The crown jewel of holiday destinations – Royal Deeside, Scotland, is a stunning region that Queen Victoria II loved immensely. Castles, culture, history, and spectacular landscapes are just some of the many things to do in Royal Deeside.
It’s difficult not to be overwhelmed by Royal Deeside and its attractions when planning your holiday here.
Luckily, we’ve created this guide of things to do in Royal Deeside, Scotland, so you know the top must-see attractions on your next holiday to this royal destination.
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Visiting Balmoral Castle is a royal experience — Literally! The British Royal Family makes their annual pilgrimage to their favourite home in Scotland at the end of every summer after Queen Victoria acquired the property using a royal warrant.
Usually staying multiple weeks at this summer residence, you can visit the magnificent castle and its beautiful gardens while visiting Royal Deeside.
You’ll be just as enamoured as the Royal Family when you see the gorgeous architecture, sculpted gardens, and the expansive nature surrounding Balmoral Castle.
Just make sure you’re planning to visit while the castle is open, which is usually between May and August, after which the castle becomes the prime residence for the Queen and the Royal Family.
A few miles west, situated along a walking trail next to the spectacular Balmoral Castle, the Balmoral Cairns are 11 beautifully decorated stone cairns that commemorate the royal family members’ deaths.
Following the trails, you’ll be able to spot these towering cairns dedicated to members like Prince Albert. The Prince Albert Cairn towers at a staggering 35 feet and resembles an Egyptian pyramid, leaving the impression that royalty resides within it.
Search along the paths within Balmoral Cairngorms National Park for these staggeringly large cairns. They are definitely worth a day trip.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Next to Balmoral Castle is the industrious Royal Lochnagar Distillery, home to some of the finest Scotch single malt whisky in Scotland.
The distillery received its title after Queen Victoria and the Royal Family were smitten by the area of Lochnagar and changed its name to reflect their favour.
You can learn how this excellent whisky is made by taking one of the informative curated tours through the distillery. The tour gives you a deeper insight into how Royal Lochnagar creates its incredibly smooth blend.
If you appreciate a good single malt, taking a trip to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery is in your best interest!
Braemar Castle creates a sense of magic when you first see it. With its stalwart structure, its crown of towers, and the stunning landscape surrounding it, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this castle for Hogwarts at first glance.
Run by the local community of Braemar since 2007, the castle is undergoing renovations so that future generations will see it. As the community put it, they are “Saving the Past for the Future.”
Scotland is teeming with incredible and mighty castles, and Braemar Castle is one of the most unique among them.
Linn of Dee
To explore the true highland wilderness of Scotland, look no further than the landscapes found within the Linn of Dee and the River Dee.
One of the favourite picnic spots of Queen Victoria, a trip to the Linn of Dee is the perfect excursion out with your family or friends while visiting Royal Deeside.
The Lin of Dee has beautiful waymarked walking routes for you to stroll through its ancient pine woods, heather moorland, and the River Dee as it flows across rocks towards Aberdeen Harbour.
The Linn of Dee reveals the true heart of the Scottish highlands to those who visit Royal Deeside, so make sure to pack your walking boots!
The moss-covered ruins of Kindrochit Castle await and beckon you to explore their stone walls and ancient history just south of Braemar.
Built around 1390, the castle has had a long line of ownership but was left in ruins by 1618. What remains of Kindrochit castle can be explored at your leisure, with many visitors reimagining the castle in its prime as they climb its walls.
This Castle is one of the best historic sites in Scotland and is well worth an afternoon visit.
The Braemar Gallery
Within the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains, the Braemar Gallery shows off Scotland’s delicate craftsmanship and fine art.
At the Gallery, you’re treated to a selection of beautiful art pieces & prints and a collection of locally made statues & displays — all of which are available for sale.
The Gallery also holds musical events that display the most talented musicians in Braemar — a perfect venue to enjoy yourself with a drink in hand.
A visit to this prestigious site will no doubt convince you to purchase one of the splendid artworks for yourself and support the local art community within Braemar.
Another spectacular destination within Cairngorms National Park, Glen Tanar is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Surrounded by pine trees, the Glen boasts a stunning lake in its centre that reflects the sky above perfectly on calm days.
The nearby Victorian Ballroom plays host to a fabulous venue where you could potentially hold the wedding of your dreams.
Whether you’d like to explore the bountiful natural beauty of the Glen, fish for salmon on the calm lake, or just enjoy the gorgeous surroundings, the Glen is at your beck and call when you visit.
A beautiful river and nature conservatory, the River Dee flows from the heights of the mighty Cairngorm Mountains and spills out into the North Sea at the Port of Aberdeen, running through Royal Deeside.
The River Dee is the lifeblood of all that it touches and you will constantly have your breath taken away at every point where the river meets the highlands.
Although you will likely see the River Dee during your travels through Royal Deeside, it’s well worth it to enjoy an afternoon of picnicking amongst nature next to this magnificent river.
The Victorian-style Ballater is the highlight of all the villages you will see while visiting Royal Deeside. It is famous for its warm accommodation, cosy cafes, and excellent hiking and skiing spots.
You can also treat yourself to a round of 18-hole golf right next to the River Dee at one of the splendid golf courses found within Ballater.
Travel to the surrounding areas from the traditional Ballater station and experience the wonders of Royal Deeside in a way unlike any other!
A trip to the heart of Royal Deeside is a must-see, so make sure to visit Ballater when you visit.
The Braemar Gathering
Held annually on the first Saturday of September, the Braemar Gathering brings together locals and foreigners alike to celebrate this over 200-year-old event. The goal? To see who can claim the title of Chieftain of the Braemar Gathering in the highland games.
Usually occurring after Victoria week, the Gathering is regularly attended by the reigning Monarch Queen and members of the Royal Family, with a host of charities supported throughout the event.
The famous highland games include a traditional footrace, tug of war, piping, and more!
This highland gathering celebrates a long-standing tradition of Braemar and will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip to Royal Deeside. It’s a good idea to plan ahead so you don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Hidden within the woodlands of Braemar, Crathie Kirk is an absolute gem to visit. It shows traditional Scottish church architecture and gorgeous stained-glass windows depicting Biblical and local symbology.
Crathie Kirk is worth going out of your way for. Even if you’re not interested in attending the regular Sunday mass, you will definitely find something to remember this church by when you visit Royal Deeside.
Tomnaverie Stone Circle
A famous set of recumbent stones that can only be found in northeast Scotland, the Tomnaveri Stone Circle has a profound effect on those who visit this historic site.
The Stone Circle surrounds an ancient burial site from over 4500 years ago and is the centre of a landscape littered with heavy stones, mountains, and burial cairns.
Exploring the rolling hills around Tomnaverie Stone Circle is a wondrous way to immerse yourself in the culture and antiquity of this sacred site.
Mar Lodge Estate
This 29,000-acre estate funded by National Trust Scotland is the largest national park in Britain and is rooted deep within Cairngorms National Park. The national park is a wildlife wonderland and home to some of the best hiking trails in Scotland!
Enjoy the expansive Caledonian pine forest, mountains, and heather-covered moors as you keep your eye out for red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles, otters, and black grouse.
The Estate and National Park are known for their conservation efforts which can clearly be seen as you explore the rejuvenated Scottish highlands and Royal Deeside’s beautiful woodlands.
Royal Deeside Railway
This award-winning old royal station near Crathes Castle is one of your only chances to visit the countryside from a Victorian railway station.
Based at Milton Crathes, you can see the spectacular views from the Royal Deeside Railway as you travel from Aberdeen all the way to Ballater, capturing much of the beautiful sights of Royal Deeside villages along the way.
You can also peruse the old royal station memorabilia at the craft shops and galleries on our journey while you visit the nearby Crathes Castle.
For an unforgettable way to experience your holiday, grab a ticket aboard the Royal Deeside Railway!
The Burn O’Vat is a geological marvel in the centre of the Muir of Dinnet National Natural Reserve.
Created by melting ice sheets over 14,000 years ago, the Burn O’Vat is a large pothole that reveals the sedimentary layer of rock below. The pothole is open to anyone and is one of the main attractions that draw in hikers who visit the National Reserve.
The Burn O’Vat also has its share of local legends. The outlaw Robert Roy MacGregor was said to have made the pothole his hideout sanctuary when escaping from the law!
Keen and amateur hikers will thoroughly enjoy visiting this notorious geological attraction.
The Tower O’Ess stands starkly amidst the River Tanar. Its brick stone design stands as a stark contrast to the greens and browns of the woodlands around it.
This contrast and its outstanding design draw many visitors to this landmark location. Those who are especially charmed by the Tower can book a stay for two at the luxury accommodation adjoined to it.
This historic location is an incredible landmark to visit and the perfect place to stay on a romantic getaway.
The Boat Inn
The Boat Inn is a terrific place to grab a bite to eat along the River Dee while you travel through the area.
Whether you’re interested in grabbing a local ale and a hearty meal from the Inn’s all-day menu or want a comfortable room inside for the evening before moving on to see the sights, the Boat Inn is one of the best places to accommodate you.
Your dining at the luxurious Boat Inn will make you want to come back for more.
Near Aberdeen, the Drum Castle welcomes those travelling from this busy city to the Royal Deeside region with one of the oldest tower houses in Scotland.
The castle boasts incredible gardens, an exquisite chapel, and a surrounding estate of beautiful landscapes. You can see the marks of history upon the 700-year-old battlements while at Drum Castle.
For an appetiser as you travel into Royal Deeside, search no further than the beautiful Drum Castle.
The Braemar Highland Games Centre
The iconic red-and-white colouration betrays the stunning Braemar Highland Games Centre. This centre is home to many of Scotland’s most extensive collections of exhibitions, collections, and galleries that explore the highland games.
A true celebration of the living Scottish history of the highland games, you can learn about the Braemar Gathering and more extraordinary events that the Centre hosts year-round.
Immerse yourself in Scottish culture as you tour the Centre and enjoy one of the best things to do when visiting Scotland and the Royal Deeside area.
Dressed in a salmon pink hue, the Craigievar Castle is nothing but eye-catching and evokes ideas of a fairytale setting deep within the Scottish landscapes. It’s even said that this old castle birthed the idea for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle in the movies. When you see it, it’s difficult to argue otherwise.
Explore inside the castle with guided tours and enjoy the castle’s royal connections, beautiful interiors, and gorgeous armour displays.
Located a few miles west of Aberdeen, Craigievar Castle is the perfect way to begin your search through the Scottish highlands for adventure!