Located on the lap of rugged and wild Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is undoubtedly one of the prettiest villages in Scotland. Surrounded by the Grampian Mountains and the River Dee, Braemar is a true gem.
The Gaelic name of Braemar is Bràigh Mhàrr which literally means the Upland of Mar. This area was once under the Earl of Mar, who built the nearby castle.
Braemar is best known for the Braemar Gathering – the most famous highland game attended by the Queen and the royal families of the UK. With around 24 Munros to bag and several miles of walking and cycling trails for different abilities, this place is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Plus, there are two castles in the village. Braemar Castle has over 400 years of riveting highland history. Another one is the 14th- century Kindrochit Castle. Also, the Balmoral Castle, the Scottish residence of the monarch in the Royal Deeside, is just 9 miles east of Braemar.
You can easily add this place to your Scotland road trip itinerary to Inverness. From there, continue your journey to one of the magical places in Scotland – the Isle of Skye.
In this travel guide, you’ll find everything you need to plan a perfect weekend break or a day trip to Braemar – including all the best things to do, castles to explore, easy hikes, where to shop, where to stay and eat.
📍Where is Braemar
Braemar is a small village in the Scottish Highlands. It is located in the western part of Aberdeenshire, deep in the Cairngorms National Park. With a population of less than a thousand residents, Braemar sits high at an elevation of 339 metres above sea level.
This beautiful Deeside village lies approximately 58 miles from Aberdeen and Dundee and about 50 miles from Perth. It takes only one and half hours to drive from Dundee and Aberdeen. Also, it’s perfect for a long weekend break from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Although many people visit here on a day trip, we would recommend staying at least two nights here to experience the beauty of this place. Then, perhaps like us, you will absolutely fall in love with this scenic region of Scotland.
Is Braemar Worth Visiting
Yes! Braemar is definitely worth visiting. From history lovers to golfers, hikers to anglers – it has something for all. The rustic charm of this scenic village has attracted visitors over the centuries.
There are plenty of walking, hiking and fishing opportunities in and around this Deeside village. It has an abundance of wildlife, most notably red deer and red squirrels. Also, it is believed that on a holiday trip here, Robert Louis Stevenson got the idea for his famous adventure novel ‘Treasure island’. So, let Braemar inspire you too.
There are 15 national parks in the United Kingdom, of which the Cairngorms is the largest one. If you are curious about more of these national parks, Peak District, Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall– Northumberland might interest you.
Best Time to Visit Braemar
The weather here is unpredictable and changes very quickly. Braemar has an oceanic climate. The summers are pleasantly warm, and the winters are freezing and snowy. Also, it is partly cloudy year-round.
🌞Summer: The best season to visit Braemar is during the summer months – June to August. The weather stays relatively dry and warm, and it is a great time for outdoor activities. The highest average temperature in summer stays between 16-18 degrees Celsius. Also, from mid-summer, you will get to see the stunning bright purple heather covering the surrounding landscapes.
🍂 Spring & Autumn: Late spring and mid-autumn would be a great time to visit Braemar. Our pick would be autumn (a huge fan) when nature spruces up with vibrant colours. Also, it gets much less crowded than in summer. Though the temperature might stay mild, expect occasional downpours. You might get to experience four seasons in a single day.
🏔️ Winter: Braemar is one of the coldest places in the UK. You can expect heavy snowfalls during the winter months. This village holds a record of a low temperature of −27.2 °C. Therefore not the best time for outdoor activities. It gets super cold and windy around this time. But you can enjoy skiing at the nearby Glenshee Ski Centre. However, the days are shorter, some accommodations may be closed, and road conditions might be difficult depending on the weather conditions.
Best Things to Do in Braemar, Scotland
1. Step Back in Time at Braemar Castle
Built in the 1600s by the Earl of Mar as a hunting lodge, Braemar Castle has a turbulent highland history of over 400 years. Today it is one of the main tourist attractions in Braemar and one of the best castles in Scotland.
This castle got caught up in battles throughout history. It played a prominent role during Jacobite Uprising. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, this castle became a garrison of government troops. Finally, when they left in 1830, it served as a family home of the Farquharson Clan. Even this castle was burnt down at one point.
The present form of the Braemar Gathering first started in 1832 at the ground of the castle.
Once inside the castle, step back in time and learn more about the riveting history of this castle. Also, you would get to see many furniture and personal collections of the Farquharson family.
🚌How to Reach: Stagecoach bus 201 from Aberdeen bus station. Takes 2 hours 15 minutes. From the village centre, it would take about 13 minutes to walk to this castle.
⏰Opening Hours: The Castle is currently closed for restoration, but the ground is open daily.
💰Entrance Fees: Adult £8, child £4.
2. Take a Hike to the Lion’s Face & Creag Choinnich
One of the best family-friendly hikes is the Lion’s Face and the Cromlins. It takes around 2-3 hours to complete the circular circuit covering a distance of around 3.5 miles.
The trail is properly waymarked and easy to follow. It starts and ends at the village centre and follows the path through the pinewoods. Keep your eyes peeled out for red squirrels. If you are lucky, you might spot a few.
You would come across several viewpoints on the walk. You would get to admire the excellent view over the village, Invercauld House, the River Dee and the surrounding Cairngorm Mountain ranges. Also, this route will take you to the Braemar Castle on the way back. If you are looking for a longer walk, you can easily combine the Lion’s Face with the Creag Choinnich hike.
Creag Choinnich is a small but steep hill located at the eastern edge of the village. The path is well-marked. It’s a gradual uphill walk with a few steep sections. As you approach the summit, it gets a bit rocky. Once you come out of the trees, there is a clear view of Glen Clunie, Morrone, Braemar and River Dee. The gorgeous view is well worth the effort.
Be sure to bring some warm waterproof clothing and proper hiking boots. The weather can change very quickly.
3. Be Royalty for a Day at Balmoral Castle and Estate
Balmoral Castle, the Royal Residence in the Scottish countryside, lies just about 9 miles east of Braemar. Queen Elizabeth II spends her summer holidays here. This is her favourite residence. A tour of this Royal Deeside castle is one of the best things to do when visiting Braemar.
If you are a fan of the hugely popular TV series – The Crown, you have probably seen many episodes based on Balmoral Castle. It sits inside a massive estate privately owned by the Royals since Prince Albert bought this estate in the mid-19th century.
Take a guided tour and learn about the royal history of the Balmoral Castle. Inside, you will only visit the Ballroom – you won’t get to access the rest of the rooms. After the tour, you are allowed to roam around the estate. This castle is usually open between April to July but may vary. So, check out their website about the opening times before you visit.
Also, they have a luxury Land Rover safari tour inside the Balmoral estate, where you can get to watch the red deer, grouse and even osprey. If you fancy a stay in the castle estate, you can book one of their holiday cottages.
🚗 How to Reach by Car: From Aberdeen 1 hr 10 min / 47.3 miles. From Braemar 14 min / 9 miles.
🚌 How to Reach by Bus: If you are coming here by public transport, take the Aberdeen-bound Stagecoach bus 201 from the Braemar village centre. The bus journey would take about 15 minutes. From the Bus stop, cross a bridge over the River Dee to reach the entrance of the Castle estate. From there, the Castle is almost a 10-minute walk.
⏰ Opening Hours: Seasonal opening. Access by guided tour only. April – July 10 am-5 pm.
💰 Entrance Fees: Adult £15, child £6.
4. Have fun at Braemar Gathering
Steeped in over 900 years of highland history, the Braemar Gathering is one of the most famous highland games in Scotland. These games are a part of Scottish culture and heritage.
The Braemar Gathering takes place on the first Saturday of September every year, with thousands of people visiting from all over the country and abroad. It takes place in Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park. The present form of this festival has been since the 19th century, attended by Her Majesty the Queen and many other members of the British Royal Family.
The competitors participate in traditional Scottish athletic games like the caber tossing, tug o’war, hammer throwing with highland dancing and piping. The village comes to life with food, music and celebrations with the pipe bands parading through the village streets.
If you are keen on learning the history of highland games, then pay a visit to the Braemar Highland Games Centre. You will find an interesting collection of objects, photographs, documents and traditional costumes on display here. It is open from July to October on specific days and costs £5 per adult.
5. Walk Along the River Dee and Clunie Water
The River Dee Riverside is a low-level circular walk and one of the easiest scenic walks in Braemar. This 3-miles long, peaceful trail starts from the village centre and takes around two hours to finish.
You will follow the River Dee to see the confluence of the River Dee and the Clunie Waters. Admire the panoramic view of the imposing mountains overlooking the river. You will also catch a glimpse of the nearby Braemar Castle.
The easy to follow trail makes this walk great for families with young kids. You can easily combine this walk with the Queen’s Drive and River Clunie walk.
If you are a keen angler, the River Dee has a lot of fishing opportunities (particularly Salmon) as well.
The Queen’s Drive and River Clunie circular nature walk is another wonderful hike in Braemar.
Clunie Water, a tributary of the River Dee, flows through the heart of Braemar. From the Bridge near the Fife Arms Hotel, there is a beautiful view of the river and small waterfalls.
The 2.75-mile walk along the river starts from the centre of the village. It follows Queen’s Drive – a carriageway drive named after Queen Victoria, as it was her favourite.
If you are looking for an easy walk with stunning views, this one is perfect for you. It doesn’t have any steep climbs. So, this walk is suitable for all ages and abilities. You can also combine this with the Lion’s Face Circuit and Creag Choinnich.
6. Try a Tipple at Royal Lochnagar Distillery
After exploring the Balmoral Castle, head up to the nearby Lochnagar Distillery. This Deeside distillery was built in the mid-19th century. It got a royal warrant after a visit from Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. If you are in this area, take their distillery tour and taste a dram of their award-winning whisky. It takes approximately 17 minutes to drive here from Braemar.
They offer three types of distillery tours and tasting options. Conducted by an expert guide, the Royal Lochnagar Expressions Tour lasts for around an hour. In this introductory tour, you will learn about the history behind the distillery, as well as a tour inside the production area and the warehouse. It finishes off with a wee drum of their complimentary whisky. You can also pair the whiskies with handcrafted local chocolate for an extra cost. Also, their Royal Lochnagar Warehouse Tasting Tour gives an opportunity for a tutored tasting of four whiskies.
⏰ Opening Hours: Jan – Feb Tue – Sat 10 am – 4 pm. Mar – Oct Mon – Sun 10 am – 5 pm. Oct – Nov Mon – Sat 10 am – 5 pm.
💰Price: Royal Lochnagar Expressions tour costs £20 per person. Royal Lochnagar Warehouse Tasting tour costs £40 per person.
7. Visit the Tranquil Braemar Church
Built in the 1800s, Braemar Church lies at the heart of the village, very close to the Fife Arms Hotel. This beautiful church, alongside Crathie Kirk, is one of the largest, highest and remotest parishes in Scotland.
Originally it (known as West Church) was built as a free church after being separated from the Church of Scotland (Known as East Church), which is located opposite the Invercauld Hotel. However, later in the mid- 20th century, both the churches merged together under the present-day Braemar Church.
The interior of the church has a barn-like structure with exposed beams. There are four stained windows with lilies, a branch with fruit and a palm tree.
8. Lose Yourself in Cute Local Shops
While you meander around Braemar, you will find a few small independent shops selling local and artisan products. We really liked the Horn Shop, which is a family-run business. They sell a wide range of cutlery and other crafts like drinking horns, chandeliers made from Stag horns and cow horns. It’s an excellent place if you want to buy some souvenirs.
Another interesting shop is Lamont Sporrans, who are specialists in making sporrans – a small pouch worn with the kilt in traditional Highland outfits. If you need one, they also let you hire a kilt. The shop is full of Scottish items, like kilt accessories, Scottish jewellery, Red Deer antler cutlery and highland cow horn spoons.
Grab some delicious pies, haggis and black pudding from the local butcher N.G Menzies. Later, pop inside the Braemar Chocolate Shop for a sweet treat. This little shop sells a variety of artisan chocolates with classic flavours and then adds a unique Scottish twist to it. Definitely check it out.
9. Visit the Peaceful Ruins of Kindrochit Castle
Located at the centre of Braemar, Kindrochit Castle is a ruined 14th-century fortification used by medieval Scottish kings. Once a stronghold due to its strategic position, not much of the castle remains today. You will find it near the free car park on the eastern bank of Clunie Water.
This castle was initially used for hunting purposes by King Robert II. But it later served as a defence structure. The ownership of this castle changed many hands over the centuries before finally falling into disrepair by the early 17th-century. According to the local legend, an outbreak of the plague might be the reason for the castle being abandoned.
Take a walk around the ruins of it. There are interpretive panels that will tell you the history of this castle. Also, it’s completely free to visit.
10. Take a Photo with the Great North of Scotland Railway Building
Next to the Invercauld Arms Hotel, you will find this timbered building with a mix of white and deep blue colours. Despite what the name suggests, the Great North of Scotland Railway building has never served as a train station. Today this historic building is one of the most popular photo spots in Braemar.
It used to be a former bus depot of the Great North of Scotland Railway service. The railway company operated a bus service from the early 20th-century between Braemar and Ballater, where the Deeside line used to terminate. The rear part of this building was the bus garage, and the front part was the waiting room and ticket office.
11. Hike up the Balmoral Cairns
The Balmoral cairns are a group of around eleven stone-made structures on the Balmoral Estate. They were erected by the Royal Family to commemorate significant life events. Some of them are accessible to visitors. The large pyramid-shaped Prince Albert’s Cairn is the most famous due to its distinct shape. It was built in 1862. A pyramid sculpture in the middle of woodland is quite an unusual sight in Scotland.
You have two options for this walk. One is the direct route to Prince Albert’s Cairn, which takes only 30 minutes hike. Another is the full circular walk of the Balmoral Cairns, which takes about 3 hours to complete. There is a gorgeous view of the Balmoral Castle and the Cairngorms mountains at an elevation of 371 meters. The walk starts from the Crathes Car Park near the entrance of the Balmoral estate. It takes about 13 minutes to drive here from Braemar. You can also board the 201 bus to reach here.
Keep in mind the path is not properly way-marked. During the Royal Visit, the walk may not be possible. So, check with the staff at the entrance of the estate. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do this walk on our trip as part of the path was closed.
12. Grab a Pint at the Fife Arms - a Landmark of Braemar
Built in the 1800s, the Fife Arms is a Category B listed building and hotel in Braemar. This former hunting lodge of Queen Victoria is now not just a luxury hotel – rather a popular landmark in Braemar.
It houses an impressive number of artworks, taxidermy and antiques, including a painting by Pablo Picasso, Robert Burns Chimney Piece and many more. If you want to stay someplace in utmost luxury, the Fife Arms Hotel is the perfect place for you.
This hotel also has a few bars and restaurants open for non-residents. The Flying Stag, the public bar, is very popular with the locals and the visitors alike. Pop inside for a pint after a long day of exploring the wilderness of this beautiful hillside village. For more suggestions on where to eat and drink, continue reading this article.
13. Embrace the Great Outdoors at Glenshee Ski Centre
Sitting above the Cornwall Pass, Glenshee Ski Centre is an alpine snowsports centre in Scotland. Located just 9 miles from Braemar, this ski centre is the largest resort in the UK, expanding across more than 2,000 acres. Spread across four mountains and three glens of the Cairngorms, the top of the ski centre reaches an elevation of 1,070 metres. If you are visiting Braemar in winter, skiing at Glenshee Ski Centre is one of the best things to do.
From novice to pro skiers, people of all abilities can enjoy their 25 miles of pistes snow. Also, there are cafes and ski hire facilities available. In summer, you can use the chairlifts to walk the surrounding area. Experienced hikers might be interested in hiking the Cairnwell Munros. They are a group of three Munros on the west side of the Cairnwell pass.
14. Discover the Wellington Aircraft Memorial
You will find this unusual, engine shaped memorial just opposite the Fife Arms Hotel near the bridge over the Clunie Water. In 1942, RAF Lossiemouth Unit was conducting routine training. But due to poor weather conditions, the aircraft Vickers Wellington R1646 crashed in Cairngorms Mountain.
One of the engines was collected in 1999 from the site of the crash and was set on a stone plinth as a memorial. This was unveiled in 2003 to commemorate the life of those crew members who died in that accident.
15. Visit St Margaret’s Church
St Margaret Church is a former episcopal church and the only category A listed building in Braemar. Nowadays, it serves as an art and performance venue. You can watch concerts and exhibitions by local and international artists in this historic church.
The interior of the building is beautifully decorated. It houses some of the finest works of Aberdeen-born famous church architect Sir Ninian Comper. They also offer free guided tours to climb the church tower. From the top of the tower, you can admire the gorgeous view across Braemar and the Cairngorm Mountains.
Map of the Attractions in Braemar
Here is a map of all the best attractions to visit and the best things to do in Braemar. Click on the link to save the Google map on your phone. You can also use it offline. We have also marked places to shop, eat and stay around the village.
How to Reach Braemar by Car
Braemar is easily accessible by car, and driving is the fastest and simplest way to get here. Also, the driving route is very scenic. You will pass through picturesque valleys, rivers, mountains and countrysides.
The A93 connects this village to Perth and Aberdeen. From Perth, you will drive through Blairgowrie and Rattray, Glenshee, and Cairnwell Pass – the highest main road in Britain to reach here. From Aberdeen follow the A93 through the Royal Deeside. You could visit this highland village while travelling to Fort William from Aberdeen.
There are two free car parks in Braemar – the Balnellan Road car park and The Mews car park.
Here is a rough estimate of time and driving distance from nearby cities of Scotland.
- From Perth 1 hour 20 minutes / 50 miles
- From Dundee 1 hour 25 minutes / 52 miles
- From Aberdeen 1 hour 30 minutes / 58 miles
- From Inverness 2 hours / 79 miles
- From Edinburgh 2 hour 30 minutes / 96 miles
- From Glasgow 2 hour 22 minutes / 109 miles
How to Reach Braemar by Public Transport
Getting here by public transport is easy but time-consuming. Stagecoach runs a frequent daily bus service, 201, between Aberdeen and Braemar. It takes about two and a half hours from Aberdeen Union Square bus station to reach here. To break the long bus journey, you can visit Drum Castle, Crathes Castle, Aboyne and Ballater on the way.
It costs £11.50 for a single bus ticket and £21.10 for a return. You can buy a Bluebird Explorer DayRider ticket for £14.90, which you can use for unlimited travel within the permitted zone. If you are travelling around Aberdeenshire and Moray coast for a few days, consider buying the Bluebird Explorer 7 Day MegaRider for £42.50.
Aberdeen is extremely well connected to other cities of Scotland and England by bus and train. A direct train from Edinburgh takes around 2 hours 25 minutes, and from London, it takes about 7 hours 15 minutes to reach Aberdeen. Also, Scottish Citylink operates direct buses from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Dundee.
You can also reach Aberdeen by air. There are direct flights from Newcastle, London, and Birmingham in England. Also, flights operate from other European countries, like Spain and Portugal to Aberdeen. Braemar is just a bus ride away from there.
How to Get Around Braemar
The village is pretty small and compact. It would not take very long to explore. So, the best way to get around Braemar is by walking. All the tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other. We would suggest bringing a good pair of comfortable walking shoes.
The 201 Stagecoach bus service to Aberdeen is the only one that serves this village. You can also use it to reach Balmoral and Ballater area. But a self-drive car will come in handy if you want to explore the surrounding areas around Braemar at your own pace.
Where to Stay in Braemar
There are several hotels, self-catering cottages, a caravan park and a hostel in the village.
🏕️Camping: Just 10 minute’s walk from the village centre, Braemar Caravan Park is a good option for caravans, motorhomes, campervans, trailer tents and tents. They also have six camping pods available for hire. They are equipped with all modern facilities and offer a great camping experience in a stunning location.
🛏️Hostel: Opposite the caravan park, you will find the Braemar Youth Hostel. It offers both private rooms and shared accommodations. It comes with a self-catering kitchen, free WiFi, comfortable lounge area, laundry and drying room – good value for money.
🏠Budget: Cranford Guest House has five charming cosy modern en suite rooms and is only a 2-minutes walk from Braemar village centre. They serve a delicious full Scottish breakfast, with a vegetarian option in the morning. Doubles from £113 B&B.
🏨Luxury: The Fife Arms Hotel offers 46 beautifully decorated guest rooms and suites. There are restaurants, bars and spa facilities available. A great place to relax and unwind in style and luxury.
You can stay in Ballater as well, which is located about 16 miles east of Braemar. You will find quite a few accommodations, restaurants and pubs there.
Where to Eat in Braemar
There are quite a few great places to eat in the village. The Bothy Braemar is a cute dog-friendly cafe serving delicious breakfast and lunch. You can’t go wrong with their cakes. They also have an outdoor seating area with spectacular river views.
Braemar is rich in history and heritage. We hope this travel guide to the best things to do in Braemar has been helpful. We really didn’t know what to expect before visiting this highland village. But after spending two days exploring this part of Scotland, we can’t wait to get back.
So, if you’re planning a visit to Cairngorms or Aberdeenshire, we will highly recommend spending at least a few days here.
Love, Sankha and Moumita.