Best things to do in Moray Scotland
Moray is an area in the northeast of Scotland, and I often feel it is one of the overlooked counties in Scotland... maybe due to most of the land being used for farms and being seen as a "boring" rural area. Sure we only recently got a Costa Coffee and a Starbucks - but actually, Moray is packed with activities and attractions and has so much history to discover as well as being an area of outstanding natural beauty.
"Forgotten" Moray could actually be a positive thing for visitors, as in recent years the NC500 route and Isle of Skye have become very congested with tourists, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic with people looking to holiday in the UK rather than go abroad. Avoid the hordes and visit Moray instead!
Here are a few of my top things to do in Moray/Speyside in the northeast of Scotland.
Visit the Moray Firth Coast and walk the Moray Coastal Trail
Some of the most stunning coastlines in Scotland can be found on the Moray Firth Coast.
The Moray Coast Trail is a 50-mile long coastal walking route spanning from Findhorn to Cullen taking in all of the little coastal villages along the way. The walk is well signposted and is a truly lovely walk taking in golden sandy beaches, caves, cliffs, coves and of course, peppered with small fishing villages. The route is often lined with bright yellow (and spikey!) gorse bushes with sensational sea views out to the North Sea.
The Moray Coastal Trail is split into ten separate sections, so you can do them in your leisure and not all 50 miles / 23-hours of the walk at once!
- Forres to Findhorn
- Roseisle Forest and Burghead Bay
- Caer nam Broch (Burghead)
- The Line to Hopeman (See the colourful beach huts)
- The Hopeman Ridge
- Lossiemouth to Spey Bay (currently closed due to broken footbridge)
- Spey Bay to Buckie
- Strathlene to Portknockie (see Bow Fiddle Rock below)
Discover Bow Fiddle Rock
In the Strathlene to Portknockie section, you can see Bow Fiddle Rock actually off Portknockie on the coast. The rock is a natural sea arch created by sea erosion. It is a lovely spot for photography, a picnic and to see many different bird species. Read more about Bow Fiddle Rock.
See the coastal wildlife
Bottlenose dolphins and seals are the main aquatic wildlife attractions on the Moray Coast, but sometimes we are treated to visits from orcas/killer whales, basking sharks and minke whales.
The pods of dolphins can be seen if you're lucky between Cullen and Lossiemouth, but the best place to see them this side of the Moray Firth is Fort George closer to Inverness. Chanonry Point is THE place to go if you want the best chance of seeing them, but that is quite far from Moray in the Highlands.
The WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre is located near the mouth of the Spey river, this can be a good place to see the Dolphins and there is a nice walk to the Spey Viaduct. The centre has a small cafe and toilet facilities.
Seals frequent Buckie, Portgordon and Lossiemouth, I feel the best place to see them is in Portgordon. At low tide, you will see them basking on the beach with their pups. You can read more about them in my moray seals article.
The lovely town of Forres is in west Moray and is a sweet picturesque town with a lot of local history. The expansive Grant park is beautiful and begins a forested walk to Nelson's Tower a monument to the famous Admiral Lord Nelson. It's a great walk to the tower and if you're lucky you will see red squirrels jumping from the trees.
Sueno's Stone is also located in Forres, an 1100-year-old ancient stone monolith - one of Scotland's finest examples of Pictish carvings and called "The most remarkable sculptured monument in Britain" by many scholars. Check out the Mosset Tavern for food and drinks.
The ruin of Kinloss Abbey is a short distance away from neighbouring Kinloss and is worth a visit if you're in the Forres area.
Visit Knockando Woolmill
If you are interested in the past industries in Moray, Knockando Woolmill is a nice place to visit. Dating from the 18th century it is a historic woolmill near Aberlour with a number of buildings containing historic machinery that is still operational. Knockando Woolmill produce their own unique tartan, designed by John B Gillespie in 2010. The self guided tour is very interesting and offers a glimpse into Moray's past.
In central Elgin lies the ruin of Elgin Cathedral once the principal church for the bishops of Moray after relocating from the church at Spynie. Locally known as the "Lantern of the North", it is one of Scotland's finest examples of 13th-century medieval cathedrals.
Standout features include:
- The west front with two large towers and a circular window (now sadly missing its stained glass).
- Octagonal chapter house
- Scotlands largest gravestone at 5m high.
There is a fee to visit but worth the expense to explore a wonderful ruin and find out why it was burned to the ground by the Wolf of Badenoch.
Elgin Museum is also fairly near to the cathedral where you can learn about the local history of Moray, see art collections and view other interesting items from around the world. Exhibits include carved Pictish stones and even a skeleton of a bronze age man found near Roseisle.
Visit the monks at Pluscarden Abbey
Following on from the religious theme of Elgin Cathedral, Pluscarden Abbey is home to a cenobium of Catholic Benedictine monks. Pluscarden is the only monastery in Britain still used for its original purpose. Located southwest of Elgin it is a wonderful place to visit.
It's possible to access areas of the Abbey and explore the grounds. The Abbey itself is very impressive and gives off strong Harry Potter Hogwarts vibes! The most amazing thing about visiting is the supremely serene surroundings... there is a malleable feeling of peace and calm that I haven't felt anywhere else... I'm not religious, but if you wanted to feel the presence of God, it would be here.
The monks produce various products to sell in their on-site shop, including books, balms, postcards, apple juice and if you're lucky - delicious honey.
Visit Moray's many castles
A plethora of Castles are available for you to visit in Moray, from grand ruins to fully intact furnished palaces still in use today. See Duffus Castle for a fine example of motte and bailey castle design, or the pure grandeur of Ballindalloch and Brodie castles. There are a total of 38 historic castles in various states of disrepair and opulence but the top castles to visit in order of my favourite are:
- Duffus Castle, Lossiemouth
- Findlater Castle, Cullen
- Balvenie Castle, Dufftown
- Spynie Palace, near Lossiemouth
- Auchindoun Castle, near Dufftown
- Brodie Castle, Forres
- Ballindalloch Castle
- Drumin Castle, south of Ballindalloch
Follow the Malt Whisky Trail - Speyside Distilleries
Moray is famous for having the most malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, there are more than 50 speckled all over Speyside producing Scotlands most famous export. Johnnie Walker, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich produce their world-renowned whiskies here.
A tour around the Glenfiddich visitor centre in Dufftown is a great experience, you can also visit nearby Balvenie Castle afterwards too!
Other great tours at malt whisky distilleries:
- Glen Moray Distillery, Elgin
- Aberlour Distillery
- Benromach Distillery, Forres
- Glenlivet Distillery, Ballindalloch
- Macallan Distillery, Aberlour
- Cragganmore Distillery, Ballindalloch
- Strathisla Distillery, home of Chivas, Keith
- GlenAllachie Distillery, Aberlour
Explore the coastal fishing villages
The Moray coast has many coastal fishing towns, with much to offer including stunning beaches, sea towns, harbours, tremendous hotels and restaurants.
The stand out towns for me would be Lossiemouth and Cullen, they are the perfect locations if you are looking to stay on the coast on your visit to Moray... epic beach walks and history right on the doorstep.
In Cullen, you can walk along the old railway viaduct, through the woods to the Temple of Paloma, or you can walk down to the beach right along the bay to the west. There is a little Seatown too with old fishing cottages. You can also walk up to castle hill for a great view. A stroll around the harbour area doesn't take long but is nice. To the east is a brilliant coastal walk where you could head to Findlater Castle. The walk up Crannoch hill is really nice too. The centre of Cullen has a great chip shop, Chinese, and an ice cream shop with the best ice cream ever (get their homemade vanilla). The Seafield Hotel is great for a "fancy" meal (expensive). Rockpool Cafe is great too for lunch or a quick snack.
Join Cullen Sea School
A relatively new addition to Cullen, the sea school offers many activities such as paddlesports, boat building and repairs, beach cleans, coastal rowing, kayaking, photographic tours and sailing. Full training is given on all of the activities.
If you're staying in Cullen why not give it a go, literally push the boat out and try something new!
White water rafting on the River Findhorn
If you are an adventurous soul and are looking for an outdoor activity in Moray, white water rafting might be your idea for a good day out!
Ace Adventures offer white water rafting on the River Findhorn, providing a near 6-hour experience all year round. The attraction of the River Findhorn is that it remains above a Grade 3 rapid at all times of the year and can offer up to grade 5 rapids, especially after a lot of rainfall in spring and autumn.
The scenery is spectacular and you will pass through Randolphs Leap and into the amazing Lower Findhorn Gorge. You can even partake in a little cliff jumping if you feel brave enough!
Ace Adventures will even take professional photos of you on your session as the perfect keepsake of your day.
If you're a keen golfer, Moray has you well served with courses from Nairn in the west, Cullen in the East and Craggan to the south.
There are golf courses at Nairn, Forres, Kinloss, Hopeman, Lossiemouth, Elgin, Maverston, Garmouth, Speybay, Buckie and Cullen. Rothes, Keith, Dufftown, Ballindalloch and Craggan have top class courses for you to perfect your swing.
Many of the courses have superb clubhouses where you can get a drink and a bite to eat or hire clubs for your session.
Where is the best place to stay in Moray?
I really think Trochelhill bed and breakfast is the best place to stay in Moray. It is a stunning country house near Fochabers, please read my article about Trochelhill B&B to find out more.
Moray also has many fine campsites and caravan parks to stay at, and the wild camping in Moray is marvellous as long as you respect the land and leave no trace.
Where is the best place to eat in Moray?
A tough question, there are so many first-rate places to eat... I haven't visited yet but "Seven Stills" in Dufftown seems to get overwhelmingly positive reviews. Locally my wife and I like The Mill House Hotel near Buckie. Just outside of Moray I have been hearing many wonderful reviews of "The Rustic Grill" in Turriff, which is top of my list of new places to try.
Other honourable mentions of great places to eat in Moray:
- Rockpool Cafe, Cullen
- Ada Turkish Restaurant, Elgin
- Mosset Tavern, Forres
- The Seafood Restaurant & Grill, Lossiemouth
- The Croft Inn, Glenlivet
- The Quaich, Fochabers
- The Mash Tun, Aberlour
If you're looking for a trip to Scotland, why not consider Moray/Speyside? It might not be your first choice but you will be impressed with what's on offer.
Some of the images used on this page are with the kind permission of Alan Butterfield.