Free things to do in Moray

Written by Chris Thornton | 25th of March 2024
Free things to do in Moray

As mentioned in past articles, Moray often gets overlooked by tourists planning a visit to Scotland, losing out to Edinburgh or the massively popular NC500 driving route instead.

Moray has much to offer, including castles, unique geology, stunning beaches, fishing villages and a plethora of wildlife. Visiting Moray need not be expensive, and this article will list a few of my top suggestions for exploring my home county on a budget.

Let's start in West Moray and finish in East Moray!

  1. The Moray Way
  2. Sueno's Stone
  3. Nelson's Tower
  4. Kinloss Abbey
  5. Randolph's Leap
  6. Pluscarden Abbey
  7. Lossiemouth
  8. View the Northern Lights
  9. Sculptor's Cave
  10. Duffus Castle
  11. Elgin Cathedral
  12. Millbuies Country Park
  13. Linn Falls
  14. Inveravon Pictish Stones
  15. Glen Grant Gardens
  16. Craigellachie Bridge
  17. Loch Na Bo
  18. Spey Bay, WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre and Spey Viaduct
  19. Portgordon Beach
  20. Climb the Bin of Cullen
  21. Bow Fiddle Rock
  22. Cullen
  23. Castles in Moray
  24. Beaches in Moray
  25. FAQs on free things to do in Moray
  26. Key information on free things to do in Moray
  27. Conclusion

The Moray Way

The Moray Way Walking Route is a circular trail that encompasses approximately 95 miles of Moray's diverse landscapes. By linking together three of the region's established walking paths—the Speyside Way, Moray Coast Trail, and the Dava Way—it offers hikers a comprehensive experience of Moray's coastlines, forests, and moorlands.

Along the route, walkers traverse sandy beaches, follow old railway lines, pass by historic distilleries, and meander through dense woodlands. The journey offers not just varied terrains but also a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region. While walking the entire circuit for a multi-day adventure is possible, many choose to explore specific sections based on interest and ability. Signposts and waymarkers aid in navigation. Whether you're an avid hiker or a casual walker, the Moray Way provides an immersive way to experience the natural beauty and heritage of the Moray region.

Sueno's Stone

Located in Forres in Moray, Sueno's Stone is one of Scotland's most impressive and largest Pictish standing stones. Standing over 6.5 meters tall, this ancient monolith is distinct for its intricate carvings depicting battle scenes, ceremonies, and possibly Pictish legends.

The exact origins and purpose of the stone remain a subject of debate, but it's generally believed to date back to the late 9th or early 10th century. The stone is encased in a protective glass structure, ensuring its preservation while allowing visitors to view its details. Visiting Sueno's Stone offers a glimpse into Scotland's deep-rooted history, and the site is easily accessible to those in the Moray area. Best of all, there's no entrance fee, making it a must-visit spot for history enthusiasts and casual visitors.

Sueno's Stone encased in it's gladd enclosure.
Sueno's Stone in Forres, an ancient Pictish stone.

Nelson's Tower

Overlooking the town of Forres, Nelson's Tower stands prominently on Cluny Hill as a tribute to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of Britain's most celebrated naval heroes. Erected in 1806 by the townspeople of Forres, the tower commemorates Nelson's victory and untimely death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Standing 21 meters tall, visitors can climb its spiral staircase to the top, where they are rewarded with panoramic views of the Moray landscape, from the rolling fields to the distant coastline. While the interior is simple, the tower's historical significance and the breathtaking vistas make it a worthwhile visit for those exploring Forres.

The walk up Cluny Hill to the tower also provides a pleasant woodland experience. Access to the tower is free, though opening times may vary, so checking ahead is always a good idea.

Nelson's Tower
Nelson's Tower looks over Forres and towards Findhorn Bay.

Kinloss Abbey

Kinloss Abbey is a tranquil relic of Scotland's ecclesiastical history. Founded in 1150 by King David I, this Cistercian establishment thrived as a spiritual and learning centre. Over the centuries, however, the abbey witnessed numerous adversities, culminating in its dissolution in the 16th century.

Today, visitors can wander amidst the serene ruins, observing remnants of the church, cloister, and other monastic buildings. While most of the abbey lies in ruins, certain sections, such as an impressive interior ceiling, have been better preserved. A military cemetery also exists on the site.

Entrance to the grounds is free, allowing visitors to explore and reflect at their own pace.

Kinloss Abbey
The ruin of Kinloss Abbey.

Randolph's Leap

Randolph's Leap is a notable spot along the River Findhorn, a short distance from Forres and Logie Estate. It's not so much renowned for the leap itself, but for the dramatic narrow gorge the river flows through at this point. The name originates from a historical event involving Thomas Randolph, a key figure in the Scottish Wars of Independence. However, contrary to popular belief, he never actually leapt across the gorge.

Today, visitors can walk along the riverbanks, taking in the scenic views of the rushing water and the cliffs that encapsulate it. The area is serene, with information boards offering insights into its rich history and geology, including the water level of a great flood. Randolph's Leap combines natural beauty and a touch of Scottish lore, making it a worthwhile stop for those exploring the vicinity of Forres.

Randolph's Leap
The rapid waters at Randolph's Leap.

Pluscarden Abbey

This ancient abbey in the Black Burn Glen was rebuilt in the 1950s and is now the only place in the UK where Benedictine Monks still live and practice their religion as they did in medieval times.

The abbey is free to visit, the grounds are beautiful, and the entire site is very tranquil. Don't forget to visit the shop where the monks sell many hand-crafted items and lovely honey.

Pluscarden Abbey
Pluscarden Abbey is a very peaceful place to visit in Moray.

Lossiemouth

A trip to Lossiemouth need not be expensive, and it has a great deal to offer for free - mainly it's two beautiful beaches.

West Beach offers a lovely walk on the sands or through the grassy dunes, taking in the sights of Cove Bay with its stunning Covesea Lighthouse. For World War 2 aficionados, you can see tank traps here and even an old defensive pill box. The beach's proximity to RAF Lossiemouth means it's also a fantastic place to view military aircraft taking off and landing. If you are lucky enough to visit in July, there is an annual airshow/family day; West Beach is the ideal place to view it.

In 2022, Lossiemouth was lucky enough to receive a brand new bridge to access East Beach, which had been sadly inaccessible for a long time due to the failure of the old bridge. A walk down the Lossie promenade with ice cream and over the new bridge to the beautiful east beach is a cheap but lovely activity.

Lossiemouth.
A view of Lossiemouth from the East Beach, the remnants of the old bridge are in the foreground.

View the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis

Northeast Scotland is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights, especially from the Moray Coast, as it has an uninterrupted view to the north with no light pollution to spoil the view.

Seeing the lights is not something that can be guaranteed, however, and you will only have a chance of spotting them in the darker months between October and March... and even then, I have only ever seen green and red moving rays about three times in my life. So seeing the lights is rare, but one of the most beautiful "free" light shows you will see anywhere.

The best place in Moray to see the Northern Lights is anywhere with an uninterrupted northerly view. Here are some locations I have seen them:

  • Portgordon Beach

  • Cullen Beach

  • Lossiemouth West Beach

  • Bow Fiddle Rock

Northern Lights at Bow Fiddle Rock.
My photo of Bow Fiddle Rock with the Northern Lights in the background.

Moray is also a great place to spot Noctilucent Clouds, another beautiful natural phenomena created by ice crystals within high-altitude clouds.

Noctilucent Clouds
Noctilucent clouds over Moray.

Sculptor's Cave

Just west of Lossiemouth, tucked beneath the cliffs of Covesea, lies the enigmatic Sculptor's Cave. This natural sea cave draws its name from the myriad of mysterious Pictish carvings etched into its entrance walls. Believed to date back to the early medieval period, these carvings have made the cave an archaeological treasure trove, sparking intrigue and speculation about their origin and purpose. Past excavations have revealed remnants of human activity, suggesting the cave might have been used for rituals or as a burial site.

Accessing the cave can be challenging; it is inaccessible at high tide, so visitors are advised to exercise caution and check tide timings. The journey, however, offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the enigma of ancient Scotland amidst the backdrop of rugged coastal beauty. Exploring Sculptor's Cave is free, but the priceless experience of connecting with Scotland's distant past makes the visit unforgettable.

Moray is also a great place to spot Noctilucent Clouds, another beautiful natural phenomena created by ice crystals within high-altitude clouds.

Sculptor's Cave, Covesea
The mysterious Sculptor's Cave.

Duffus Castle

Standing atop a mound in the Moray countryside is Duffus Castle, perhaps my favourite castle ruin in Scotland—a prime example of a medieval motte-and-bailey fortress. Established in the 12th century, the castle underwent various modifications before settling into its current stone form in the 14th century.

The ruin is very romantic, with half its mass partially slipping down the earth mound. Though the wooden structures have long since vanished, the stone keep, with its warren of rooms and hallways, remains largely intact.

As visitors explore, they can imagine the bustling life that once filled these walls and appreciate the strategic design that made it a formidable defence structure. The grounds of Duffus Castle are freely accessible, presenting an opportunity for history enthusiasts and curious visitors alike to step back in time amidst Moray's scenic landscape. There is also now an upgraded car park with a seating area and a lovely coffee hut.

Duffus Castle Gallery
Duffus Castle a brilliant ruin to explore for free in Moray.

Elgin Cathedral

Situated in the heart of Elgin, the Elgin Cathedral, often referred to as the "Lantern of the North," stands as a testament to medieval Scotland's architectural brilliance and historical significance. Constructed in the 13th century, this once grand cathedral suffered multiple fires and eventual abandonment after the Reformation, but its ruins still evoke awe and wonder today.

The remaining structures, including its iconic twin towers, offer visitors a panoramic view of Elgin and the surrounding Moray countryside. As you wander the grounds, you can marvel at the intricate stone carvings, the chapter house, and the Bishop's house. While the cathedral is a ruin, its enduring beauty and historical resonance make it a captivating spot in Moray. There is a nominal entrance fee for the cathedral, but it's possible to walk outside the entire perimeter without actually entering the grounds if you are on a tight budget. A beautiful biblical garden is also free to access directly next to the site.

If you have kids, Cooper's Park is a short walk from the cathedral with various slides, swings and climbing frames.

Elgin Cathedral. Swimming and ice rink is available at Moray Leisure Centre.
Elgin Cathedral is not free to visit, but you can walk the perimeter fence.

Millbuies Country Park

Centered around two tranquil lochs, Millbuies Country Park invites visitors to immerse themselves in its rich woodland setting. Established in the 1970s, Millbuies boasts a variety of walking trails that meander through mature Scots pines, offering glimpses of local wildlife and vibrant flora.

The lochs themselves are popular spots for trout fishing and casual rowboat excursions. For those seeking relaxation and fresh air, several picnic areas dot the route, allowing visitors to enjoy the calm water views.

With its combination of woodland beauty and peaceful waterscapes, Millbuies Country Park is an ideal spot for families, nature enthusiasts, or anyone looking to unwind amidst Moray's natural splendour. Entry to the park is completely free.

Millbuies Country Park. There are beautiful sights all across Moray.
Millbuies Country Park is a lovely place to walk, not far from Elgin.

Linn Falls

Hidden within the woodlands of Aberlour in Moray, Linn Falls offers a mesmerising display of nature's power and grace. The cascading waters of the falls flow with vigour, creating a harmonious backdrop of sound amidst the serene forest setting. A well-trodden path leads visitors through the woods, initially alongside the Aberlour Distillery, eventually revealing the falls in all their splendour as they carve through a series of rocky terraces.

The walk to Linn Falls is relatively short but steep in places, allowing for a moderate yet rewarding hiking experience. Situated just a stone's throw from Aberlour town, Linn Falls provides a refreshing natural escape, free for all to explore and enjoy. If you're looking for a tasty lunch, check out the Spey Larder in Aberlour town centre/high street.

Linn Falls, Aberlour. Single malt whiskies are not free.
Linn Falls in Aberlour.

Inveravon Pictish Stones

Located just off the A95 motorway, you can find a church containing a small collection of impressive Pictish stones. The Inveravon Pictish Stones could be around 1400 years old and still portray vibrant carvings. The stones are entirely free to visit, a lovely little curio many don't know about.

Nearby, you can also visit the Marionburgh Stone Circle and Bridge of Avon for free.

Inveravon Pictish Stones
The Inveravon Pictish Stones are available to view for free.

Glen Grant Gardens

Located within the grounds of Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes, the gardens are nearby and completely free to visit. The gardens are stunning and include orchards, ponds, flowers, and a unique gorge walk along a wooden gantry, taking in waterfalls and a viewpoint. I highly recommend Glen Grant Gardens as a free place to visit, particularly with young children. Bring a picnic for the perfect cheap day out.

Glen Grant Gardens walk.
The gorge walk at Glen Grant Gardens.

Craigellachie Bridge

Spanning the River Spey in the heart of Moray, the Craigellachie Bridge stands as an iconic example of 19th-century engineering. Designed by the renowned Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford and completed in 1814, this cast-iron bridge with its single arch design was revolutionary. With a span of 150 feet and standing 46 feet above the river, it was a vital transportation link for many decades.

The bridge is a lovely place to stop on the A941 and take in the scenic beauty of the River Spey.

Craigellachie Bridge
Craigellachie Bridge in all its glory.

Loch Na Bo

Tucked away in the expansive landscapes of Moray, Loch Na Bo offers a tranquil setting that showcases Scotland's natural beauty. This modest-sized freshwater loch, surrounded by gently rolling hills and scattered woodlands, provides an idyllic backdrop for a quiet day out.

Two walks are available: Red (2 miles) and Yellow (3 miles); I recommend the red as it follows the lochside. The loch is open to visitors year-round, with no entrance fee, making it a freely available respite for all who seek it.

Loch Na Bo
Loch Na Bo.

Spey Bay, WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre and Spey Viaduct

Located along the northeastern coastline of Moray, Spey Bay boasts a unique blend of natural beauty and historical engineering. This vast shingle beach is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, particularly those keen on observing dolphins, seals, and many bird species. The bay's position at the mouth of the River Spey means it hosts a rich ecosystem, with the nearby Scottish Dolphin Centre providing insights into the marine life that graces its waters.

The Spey Viaduct stands a short distance from the bay, a historic railway bridge that once formed a crucial part of the Moray coast railway line. Built in the late 19th century, the viaduct spans the River Spey with its elegant arches, reflecting a bygone era of architectural style and railway history. While trains no longer traverse its length, the structure remains a popular cycle route and footpath.

Spey Bay
My wife and daughters walking at Spey Bay.

Portgordon Beach

The beach at Portgordon isn't the most spectacular, but the big draw here is the colony of seals that have made their home on the shingle beach and rocks further offshore. From the nearby footpath, it's easy to get a great view of the seals at most times of the day, but the best time is at low tide as the seals bask on the beach.

Portgordon Seals
One of the Portgordon Seals.

Climb the Bin of Cullen

The Bin of Cullen is one of the most prominent land masses on the Moray Coast and can be seen as far away as Elgin. A fairly easy walk is available to the top that could be completed in a couple of hours... the effort is well worth it for the amazing 360-degree panoramic views. It's possible to see the towns Lossiemouth, Portgordon, Buckie, Findochty, Portknockie, Cullen, Banff and Macduff from the summit. There are also great views out to the Moray Firth/North Sea and the Caithness mountains.

Bin of Cullen view
The view from the summit of the Bin Hill.

Bow Fiddle Rock

Bow Fiddle Rock is fast becoming the poster child of Moray with its unique rock arch resembling a violin's bow. This is a fantastic place to visit, and it only takes 5 minutes to walk from the brand new car park to the beach. For photographers, so many angles are available to capture this fantastic rock formation, and if you like birds, many different varieties can be seen here.

From the rock, you can also undertake one of the best coastal walks in Moray to nearby Cullen, taking in more rock arches and many caves and coves.

Bow Fiddle Rock in the Moray Firth
Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie - a natural sea arch.

Cullen

One of the finest coastal villages in Moray, Cullen has a great deal to offer, including its historic railway viaduct, lovely beach, picturesque seatown and harbour and the walk to Castle Hill, which gives some of the best views of Cullen. Bring a picnic, and Cullen is a very cheap place to visit and take in the sights.

While not strictly in Moray, there is another fantastic walk from Cullen to Findlater Castle; it's quite far but takes in lovely sections of coastline, ending at a castle built into the cliffside.

Cullen
Overlooking Cullen's historic sea town.

Castles in Moray

There are so many castles in Moray worth your time, but not all are free to visit. Here is a list of the best free castles in Moray:

Auchindoun Castle
Auchindoun Castle, one of the castles that can be visited for free, is near Dufftown.

Beaches in Moray

You can read my dedicated article on the best beaches in Moray here, but to recap, there are fantastic beaches all across the Moray Coast; here are my favourites:

  • Findhorn Beach

  • Roseisle Beach

  • Burghead Beach

  • Cummingston Beach

  • Hopeman East Beach

  • Lossiemouth West & East Beach

  • Spey Bay

  • Portgordon Beach

  • Strathlene Beach

  • Cullen Beach

Lossiemouth West Beach, Hopeman West Beach.
Lossiemouth West Beach, Covesea Lighthouse can be seen to the left of the image.

FAQs on free things to do in Moray

Here are a few frequently asked questions about free activities in Moray:

Where is the cheapest place to stay in Moray?

If you book far enough in advance, the chain hotels can be a cheap option, the Travelodge and Premier Inn. Prices can be as cheap as £39 but can increase significantly depending on the time of year or if you don't book in advance.

Moray has many independently owned bed and breakfasts and hotels that should also be considered. Here are my top 10 reasonable-priced places to stay around Moray:

  1. The Pines Guest House, Elgin

  2. Belleville Bed and Breakfast, Elgin

  3. Elgin Guest House, Elgin

  4. Cullen Bay Hotel, Cullen

  5. Westview, Buckie

  6. Struan House, Buckie

  7. Carlton Hotel, Forres

  8. Cluny Bank, Forres

  9. Bankhouse B&B, Aberlour

  10. Dalmunach House, Aberlour

Are there any free camping sites in Moray?

Wild camping in Scotland is generally permitted under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. However, always ensure you respect the environment and check local regulations or restrictions.

What are the top free attractions to visit in Moray?

Sueno's Stone, Duffus Castle, Lossiemouth, Bow Fiddle Rock, and Cullen are Moray's most popular free attractions.

Findhorn Beach, outstanding natural beauty.
Colourful beach huts at Findhorn Beach.

What is the cheapest way to eat in Moray?

The cheapest way to eat is by purchasing food from a supermarket; ALDI and Lidl are cheaper than ASDA, Tesco and Co-op. You can find an ALDI in central Elgin near the town hall; Lidl can be located in Forres, Elgin and Buckie.

Are there any free events or festivals in Moray throughout the year?

Is it possible to visit a whisky distillery for free?

Sadly not, all of the tours now charge a fee to visit. If you visit Linn Falls or Glen Grant Gardens, you can walk alongside the distilleries and glimpse the whisky stills.

What is the cheapest way to reach Moray?

A Megabus from any major city will likely be the cheapest way to get to Moray. Aberdeen to Elgin only costs £12 per person. Your best bet is to catch one to the bus station in Elgin and plan your adventure from there, as it is the biggest and most central town in Moray, and you can branch out from there to visit the places on your agenda, i.e. a day trip to Forres, Lossiemouth, Cullen.

Key information on free things to do in Moray

  • Moray is in Northeast Scotland.

  • Often overlooked by tourists drawn to the more popular areas, Moray has a great deal to offer.

  • Many historical ruins, including abbeys and castles, can be visited for free.

  • Moray has many beautiful beaches to visit.

  • The coastal villages are very picturesque and often have great walks associated with them.

  • Shop at ALDI or Lidl for the best food prices.

  • The cheapest options for accommodation are chain hotels and independently owned bed and breakfasts.

  • Consider a Megabus as a cheap method of transport to Elgin.

Auchindoun Castle
Spey Viaduct near Spey Bay.

Conclusion

I hope this article will give you some ideas for visiting places if you're on a tight budget. They say the best things in life are free, and that's certainly true around Moray's many beauty spots.

If you have a little more budget, why not check out my article on the best things to do in Moray? My 5-day Moray Itinerary will also be useful for your trip.

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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