Scotland’s Aberdeenshire Castle Trail with Kids – Aberdeenshire is Castle Country. For anyone serious about Scottish history, castle hunting, ruins or opulent furnishings, tour the region from coastline to riverside, with the kids in tow. They’ll love it. Here are our Top Ten castles, organised geographically.
[Many castles are closed due to Covid measures but the grounds remain open and many are free to enter. Check before you go. *contains affiliate links.]
Heading inland from Aberdeen into Royal Deeside
1 Crathes Castle, near Banchory – Scotland’s Aberdeenshire Castle Trail with Kids
This castle is known for a spooky ‘green lady’, but despite many visits I’ve never seen her. Crathes is a 16th-century tower house, complete with turrets, towers and painted ceilings. Outdoors, scenic walking trails and a Walled Garden are attractions, plus an outdoor play area (called Wild Wood Adventure Play) was newly built in 2018. A ‘Go Ape’ offering rope climbing fun is also situated on the estate for all your wee monkeys.
2 Drum Castle, near Banchory
A Jacobean mansion house that offers a ‘king of the castle’ moment for little ones when you climb to reach the top of a 700 year old tower. Our kids were also surprisingly interested in the library too, with its wall to wall books – some 4,000 volumes. Another National Trust for Scotland gem. Read more about it here.
3 Craigievar Castle, near Alford
It’s a PINK castle, what more can I say? This pale pink creation is a fairytale for every wee prince or princess in your family. It’s also said to have inspired Walt Disney’s iconic castle. nts.org.uk
4 Balmoral Castle, near Braemar
This is the big one, the actual holiday residence of the Royal Family. Open every summer, until Her Majesty visits in August, it’s the place that Queen Victoria referred to as her Highland paradise. As the castle itself is a private residence, visitors are welcome into the Grand Ballroom where the ‘Ghillies Ball’ is held. There is also a lot to see and do in the grounds and gardens, with lots of displays and films about the estate in the courtyard and stable block. balmoralcastle.com
Available at Balmoral – castle, grounds, stables and courtyard, toilets, gardens, cafe and gift shop.
Other castles in this area that I haven’t visited include Braemar Castle and Tolquhon Castle, Tarves.
Heading North West from Aberdeen
5 Corgarff Castle, Strathdon
Corgarff has a curious past as an army base for hunting down Jacobite sympathisers and whisky smugglers. It’s set in its own rural isolation, with an eye-catching star-shaped perimeter wall. The interiors are interesting as they’re quite basic, as this was soldier’s barracks rather than the elegant home of the landed gentry.
Available at Corgarff – Castle, visitor centre and shop.
6 Castle Fraser, near Dunecht
Run by the National Trust for Scotland, Castle Fraser features a grand Great Hall, Raeburn portraits and beautiful furnishings, alongside features alluding to a suspicious past, such as hidden trapdoors and my particular favourite, the ‘Laird’s Lug’, devised for eavesdropping! nts.org.uk
7 Fyvie Castle, near Turriff
A great castle for ghost stories, with a history dating back 800 years. This castle also boasts one of the largest private collections of Raeburns in the world. Outdoors, take kids on a walk to the loch, glass-roofed racquet court and ice house. nts.org.uk
Other castles in this corner of Aberdeenshire that we haven’t personally visited – Dunnideer Castle near Insch, the ruins of Kildrummy Castle near Alford, Huntly Castle, and Delgatie Castle, near Turriff.
Heading North from Aberdeen
8 Slains Castle, near Peterhead
This ruin is hugely atmospheric, situated on a cliff-top as the North Sea swirls below. It feels safe, but due to its position near the water do keep an eye on wee ones. I wouldn’t like to visit after dark because this building is said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so it’s a great place for little ones with big imaginations. See our photo journal here, and read more about Slains on the NE250 road trip here.
Available at Slains – castle ruins.
9 Kinnaird Head Castle, Fraserburgh
This castle underwent something of a makeover. Kinnaird was converted into Scotland’s first mainland lighthouse after it was sold to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1787. Now it’s part of the Scottish Lighthouse Museum, where we were lucky enough to book a tour to climb to the very top of the lighthouse. Interesting insight into how lighthouse keepers and their families lived. lighthousemuseum.org.uk
Available at Kinnaird Head – castle, museum, toilets, and tearoom (this tea room has some of the best sea views in Scotland). Read a full review here.
Other castles in northern Aberdeenshire – Findlater Castle between Cullen and Portsoy (it’s been described as stunning but dangerous ruins for young children to visit, for the sure-footed only) and Spynie Palace near Elgin.
South of Aberdeen
10 Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven
This might just be my favourite castle. The ruins are fascinating – they look SO good perched on a rock jutting out to sea so they’re a definite favourite with photographers and painters. The history is fantastic. Fought over by Wallace and Cromwell, it was also the hiding place of the Crown Jewels (or the Honours of Scotland) and the site where religious prisoners (Covenanters) were imprisoned in the dungeons and perished. Horrific. I also love the fact that you can walk quite easily from Stonehaven harbour to the castle and back, even with children. dunnottarcastle.co.uk
Available at Dunnottar – castle ruins.
Even during quite serious Covid lockdowns, the grounds of many castles remained open. It’s been such a blessing to have these historic buildings so close to home. Get your wee knights, pirates, princesses and princes ready for action.
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