Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Northeast Scotland
Set among the wooded countryside of Aberdeenshire, the 16th-century Crathes Castle is known for its ties to Robert the Bruce. The tower house’s interior features original painted ceilings, portraits, and antique furniture, while the 593-acre (240-hectare) estate encompasses walled gardens and parkland threaded by marked trails.
St. Andrews Castle on the east coast of Scotland dates back to the 1100s and was home to the Archbishops of St. Andrews. It was once the main administrative center of the Scottish church. The castle was badly damaged during the Wars of Independence and little of the original castle remains today. The new castle was finished around 1400 and was built to be easily defended. Steep cliffs to the north and east protected the castle, and the building included thick curtain walls and ditches. Five square towers served as living space for the bishop, his large household, and guests.
Later St. Andrews Castle served as a prison. Visitors can see the bottle dungeon where John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned. Cardinal Beaton's body was also kept here after his murder. The mine gives visitors a sense of what medieval siege warfare was like. The castle also offers impressive views of the sea over the rugged rocky coast.
The origins of Drum Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest tower houses, can be traced back to the 14th century. Home to the Irvine family for more than six centuries, Drum Castle, Garden & Estate—now owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS)—features a medieval grand hall, a Jacobean mansion house, a Victorian-era library, and an ancient oak forest.
Amid the rolling glens of Scotland’s premier whisky region, Speyside in the Cairngorms National Park, The Glenlivet Distillery opened in 1824 and is considered as the granddaddy of all single malts. Distilled in unique lantern-shaped copper stills and matured in the obligatory oak casks for at least 12 years, The Glenlivet has a fruity, smooth flavor thanks to using Scottish barley and spring water from the local Josie's Well. Now owned by French company Pernod Ricard, it is one of the largest distilleries on Speyside and the biggest selling whisky in the USA, producing nearly six million liters of single malt each year while still maintaining many traditional production methods, all be it on an industrial scale. Unlike most of the smaller Speyside distilleries, bottling does not take place onsite but it has an award-winning visitor center with an exhibition showcasing the development of the brand as well as a café selling whisky-drenched cakes.
One of the major highlights of the self-driven Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside, The Glenlivet Distillery is open for guided tours and tutored tastings of various drams; visitors can also bottle their own single malt to take home.
Located in Aberdeen’s West End, the Gordon Highlanders Museum is dedicated to what Sir Winston Churchill once described as “the finest regiment in the world.” The Gordon Highlanders were active from 1794 to 1994, and the independently run military museum is committed to preserving and sharing the legacy of the historic infantry unit.
On the banks of the River Tay, Discovery Point is home to the RRS Discovery, a former Antarctic research vessel. Learn the Discovery’s story, from the ship’s construction to its many voyages, including the Discovery Expedition of 1901–04, when Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton first journeyed to the Antarctic.
Tucked into the peaty, water-drenched landscape of Speyside, Scotland’s famous whisky region, Cardhu Distillery opened in 1811 and was the brainchild of whisky smuggler John Cumming and his wife Helen, one of the country’s very few female distillers. They operated illicitly for several years and it is thought the distillery was built on this exposed spot on Mannoch Hill so approaching strangers would be spotted; it is also close to crystal spring waters that feed into the River Spey. One of the highlights of the celebrated self-drive Malt Whisky Trail, the current distillery was built in 1884; nine years later the company was sold to Johnnie Walker and to this day their blended whiskies are produced using Cardhu (the name means ‘black rock’ in Gaelic) malts. Housed in a stone complex with distinctive pagoda-shaped roofs, and updated in the 1970s when more copper stills were introduced, Cardhu is famous for its range of award-winning single malts with a smooth taste attributed to years of maturing in oak casks. A visitor center was added in 1988, with fine views across to Ben Rinnes.
As well as guided tours, Cardhu Distillery is open for tastings of various single malts and Johnnie Walker blended whiskies, all of which can be bought in the gift shop.
Boasting conical-roofed turrets, towers, and battlements, this pink-hued Scottish Baronial-style tower house is one of several properties said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Constructed in 1626, the property is replete with original features, precious artworks, and historical artifacts including armor and weapons.
Fyvie Castle is a 13th-century castle in Scotland that has been occupied by five different families throughout history. The Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon, and Forbes-Leith families each added to the castle and left their own mark. Most notably, each family added another tower to the building, resulting in the five towers you see today. The castle was originally one of a chain of fortresses throughout medieval Scotland. The oldest part of the castle, dating from the 13th century, houses a great wheel staircase and still stands today.
The interior of Fyvie Castle contains furnishings from the Edwardian period. Collections of arms, armor, paintings, tapestries, and antique furniture can be found throughout the castle. In the 17th-century Morning Room, you can still admire the contemporary paneling and plaster ceilings. Outside is landscaped parkland, an 18th-century walled garden with fruits and vegetables, a restored racquetball court, and walkways near the loch.
Designed by Scottish über-architect William Adam in 1740, Duff House is a majestic, Georgian stone-built mansion with an ornate Baroque exterior that is equally matched by the splendour and proportions of its interior. The owner was William Duff of Braco, who wanted his house to reflect his status as a great Scottish landowner and Earl of Fife, but his aristocratic descendants fell on hard times and over time the house became little more than a shell.
In the 20th century, Duff House was by turn a hotel, a sanatorium and a prisoner-of-war camp. In 1995 fortune returned when it was bought by the National Galleries of Scotland and completely refurbished; today its magnificently reworked façade hides a repository of a superb collection of Renaissance, and Scottish art as well as antique furniture.
Duff House is surrounded by a great estate of landscaped gardens and woodland; scattered around the acreage is a Georgian icehouse, ornamental follies and a decorative mock-Gothic mausoleum. Keen hikers can cover the five-mile (8 km) circular walk from here to the historic Bridge of Alvah over the River Deveron, built in 1773 and spanning a deep ravine at Canmore.
More Things to Do in Northeast Scotland
Explore the history of Dundee’s jute industry at Verdant Works, an interactive museum situated in a refurbished 19th century mill. Learn about the city’s industrial textile past and about tenement life and mill workers through immersive, interactive exhibits and multimedia displays, and see historic equipment at work.
Haddo House is an impressive stately home in Scotland that was built in the 1730s. The estate was owned by the Gordon family for centuries, and they lived there even before the current house was built. It was designed by William Adam for William Gordon, the 2nd Earl of Aberdeen, and it was refurbished in the 1880s. The house is a blend of Georgian architecture and late Victorian interiors. Throughout the house, visitors can admire antique furniture, portraits, ceramics, and other memorabilia from the Gordon family. Hundreds of years of history can be found inside the walls of this home.
The grounds of Haddo House include a formal terrace garden with geometric rosebuds and a fountain, trees and an herbaceous border, and peaceful hills. The surrounding area of Haddo Country Park, which can be reached by an avenue that is lined with lime trees, has lakes, monuments, woodland walks, and a deer park.
The beautifully landscaped Pitmedden Garden in northern Scotland dates back to 1675. The center piece of the property is the Great Garden, a formal walled garden that was originally designed by Sir Alexander Seton, 1st Baronet of Pitmedden. In the 1950s the National Trust of Scotland began recreating the garden using designs from the 17th century. Some of the designs might have been used in the gardens at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh in 1647. One section is a heraldic design based on Sir Alexander's coat of arms. Today Pitmedden Garden has more than 5 miles of box hedging arranged in intricate patterns forming six sections. These different sections of the garden are filled with color during the summer months from approximately 40,000 plants.
Pitmedden Garden sits on a 100 acre estate. Also on the property is the Museum of Farming Life which teaches visitors about historical agriculture. There are also several woodland trails, ponds, an extensive herb garden, a nature hut, and a visitor center.
The Hill of Tarvit Mansion & Garden is an Edwardian era mansion house, first built in the 17th century and remodeled in 1906. With an exquisite collection of antiques, Chinese porcelain, furniture and paintings, it provides a glimpse of early 20th century Edwardian life. The Main Hall features Flemish tapestry, while the Dining Room displays fine English furniture and the Drawing Room is home to French furniture and Rococo-style plasterwork. The fireplace in the Smoking Room is made of a remnant of the nearby Scotstarvit Tower that dates to 1500.
One of the major attractions of the grounds is a nine hole hickory club golf course, which was added in 1924. Visitors can also try their hand at croquet, billiards and parlour games from the early 1900s. Alternatively enjoy one of the three marked walks around the grounds – the Woodland Walk, the Hilltop Walk or the Centenary Walk.
The House of Dun is a Georgian house built in 18th century that is set among Victorian gardens and woodlands and adjacent to the Montrose Basin Nature Reserve. It is home to the Hutchison and Stirling collections of paintings and furniture, including 30 paintings by prominent Scottish artists. It was originally built for David Erskine, Lord Dun, from 1730 to 1743 and was home to generations of Erskines until 1947. It functioned as a hotel until 1985.
Guided tours of the House of Dun last just over an hour and talk about the construction of the home while pointing out a variety of ornate plasterwork and period equipment, such as a boot bath from the 1800s. The surrounding gardens are a must-see, as part of the landscape has been reconstructed to what it would have looked like in the 1740s.
Kellie Castle & Garden is located in Fife, about three miles northwest of Pittenween in eastern Scotland. Built in the 14th century, Kellie Castle was home to the Oliphant family for 250 years and is pretty much the same today as it was when the family departed in 1613. The library ceiling is one of the oldest ornamental ceilings in Scotland and the dining room features paneling painted in the 17th century. In the stables, you can see an exhibition on the life and work of Hew Lorimer, a 20th century Scottish sculptor who took over the leads of the castle in 1937.
Outside of the castle, the Arts & Crafts Garden is full of old fashioned roses, herbaceous plants, fruits and vegetables and the Kellie Wood boasts a large pond, adventure playground and bird hide and is home to foxes, badgers, deer and rabbits.
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