When mentioning famous Scottish castles, the esteemed summer residence of the Royal Family is the first to come to mind. Balmoral Castle is set in the stunning Royal Deeside amidst the verdant Cairngorms National Park, with beautiful views on the right bank of the winding River Dee. It truly is no wonder that Balmoral Castle is the reprieve of choice for the British Royal Family (think of it as a Scottish Buckingham Palace), but they’re not the only ones who enjoy the castle and its grounds.
The Balmoral Estates are a frequently visited attraction for tourists exploring Scotland. There are many unique activities that you can enjoy while soaking in the sublime architecture, castle grounds & gardens, and many excellent rooms within. We’re here to break down a quick history of Balmoral Castle and what attractions you can look forward to while you’re here.
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History of Balmoral Castle
Balmoral’s history takes us back many centuries – a common phrase when discussing castles in the Scottish Highlands – to 1390. The original castle was reportedly built in the late 14th century but only purchased by the Royal Family in 1852. Balmoral was a gift from Prince Albert to his wife, Queen Victoria, who loved Scotland and its picturesque countryside.
More specifically, Queen Victoria found Balmoral to be an excellent property from which she could escape from the world of her responsibilities, noting that the location breathed freedom and peace. And while the rest of Scotland is prone to reasonably temperamental weather, Royal Deeside offers an excellent location with less drastic storms and cold fronts.
Since this initial purchase, Balmoral Castle has grown to 50,000 acres to accommodate the growing family and several luxurious rooms and amenities ideal for a summer holiday. Balmoral has served as the site for many of the Royal Family’s most important moments, including where King Charles III (then Prince Charles) & Princess Diana had their honeymoon and where their sons, Prince Harry and Prince William, learnt of their mother’s passing. Most recently, the late Queen Mother spent her last days at Balmoral Castle before being buried at Windsor Castle.
Much of the Royal Family’s history is captured in the rooms and hallways of Balmoral Castle, which makes the fact that it is open to the public an attractive prospect to add to your holiday to-do list.
How to Get There
“Where is Balmoral Castle?” is regularly asked by adventurers exploring Aberdeenshire and the Cairngorms National. Luckily, the Scottish holiday home of the Royal family is easily accessible from many different parts of the country. The most direct route to Balmoral Castle is from Aberdeen, with the A93 taking you directly from the bustling city to the closest town near Balmoral, Ballater.
If you need help determining if you’re going in the right direction, follow the River Dee upstream – it snakes right next to this famous castle.
Attractions at Balmoral Castle
Once you’ve arrived at the estate and packed at the car parks, you’ll see the many attractions that Balmoral Castle has hidden away. Remember that the Castle is not open all year round and has a strict schedule for when it is open to the public (usually between September and the new year). Keeping up to date on the Balmoral website is the best way to avoid suddenly ending your royal visit with bad news.
General admission to Balmoral Castle tickets costs £15 per adult or £6 for a child between 5 and 16. General admission tickets will allow you to explore the castle grounds surrounding the Castle, not the interior.
If you’re planning to visit Balmoral Castle or are looking for things to do at the estate, read our complete guide for the top attractions you can enjoy.
The Balmoral Expedition
The Balmoral Expedition is the premier option for those coming to Balmoral with a keen interest in exploring the surroundings around the castle. This 2-hour-long tour takes you around the expansive grounds of Balmoral Castle in a Landrover, with attractions and details pointed out to you by an informative tour guide.
The Balmoral Expedition lets guests have a chance to see the diverse wildlife that calls the region their home, including red squirrels, red deer, snow bunting, and even salmon! The Expedition also travels up the flanks of Lochnagar, one of the most famous mountains in Scotland, and offers supreme views out to the estate and the Cairngorms National Park.
This venture is one of the best ways to enjoy Balmoral Castle, and it costs £330 – a single ticket covers the trip for a group of six people.
Balmoral Coffee Shop
Once you’ve explored the Castle grounds and the surrounding area, wind down at the Balmoral Coffee Shop. The shop offers an excellent selection of baked goods, coffee, and a select choice of sandwiches.
There’s more on offer at Balmoral Coffee Shop, however, including an excellent range of royal experiences you can enjoy:
Morning Coffee & Cake Experience
While you’re on holiday, the idea of coffee and cake for breakfast is attractive and a must. The Morning Coffee & Cake Experience at Balmoral Castle offers guests the chance to enjoy a sublime selection of coffee, hot chocolates, and cakes. Sip and eat while enjoying the stunning views of the Balmoral Castle grounds.
This experience needs to be booked in advance and is served between 10:00 – 11:30 AM.
Afternoon Tea Experience
The natural complement to Morning Coffee & Cake is the Afternoon Tea Experience at Balmoral – a quintessentially British affair. In addition to a beautiful selection of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate, guests can look forward to a spread of scones, sandwiches, and cake as the afternoon sun lazily approaches the horizon.
There’s no better way to live out your Bridgerton fantasies than the Afternoon Tea Experience at Balmoral Castle. To secure your spot, book in advance and be at Balmoral between 13:00 and 16:00.
Watch the Squirrel Camera
Look no further than the red squirrel camera for those who can’t wait to experience Balmoral and its many attractions! This camera is pointed towards one of some of the most special residents of the Balmoral Estate – the red squirrels!
The red squirrels of Balmoral are beloved not only by visitors but also by the Royal Family. King Charles was fond of the squirrels – even letting them into each room in the castle and giving them names. Charles later took an active role as the Red Squirrel Survival Trust patron.
This endangered species has recently seen a population decline, so it’s lucky to see them scurrying across the castle’s grounds. If you don’t see them during your visit, the red squirrel camera on Balmoral Castle’s website is your next best bet.
See the Beautiful Grounds & Gardens
The main attraction at Balmoral Castle is its gorgeous grounds and gardens. Walking across the bountiful lands is right out of the fairy tale fantasy, with the perfectly manicured trees and grass offering a delightful way to enjoy an evening.
When visiting Balmoral Castle, there are several routes, including Albert’s Pyramid Walk, which takes visitors on a short walk or drive past the peculiar and intricate pyramids. The Castle’s Water Garden is exceptionally splendid and a veritable watering hole for many of the fauna that visit Balmoral Castle.
Visit the Mews Gift Shop
Need a souvenir to remember your trip to Balmoral Castle? Visiting the Mews Gift Shop on the estate is ideal for exploring. You can enjoy several commemorative pieces within the physical and online Mews Gift Shop, including mugs, whiskies, gins, clothing, and even a few goods for friends and family members back home.
Balmoral Tweeds, Paddington Bear Mugs, and many more Scottish and Royal gifts are readily available for those visiting Balmoral.
Take an Audio Tour of the Castle Grounds
One of the best guided tours that will take you through Balmoral Castle and its surrounding gardens is the guided audio tour, with options for English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish translations. The audio tour informs you of the fascinating Balmoral Castle’s history, lasting for about an hour.
It’s the perfect way to navigate the grounds and even take you into the Ballroom – the only piece of Balmoral’s interior available for the public. Request an audio guide when booking your ticket to the Castle’s grounds.
Play a Round at Balmoral’s Golf Course
Only a few visitors know you can play golf on the Balmoral Estate, but a select few can enjoy a 9-hole/ 18 tee parkland golf course with excellent views of the Castle and surrounding gardens. Unfortunately, Balmoral’s golf course is not open to the public but is available to play if a member of its golf club invites you.
The golf course spans nearly 5,000 yards, exceptionally long for a 9-hole course and boasts a par 67 challenge for budding golfers.
Explore the Ballroom at Balmoral
While Balmoral Castle’s interior is usually closed to the public, the Ballroom is the exception. The Ballroom is a beautiful space, with plenty of photos of the other rooms within the building, pictures of the late Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and the royal couple.
The Ballroom is also a historic part of Balmoral, with Queen Elizabeth’s coffins resting here for the staff to pay their respects before being taken back to London.
Pony Stud Tours
Equestrian lovers should book one of the Pony Stud Tours available at Balmoral Castle, Scotland. You can learn plenty about the Balmoral Highland Ponies that the Stud Team at Balmoral take care of and use to work the estate’s lands.
That’s only some of you can learn about, though, as the Pony Studs Tour team is more than happy for you to interact with the young Balmoral Highland Pony foals and see these stallions in action. Those who’ve never visited Scotland will love the Balmoral Highland Pony Tours.
This Pony Stud tour costs around £480 plus an additional booking fee.