Last week, I spent a couple of days in Aberdeenshire. To tell you the truth, I’d never really given it much thought to visiting Aberdeenshire as I wasn’t even really sure what was there. Turns out Aberdeenshire has the most beautiful scenic coastlines, over 260 castles including Her Majesty’s royal estate of Balmoral and potentially the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. And that’s coming from someone who lives at the seaside! I got to experience a lot in just under three days whilst touring the North East 250 circular route with Visit Aberdeenshire. So what can you see on the ultimate road trip around Scotland?
Setting off from the city of Aberdeen, our first stop on the grand tour was Forvie Sands. This beautiful stretch of Scottish coastline is only 30 minutes outside of the city and is utterly stunning. The Nature reserve is also home to so much wildlife including seals which we saw bobbing about in the water.
Further up the dramatic Aberdeenshire coastline is the ruins of Slains Castle. This castle is said to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although the castle was built in 1597, the owner in 1925 actually ended up removing the roof to avoid paying tax. I’m sure you can imagine that the regal castle didn’t last too long without a roof before turning into ruins. The whole area is pretty incredible as the castle is perched right on the cliffside making for a very picturesque scene.
Following the Dracula theme, we headed over to the Kilmarnock Arms and Hotel just down the road in Cruden Bay for lunch. Bram Stoker was a well-known guest of this hotel and we had the privilege of seeing a guestbook which is over 120 years old with his signature in it. The restaurant serves a selection of pub favourites and traditional Scottish dishes. We all tried the Cullen Skink soup which is made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. I went for the Chicken Maryland which I later found out originates from the US state of Maryland but is very popular in Scotland. I kept seeing this on Menu’s everywhere along our trip and it basically consists of Breaded Chicken and a lot of fried items like Pineapples and Bananas.
Our next stop was the Peterhead Prison Museum which was a real working prison for over 120 years until 2013. I found the whole visit so fascinating and interesting to learn about how it all worked. We also learnt about the siege of 1987 in which the SAS had to storm the building and even met one of the officers who was held on the roof. The Peterhead Prison Museum actually hosts a few events throughout the year from tribute concerts to a murder mystery which is taking place soon!
It was then on to another museum in Fraserburgh! The Museum of Lighthouses and Kinnaird Head Castle is one of the main attractions in Fraserburgh where you get to learn all about the engineering behind the lighthouse. It was pretty amazing to actually go inside of the lighthouse which is built directly through Kinnaird Head Castle making it truly unique. Although we didn’t have much time to explore the town, it seemed like such a great community with some stunning sights along the coastline.
Our final stop of day one before heading to our hotel was visiting the small coastal village of Gardenstown. This place was so adorable and tiny but not as small as the neighbouring village of Crovie which has no phone signal, roads or shops! We explored the tiny streets of Gardenstown and met some locals who were diving into the harbour and giving us some great photography content!
That evening we stayed at The Banff Springs Hotel which had incredible views over the coastline. It was a perfect place to just relax for the evening on the North East 250 Route and enjoy some excellent food in the hotel’s restaurant. I went for the Steak which was cooked to perfection. The evening ended with watching the sunset over the sea from my bed, what a great way to end my first day in Aberdeenshire.
After breakfast and checking out of The Banff Springs Hotel, we drove five minutes down the road to Duff House. I was particularly excited about this visit and I do love a good stately manor home. Duff House was built in 1740 by William Adam and is now a permanent home for a selection of artwork from the National Galleries of Scotland. We were really lucky to get a private tour of the house and learn in-depth about the history of the house. Throughout the years, Duff House has been used a war camp, hosted the royal family and was a target in the second world war.
Our second stop of the day was the seaside town of Portsoy. Aberdeenshire really has the most beautiful coastline adorned with the most adorable coastal villages and towns. Portsoy was one of my favourite stop-offs as we just explored the harbour and coastline before heading to Portsoy Ice Cream for one delicious treat. I’d say we were all pretty stoked about trying out the Ice Cream which is all handmade with local ingredients. It was also my first time trying Charcoal ice cream and it was pretty good. There was also Gin & Tonic ice cream on offer but in the end, I went for a mix of Malteasers and Lotus Biscoff – Delicious!
We went from Ice Cream to Whisky as our next destination was the Glenglassaugh Whisky Distillery. Now, I’ll be honest with you Whisky is certainly not my drink of choice but it was really interesting to see how it’s made. The Glenglassuagh Whisky Distillery offers tours of the working site which is located by Sandend Bay. If Whisky is your thing, this would be a great stop off on the North East 250. If you’re more into Gin like me, there are a few distilleries that offer tours and tastings here. In Aberdeenshire, you’ve got The Lost Loch Distillery, Porter’s Gin and Lone Wolf all offer tours.
For lunch, we checked out The Baxter’s Highland Village in Fochabers. You might be familiar with the brand Baxter’s which produce a range of soups, sauces, relishes and jams and it’s actually based in Aberdeenshire. The Highland Village has a few little shops and a restaurant where we all grabbed a bite to eat.
It was then time to head to Balmoral Castle, the Scottish residence for the Royal Family. From Fochabers, it was quite a drive to Royal Deeside through the Cairngorms National Park. The views along to way were truly incredible of the highlands and along the River Dee.
Balmoral Castle and Gardens is open to the public between April and July. This is to allow the Royal Family to reside here in August. Balmoral truly is a breathtakingly beautiful castle, it felt like it was fit for a Disney Princess! You are able to go inside to see the current exhibition but most of the castle remains private to the royal family. I’m quite patriotic and do love our Royal Family so it was an absolute pleasure to be able to visit Balmoral Castle and Estate. I’d certainly recommend a visit if you are in Aberdeenshire, it was an absolute highlight of the trip.
That evening, we stayed at the Marycutler House & Hotel which is along the River Dee and overlooking the Petercutler Golf Club. The hotel was a very traditional countryside residence but it was steeped in so much history dating back to 1227AD. We had a little tour and was shown around The Resident’s Lounge which is the oldest part of the hotel. The manager told us about one of the last owners who was actually a survivor of the Titanic before it was made into the hotel after World War 2.
We ended up having Dinner in the Brasserie so we were able to watch the impending World Cup clash between England and Columbia. The food and service at Marycutler House were incredible and all locally sourced. I went for the Bourguignon Steak Pie served with vegetables before indulging in the Orange & Chocolate Brownie.
The rooms were very cosy and had a beautiful view out over the River Dee. Another perfect location to watch the sunset. My room also had a pretty amazing bathtub and rainfall shower which are both things I look for in a good hotel room. After all the travelling about of the past two days, I had one of the best nights sleep in a long time.
Day Three was the final day of the Aberdeenshire North East 250 Road Trip. The first stop of the day was the Aberdeenshire Highland Beef Experience on the outskirts of Banchory. The working farm is run by Grace Noble and she offers tours where you can come and meet her herd of Highland Cattle. On the tour, we learnt so much about the cattle and saw first hand how she looks after them. They really are quite a majestic breed. It was great to get to meet Grace and her daughter who helps out. You can really tell how passionate they are!
The third and final castle of the trip was Dunnotter Castle; a 13th-century fortress sitting on the cliffside near Stonehaven. The views of the medieval fortress were spectacular, the whole rugged coastline was picture perfect. We didn’t have time to go inside of the castle which is £7 for entry.
Our final stop before heading back to Aberdeen was the town of Stonehaven for lunch. As we were at the seaside it would have been rude not to get Fish and Chips. We visited The Bay Fish & Chips and you could tell it was a firm favourite all around as a queue formed before it even opened. I’ve got to admit, the Fish & Chips were pretty damn good if not some of the best I’ve ever had. It was the perfect way to end the road trip and head home on the train with a satisfied tummy.
I hadn’t given much thought to what Aberdeenshire would be like but I was honestly surprised. I would never have imagined the unbelievably beautiful coastline and charming seaside villages. The North East 250 was a great route to see some of the highlights of Aberdeenshire including Balmoral Castle which I was thrilled to visit. A big thank you to Visit Aberdeenshire for arranging this trip and being great hosts!
Have you been to Aberdeenshire before?
*I was hosted by Visit Aberdeenshire on this trip but all thoughts and opinions are my own.