If you happen to be a regular reader of Rachel’s Ruminations, you’ll know I love castles. Scotland has plenty of them, and, conveniently, my son is currently studying in Aberdeen. That gives me a great excuse to visit, both to see him and to visit castles. This article covers all 14 Aberdeenshire castles worth visiting.
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My first trip to Scotland was with my friend, Kate. We spent most of our week further north, in the Scottish Highlands, exploring Kate’s family heritage, which you can read about here. But on the way north and on the way back down, we managed to see four castles in Aberdeenshire.
At that point, not having done much research, I thought we’d seen most of what there was to see, but I was wrong. When I looked it up later on Wikipedia, I was amazed at the length of the list of castles: 65 castles in this one small county!
On the next trip, my husband traveled with me. We spent the whole week in Aberdeenshire, taking day trips from our hotel in Aberdeen. We visited 12 castles – some only on the outside – in the space of a week. (And a couple of distilleries while we were there!)
Castles in Aberdeenshire
Before that second trip, I studied the Wikipedia list more closely. I realized that only a much smaller number can be visited. Twenty castles on the list are privately-owned and not open for tours. Another 30 or so are ruins.
I have to point out that, while these appeared on a list of “castles,” some of them are really more manor houses or country estates than castles. Some of them are “castellated houses,” meaning that the castle-like crenellations were added later more for status than for defense. Not really to my taste…
Some of these houses have been divided into apartments, so they’re really only castle-like on the exterior. Others are being used as hotels or bed and breakfasts. Many, even ones that are primarily private estates, can be rented as event venues, for if you’re planning a fairy-tale wedding.
One, a pretty one called Tillycorthie, is for sale: a bargain at a starting price of £1.5 million.
About 30 of the Aberdeenshire castles on the list are ruins. They vary from nothing but the foundations to quite ornate and intact, except that they’re missing a roof. Most of them are medieval, and some stand dramatically on hills or cliffs, making them worth a visit just for the scenery. The majority of these ruins are not set up for tourism.
Castles in Aberdeenshire to visit
The list below includes the 14 castles that seem worth visiting to me, 13 of which I’ve visited or at least seen on the outside. Mostly these are castles that have been preserved and can be toured. Many are furnished inside because, until they were handed over to a preservation group (in many cases, the National Trust for Scotland), a family still lived in them.
Also among these 14 castles are three that are ruins, but are nevertheless interesting. All are marked on the map below:
I’m listing these Aberdeenshire castles in alphabetical order, and I’ve included photos of the ones I’ve visited. I’ll certainly visit the one remaining castle I haven’t seen yet on a future trip to Scotland.
I’m not even sure I should include Balmoral on this list since visitors, unless they get a personal invitation from the Queen herself, only get to enter one single room. I signed us up for one of the last tours of the season because I thought “queen!” and “castle!” and so it must be interesting. The fact is, though, that the tour – normally an audio tour, apparently, but ours was guided – is mostly outdoors and points out, but doesn’t enter, a few outbuildings. The only part of the castle we entered was the rather unimpressive ballroom.
Balmoral was built by Queen Victoria in the 1850s, not a brilliant architectural period. It’s still used for holidays by the British royal family. To read my full review of Balmoral, click here.
Balmoral Castle: Open daily April-July 10-17:00 and weekends into the fall. £11.50 ($14.50/€13) including audio tour.
Location: Halfway between Ballater and Braemar on the A93. Watch for signs to the castle.
Like many castles in Aberdeenshire, this is a tall “tower house,” built in 1628. Tower houses were fortified, with very thick stone walls. Over the centuries, rooms were added, and extra windows cut into the walls when fortification was no longer necessary. Home to the Clan Farquharson, Braemar Castle has 12 rooms that are fully furnished to show what life in the castle was like. I’ll add a separate article about Braemar later.
Braemar Castle: Open Wednesday- Sunday 10:00-17:00 in April-June and September-October and open daily in July, August and the first week of September. £8 ($10/€9)
Location: just east of the village of Braemer on the A93, and 15 minutes west of Balmoral.
A 16th century tower house, this place became a British military base in 1748 after the Jacobite uprisings. Later it was used by the army to fight whisky smuggling. Kate and I saw this one from a distance, and its picturesque placement on the side of a valley, with a star-shaped defensive wall, makes it look very dramatic.
I insisted to my husband that we go visit it, and it is indeed dramatically placed on a rise, surrounded by treeless fields and bigger hills.
Inside, however, Corgarff was a bit disappointing, in terms of my romantic view of how a castle “should” look. Managed by Historic Environment Scotland, it is furnished to illustrate army life rather than to show its earlier life as a castle home. A few of its rooms hold replica beds, tables, and so on, to show how the government troops would have experienced it.
Corgarff Castle: Open daily 9:30-17:30 in April-September. Closed the rest of the year. £6 ($8/€7)
Location: On the A939, 8 miles west of Strathdon.
The first sight of Craigievar is certainly a “wow” moment: it’s pink! This castle is a very clear example of a 17th-century tower house: it’s taller than it is wide. The tour through the rooms is interesting and often surprising, but unfortunately they do not allow any interior photography. You can read about Craigievar Castle in more detail in my separate article.
Craigievar Castle: Only accessible via guided tours, which run about every half-hour. Open daily 10:30-16:00 in June through September. In October, only Saturday and Sunday 10:30-15:00; in April and May, only Friday-Tuesday 10:30-16:00. Closed November-March. £13 ($16.50/€14.50).
Location: off the A980, six miles south of Alford, 26 miles west of Aberdeen.
Kate and I visited this one as well and, despite the fact that it’s somewhat less pretty on the outside than Craigievar, we enjoyed exploring the castle, with its turrets and ornate painted ceilings. Built initially in the 16th century, it’s another tower house with later additions, in this case both vertical and horizontal additions. The photo at the top of this article shows the vertical part.
The garden is wonderful too, with some freeform topiary like I’ve never seen before.
You can read all about Crathes Castle in my separate article about it here.
Crathes Castle: Open daily 10:30-17:00 from April-October. In November-March, open Saturday and Sunday 11-16:00. Closed on holidays, so check the website. £13 ($16.50/€14.50).
Location: On the A93 about 15 miles west of Aberdeen and 3 miles east of Banchory.
This tower house dates from 1570-79, but the original it expanded from was built in the 11th century. It boasts 16th century painted ceilings and an especially wide spiral staircase that goes all eight stories.
Delgatie Castle needs some serious investment to keep it from falling apart entirely. My husband and I enjoyed wandering the rooms and reading the words of the last owner, Captain Hay, in a transcribed version of what he used to say as he led visitors around himself. He was clearly an eccentric and devoted to the building, pointing out his own contributions to the decor, such as it is.
Delgatie: Open daily 10:00-17:00 (doors close at 16:00) all year except two weeks at Christmas and New Year. £8 ($10/€9).
Location: Off the A947, northeast of Turriff.
The original tower house at Drum Castle dates to the 13th century, but the rest of it is made up of 17th century and Victorian additions. What that means is it looks more castle-like than many of these, and not very tower-like. It is particularly noted for its “garden of historic roses,” showing how roses have been grown through the ages, and its ancient oak forest.
The inside of the castle was elegantly refurbished in the Victorian period, but this also changed the shape of some of the rooms. The most interesting part of the guided tour involves the period when the castle was used to house English troops during the Jacobite rebellions. In the library – lined with books and a huge painting of a former owner who must have been quite a narcissist – the guide relates a story of how another former owner, a Jacobite, spent years hiding in chambers behind the bookshelves.
Drum Castle: Open all year except the two weeks around Christmas and New Year, but hours vary: daily 10:30-16:00 in June-August; Thursday-Monday 10:30-16:00 in September-October; Saturday and Sunday 10:30-16:00 in November-March. £13 ($16.50/€14.50).
Location: three miles west of Peterculter, ten miles west of Aberdeen, eight miles east of Banchory.
Dunnottar is a ruin, but definitely worth visiting, even if you don’t pay the admission fee and only view it from the mainland. Looking formidable on a promontory, surrounded by the sea and cliffs, you can see why the site would be easy to defend. I thought our visit would be short, just a half hour for a quick look at the scenery. On the contrary, the ruins are extensive, both on the ground and under it, and we ended up spending a couple of hours exploring it. I’ve written about Dunnottar as a separate article.
Dunnottar Castle: Open all year, but closed in bad weather since the wind and rain can make it dangerous. Open daily 9-17:30 in April-September. The rest of the year, it opens daily at 10:00, but the closing time varies from 14:30 to 16:30. Check their website if you want to visit in the afternoon outside of summer season. £7 ($9/€8).
Location: South of Aberdeen along the coast, just south of Stonehaven on the A92.
This “Z-plan” castle, built in the 16th and 17th century, is a very large tower house, with additions over the centuries. Like Crathes and Craigievar, it still holds the original furnishings from the family that owned it: in this case, the Frasers, who lived there for centuries. Perhaps just because of its sheer size, this one seems the most “castle-like” of all the tower houses on this list.
Castle Fraser: Open daily 10-16:00 in April-October. In March, November and the first half of December, open 11-14:00. Closed mid-December through February. £11 ($14/€12.50).
Location: 4 miles north of Dunecht and 16 miles west of Aberdeen.
First built in the 13th century, each family that lived there added new towers. Fyvie has a very grand appearance: a Scottish Baronial style with a massive archway over the front entrance. You can tour the furnished rooms and stroll the grounds, including a garden of “Scottish Cultivated Fruits,” according to Wikipedia.
The inside of Fyvie is definitely worth seeing. The various owners – but especially those who owned it in the 19th century – decorated it elegantly from floor to ceiling. The furnishings, the paintings, the detailed ceilings and the many family objects filling the rooms are fascinating to see. Our tour guide had a wonderful dry wit that added an extra touch to his explanations.
Fyvie Castle: Open daily 10:30-16:00 in April-May and 11-17:00 in June-September. Open only on Friday-Monday 11-15:00 in October-mid-December . Closed mid-December through February. £13 ($16.50/€14.50)
Location: off the A947, eight miles southeast of Turriff and 25 miles northwest of Aberdeen.
Kildrummy is a ruined 13th century castle. It might be worth a visit just because of its size: this place was once massive, with particularly strong fortified walls. We were too late to visit on the day we went by, so we just stopped long enough for me to take a picture through a break in the hedge. It doesn’t look like there’s much to see other than the walls.
Kildrummy Castle: Open daily April-September 9:30-17:30. Closed the rest of the year. £5. ($6.50/€5.50).
Location: On the A97 south of Mossat and north of Glenkindie.
If you like castles, you might also like to read these other articles:
- Dunrobin Castle, Scotland
- Lovely Burghausen Castle
- Fraeylemaborg: The “ancestral home”
- Should you visit Dracula’s Castle?
Here’s an unusual one. Kinnaird Castle, dating from the 16th century, isn’t really a castle anymore. It was converted back in 1787 into a lighthouse. Located on Kinnaird Head, a point of land in the North Sea at the town of Fraserburgh, it is now home to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
Almost nothing is left of the original castle, other than the exterior that you see in the picture above. The lighthouse was added, at first, to the roof of the castle, but it was too heavy, and eventually the castle was almost completely gutted to house an entire lighthouse building inside, with a spiral staircase from the ground to the light on top.
A museum next door gives all the information you could ever want to know about lighthouses, while the guided tour of the lighthouse itself shows how the mechanisms worked. In other words, it’s all about lighthouses, not castles.
Museum of Scottish Lighthouses: Open daily 10-17:00 from end of March through October (lighthouse tours at 11:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00); 10-16:30 in November-March (lighthouse tours at 11:00, 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00). £8.80 ($11/€10).
Location: about an hour north of Aberdeen. Take the A92 to the A952 to Fraserburgh.
Dating from the 17th century, Leith Hall has a more “stately home” appearance to it than the others. In other words, it has fewer turrets and crenellations than most. The Leith-Hay family lived here for ten generations, until the end of WWII, at which point they donated the house and all its contents to the National Trust for Scotland, complete with the original furnishings and artwork. (This is the only one of the castles I have not seen even in passing … yet.)
Leith Hall: Leith Hall can only be viewed on a guided tour. Open 10-16:00 on Friday-Monday in July and August; 10-16:00 only on Saturday and Sunday in April-June and September-October. Closed November-March. £11 ($14/€12.50).
Location: Off the B9002, a mile west of Kennethmont.
This is the third and last ruin on my list. Built in a Scots Renaissance style in the 16th century, it was an addition to an earlier tower house. The walls are relatively intact, with some pretty detailing; it’s just missing a roof.
My husband and I enjoyed poking around what was left of the rooms of Tolquhon. I was glad we stopped to see it, but if you’re making choices, I’d suggest Dunnottar over this one. Dunnottar is a more extensive ruin and the site is far more dramatic.
Tolquhon: Open daily April-September 9:30-17:30. Closed October-March.
Location: A half hour north of Aberdeen, off the B999, between Tarves and the A920 junction.
So these are the 14 Aberdeenshire Castles worth visiting, 13 of which I’ve seen, 12 of which I’ve toured. I’d love to hear from you if you end up using this list for travel in Aberdeenshire!
If you’re planning a trip to Aberdeenshire, click on this link to book your hotels.
Have you visited any of these castles? If so, let me know what you thought of it below.