gardens have wheelchair-friendly paths, a lift, toilets, and a children's play area.

  • Marischal College: If you're a fan of architecture, check out Marischal College in the city centre - the second-largest granite building in the world. This impressive structure received a cleaning a few years ago, and it looks incredible in its refurbished state.

  • The Gordon Highlanders Museum: Discover the captivating history of the world-famous Gordon Highlanders regiment in this intimate museum. Explore fascinating exhibits, including wartime memorabilia, regimental uniforms, and medals. The museum also features interactive displays, a beautiful garden, and a tearoom.

  • Footdee: Perched slightly elevated from the beachfront, Footdee (Fittie) is a charming enclave of 19th-century granite cottages. Despite its proximity to industrial structures supporting the North Sea offshore oil industry, Footdee's quaint character shines through in its meticulously organised streets. Wander through its orderly lanes, and you'll be captivated by the small, bloom-laden front gardens and the whimsically maritime-themed decorations.

Marischal College in the historic town of Aberdeen.
Marischal College, Aberdeen.
 
Footdee / Fittie
Footdee / Fittie in Aberdeen.

Day 2 - North Aberdeenshire

Heading north out of Aberdeen, let's follow the castle trail and part of the stunning Aberdeenshire coast.

Slains Castle

Just a stone's throw north of Aberdeen lies the enigmatic ruins of Slains Castle, perched dramatically on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. With its storied past and breathtaking location, this imposing structure offers a captivating destination for those venturing along the Aberdeenshire coast.

Initially constructed in the 16th century and extensively rebuilt in the 19th century, Slains Castle has inspired visitors and artists alike, most notably Bram Stoker, who is said to have drawn inspiration for his iconic novel "Dracula" during his stay in the area. The castle's open structure, with its sprawling layout and numerous rooms open to the sky, evokes a sense of intrigue and mystery.

Directions to Slains Castle.

Slains Castle
Slains Castle north of Aberdeen.

Bullers of Buchan

Just a short 20-minute drive north of Slains Castle Car Park, you can find Bullers of Buchan - an exceptionally rugged part of the Aberdeenshire coastline. The walks here are lovely, but the biggest draw is hundreds of nesting Puffins settled on the cliffs. If you visit between late April and early August, this is the ideal time to see them and the perfect place for puffin photography.

Directions to Bullers of Buchan.

Bullers of Buchan on the north east coast.
Bullers of Buchan, incredible views and a great place to see Puffins in Scotland.

Fyvie Castle

Heading west from Slain's Castle, let's visit Fyvie Castle, which, unlike Slain's, is still fully intact and a magnificent example of Scottish baronial architecture. This imposing structure, with origins dating back to the 13th century, has been the stage for a thousand years of Scottish history, housing a succession of powerful Scottish families.

The guided tour of the castle is one of the best I've been on in Scotland and explores many opulent rooms adorned with fine tapestries and antiques. The tour guide also explains the many legends, curses and ghost stories associated with the castle.

The castle isn't the only attraction here; the extensive castle grounds have much to offer, including a walled garden and a walk to the nearby loch, home to ducks and swans.

Directions to Fyvie Castle.

Fyvie Castle
Fyvie Castle.

Other places to visit north of Aberdeen:

Macduff Aquarium
Macduff Aquarium.

Day 3 - West Aberdeenshire

Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle is a striking example of Scottish Baronial architecture that seems to have leapt from the pages of a fairy tale. This enchanting pink-hued castle, with its towering spires and turrets, is often cited as the inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle, embodying the essence of romance and fantasy.

Built-in the 17th century, Craigievar Castle has remained largely unchanged, preserving its original charm and character. The castle was the family seat of the Forbes family for 350 years before coming under the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Today, it is a testament to Scottish heritage, with its stunning exterior matched by an equally captivating interior.

The castle is currently closed for refurbishment until late Spring 2024.

Directions to Craigievar Castle.

Craigievar Castle set amongst the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire.
Craigievar Castle.

Tomnaverie Stone Circle

About 20 minutes from Craigievar Castle lies the Tomnaverie Stone Circle, a prehistoric site that offers a window into Scotland's ancient history. This remarkable stone circle, dating back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age, is a testament to the region's rich archaeological heritage and a captivating spot for contemplation and connection with the natural world.

The stone circle has a dedicated car park with a short walk. The 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape are worth the visit alone.

Directions to Tomnaverie Stone Circle.

Tomnaverie Stone Circle
Tomnaverie Stone Circle.

Cairngorms National Park

The east side of the Cairngorms National Park is accessible from the boundary of Aberdeenshire. Spanning across a vast area, it's the largest national park in the UK and one of the country's most spectacular wildernesses. The park is a treasure trove of rugged landscapes, pristine forests, cascading waterfalls, and tranquil lochs, all under the watchful eyes of the majestic Cairngorms mountains.

Here are a couple of suggestions for activities in the Cairngorms National Park:

Loch Kinord

Loch Kinord is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers. The loch and surrounding area are home to a diverse range of bird species, including ospreys, goldeneyes, and grebes. A network of well-marked trails encircles Loch Kinord, inviting visitors to explore its serene waters and the area's rich history.

These trails range from easy walks suitable for families to more challenging hikes that reward adventurers with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Along the way, visitors can discover historical sites, including ancient crannogs (man-made islands) and the remains of a 12th-century chapel, adding a touch of mystery to the walk. Be sure to visit the Kinord Cross, a Pictish stone on the north shore of the loch.

Directions to Loch Kinord.

Kinord Cross
The Kinord Cross. Image: Iain Cameron.

Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve

Spanning various habitats, from woodlands and wetlands to moorlands and lochs, this Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve offers visitors a unique opportunity to connect with nature and explore the great outdoors.

The reserve is home to the Burn O'Vat, a striking geological feature formed thousands of years ago by glacial processes. Visitors can venture into the vat via a narrow opening, emerging into a hidden world of rock and water reminiscent of Scotland's ancient past.

Directions to Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

Burn O' Vat
The Burn O' Vat formation.

Other places to visit west of Aberdeen:

  • Castle Fraser

  • Dess Waterfall

  • Crathes Castle

  • Corse Castle

  • Drum Castle

Day 4 - South Aberdeenshire

Stonehaven

Stonehaven is a picturesque and vibrant town, embodying the spirit of Aberdeenshire's coastal charm. This welcoming town is famed for its scenic beauty, rich history, and cultural heritage, making it a must-visit destination for travellers exploring Scotland.

Stonehaven is renowned for its vibrant community spirit and calendar of events. The annual Stonehaven Fireballs Ceremony, held on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve), is a spectacular tradition that draws visitors from around the globe. The town also hosts the Stonehaven Highland Games, showcasing traditional Scottish sports, music, and dancing.

For those seeking outdoor adventures, Stonehaven provides ample opportunities for hiking, golfing, and water sports. The town's beach, a beautiful stretch of sand and pebbles, offers safe swimming and water activities for a family day out.

Stonehaven also has the dubious honour of being where the deep-fried Mars bar was invented!

What to see in Stonehaven:

  1. Stonehaven Harbour

  2. Tolbooth Museum

  3. Stonehaven War Memorial

  4. Stonehaven Open Air Swimming Pool... in fine weather!

  5. Bay Fish and Chips at Stonehaven Beach

Stonehaven
Stonehaven, south of Aberdeen. Image: Magnus Hagdorn.

Dunnottar Castle

At the heart of Stonehaven's allure is the stunning Dunnottar Castle, perched dramatically on a rugged cliff overlooking the North Sea. This medieval fortress, with its storied past involving figures such as William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots, offers breathtaking views and a fascinating glimpse into Scotland's history.

Directions to Dunotter Castle.

Dunnotter Castle
Dunnotter Castle.

Other places to visit south of Aberdeen:

  • Crawton Waterfall

  • RSPB Scotland Fowlsheugh

  • Cairn o' Mount

Day 5 - Further afield

Balmoral Castle - Home of the British Royal Family in Scotland

Balmoral Castle, set amidst the majestic landscapes of Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire, is a symbol of Scottish heritage and the enduring love affair between the British Royal Family and the Highlands. Purchased by Prince Albert in 1852 for Queen Victoria, Balmoral has served as a private retreat for the royal family for generations, offering a glimpse into their personal connection to Scotland's rugged beauty and tranquil countryside.

The castle is open to visitors, but be aware that it can only be accessed when the Royal Family is not in residence. Queen Elizabeth II died at this castle in 2022.

Directions to Balmoral Castle.

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle. Image: Katie Burt.

Royal Lochnagar Distillery

On the edge of the Balmoral Estate in the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms National Park, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery is a jewel in the crown of Scottish whisky. This historic distillery, named after the nearby Lochnagar mountain, is renowned for its traditional methods of whisky production, offering visitors an intimate glimpse into the art of Scotch whisky making.

Royal Lochnagar Distillery offers guided tours that take visitors through the entire whisky-making process, from mashing and fermenting to distilling and maturation. The distillery prides itself on maintaining traditional techniques, including wooden washbacks and direct-fired stills, which contribute to the distinctive character of its whiskies. The tours cost between £20-70 depending on your chosen tour - book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Directions to Royal Lochnagar Distillery.

Lochnagar Distillery
Lochnagar Distillery.

Braemar Castle

This striking 17th-century fortress, with its distinctive star-shaped perimeter and imposing turrets, offers visitors a deep dive into Scotland's turbulent history and rich cultural heritage.

Visitors to Braemar Castle can explore its 12 furnished rooms, each telling a different story of the castle's past inhabitants, from the Earls of Mar to the Farquharson clan. The interior showcases a captivating collection of period furniture, historical artefacts, and family portraits, providing a glimpse into the life of the Scottish nobility.

The castle has almost completed a total external refurbishment... it is now a beautiful white colour! But check before you visit as you may not be able to enter the castle at this time.

Directions to Braemar Castle.

Other places to visit:

  • Loch Muick

  • Prince Alberts Cairn

  • The Queens Well (As seen in the Star Wars Andor TV show).

  • The Ringing Stone

  • Braemar Highland GFames Centre

FAQs on travelling in Aberdeenshire

Here are a few frequently asked questions about travelling in Aberdeenshire:

What are the golfing options in Aberdeenshire?

There are so many options for golfers in Aberdeenshire; check out my dedicated guide to golf courses in Aberdeen here. The best courses in Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside area are:

  1. Cruden Bay Golf Club

  2. Trump International Golf Links

  3. Royal Aberdeen Golf Club

  4. Aboyne Golf Club

  5. Murcar Golf Club

Cruden Bay Golf Course
Cruden Bay Golf Course.

Where is the best place to stay in Aberdeenshire?

Staying in Aberdeen is a logical choice for exploring Aberdeenshire; the city is central in the region and offers the highest concentration of hotels and amenities.

Aberdeen has the normal chain hotels such as Travelodge and Premier Inn, which, if booked far in advance, can be a cheap option (£35-40 per night), especially in the offseason.

Here are some of my top accommodation picks:

What makes the East Coast different from the West Coast of Scotland?

The landscape is very different in the east, mainly due to the Gulf Stream pushing warm water from the Gulf of Mexico. It's much drier and sees less rainfall; it's also a little less lush and green. The coastal views are more rugged, and it can generally be a bit colder. Braemar in Aberdeenshire is often the coldest place in the United Kingdom during the winter. At least there are fewer midges in the east!

Are there stone circles in Aberdeenshire?

If you're interested in the more ancient history of Aberdeenshire, there are more than 70 recumbent stone circles, a unique type of standing stone, where two tall stones flank a large flat stone. Please see my dedicated guide to stone circles in Aberdeenshire for more information.

Are there whisky distilleries in Aberdeenshire?

Moray to the west has many whisky distilleries, but Aberdeenshire has a few, too!

  • Glen Garioch Distillery

  • Glenglassaugh Distillery

  • Royal Lochnagar Distillery

  • Glen Dronach Distillery

It's worth booking tours in advance to avoid disappointment.

Should I hire a car to explore Aberdeenshire?

Yes, it would be worth hiring a car. There are bus routes all over Aberdeenshire, but many of the best places are not on the normal bus routes, so it's best to have the ability to head directly to each location. Please see my guide to driving in Scotland.

Key information on this Aberdeenshire itinerary

  • Aberdeenshire is in the northeast of Scotland, east of Moray and north of Angus; it also shares a border with the Scottish Highlands.

  • Aberdeen is the largest and only city in Aberdeenshire.

  • Flying to Aberdeen City is the fastest way to get to Aberdeenshire.

  • Aberdeen City has many hotels, restaurants and shopping options.

  • Aberdeenshire has a plethora of castles, both ruined and intact.

  • Aberdeenshire boasts the largest concentration of ancient recumbent stone circles in Scotland.

  • There are many golf courses all over Aberdeenshire.

Conclusion

Like my home county of Moray, Aberdeenshire is often overlooked by tourists in favour of Edinburgh or the North Coast 500, but northeast Scotland has just as much to offer. It also has the added benefit of having cheaper accommodation and less busy attractions!

If you're planning a tour of Scotland, please don't cut off the northeast by travelling from Edinburgh to Inverness; you'll be amazed at what you find here! I hope this five-day guide to Aberdeenshire will give you some ideas for your visit.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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