The Moray Firth Coast in Scotland

Written by Chris Thornton | 19th of March 2024
Lossie West Beach

Moray is my home county so writing about it was at the top of my list to write an article on this website! This article is specifically about Scotland's Moray coast, which spans the three council areas of Highland, Moray and Aberdeenshire - more than 500 miles of coastline - lined with quaint fishing villages, beautiful sandy beaches and a surplus of wildlife. The Moray Firth Coast also takes in parts of the North Coast 500 and North East 250.  Here are some places to visit on your journey along the coast.

Fishing Villages on Moray Coast

Starting from the east side of the Moray Firth, the major coastal village settlements are Fraserburgh, Macduff, Banff, Portsoy, Cullen, Findochty, Buckie, Portgordon, Lossiemouth, Hopeman, Burghead, Findhorn Nairn and Inverness.

Coastal settlements - Pennan
Pennan, Aberdeenshire. Photo credit Life is Peachy Photography.

Pennan

A small and charming village, Pennan consists of only a row of homes, a hotel and a small harbour. The village became famous in 1983 as a filming location for the film "Local Hero". The red telephone box featured in the film still exists and attracts visitors from around the world. Monica Focht on Facebook posts up great photos from Pennan and the Moray Coast on a regular basis.

Lossie
Tarlair, Macduff. Photo credit Life is Peachy Photography.

Tarlair at Macduff

Tarlair is an Art Deco-style swimming complex just outside Macduff. Commissioned in 1929 and completed in 1931, it is only one of three surviving outdoor swimming pools in Scotland. It has fallen into disrepair over the years, but it's still an interesting place to stop off on your trip along the Moray coast.

Macduff Aquarium
Macduff Aquarium central tank.
Jellyfish At Macduff Aquarium
Jellyfish At Macduff Aquarium

Macduff Aquarium

A visit to the Moray coast wouldn't be complete without learning about offshore marine life. Macduff Marine Aquarium is a fantastic resource contained within its unique 16-sided building which also looks like a volcano. There is a large cylindrical tank of seawater containing many different species of fish native to the Moray Firth. My favourite area was the Jellyfish zone; I got a photo of 3 Moray Firth Jellyfish (see picture).

There is an auditorium with presentations about the fish in the tank, and a question and answer session afterwards, fantastic for kids.

Boyne Castle

1.5 miles east of Portsoy lies Boyne Castle, a 16th-century castle surrounded on three sides by the Burn of Boyne. The site is very overgrown and has not been maintained for a very long time; the trail to it is not well-trodden or visible. The castle is in an advanced state of decay, and care should be taken while exploring it. Hard to get to but a true hidden gem off the beaten path near the Moray Coast.

Boyne Castle near Portsoy, Aberdeenshire

Portsoy

Another charming fishing village with one of the oldest harbours on the Moray Firth dating from the 17th century. Filmmakers have used Portsoy as a location for the Whisky Galore film and, more recently, the Peaky Blinders TV show. The town is host to the Portsoy Boat Festival each June, which attracts 16000 people over two days. The event includes food & drink, music, crafts and, of course, boats! Try the waffle cone at Portsoy Ice Cream Shop.

Findlater Castle showing beach and rock sections
Findlater Castle

Findlater Castle

One of the forgotten Scottish Castles, Findlater Castle is a windswept ruin on the Moray Coast between Cullen in Portsoy. I always feel it is a shame this castle has never been maintained; it looks so weak and old that it could crumble into the ocean at any time.

For those brave enough, you can make your way into the castle, and there are a few rooms you can explore. If you follow the coastal path down to the beach, there is a fantastic photo opportunity. Follow the trail west to the stunning Sunnyside beach, it would be an ideal wild camping spot. More on Findlater Castle.

Cullen
Cullen

Cullen

Maybe the most picturesque of all the coastal villages on the Moray Firth and perhaps the whole of Scotland, Cullen is a true gem amongst gems and one of the most attractive coastal villages. The main features of the town are its large disused railway viaduct that runs through the centre, the picture-perfect sea town village and its epic beach that wraps around the bay.

The town is known for its unique dish - Cullen Skink - made from smoked haddock; it's well worth a try if you are a seafood lover.

Cullen Sea School, near the harbour, offers paddle sports, coastal rowing, sailing and boat building. They also offer courses on first aid, radio and knot tying.

Locals have recently relandscaped the Castle Hill area of Cullen; there are now lovely paths up to the prominence of the hill with outstanding views. You can continue walking westwards to the Temple of Pomona. The Crannoch Circular Walk is also fantastic.

Cullen Golf Course runs parallel to the coast.

Bow Fiddle Rock
Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie

Portknockie / Bow Fiddle Rock

Founded in 1677, Portknockie was a herring fishing port in the 19th century.

Bow Fiddle Rock is a natural geological rock formation just on the Moray Firth coast at Portknockie down a small path; please read my dedicated article on it here. It is a fantastic spot to stop while making your way through the Moray firth and a must for photographers. The walk from Cullen to Portknockie is also amazing, taking in large caves and sea arches.

Findochty

A stunning little coastal village filled with traditional fishing cottages painted in different colours. It is a lovely town to walk through, and the harbour has some great photo opportunities with the moored boats and church on the hill in the background.

There is a small ruined 16th-century castle at the southwest end of the village.

Buckie

Buckie is one of the largest of the coastal communities. It still has a busy harbour and boat-building business, along with other industries that make use of the harbour facilities. The Jacqueline Anne, a 25-meter FR243 fishing trawler, was recently launched at the harbour, built by Macduff Shipyards.

There is a fantastic fishing heritage centre if you want to learn about the local fishing history of the Moray Firth.

There are two golf courses, Strathlene and Buckpool. There is also an impressive twin-spired church - St Peter's Roman Catholic Church.

A nice spot for a picnic is Strathlene Beach on the east side of its Portessie region. You can see seals here at the Craigenroan Rock... also great food at the restaurant "Bijou by the Sea".

Portgordon Seals
Seals, Portgordon.

Portgordon

Yet another small fishing village, once nicknamed "Paraffin City " due to it being one of the last towns to get electricity in 1937. A community of seals can be found at the east beach. There is a superb annual fireworks display every November for Guy Fawkes night.

Spey Viaduct
Spey Viaduct

Spey Bay

Spey Bay is an area of outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and even architecture with the Spey Viaduct. The river Spey flows into the Moray Firth here and has created a variety of habitats for local fauna and flora, such as wildfowl, wildflowers, butterflies, seals and dolphins.

This is a lovely area to stop on your trip down the coast. There is a very picturesque and relaxing walk from the car park to the Spey Viaduct.

Lossiemouth and Cullen beaches are some of the finest in Moray.
Lossiemouth. Photo credit Alan Butterfield.

Lossiemouth

Another spectacular seaside village, more tailored to tourism with its busy marina/harbour and Golf course. It also has a lovely caravan park at Silversands. There are two beaches in Lossie, West and East, ideal for surfers. Covesea lighthouse lies in the west.

The River Lossie is also a good spot to photograph Osprey hunting.  In 2022, a beautiful new footbridge was built, once again giving access to Lossiemouth East Beach.

Duffus Castle and Spynie Palace lies 3 miles to the south and are well worth a visit. Duffus Castle is free, but Spynie Palace will charge for visitors £6 for adults, £3.60 for children, and under 5's free.  Find out more about castles in Moray.

Skulptors Cave
Sculptor's Cave information board

Sculptors' Cave

Situated halfway between Lossiemouth and Hopeman, The Sculptor's Cave is named after symbols carved by the Picts at the entrance dating from 500AD. The cave was excavated in the 1970s, and discoveries of human bone and late Bronze Age metalwork were found.

Be careful if you decide to visit the cave, as it becomes inaccessible at high tide. There is an impressive sea stack near the cave.

Elgin Cathedral
Elgin Cathedral. Photo credit Alan Butterfield.

Elgin

If you want to leave the coast for a while, Elgin to the south of Lossiemouth, is worth visiting for its famous Cathedral, destroyed by the Wolf of Badenoch in 1390. There is a brilliant museum, library and park with a duck pond nearby; otters have been seen here frequently.

Burghead

Yet another fantastic Moray Firth beach can be found at Burghead; colourful beach huts and World War Two defences add interest to this already beautiful coastline. Burghead is also known for its history of being built on the site of a Pictish fort.

Findhorn Bay
Findhorn Bay. Photo credit Alan Butterfield.

Findhorn

Findhorn is a small settlement built next to the river Findhorn / Bay of Findhorn, which feeds into the Moray Firth. A popular area for its beaches, Culbin Forest and water sports. It is also a haven for wildlife.

The Findhorn Foundation is also based here, a thriving community with an alternate lifestyle geared towards the environment. The ecovillage consists of 90 homes powered by wind and a specialised sewage treatment system called The Living Machine.

It has an award-winning shop replete with gifts, books and organic foods. Concerts are often held here at the Universal Hall, a 350-seat theatre. A great place to visit if you are interested in how to live with the environment in Scotland.

Forres

A bit more inland for an article about Moray Firth, but it's a lovely town to stop on your travels. Forres contains many excellent shops and amenities. One fantastic walk is from Grant Park up to Nelsons Tower, a memorial built to Admiral Lord Nelson built-in 1806. Red squirrels can be seen jumping between trees on this route.

Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle. Photo credit Alan Butterfield.

Inverness

Inverness is the capital of the highlands and Scotland's most populated northern city. A great base to explore other nearby Scottish tourist attractions such as Loch Ness, The Caledonian Canal (cruises), Culloden Battlefield, Culloden Viaduct or other areas in the highlands of Scotland.

Inverness Aquadome is a fun place to take the kids; there is a wave machine, river rapids, and water slides. Nearby you can visit Inverness Botanical Gardens, Ness Islands Walk, then walk along the riverside to Inverness Castle and Museum.

The Caledonian Canal begins in Inverness on the River Ness, connecting the east coast to the west coast through a series of locks and lochs.

Moray Firth Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins have made their home in the Moray Firth but have also been seen east of Aberdeenshire and as far north as the Pentland Firth.

I have personally seen these Dolphins off the coast of Lossiemouth when I chartered a catamaran from Lossie harbour. It was an amazing experience with the Dolphins coming right up to the side of the boat! I could see their eyes looking me up and down; they were definitely a more intelligent and inquisitive animals than other wildlife on the Moray coast.

There is a dedicated wildlife hub at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) at Spey Bay, located at the mouth of the River Spey, where it flows into the Moray firth / North Sea. It is a lovely spot and well worth a visit.

Chanonry Lighthouse dolphin spotting
Chanonry Lighthouse is near the best dolphin viewing spot.

Where is the best place to see Moray Firth Dolphins?

Although I have seen Scotland's Dolphins from Lossiemouth and Spey Bay before, by far the best place to see them is at Chanonry Point in Cromarty, north east of Inverness. The geography of the strip of land jutting out into the Moray firth makes it a perfect spot to see the Dolphins who often feed here. Fort George, across the water from Chanonry Point, is also a great viewing spot.

FAQs on the Moray Firth

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Moray Firth.

Where is the Moray Coast located?

The Moray Coast is located in the northeastern part of Scotland. It stretches from Findhorn in the west to Cullen in the east, passing through several towns and villages along the way, including Lossiemouth, Buckie and Cullen.

What is the Moray Coast known for?

The Moray Coast is known for its stunning coastal scenery, which includes long sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, and quaint fishing villages. It's also famous for its wildlife, particularly dolphins, which can often be seen from the shore. In addition, there are several whisky distilleries in the region, making it a popular destination for whisky enthusiasts.

What wildlife can I see on the Moray Coast?

The Moray Coast is a haven for wildlife. It is one of the best places in the UK to see bottlenose dolphins. Other marine life includes seals, porpoises, whales and a variety of seabirds. Inland, you may spot roe deer, foxes, pine martens and a variety of bird species.

Are there any historical sites to visit on the Moray Coast?

Yes, there are several historical sites along the Moray Coast. These include Elgin Cathedral, also known as the 'Lantern of the North', the ancient Pictish Fortrose Cathedral, and the ruins of Duffus Castle. There are also many traditional fishing villages that have remained largely unchanged for centuries.

What are some of the outdoor activities available on the Moray Coast?

The Moray Coast offers a wide range of outdoor activities. These include walking and cycling along the Moray Coast Trail, golfing at one of the many local courses, and wildlife watching. Watersports such as surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking are also popular.

What is the best time to visit the Moray Coast?

The best time to visit the Moray Coast is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is usually warmest and driest. However, spring and autumn can also be lovely times to visit, particularly for wildlife watching.

Moray is also significantly quieter for tourists than hot spots like the NC500, Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. Please see my 5-day Moray Travel Itinerary for help with your trip.

What are the accommodation options on the Moray Coast?

The Moray Coast has a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. These include hotels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering cottages, and campsites.

My favourite places to stay in Moray are:

Can I do a whisky tour on the Moray Coast?

Yes, the Moray Coast is located in the Speyside region, which is famous for its whisky. There are numerous distilleries in the area that offer tours and tastings. Some of the most well-known include Glenfiddich, Macallan, and Aberlour.

How can I get to the Moray Coast?

The Moray Coast is easily accessible by car, with major roads leading to the area from Aberdeen and Inverness. There are also regular train services to Elgin, the main town in the area, and some local bus services along the coast.

  • From Aberdeen, the main road is the A96 into Moray; you can also catch a train from Aberdeen to Keith.

  • From Inverness, the A96 is also the main route to Moray; a train is available to Forres.

  • You can also reach Moray from the A95, with the first major town being Aberlour.

Is the Moray Coast suitable for families?

Absolutely, the Moray Coast is a great destination for families. There are plenty of beaches for children to enjoy, as well as family-friendly attractions like the Morayvia Science & Technology Centre and Macduff Aquarium.

There are many castles in Moray to explore, making for many fun days out with young kids.

Morayvia. East Coast.
Morayvia is a fantastic place for kids.

Key information on the Moray Firth Coast

  • The Moray Firth Coast is located in the northeast of Scotland.

  • The Moray Firth is part of the North Sea and is Scotland's largest firth (a sea inlet).

  • Known for its breathtaking coastal scenery, including long sandy beaches and rugged cliffs.

  • The Moray Firth is recognized as a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area, highlighting its ecological importance.

  • There are many small picturesque fishing villages along the coast.

  • The Moray Firth covers over 500 miles of coastline.

  • The Moray coast is a great place to view the northern lights in Scotland.

  • The River Spey terminates at Spey Bay and flows into the Moray Firth.

  • There are many castles in Moray to explore, Boyne, Findlater and Duffus Castles can be found near the coast.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been useful in giving you ideas for things to see on your visit to the Moray Firth coastline. Please read this article on the best things to do in Moray or beaches in Moray next!

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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Comments:


ChrisLBS
30th of August 2023 @ 20:32:17

Hi Gregory, The Moray Firth is quite a wide area. Do you know roughly the part your family was from?

Gregory Crask
30th of August 2023 @ 20:14:58

I believe I have kin that originated in Scotland near Moray Firth. I would like to visit sometime soon. Do you have any recommendations on where to stay?