Castles in Aberdeenshire

Dunnottar Castle - best castles in Aberdeenshire

Dominating the northeast corner of Scotland, this large county has plenty to get excited about. Aberdeenshire is home to stunning coastlines, rolling hills, and towering mountains in the Cairn Gorm National Park. Aberdeenshire is also known as Scotland’s Castle Country.

There are more castles per acre than any other part of the UK in this country, with more than 260 found in the region. If you want to see as many as you can, why not take the Castle Trail?

It means you’ll see 19 of the most famous fortresses and fairytale castles in the UK. We’re not going to show you all 260 castles in Aberdeenshire in this post, but we will show you the top 20.

20 Castles to visit in Aberdeenshire

1. Balmoral Castle

One of the most famous castles in Scotland, Balmoral is the residence of the British Royal Family in Scotland. It’s where Queen Elizabeth II takes her summer holidays! It has been in the Royal Family since the middle of the 19th century, having been purchased for Queen Victoria by her husband, Prince Albert.

This stunning example of Scottish Baronial architecture is around 50 miles from the city of Aberdeen. Balmoral is part of a large estate that is home to protected woodland, and visitors can enjoy a gift shop, café, or guided tour of the castle when it’s open.

Where: Ballater
When: 19th century
Style: Scottish Baronial Architecture
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:00 – 17:00 from April to July.

2. Braemar Castle

This 17th century Gothic Revival castle is home to the Farquharson family in the Cairn Gorms National Park. The turrets make it look like something out of a fairy tale. It has had a number of functions over the years, including as a hunting lodge, fortress, and garrison.

It is not just the castle that makes it worth a visit to Braemar. The village is known for the Highland Games, which are sometimes attended by the British Royal Family when staying at Balmoral, although they do not compete!

Where: Braemar
When: 17th century
Style: Gothic Revival
Open for Visit: 10:00 – 17:00 from Wednesday to Sunday from April to June and September to October. 10:00 – 17:00 daily in July and August.

3. Corgarff Castle

This medieval tower house is very different from what you would typically expect from a British castle, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. This remote castle has a star-shaped perimeter wall, which was added when it became a military base for hunting Jacobite sympathizers.

Before that, it was a noble residence, and later, it was a base for whisky smugglers. Although its position is wild and isolated, it’s in an important strategic position between the Dee and Spey rivers.

Where: Strathdon
When: 16th century then rebuilt in the 18th century
Style: Medieval Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. Closed from October to end of March.

4. Craigievar Castle

This beautiful pink castle is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle… although it’s not the only castle to claim that honour! It can be found in the Grampian Mountains and was donated to the National Trust of Scotland in 1963 by the Sempill Family, who had called it home for two centuries.

When visiting the castle, you’ll be able to see an impressive collection of art and historical artefacts, including armour and weapons. In the surrounding grounds, there are woodland trails where you may see the elusive pine marten.  

Where: Craigievar
When: 17th century
Style: Scottish Baronial
Open for Visit: 10:30 – 16:00 from 30th March to 30th September. 10:30 – 15:00 from 5th – 27th October on weekends.

5. Crathes Castle

Although Crathes Castle was built in the 16th century, there are signs of life from long before that on the site. A Mesolithic lunar calendar was discovered here in 2004, which is potentially the oldest in the world; it could be up to 10,000 years old!

When visiting the castle, you’re able to see croquet courts, walled gardens, and even a treetop adventure course. The castle was built by the Burnetts of Leys, and their prized jewelled ivory horn is on display – which was donated to them in 1323.

Where: Banchory
When: 16th century
Style: Harled
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:30 – 17:00 from July to October. 11:00 – 16:00 on weekends in November and December.

6. Delgatie Castle

A castle has stood on the land here since the 11th century, but the earliest evidence of the current castle is from the 16th century. The castle was the site of the first Civil War skirmish between the Covenanters and the Royalists in May 1639.

Nowadays, the castle has a tearoom that is open to visitors. It also hosts weddings and events. The Clan Hay Centre is surrounded by a large estate that has walking trails and a lake. Delgatie Castle is situated about an hour from both Aberdeen and Inverness.

Where: Turriff
When: 16th century
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:00 – 17:00

7. Drum Castle

Built in 1323, it remained the seat of the Clan Irvine Chief for 652 years. One of the best-known castles in Aberdeenshire, it was built on and added to over the years like many others. The tower is from the 13th century, while Jacobean and Victorian touches were added later.

There are more than 4,000 books in the library, and guests can wander through the Garden of Historic Roses outside. There’s also an ancient oak forest attached to the castle, where visitors can search for native Scottish wildlife on their walks.

Where: Banchory
When: 13th century
Style: Medieval Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:30 – 16:00 in July and August daily. 10:30 – 16:00 from Thursday to Monday in September and October. 11:00 – 15:00 on weekends in November and December.

8. Dunnideer Castle

There isn’t a whole lot left to see of Dunnideer Castle, but this prominent local landmark is still worth a visit – especially if you want to combine castles with hiking! The medieval ruin is one of the earliest surviving tower houses on the Scottish mainland, with five separate defensive lines.

There is speculation that Dunnideer Castle was built even earlier than that though; local tradition says that Gregory the Great constructed it in AD880. However, the first recorded mention was a little later.

Where: Insch
When: 13th century
Style: Medieval vitrified hill fort
Open for Visit: Yes. Open 24 hours

9. Dunnottar Castle

Not only one of the most iconic castles in Aberdeenshire, but the whole of Scotland, Dunnottar Castle is perched atop a headland with sheer cliffs dropping into the North Sea on all sides.

The current ruin dates back to the 14th century, but there was a fort here as early as 900AD in the time of the Vikings. The list of guests who stay at Dunnottar Castle is impressive; it includes William Wallace, Mary Stuart, and Charles II.

Oliver Cromwell’s army attacked it over a period of eight months, as it was the home of the Scottish Crown Jewels. When Cromwell’s men finally broke the castle’s defences, the jewels had been smuggled out.

Where: Stonehaven
When: 14th century
Style: Medieval
Open for Visit: 09:00 – 17:30 from April to September. 10:00 opening from October to March with varying closure times.

10. Findlater Castle

Overlooking the Moray Firth from a 50-foot cliff, Findlater Castle is the former seat of the Earls of Findlater and Seafield. It’s another castle that you won’t see a whole lot left of, but it’s an incredible walk along the Aberdeenshire Coast.

It’ll take a brave explorer to make their way to the promontory along the steep and slippery cliff paths. Despite the earliest mention of the castle being in the 13th century, it’s thought that it has been around longer.

Where: Banff
When: 13th century
Open for Visit: Yes. Open 24 hours

11. Castle Fraser

Castle Fraser is one of the best-preserved and most impressive tower houses in Scotland – just like the view from the top. Visitors to the castle can expect to see family treasures and portraits, including one by Raeburn.

There are several unusual features in the castle too, including secret trapdoors and the Laird’s Lug. Castle Fraser is located within landscaped grounds and woodlands, which are great for a walk after visiting the castle.

Where: Sauchen
When: 16th century
Style: Scottish baronial
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:00 – 16:00 from Monday to Saturday from April to October. 10:00 – 16:00 on Sundays. 11:00 – 14:00 on weekends from November to Mid-December

12. Fyvie Castle

One of the most impressive castles in Aberdeenshire, Fyvie Castle is an enormous fortress surrounded by an 18th century walled garden. The castle, however, dates far earlier than that. It has over 800 years of history, with Robert the Bruce, King William the Lion, and Charles I all staying here.

You can book the room in the Preston Tower apartment if you want to add your name to that list. Fyvie Castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman whose remains were found during the renovation work of the 20th century.

Where: Turriff
When: 13th century
Style: Scottish Baronial
Open for Visit: 11:00 – 16:00 from April to October

13. Glenbuchat Castle

Built by John Gordon of Cairnbarrow to celebrate his wedding, and overlooking the River Don, Glenbuchat Castle is an excellent example of a Z-Plan Castle.

It remained in the same family from its construction in 1590 until it was sold in 1738. The ruin has no roof but is well-preserved otherwise. The house is unusual as it has both round and square turrets.

Where: Strathdon
When: 16th century
Style: Z-Plan Scottish castle
Open for Visit: Currently closed for renovation work

14. Huntly Castle

The seat of one of Scotland’s most powerful medieval and renaissance families, Huntly Castle was the ancestral home of the chief of the Clan Gordon. Although the castle is ruined, it’s still possible to see Heraldic sculpture and inscriptions on the stone friezes.

The front piece of the castle is said to have no rival in the British Isles after the castle received a French makeover at the beginning of the 17th century. This is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive ruined castles in Aberdeenshire.

Where: Huntly
When: 12th century
Style: Medieval
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. 10:00 -16:00 from October to March. Closed on Thursdays and Fridays.

15. Inverallochy Castle

The ruins of this once huge castle lie just outside the village of Inverallochy. Still surviving is the northeast wall of the keep and a fragment of the chimney, but the rest is largely overgrown and obscured by fallen debris. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a walkout here to explore the dilapidated courtyard castle and take in the surroundings.

Where: Inverallochy, Fraserburgh
When: 16th century
Open for Visit: Yes. Open 24 hours

16. Kildrummy Castle

Once known as the noblest of northern castles, this enormous stronghold was once the seat of the Earls of Mar. It’s one of the most extensive medieval castles in Scotland, and despite its ruinous state, you can still see a curtain wall, four towers, a hall, and chapel.

The castle was sieged a number of times in the Middle Ages, once to protect Robert the Bruce. The castle is shield-shaped and overlooks a steep ravine, meaning that it would have been very difficult to mount an attack.

Where: Kildrummy
When: 13th century
Style: Medieval
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September but closed for lunch from 12:30 – 13:30. Closed from October to March.

17. Leslie Castle

Once touted the last fortified house in Scotland, Leslie Castle is now a hotel and B and B. There has been a castle on the site since the 14th century, but what you can see now is a mixture of a 17th-century building and a restoration from the 1980s.

The castle was once the seat of the Leslie Clan. In the grounds surrounding the castle, there are rolling hills for walking, hiking, and fishing. Even if you’re not staying in the castle hotel, you’re welcome to visit and take a guided tour.

Where: Auchleven
When: 17th century
Open for Visit: Yes – the castle is a hotel/B and B.

18. Pittulie Castle

One of the nine castles of the Knuckle, referring to north-east Aberdeenshire’s rocky headland, Pittulie Castle is the ruin of an oblong tower house. The castle is centred around a courtyard, and in one corner there is still a four-story tower.

The castle is in the middle of a farmers’ field and is clearly visible from the coast road. There’s no direct access to the castle other than walking through the field, so it is inaccessible at some points of the year.

Where: Fraserburgh
When: 16th century
Style: Oblong Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes. Open 24 hours

19. Slains Castle

Said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the author never actually travelled to Transylvania in his lifetime), Slains Castle overlooks the North Sea from atop a cliff near Cruden Bay.

It was built at the end of the 16th century by the 9th Earl of Erroll. The castle and its contents were sold in 1925 and the roof was removed, which goes some way to explaining how it looks now. The castle starred in season 1 of The Crown.

Where: Peterhead
When: 16th century
Style: Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes. Open 24 hours.

20. Tolquhon Castle

This fairytale castle lies in the Grampian countryside and was built by Sir William Forbes and his wife. One of the most unusual and interesting parts of the castle is the secret compartment above the laird’s quarters where Forbes hid his valuables. The castle is said to be haunted by either a white or grey lady, who can allegedly be seen at midnight.

Where: Pitmedden
When: 16th century
Style: MedievalTower House
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. Closed on Thursdays.

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