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Aberdeenshire castles worth visiting

If you happen to be a regular reader of Rachel’s Ruminations, you’ll know I love castles. So when I planned a trip to visit my son in Aberdeen, Scotland, Aberdeenshire castles had to be on the list.

My friend, Kate, and I spent most of our week further north, in the Scottish Highlands, exploring Kate’s family heritage, which you can read about here.

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Nevertheless, on our way to and from the Highlands, we managed to visit four castles in Aberdeenshire. 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: 65 castles in this one small county!

The main tower part of Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland
The main tower part of Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Castles in Aberdeenshire

Looking more carefully through the list, 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.

Private homes

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.

Ruins

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. Mostly these are castles that have been preserved and can be toured. Most 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. Of course, I’ll update the list when I see more of them. My son, as of this writing, has at least two and a half more years in Aberdeen, so I have an excuse to return.

Balmoral

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.

One part of Balmoral Castle. Apparently Queen Victoria tore down the original castle on this site because it wasn't big enough.
One part of Balmoral Castle. Apparently Queen Victoria tore down the original castle on this site because it wasn’t big enough.

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.

Braemar 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.

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.

Corgarff Castle

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. We 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.

A distant view of Corgarff Castle in Aberdeenshire
Corgarff Castle in Aberdeenshire

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.

Craigievar Castle

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 in Aberdeenshire is tall and pastel pink.
Craigievar Castle looks like a fairytale, doesn’t it?

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.

Crathes Castle

We 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 as well, with some freeform topiary like I’ve never seen before. I’ll write about this castle separately later. It allows interior photography, so I have plenty to show you.

A view of Crathes Castle's garden in the autumn. You can see some of the topiary in this photo as well.
A view of Crathes Castle’s garden in the autumn. You can see some of the topiary in this photo as well.

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.

Delgatie Castle

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: 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.

Drum Castle

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.

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 Castle

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’ll write about this as a separate article later too.

A view of Dunnottar Castle that shows its dramatic setting on a spur of land extending out into the ocean.
A view of Dunnottar Castle

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.

Castle Fraser

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.

Fyvie Castle

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.

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

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. It doesn’t look like there’s much to see except the site and the base of the walls, though.

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:


Kinnaird

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. Once I visit it, I can let you know how much of it is still castle, how much is lighthouse, and how much is museum.

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.

Leith Hall

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.

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.

Tolquhon Castle

This is the third and last ruin on my list, and looks as impressive as Dunnottar Castle, as ruins go. The walls are relatively intact, with some pretty detailing; it’s just missing a roof. Built in a Scots Renaissance style in the 16th century, it was an addition to an earlier tower house. While the site isn’t as dramatic as Dunnottar Castle’s, the building itself seems more interesting and picturesque than Dunnottar.

Tolquhon: Open daily April-September 9:30-17:30. Closed October-March.
£5 ($6.50/€5.50).

Location: A half hour north of Aberdeen, off the B999, between Tarves and the A920 junction.

Aberdeenshire Castles

As I put this brief overview together, I realized that it isn’t just a handy list to put out there on the internet. For me, it’s a to-do list for future visits to Aberdeen. I’ll see as many as I can in the next few years, so expect updates!


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. Better yet, do you have a photo that I can use?

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