Scotland | 25 Most Picturesque Walks in Aberdeenshire

As travel restrictions in Scotland begin to be lifted, more and more of us will be looking to go further afield to stretch our legs, seeking out nature and, if we're lucky, a little vitamin D. We're extremely fortunate in Aberdeenshire to be surrounded by beautiful countryside which, if anything, lockdown has only made us appreciate more. From gentle loch side strolls to coastal rambles, more strenuous hill climbs and even a little munro bagging, I hope this list of picturesque walks in Aberdeenshire will help you to seek out new routes and fall in love with what's right on your doorstep.

Sun peeking out behind mountains surrounding Lock Muick in Aberdeenshire

1. Loch Muick circuit, Ballater - Pronounced "Mick", this beautiful loch nestled in the Cairngorms, on the Balmoral estate, is a popular walking route for good reason. Surrounded by striking hills, the circular route starts from the Spittal of Glenmuick (where there is a car park charge), leading past a small boathouse by the loch side, towards Glas-allt Shiel - the house built by Queen Victoria as a quiet retreat after her husband passed away. At the far end of the loch you'll cross little wooden bridges and find small beach areas, which make the perfect halfway picnic stop. 

Following the path around the loch, the route does become a little rockier so make sure you wear good footwear. The views back across to Glas-allt Shiel among the pines from this side are spectacular, and it's not uncommon to spot deer in the hills. Eventually you'll find yourself back where you started and can return to the car park. 

This walk is 12.5km, mostly flat and takes 3-4 hours.

Where to eat? The Carriage at The Rothesay Rooms in nearby Ballater has a lovely informal café in the platform area.

2. Bennachie, near Inverurie - Aberdeenshire's most famous hill range, Bennachie has a number of walking routes. The highest peak of Bennachie is Oxen Craig at 1732ft with Mither Tap sitting slightly shorter at 1699ft. I recommend starting at the Bennachie Visitor Centre and following the sign posted Mither Tap trail. 

This route leads from the car park, through the trees, up steep stone steps to the Iron Age fort at the top. The summit offers extensive views of the surrounding farmland and towards the North Sea. It's a fairly steep climb, but a manageable walk for most people. Return the same way you came up!

This walk is 6km, uphill with rocky parts, and takes roughly 2 hours.

Where to eat? The Old Post Office Tearoom at Chapel of Garioch serves soups, sandwiches and cakes. Dogs are welcome in the outdoor seating area.


Harley and I resting by the stone steps up Clachnaben

3. Clachnaben, Banchory - One of my favourite hill walks in Aberdeenshire, Clachnaben is a great alternative to Bennachie. Not as well known, it's a little less steep but longer and tends to be quieter too. Park at the forest car park near the Bridge of Dye, just south of Banchory, to begin this ascent. 

Follow the path downhill and through the trees. For a while I thought we'd maybe taken a wrong turn but eventually the granite tor atop Clachnaben comes into view and you'll know you're on the right path. The route twists round towards the summit and becomes steeper the higher you climb. Don't celebrate as soon as you reach the tor - the summit is a little further along the path where you'll find the trig point! 

This walk is 9km, uphill and takes roughly 3 hours. Great for beginners.

Where to eat? Grab coffee, breakfast or even a picnic box to take with you from Ride Coffee House in Banchory.

4. Pitfour Lake, Mintlaw - A great walk for families or those looking for something a little less strenuous, Pitfour Lake is a beauty. There's a small car park opposite the entrance to the estate, just off the A950 after you pass Taylor's furniture store, however it's often full. An alternative is to leave your car at Aden Park, head towards the pond and then follow signs to the Formartine and Buchan Way which will lead you to the main road. Cross to enter Pitfour Estate.

The route at Pitfour Lake is circular, on an easy to follow path. It's a really peaceful place with a small boathouse and little wooden jetties making the perfect picture spot. You'll often spot swans and fishermen out on the water. To extend the walk, follow the path uphill to Drinnie's observatory in the woods. Return to your car the same way once you've completed the loop around the lake.

This walk takes about 1 hour, on flat ground and is suitable for prams. Add 1/2 an hour if including the Observatory.

Where to eat? Nearby Saplinbrae Hotel offers lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, or you could just pop in for coffee or a pint. You can reach Pitfour Lake directly from the hotel too.

Harley and I on the cliffs in front of New Slains Castle

5. Cruden Bay harbour to Slains Castle - New Slains Castle is an iconic ruin, sitting a top the cliffs by Cruden Bay, and rumoured to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker's Dracula. There is a car park by the castle but my personal favourite way to reach it is from the village itself.

Park at Port Erroll harbour, and follow the road back towards the village. I love the cute little seaside vibe of the houses along this street, with their gardens by the sea across the road. You'll reach a car park by a church on the corner. Walk through the car park into the woods and follow the trail. It slopes slightly uphill, but nothing to worry about it. Eventually the castle will come into view and you can spend some time exploring the ruins. The view out to sea is spectacular! 

Please keep dogs on leads and keep children away from the cliff edge as it can be dangerous, particularly on a windy day. Retrace your steps to return, but if you wanted to extend the walk you could cross the Ladies Bridge to Cruden Bay beach on the way. You might recognise the beach and castle from Netflix's The Crown!

This walk is roughly 3km and takes 40 minutes to an hour. Longer if including the beach.

Where to eat? The Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in Cruden Bay serves delicious food for lunch and dinner. I recommend the "Killie curry".

6. Longhaven to Boddam cliff walk - Between Cruden Bay and Peterhead, the village of Longhaven is not particularly well known. However, I recommend parking at the roadside sign posted Longhaven Cliff Wildlife Reserve for one of the most picturesque cliff top walks in Aberdeenshire. Follow the path to the quarry, and then the marked route along the cliffs from there. It's a great wee ramble, with lots of different wildflowers to spot along the way, as well as various seabirds and possibly marine mammals. The landscape is breath taking with granite sea stacks, arches and caves along the way. 

Eventually the route leads to the village of Boddam but if you've parked at Longhaven, I recommend cutting through the fields by the ruined cottage to make your way back to your car along the main road. Alternatively you could catch a bus from Boddam back to Longhaven. To extend the walk, start at the Bullers of Buchan and follow the cliff path from there - it connects to the Longhaven Cliffs Wildlife Reserve.

This walk is roughly 2.5-3km and takes about 2 hours. I don't recommend this walk for children as it is incredibly close to the cliff edge.

Where to eat? The Seaview Hotel in Boddam has been popular since it relaunched in 2018. Their pie bowls are worth trying!

Us with the dog on the Glen Tanar estate

7. Glen Tanar estate, Aboyne - This highland estate is a beautiful setting in the Cairngorms, popular for weddings and overnight stays in luxury cottages. There is parking available and various sign posted walks from the Glen Tanar Visitor Centre. We followed a route past the Chapel of Lesmo and up into the pines in the hills. Stop for a picture at the beautiful viewpoint (above) before following the track down towards Knockie bridge and back to the visitor centre.

There is a longer version of this walk but parts of the estate may be closed off to protect nesting capercaillies, depending on the time of year.

This walk is roughly 8km, with some uphill parts and takes about 2-3 hours. 

Where to eat? Stop for breakfast, lunch or artisan coffee at the dog friendly Spider on a Bicycle cafe in Aboyne.

The view from the trig point on Scolty Hill

8. Scolty Hill, Banchory - The tower at the top of Scolty Hill is what makes this walk stand out. Start from the car park signposted "Scolty Woodland Walks", about a 5 minute drive from Banchory. The woods themselves are great for a stroll, but ignore the red and yellow marked routes and go straight on for a steeper climb to the summit. 

Once you reach the tower, a monument to General William Burnett, you can then climb the steps inside for incredible views of Royal Deeside. From here you can see Bennachie, Clachnaben and even Mount Keen! Retrace your steps to return.

This walk is just over 3km and takes a little over an hour. Steep but short and suitable for families.

Where to eat? Birdhouse Cafe in Banchory town centre is compact but cosy, and currently offering online ordering.


Braemar castle on the Lions Face and the Cromlins walk

9. The Lions Face and the Cromlins from Braemar - Starting at Braemar village, this is a lovely uphill route into the surrounding woodland, with views of Invercauld House against a background of the Cairngorms, passing underneath the rocky crag known as the Lions Face. From a distance the rock is said to look like a lion but it's hard to tell up close and the view from a distance is now obscured by trees.

When the track runs alongside the main road, after the quarry, follow it until you reach a gate. Cross the road here and you can visit Braemar Castle! Crossing back again, follow the route uphill for extensive views of the Cromlins and Braemar below. If you're a wildlife fan, you'll be pleased to know we spotted a couple of red squirrels here.

This walk is 5-6km on a rough path, with steep parts and takes up to 3 hours.

Where to eat? Head to the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar, where you'll find some spectacular art! Tuck into classic fish and chips or haggis, neeps and tatties in their Flying Stag pub, which welcomes both walkers, and their dogs.

The Balmoral Pyramid - Prince Albert's Cairn on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire

10. Balmoral Cairns Walk, near Braemar - One of my personal favourites, the Balmoral Cairns Walk is famous for one unusual landmark in particular - Prince Albert's pyramid! This route begins at the Crathie car park by Balmoral castle, and takes in 11 unique cairns in a circular route through the pines, overlooking Royal Deeside. It really is a stunning part of the country. You can read a full guide on how to get to the Balmoral pyramid here on Dinner Stories.

This walk is 10km and takes 3 hours in total. Wear suitable footwear.
Access to this walk is currently closed until the end of September 2020.

Where to eat? The brand new Tarmachan Cafe in Crathie has the most picturesque location and serves incredible venision sausage rolls, and chocolate babka!

11. Burn o'Vat and the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve - There are four trails at Muir of Dinnet reserve, varying in length and difficulty, but the star attraction is definitely the Burn o'Vat. Also known locally as Macgregor's Cave, the vat is a great granite cauldron with a cascading waterfall at one end, only accessible via a gap in the rocks.

A car park at the Burn o'Vat visitor centre makes an ideal starting point, with sign posts helping to guide you. I'd recommend continuing your walk via the viewpoint of Loch Kinord.

This walk is under 1km and takes about 45 minutes. Suitable for children but requires some climbing on slippery rocks.

Where to eat? Enjoy dinner riverside at the cosy Boat Inn in Aboyne, just a 10-15 minute drive away. Dogs are welcome in the bar.

The Queens Well, on route to bagging Mount Keen

12. Mount Keen from Glen Esk - If you've never bagged a munro before (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft) then Mount Keen is a good place to start. You can do this from Glen Tanar but I recommend following the trail from Glen Esk. Starting from Invermark car park, you spend a good couple of hours wandering through the glen along the river before you reach any elevation. I get a real wilderness feeling here, like you're a million miles away from civilization. 

Along this route you'll pass The Queens Well, which marks a spring where Queen Victoria stopped during one of her rides through the glen. Eventually the path starts uphill, zigzagging back and forth culminating in what feels like a long trek to the trig point at the rocky summit. The view of the surrounding moorland is well worth the climb and red deer are often spotted here too.

This walk is 17.5km and takes an enjoyable 5-7 hours. Wear sturdy footwear and pack lots of snacks!

Where to eat? The Glenesk Retreat is currently closed so hit up Castleton farm shop and cafe about half an hour away instead.

13. The Seven Bridges Walk, from Ballater - Starting in the village of Ballatar, this circuit follows much of the River Dee, taking in seven bridges along the way. Highlights on the waymarked route include the white Polhollick suspension bridge and 16th century Knock Castle which is accessible by a stile, and makes an excellent viewpoint.

This walk is a little over 10km, mostly flat and takes up to 3 hours to complete.

Where to eat? Grab a coffee or lunch at Rock Salt & Snails cafe in Ballater.

Lochnagar in the sun and clouds

14. Lochnagar, Ballater - Probably Aberdeenshire's best known munro, thanks to Lord Byron and Prince Charles' writing, Lochnagar is a beast of a mountain. Twice I've tried to climb it, and twice the weather has gotten the better of me. I'm still holding out hope for a sunny day to finally tackle it this summer.

Start from the Spittal of Glen Muick car park, but rather than following the route towards the loch, turn right at the visitor centre. The path leads past some estate buildings and through the trees, before a lengthy but steady uphill climb. Passing a memorial to a climber who tragically died, the lochan below the curve of Lochnagar's northern corrie soon comes into view. Next you'll tackle a boulder field before the final stretch along the plateau to the summit. 

I've always returned the way I came (due to not reaching the summit and poor visibility) but I believe you can descend via a path by the Glas Allt falls, taking you to Glas-Allt-Shiel by Loch Muick. Follow the loch to return to the car park. An alternative for experienced hillwalkers is to complete the White Mounth Munros route.

This walk is 19km and takes 6-7 hours. I'd recommend you climb Mount Keen before considering Lochnagar. 

Where to eat? As it's such a long walk, take lunch with you. The Bothy in Ballater offers takeaway.


Harley on the beach at St Cyrus nature reserve

15. St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, near Montrose - The beach at St Cyrus is my favourite part of this cliff lined nature reserve. From the car park follow signs for the Beach Trail which will take you to a viewpoint, then continue your walk along the beach and back as far as you'd like.

Keep your eyes peeled for unusual flowers, birds, butterflies and even lizards in the reserve! Dolphins and whales have been spotted off the coast too. Dogs should be kept on leads off the beach so as not to disturb nesting birds in the summer.

The St Cyrus Beach and Cliff Walk from Walk Highlands is 5km, taking up to 1.5 hours.

Where to eat? The Quayside restaurant in the nearby village of Gourdon is one of the best places for fish and chips in Aberdeenshire!

16. Haddo House, near Ellon - Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, the grounds at Haddo House make for a great family day out with picnic areas, ponds and play parks to be enjoyed. There are various landmarks to be found on your walk here as well as the house itself, including the obelisk monument, deer sculptures and a huge stone urn at the top of the deer park, and a picturesque fountain in the terrace gardens.

This walk is just over 4km and takes 1-2 hours. Ideal for families.

Where to eat? Nearby Formartines serves the best food in the area and has a lovely little shop too. Outdoor seating is available.

Harley in the snow at Glenshee ski centre

17. The Cairnwell Munros, Glenshee - The final mountains to make it to this list are known as the Cairnwell munros and can be reached from Glenshee Ski Centre. Because of this, they're known as the easiest munros to bag, due to the starting point already being at 2130ft! That doesn't mean you shouldn't go prepared. When we walked here in November, the snow made tracks difficult to follow and low cloud meant reduced visibility, making our lack of proper navigation skills a real hindrance. 

In the end we didn't summit any munros, deciding instead to retrace our steps back to the safety of the ski centre. Ideally though, this walk will see you bag Carn Aosda, Carn a'Gheoidh and the Cairnwell. Transmitter masts sit on the top of Cairnwell mountain, with many saying this and the ski lifts are unsightly, but I still found it to be a beautiful natural place. Especially when we spotted a couple of mountain hares!

This walk is 13km and takes 5-6 hours. For a shorter walk you could choose to summit just one mountain, and retrace your steps to return - or catch the chairlift up Cairnwell!

Where to eat? Tea @ the Shee base cafe at the Ski Centre offers hot food, sandwiches, cakes and refreshments. 

18. Tap o' Noth, near Rhynie - The Tap o' Noth is home to Scotland's second highest hillfort, recently dated back to Pictish times. To reach the top of the hill, start from the signed car park and follow the path through 3 gates, slowly making your way uphill. Walk through the fortifications to reach the trig point marking the summit, where you can admire the view of Ben Rinnes and Aberdeenshire below.

This walk is 5km, uphill and takes up to 2.5 hours.

Where to eat? Head to The Bank Cafe and Restaurant about 20 minutes away in Huntly.

Dunnottar Castle - on the cliffs at Stonehaven

19. Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle - Starting from the harbour in the seaside town of Stonehaven, make your way up the hill towards the war memorial, following footpath signs for Dunnottar Castle. This is probably the most iconic castle in Aberdeenshire, said to have been visited by both William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots. These days it's mostly popular with photographers!

Sea views are plentiful but you'll likely not be able to tear your eyes away from the clifftop ruins looming up ahead. If it's open, it's worth taking the time to explore the fortress itself. Entry is £7 or £3 for children. I recommend returning the same way you came but it is possible to make your way back to Stonehaven via the road.

This walk is 5km and takes up to 2 hours, with a bit of an incline at the start. Very close to the cliff edge.

Where to eat? You can't go to Stonehaven without tucking into The Bay fish and chips, or grabbing an ice cream next door at Aunt Betty's.

20. Cambus o' May - Unfortunately due to a storm in 2015, it's not possible to cross the Cambus o' May suspension bridge. However, the nearby Cambus o' May forest in Deeside has a number of trails to follow instead. The longest is the pine tree trail, which takes you over a couple of wooden footbridges and past two charming lochans, where you have the chance to spot dragonflies.

This walk is just over 4km and takes about 1.5 hours.  

Where to eat? Platform 22 is a café and art gallery featuring handmade pottery. They also have an in house micro brewery! Dog friendly.

Harley on the forest track at White Cow Woods

21. White Cow Wood, near Strichen - Park at the signposted Drinnie's Wood car park. You can cross the road for the Drinnie's Wood walk, but I prefer the White Cow Wood loop which starts from the car park and follows a path straight up the hill. There are a couple of uphill parts on this walk through the trees but nothing too strenuous. Keep your eyes peeled for a view of the white horse across the fields on Mormond Hill! You can also find the remains of a prehistoric cairn in the trees.

This walk is roughly 5km and takes about 1 hour. Just make sure you turn right back to the car park when you reach the cross roads at the end. We turned left and almost did the whole loop again!

Where to eat? The Old Auction Room in Strichen is a lovely setting for lunch.

22. Mar Lodge Estate and the Linn of Dee - A waterfall cascading through a gorge, below a stone bridge, the Linn of Dee is a spectacular sight on the Mar Lodge Estate - Britain's largest national nature reserve. From the Linn of Dee car park, cross the road and follow the steps down to the viewpoint. I recommend extending the walk by following the path into the trees and back round to the car park.

This walk is under 2km and takes about an hour. You could continue through Glen Lui for a longer walk.

Where to eat? The Bothy in Braemar is a great spot for lunch, with outdoor seating by the river.

Looking up at Craigiever - the pink castle in Aberdeenshire

23. Craigievar Castle, near Alford - Said to be the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella castle, it's hard not to be charmed by the imposing pink tower of Craigievar. The grounds are just as worthy of your time though, with two waymarked woodland trails to follow. Follow the red arrows for the hill trail, which offers views to Lochnagar and Bennachie.

This walk is a little over 3km and takes about an hour. Suitable for families.

Where to eat? Enjoy lunch at The Black Faced Sheep in Aboyne and browse their shop too.

24. Loch Callater, Braemar - A high, fresh water loch surrounded by mountains, it really doesn't get any more picturesque than Loch Callater. The path starts from a layby by Auchallater Farm and is part of the historic Jock's Road, which leads from Braemar to Glen Doll in the Angus hills! You'll pass Callater Stables bothy which is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association. In dry weather you could complete a circuit of the loch, but crossing the river to do so is usually quite difficult. Instead, retrace your steps to return.

This walk is 11.5km and takes 3-4 hours.

Where to eat? Loch Callater is 5miles from Braemar so head to The Fife Arms or the Bothy, as previously mentioned.

Dunes and sea view from Forvie Nature Reserve

25. Forvie Natural Nature Reserve, and Newburgh Seal Beach - An incredible place to see local wildlife up close, park at the car park by the bridge just North of Newburgh. Enjoy a ramble by the river, through the dunes and across the beach to complete a loop back to the car park. A visit to the signposted Hackley bay is a great way to extend your walk.

We spotted seals swimming in the waves just off the beach during our walk but for the best view of the resident seal colony, head down the signed road in the village by The Newburgh Inn and walk along the beach from there. Keep dogs on leads and do not approach the seals - for their safety, and yours!

This walk is over 5km and takes up to 1.5 hours. Part of the dunes are closed in the summer to protect nesting birds. Add 30 minutes for walking on the seal beach too.

Where to eat? The Newburgh Inn does excellent pub grub!

Some facilities may not currently be available so please check with individual websites to help you plan ahead - e.g Forestry and Land Scotland, Bennachie Visitor Centre or the National Trust for Scotland. Check opening information in advance for any cafes, restaurants or even bothies you intend to visit. For more detailed descriptions of the routes, I recommend the Walk Highlands website.

Always go prepared for any weather when walking in Scotland. Pack extra layers, and lots of food and water particularly in the hills and climbing munros. Remember to maintain social distancing, follow current Government guidelines and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when you're out and about enjoying walks in Aberdeenshire. Keep our country beautiful and leave no trace, support local businesses while respecting the communities, and most importantly? Have fun!

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12 comments:

  1. This is awesome - I love good hikes in Scotland when I visit. I've only done the Burn o'Vat one from the list so far - but absolutely love that hike. Just wish I had such a gorgeous dog to hike with :) I also hadn't heard for Slains Castle, but it's also now on my list of sites to see. Looks really fascinating, thanks for sharing!

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    1. not too far from whisky land either! 😉

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  2. I absolutely adore Scotland! I wish I lived near these hikes (London just isn't quite the same!). Also your pup is adorable. We spent a few weeks last year exploring Scotland and are hoping to get up again maybe in September. We didn't spend much time in Aberdeenshire so I'd love to get back there and do some of these hikes. Although I don't know how I'm going to choose which, they all look great!!! It might have to be New Slains Castle first, I do love a good Scottish castle. But then the seals at Newburgh also sounds amazing. Looks like I'm going to need quite a lot of time in Aberdeenshire!!

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    1. You could probably do Slains and the seals on the same day as they're only about 20-30 minute drive apart! let me know if you book a trip to the area & need any help planning 😃

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  3. I used to visit Scotland on holiday when I was a child, but I'd love to get back there and attempt some of these hikes! They look so interesting, especially the pyramid. Also, I just want to say that your dog is so adorable! :)

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    1. aw thank you, he's the best hiking partner! Hope you can visit soon ☺

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  4. I cannot believe I have never visited Scotland! Maybe 2020 is the year :) Will definitely be adding some of these hikes to my Scotland bucket list!

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    1. Tourism is starting to open back up this month so hopefully :)

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  5. I love this article ! This will be so useful when I visit Scotland (anytime soon I hope !!). I really like the fact you link the hike with a place to eat. The pictures are so good, it rally gives me itchy feet ! :) Plus, your hinking buddy is so cute !!!
    Coline.

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    1. Thank you! I'm always hungry after a long walk ;)

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  6. Brilliant ideas for our next walk, who knew this was all on our doorstep.

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    1. Let me know which ones you try! We live in a beautiful country :)

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