East Coast of Scotland 7 Day Itinerary – Edinburgh, St Andrews, Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeen and Royal Deeside – Some people, quarantined at home, are using some of their time planning, searching the net, and seeking inspiration and ideas, rather than travelling. I know that a lot of visitors to Scotland wish to dot from Edinburgh to Loch Ness, then to Skye, but I’m here to tempt you up the east coast of Scotland. This region features my favourite castle, the Queen’s holiday residence, the town where Kate & Wills met, plus access to beautiful beaches, as well as distilleries, galleries and museums. Wait till it’s safe, and book when the time is right.
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Here is a 7 day itinerary up the East Coast and into Royal Deeside, which could easily be extended to 10 ( see the suggestions at the bottom if you wish to do this). And if you’d like a detailed itinerary for your trip, then please get in touch, and I can explain the service. Bear in mind that many attractions below, under normal circumstances, open for the season, so do double check visitor hours.
Day 1& 2 – Edinburgh
I’m going to keep Edinburgh simple because most people have their own bucket list for the capital city. Day 1, arrive in Edinburgh and get settled from the plane, jet lag or journey you’ve undertaken.
In terms of sightseeing I’d obviously recommend Edinburgh Castle, which also houses the National War Memorial, as a must see for all ages.
Free activities in the great outdoors include climbing Arthur’s Seat and/or Calton Hill, great to have hiking options that are so central, and provide such great views of Edinburgh. Another free option is the colourful National Museum of Scotland, on Chambers Street. I’d also recommend tours of the new Scottish Parliament, eery subterranean history at Mary King’s Close for life lived underground (not suitable for very young children), and for something completely different, try Camera Obscura/World of Illusions or Dynamic Earth – read more here.
My food recommendation would be Afternoon Tea at the Signet Library in the Colonnades – look at its scrumptiousness and discover more here. For fine dining book The Witchery in advance.
Accommodation – for apartments look at Mansley (ideal for families and self-catering), for a budget hotel the Apex on the Grassmarket, Macdonald Holyrood and the city centre Novotel have always served me well, and for boutique luxury Dunstane Houses are renowned.
Day 3 – St Andrew’s
Morning, drive to St Andrews. This town is the home of golf, but so much more besides. St Andrew’s Cathedral is where much of Scotland’s Reformation history unfolded, and it’s a beautiful ruinous location where kids can run about and adults can explore.
Be sure to take a stroll on West Sands beach, famous for that scene in Chariots of Fire. FREE.
From the beach you can catch a Local Motion Land Train that tours the town. Ideal for wee ones, or those who wish to take it easy and take in the sights whilst chilling. When we climbed aboard, all passengers were all adults, apart from my two wee ones, so don’t write this off as a children’s experience. Blankets make it a cosy experience on cooler days.
The shops in the town centre are lovely, including many independent boutiques and gift shops. This is a high end location, it is where ‘Kate & Wills’ met after all. If in town, I’d recommend the famous fudge doughnuts from Fisher & Donaldson, and drop by Janetta’s for light lunches and ice cream.
Other activities to mull over include the National Golf Museum (which incorporated enough hands on experiences to keep children happy, and an activity sheet for them to follow), St Andrew’s Aquarium and St Andrew’s Castle.
Foodies should also nip just out of town to browse at Balgove Market. Its Steak Barn also dishes up a satisfying meal.
In terms of accommodation the Fairmont is a real crowd pleaser, and luxurious too. It has a spa, games room for kids and teenagers, its own golf course, and it offers a Savoy afternoon tea. It’s slightly out of town, but runs a courtesy bus. Read why it works for everyone, from young couples, families, retirees and golfers here, and book here. A more central offering is the Rusacks, with excellent views over the 18th hole of the Old Course.
Day 4 Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is my favourite castle in Scotland. It looks simply stunning sitting on a rocky outcrop, jutting out into the north sea. The Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden here, and many prisoners suffered in its dungeons. History and beauty combine beautifully within these walls.
Drive to Stonehaven, parking near the harbour, which is a pretty destination in its own right, then take the coastal walk to Dunnottar Castle. Children aged probably 6 or 7 upwards can manage this hike, which is 1.5 miles each way. Find all the walk details here, which takes in Stonehaven’s unexpectedly wonderful war memorial.
Alternatively, drive to the castle and park there, before descending the steep steps to the castle walls. It’s rewarding simply to take in the castle from outside, but it’s definitely worth paying the entrance fee (prices here) to explore the ruins within.
To continue your time in Stonehaven, walk or drive from the harbour along the beachfront to Stonehaven’s heated outdoor Art Deco Swimming Pool for a fabulously warm salty dip. There’s a playground and skate park nearby for kids. Then grab an ice-cream at Betty’s on the seafront, or some traditional fish and chips.
From Stonehaven, drive to Aberdeen and get settled. For contemporary chic, with a great whisky bar and cocktail menu, consider a room at Sandman Signature – read a review here, and book here. Slightly on the outskirts of town, settle in at The Chester for a five star stay and good food – read a review here, and book here. For smart, family friendly apartments request a duplex at Skene House Rosemount – read a review here, and book here.
Day 5 – Aberdeen
Start the day exploring the new and free Aberdeen Art Gallery. There are activities in every gallery for children (or big kids) to try. The art ranges from the likes of Tracey Emin and Joyce Cairns to Henry Raeburn and Martin Parr. Read more about it here.
If you wish to stay central, then consider a Nuart Walking Tour, covering the city’s street art created thanks to this cool festival that hits Aberdeen each April. It’s a really different way to explore the city and get some very colourful pictures to take home with you.
Fans of museums should visit the free Tolbooth Museum (the city’s ancient jail, to learn more about its inmates, including Aberdeen’s unexpected history of child kidnapping), take in Marischal College (the world’s second largest granite building) and the free Maritime Museum covering the city’s links with the sea, from fishing and shipbuilding, to whaling and the oil industry. [Marischal Square is nearby, a great place to pick up a Mackie’s Ice-cream, and it offers a host of chain restaurants serving informal meals and drinks.]
In terms of food, book afternoon tea at Almondine on Thistle Street. This gorgeous patisserie must be booked in advance. Alternatively grab a healthy lunch at Food Story, also on Thistle Street. Quality restaurants include Moonfish and Cafe 52. Family friendly options include Amarone on Union Street and Rustico’s on Summer Street for Italian, the Ashvale for a fish and chips restaurant, or Books and Beans on Belmont Street for a chilled cafe.
Outwith the immediate city centre, hit the beach and explore the traditional fishing village of Footdee and its colourful, unique outhouses. Grab a bite to eat at The Pier, or Sand Dollar.
Head to Old Aberdeen to wander around the university and its attractive buildings, the Cathedral, Seaton Park (which also has a cool playground for youngsters), the university’s Zoology Museum, and Johnston Botanic Gardens. Uncover a walking guide here.
For further suggestions of things to do in Aberdeen, including extensive parks and gardens, click here.
Overnight for a second night in Aberdeen, or drive into Royal Deeside. In Deeside foodies should opt for accommodation at Douneside House in Tarland, with its exquisite tasting menu and remarkable history. Read a review here, and book here.
For a mind blowing experience, priceless art, luxury, with a fantastic games room for kids, a spa and a drying room for hiking gear, it’s got to be the inimitable Fife Arms in Braemar. Read a review here.
Day 6 Royal Deeside
Balmoral Castle near Braemar is the jewel in the crown, as the summer residence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Step inside the Grand Ballroom, explore the grounds, and discover the history of the castle through displays and films. If you’re visiting Scotland in September try to get tickets for the Braemar Gathering (that falls on the first Saturday of the month) because the Queen annually attends.
Other destinations to consider include Crathie Kirk (where the Royals attend church. John Brown, Queen Victoria’s loyal servant is buried in the kirkyard), and take a tour and tasting at Royal Lochnagar Distillery (children must be 8 and over to take a tour).
Take Afternoon Tea at The Carriage, the converted railway station that the royals used when they visited the area. Peak inside a replica of the actual royal carriage that conveyed Queen Victoria towards Balmoral. This venue also does light lunches, and cake and coffee.
Another wonderful dining option is dinner at the Rothesay Rooms. Run by the Prince’s Foundation, it’s a Scottish haven, dishing up local produce for evening meals.
Day 7 – Drive to Edinburgh and Fly Home
And if you’d like to mix things up or extend the trip to 10 days, then of course you can add or swap out locations. Consider Arbroath with its Abbey and Smokies, Dundee with RSS Discovery and the V&A, and Craigduckie Shepherds Huts are an absolutely cracker in Dunfermline for a quirky overnight and a farm tour/lambing experience.
If you’d love a seaside retreat I’d thoroughly recommend the Ship Inn in Elie. Or, for a foodie destination, make sure you overnight at the Peat Inn in Fife, with its Michelin Star.