Budget-Friendly Aberdeenshire: 27 Free Activities!
Budget-Friendly Aberdeenshire: 27 Free Activities!
The place of whisky and sand dunes, Aberdeenshire is a hidden gem in Scotland. Known for its gorgeous scenery and beautiful beaches, the county is a great place to explore. Located on the coast and surrounded on all sides by Aberdeenshire is the city of Aberdeen. For many people when they think of cities in Scotland, it's probably Edinburgh or Glasgow that come first to mind with their famous Sassenach-cooked foods and popular nightlife. But if we're talking architecture then there is one place that should be at the top: Aberdeen!
The granite city has garnered itself as being known for its locally quarried stone on display throughout most buildings in town - which makes this a great tourist destination while exploring the North-East of Scotland. Not only does the city and surrounding area have some of the best beaches and nature trails in the United Kingdom, but there is history galore to be experienced through the many museums and heritage centres on offer. We've compiled a list of places to check out for free, to help with creating a budget-friendly trip for your travels.
In this blog post we:
- List the best places to visit for no charge at all
- Show all places on an interactive map to help you locate each place easily.
Updated and correct as of 24/09/23.
Quick Category Links
Museums and Galleries
Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Wondering what to do in Aberdeen today? Why not start off with the excellent museums on offer. Aberdeen has a long maritime history and after a major refurbishment in 1997, the Aberdeen Maritime Museum has 5 times the exhibition space of the original museum. The free to enter museum tells the story of Aberdeen's long relationship with the sea, and has some amazing exhibits on show dating back from the 13th Century to the present day with one of the highlights being the world's largest oil platform model. If staying in the city centre, the museum is a 5 minute walk from Union Street and can also be easily accessed via bus, train and by car.
Displays in Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery's collection spans over 700 years and is not long after a multi-million pound makeover. You could spend a few hours looking at all the exhibits from the permanent and guest galleries with information on what's currently on display found here. Plenty for the kids to see with interactive displays to keep them entertained, the gallery is a must especially if the Scottish weather is at its unpredictable best (as is the norm in the North East of Scotland!).
We've reviewed many hotels across Aberdeenshire. Have a look at the blog posts by clicking the buttons below:
History and Culture
Slains Castle is a castle ruin in Aberdeenshire, south of Peterhead. It was built in the late 16th century by the Earl of Erroll and chief of Clan Hay. The castle is located near Cruden Bay, about 30 miles north-east from Aberdeen city centre. It has been described as "one of the most dramatic castles ever built in Scotland". The castle was visited many times by author Bram Stoker and is believed to be the setting that inspired the tale of his writing for 'Count Dracula'. The remains are now classed as a Historic Environment Scotland Category B Listed Building with plans to restore the castle put on hold since 2009.
Provost Skene's House
Have you ever wanted to visit a historic house? Provost Skene's House is an amazing historic building in the heart of Aberdeen. It was built in 1545 and has been used for many different purposes over the years including an active period during the time of the Jacobites in the North East. The Guestrow area of Aberdeen was a hotbed for revolutionaries during the Jacobite rebellion, and it's not hard to imagine why. With its run down billet houses that were once used as royal quarters by Hanoverian troops on their way back from Culloden Moor in Scotland (site of one final battle), this house and surrounding area has had quite an interesting history! The house has just undergone major refurbishment and has re-opened as of October 2021.
St Machar's Cathedral
St Machar's Cathedral is a beautiful cathedral in Aberdeen. The cathedral church was completed in 1530 and has a long history dating before this date to the 1130's. It’s home to some wonderful stained glass windows that are worth seeing. The church is located in the area of 'Old Aberdeen' and Seaton Park, which you could easily spend a few hours walking round the local area.
Garioch Heritage Centre
Around 16 miles outside Aberdeen in the small town of Inverurie, the Garioch Heritage Centre is a hidden gem which details life in the Garioch from the early 20th Century to the present day. Guided tours available from local volunteers explaining the history of the old Inverurie Loco Works that closed its doors for the last time in 1969. See the original crane at the works built in 1902, a scale model of the railway works as it was in its hey day and displays illustrating life and work of the people in this area.
Walks and Nature Trails
Slightly north of Aberdeen is Balmedie Beach, where you can spend a couple of hours having a morning walk across the sand dunes with views looking across the North Sea. The beach stretches for 14 miles from Aberdeen up to the small town of Newburgh. The main car park in the village of Balmedie is the best place to start your walk and can be found at this location here. To get to the car park from Aberdeen City, follow the directions here.
There is 225 species of birds across the dunes and you may see horse riders galloping along the shoreline. The beach has won numerous awards over the years is a great spot for taking pictures of long stretches of beach with Aberdeen city in the background.
Some of the various walks around Balmedie beach can be found here.
Hazelhead park is a great place to spend time with your family. It has two golf courses, a maze, mini zoo (known as Pet's Corner), a heather and conifer and an azalea garden, a large children's playground and a cafe. The two formal rose gardens are The Queen Mother’s Rose Garden and North Sea Memorial, which has a memorial to the victims of Piper Alpha Production Platform disaster as its centerpiece. The walk around the golf courses takes around 1.5 hours and is a popular destination for dog walkers, joggers and horse riders from the local area.
Johnston Gardens is the perfect spot for budding photographer’s! The park used to belong to Johnston House estate but was gifted in 1936. This beautifully landscaped garden features streams, ponds and waterfalls alongside rockeries that offer stunning views of its picturesque bridge which has featured in many wedding photos over time. The park is a veritable garden of Eden as it bursts with color in the spring and summer as rhododendrons, spring bulbs, heathers and alps blossom; with visiting mallard ducks adding their presence to this natural wonder.
Loch Muick is a beautiful loch in Aberdeenshire, close to Ballater. It’s surrounded by mountains and forests and makes for the perfect day trip from nearby Aberdeen. The loch is a popular spot for walkers as it has an attractive, picturesque shoreline and offers a fairly flat path around its perimeter that can be accessed via road. A variety of wildlife can be seen on the walk including red squirrel, red deer and numerous fish types including salmon and trout. The loch circular trail is around 7.75 miles in length and will take 3-3.5 hours to complete.
Linn O' Dee is a hidden beauty spot, much favoured by Queen Victoria. The River Dee runs through narrow channels and drops into deep rocky pools below before coming out to reveal an array of stones along its banks where you can hike or picnic with your loved ones overlooking this natural wonder! The Linn O'Dee is part of the Mar Lodge Estate run by the National Trust for Scotland and can be accessed via their car park. Click the location button below to view.
Bullers of Buchan
A trip to the coast of Aberdeenshire will reveal an astonishing variety. The Bullers of Buchan, a collapsed sea cave north of Cruden Bay is just one such spot that Mother Nature has created with dramatic results! The cliff scenery here is spectacular and seabirds of many species such as Puffins, Kittiwakes, Guillemots or Razorbills can be spotted during the spring when wild flowers including campion, heather and orchids colour this part of coastline.
Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve
To the west of Aberdeenshire at the Glen Tanar forest, there are paths to take for every type of walker. With its diverse array of wildlife and natural beauty it's no wonder this is one place people love visiting again and again! With stunning views from viewpoints along riverbanks or around lakeside picnic areas you'll never run out spots when exploring all that land has in store. The Braeloine Visitor Centre at Glen Tanar will delight all visitors with its car parking and visitor facilities. The permanent exhibition explaining the history, management and wildlife of this Estate is not to be missed!
Scolty Hill is a small hill south of the Deeside town, Banchory. The 20m tall tower monument was built in 1840 as a memorial to General William Burnett who fought alongside Wellington and it enjoys splendid views over Banchory itself, with its panoramic vista that stretches from mountainous Grampian Region all way down into wide open spaces where you can see vast reaches of beautiful countryside as well! A popular walk with locals and tourists.
Newburgh Seal Beach
Situated just north of Aberdeen along the sandy estuary of the River Ythan, there are around 400 seals who call this area home. They can be seen from opposite shoreline as they lay about and play in their natural environment! The wide, sandy beach and surrounding sand dune system creates an ideal habitat for bird life. This includes the largest population of Eider Ducks in Europe among hundreds other species that you can spot while hiking along this wonderful coast!
RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg Nature Reserve
Loch of Strathbeg provides a sanctuary for the natural world. This shallow freshwater loch with surrounding wetland, dunes and grasslands is an important wintering habitat to several bird species in Scotland including wildfowl which make their home here each year at this time! In springtime it becomes abounding when breeding birds come together on its shores or roost among fields beside pools where geese feed that increase numbers up until fall before leaving again as autumn turns into winter once more. You will see a number of birds here including the pink-footed goose, common terns and tree sparrows.
East Aquhorthies Stone Circle
Stone circles are an ancient form of sculptural art that can be found in many parts around the world. One such set is at East Aquhorthies, where it stands out as being different from other stone circles because instead of upright stones there's a large flat slab on its side with two smaller ones flanking either side. This type-of monument is known as recumbent - which means lying down or prone. These stone circle formations are unique to the north east of Scotland and worth checking out.
St Cyrus Beach
To the south of Aberdeenshire, St Cyrus Beach is a pristine stretch of sand located midway between Aberdeen and Dundee on the eastern coast. This beautiful area runs for 3 miles, with magnificent cliffs as well as dunes that you can admire while strolling along this serene expanse! The beach is part of St Cyrus National Nature Reserve (NNR) and is well kept and maintained throughout the year.
Aden Country Park
Aden Country Park is a beautiful, relaxing park with ample opportunities to explore. The area has been recognized year after year as one of Scotland's best green spaces and it won't be hard for you to see why! The park is a 230 acre country park in the heart of Buchan. It offers beautiful surroundings and plenty for individuals or families to enjoy earning a Green Flag Award recognition.
Old Deeside Railway Line (Deeside Way)
The Deeside Way is a longer distance path running from near the centre of Aberdeen to Ballater. You'll be able to see remains of the old railway infrastructure as well as stunning views over the River Dee with the Cairngorm Mountains in background over the course of the 41 mile journey. Ideal for people who like a long hike or for cyclists keen for an afternoon's bike ride.
Dunnideer Castle, now ruined and partially made from the remains of an existing vitrified hill fort was a tower house located near Insch in Aberdeenshire. It consists of a 15m by 12.5m single rectangular tower that's 1.9 meters thick at its walls -the perfect place for defense! The walk around the hill and castle is around 3.25 miles and takes in all the stunning views the area has to offer.
Forvie National Nature Reserve
Forvie National Nature Reserve is one of our natural treasures. The large areas of bare sand and shifting dunes that dominate the southern end have been compared to the Sahara Desert. With its stark beauty being a place for wildlife such as birds who can be found breeding there in colonies including eiders and four species of breeding terns. Forvie covers almost 1,000 hectares between the estuary River Ythan to the north sea making it a perfect place to explore.
Stonehaven War Memorial
The memorial is reached from the north, by a path between fields that leads uphill into Stonehaven and which has been made one way to counter slippage down cliffs. Completed in 1923, the ruined temple-like design of this war memorial is designed to look like it was once a majestic place, but now lies in ruins. This very different from other nearby monuments that are more modern and symmetrical. Its been said that there isn't any record as for why John Ellis created such an original looking structure. With views across the North Sea and towards the ruined Dunnotar Castle, this is a walk that is a must.
RSPB Troup Head Nature Reserve
The wildlife at Troup Head is something to see and hear. With more than 2000 pairs of gannets, you'll have yourself a bracing coastal walk with some stunning seabird encounters along the way! You can also get an amazing perspective from boat trips if that’s what catches your interest better - just make sure not too miss out on seeing these lovely birds up close.
Duthie Park and Winter Gardens
Duthie Park is known as one of the most beautiful parks in the North East of Scotland.
The Band Stand, fountains and boating ponds are just a few features that make this place so lovingly restored to its Victorian roots. The Winter Gardens also houses an amazing public indoor plant collection which provides much needed shade from the Northern Scottish weather - giving visitors their own oasis away form this region's typical wet and cold winters.
The English translation of Bennachie is 'Hill of the breast' which is in reference to its distinctive shape. With numerous routes for all difficulty levels, there are walks through forests, moorland and steep trails (for the more adventurous). Spend an afternoon making your way up towards 'Mither Tap', one of Bennachie's nine summits where you can see amazing views across Aberdeenshire. Before you start your walk, find out some more information on the Bennachie Visitor Centre site.
To get to the Bennachie Visitor Centre, you can find directions from the centre of Aberdeen here.
Fancy seeing more than 130,000 breeding seabirds during the Spring and Summer months? If you do, you'll not get many better places in the North East than the RSPB Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve. Beautiful views and sound, sight and smell of hundreds of birds is truly magnificent. To get to the reserve from Aberdeen City, follow the directions here.
Free to enter with donations requested from non-RSPB members. More information can be found on their website here.
Use the map below to locate all the best things to do in Aberdeenshire mentioned above. We've also listed some of the best restaurants/places to eat in the area that won't cost much for a good meal!
Open Google Maps to see distance information between locations and directions on how to get to each place.
All outdoor activities including walking involve a degree of risk. The walks are recommended due to the features of each forest but this may change over time and further research is required before undertaking any activity. The weather can also impact the surface and general conditions of each path so please keep yourself updated with the weather forecast before setting off to enjoy your walk!
Other Blog Posts From Aberdeen
We write lots of blog posts from each individual area and have a few more from the city of Aberdeen and the county of Aberdeenshire. Have a look at our other blog posts by clicking the buttons below: