If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, it’s likely that there are already a few castles on your list. Maybe a few of the widely known ones, like Edinburgh Castle or Balmoral, Blair Castle or Eilean Donan (all of which are well worth a visit).
Perhaps one of the best ways to see as many castles at once, though—the best bang for your buck, as it were—is to follow the castle trail that weaves through the stunning eastern region of Aberdeenshire (the name alone is enough to inspire a trip), which boasts more castles per square acre than anywhere else in the entire United Kingdom.
You can spend a night or two in the port city of Aberdeen among the beautiful granite buildings, sample some delicious local seafood, and then head off to drive through the countryside and along the remarkable stretches of coastline, hitting as many castles as you’d like. You’ll encounter plenty of little villages along the way (like Stonehaven, for example, near Dunnottar Castle). You can check out the formal six-day itinerary from Visit Scotland here, or pick your favorites and create your own journey through this storied green countryside.
A few of our favorite castles, below.
Arguably one of the most breathtaking castles in the entire country, the substantial, dramatic ruins of Dunnottar Castle sit perched high over the North Sea, just outside of a sweet fishing town called Stonehaven (about a 25-minute drive from Aberdeen proper). On top of offering sweeping views of the sea and surrounding landscape, the castle has a long, important history of captures and battles (think William Wallace and Sir Robert de Keith), and has been featured in films like the 1991 production of "Hamlet".
This 16th-century castle is about a 30-minute drive from the city of Aberdeen. Just as impressive as the castle itself, and the ample Burnett Family history inside, are the iconic (and massive) topiaries that flank the eight-section gardens. As you take a stroll, be on the lookout for wildlife like red squirrels and woodpeckers.
Marked by an iconic Medieval square tower, a picturesque courtyard, and the 17th-century Garden of Historic Roses, Drum Castle is an emblem of rich Jacobite history. The castle looks like the setting of a period piece film or novel; upon arrival, you’ll feel instantly whisked away to another era. For all those literature lovers, the estate is home to one of Scotland’s finest libraries, where over 4,000 volumes reside.
Located about 16 miles west of Aberdeen, the towers and turrets at Castle Fraser are exactly what one might picture when thinking of a Scottish castle—and this one is full of secret staircases and hidden doors, so it’s especially fun for little ones to explore. Inside you’ll discover Fraser family heirlooms and portraits, and the grounds boast a stunning walled garden and gorgeous woodland walking trails.
Said to be one of the castles that lent inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, Craigievar is just that: a fantasy land. Home to the Forbes family for almost 350 years, the exterior of the castle itself is pink, the interior filled with historic items like Raeburn paintings, armor, and old Scottish artifacts. Guided tours (10-person capacity) are available every half hour, and last about 40-50 minutes.