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How to have a royal day out in Deeside: Walk in the Queen’s footsteps with the most regal visitor spots

A round-up of some of Deeside's royal attractions for anyone interested in having a day out. Supplied by Roddie Reid, design team
A round-up of some of Deeside's royal attractions for anyone interested in having a day out. Supplied by Roddie Reid, design team

The jaw-dropping Deeside scenery has been a beacon for the royal family for generations.

And, inspired by its high-profile summertime vistors, plenty of tourists from all over the world have arrived to see what the fuss is about.

Now, for anyone eager to explore Balmoral Castle’s Cairngorms surroundings, we have picked out a few royal-themed activities to pop on your to-do list.

Our map shows some of the attractions on offer. 

Visiting Balmoral Castle

The most obvious attraction is Balmoral Castle, a fascinating place to explore and learn about the past.

You can’t miss the signs for it, just off the A93 between Ballater and Braemar.

Queen Victoria’s “fairytale” Scottish castle is now an attraction that draws thousands of tourists to Royal Deeside. Picture by Kenny Elrick.

There is a car park near the entrance, with a small bridge over the River Dee leading to the gates.

The grounds, gardens, exhibitions, gift shops and cafe are open to visitors from April to August.

An hour-long audio tour is provided, offering insights into the grand residence.

The high point is the largest room in the castle – its ornate ballroom – which is the only room open to guests.

Traditional outfits worn by The Queen are on display in the space at the moment.

Family photos are on show too, as well as toys played with by the Duke of Rothesay as a boy.

And you never quite know who you might bump into…

Last summer visitors to the gates were intrigued when a stream of 4x4s turned up with blacked out windows, flanked by a police motorcade.

It turned out to be Boris Johnson arriving for a weekend with wife Carrie and baby son Wilfred.

Trying to find the Balmoral Cairns

The queen at the unveiling of a cairn in the grounds of Balmoral Castle to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012

For those who fancy a more bracing experience, the Balmoral Cairns are ideal for anyone combining a day out with a workout.

They can be reached from a car park at Crathie, just along from the royal residence’s gates.

The 11 pointed structures were erected in the woodland surrounding her castle by Queen Victoria, honouring family members.

The star attraction is the Albert Cairn – an enormous stone pyramid built as she mourned her beloved husband.

Prince Albert’s Cairn is quite a spectacle.

The six-mile circuit should take about three hours to complete, and is suitable for most abilities.

Anyone feeling the strain of steeper sections will be rewarded with some jaw-dropping views.

However, there is a shorter walk if anyone just wants to see the Albert Cairn without bothering with the rest…

For more details on the walk, click here.

Explore countryside that has enraptured the royals

As far back as the mid-19th Century, the chance to get away from it all among the rolling glens has been a major part of the Balmoral allure for the royals.

And whether it’s a tranquil spot to unfurl the picnic blanket you’re after or a taxing hike, there really are plenty of options.

Loch Muick. Supplied by Visit Aberdeenshire. One of Royal Deeside’s most stunning natural attractions.

If you’re in the mood for a long walk, then the 7.75-mile circuit around Loch Muick will take you past Victoria’s “widow’s house”, and spots where Prince Philip honed his “master of the barbecue” skills during family picnics.

It can be reached by turning onto the B976 at Ballater.

There are various other walks of differing durations and difficulty for anyone keen to have a royal ramble around the area. 

For anyone feeling really adventurous, Yellow Welly Tours offers “chauffeur-driven” bespoke trips around the region.

And Braemar Highland Experience offers vehicle tours, guided walking trips and whisky tastings.

Stop by at Crathie Kirk

If you want to see where the Queen worships on Sunday mornings when staying in Aberdeenshire, then Crathie Kirk is just a short detour off the A93.

The royal family has visited Crathie Kirk for decades.

Like many other Royal Deeside institutions, the link goes back to Queen Victoria.

Princess Anne married Timothy Laurence, then a commander in the Royal Navy, there in 1992 as England did not permit remarriage after divorce at the time.

And the royals attended Sunday service at Crathie hours after the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

Put your feet up with a bite to eat

For anyone wanting to sample some food that has been blessed with the royal seal of approval, there are lots of options.

The Duke of Rothesay led the renovation of a derelict former Co-op to help Ballater bounce back from horrendous flooding in late 2015, with the diner later dubbed The Rothesay Rooms.

The Duke of Rothesay at the Rothesay Rooms restaurant in Ballater with Executive Chef Ross Cochrane.

It has since relocated to the Old Royal Station nearby, and retains its link to the monarchy.

But if you’re just looking to pick up some local fare to take home, then Sheridan’s butchers in the same village supplies meat to Balmoral when the royals are visiting.

Owner John Sinclair revealed how the forthright Duke of Edinburgh would often saunter into the back to ask about the venison and grouse.

Fancy raising a toast?

An image of the Royal Lochnagar distillery supplied by owners Diageo.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillery is just a mile from Balmoral Castle, and gained its name after being visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848.

The connection still burns bright, with the Duke of Rothesay visiting in 2018 to toast the upcoming birth of Harry and Meghan’s baby Archie.

He returned in 2021 to bestow a royal warrant on the business.

And you can sample the drams that so impressed Albert all those years ago on a tour of the site.

Royal Lochnagar distillery manager Sean Phillips with special cask carrying the royal arms

See how Victoria arrived in Royal Deeside

The Old Royal Station in the centre of Ballater reopened in 2018 three years after a horrifying blaze.

It was used by royals travelling by train to nearby Balmoral Castle, before it was closed by the Beeching cuts in 1966.

The rebuilt station building houses a VisitScotland information centre, a restaurant and tearoom run by The Prince’s Foundation.

The Old Royal Station.

There’s also a public library, as well as the royal waiting room and carriage.

Name some of your favourite Royal Deeside spots in our new comments section below!

Visiting the Braemar Gathering

The Braemar Gathering will return for the first time this September, with the traditional bash attended by the royals called off in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.

The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar, is a picturesque Royal Deeside attraction. Picture by Kenny Elrick.

But the Braemar Highland Games Centre is open for the whole visitor season.

The attraction is based at the Gathering’s home of the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park.

It features an exhibition hall, gallery, archive, café and shop.

Bosses say it explores the “living traditions of the Highland games” by focusing on the Braemar Gathering and “its long-standing royal connections”.

Of course, there’s plenty more Royal Deeside attractions for enthusiasts to see and do should they wish to walk in the footsteps of the monarchy.

But you don’t need to be a fan of the royals to appreciate the beauty of their Scottish surroundings.