Nestled on the Moray coast, Cullen is one of the most lovely seaside villages in Scotland. Once a bustling fishing port, it is renowned as the birthplace of the famous traditional Scottish dish, Cullen Skink – a delicious thick soup made of smoked haddock, potato and milk.
Here in this idyllic former fishing port, you can expect a dramatic coastline, a stunning sandy beach, an imposing historic viaduct, local walking trails, a picturesque small harbour and a chance to catch a glimpse of dolphins playing on the coast.
Bow Fiddle Rock, one of the most dramatic rock formations in Northeast Scotland, lies just a couple of miles away from Cullen. The ruin of the historic Findlater Castle is within walking distance from the village centre.
One of Scotland’s scenic driving routes, North East 250, which goes through Aberdeenshire, Moray and Speyside, also passes this village.
You can easily spend a few days here. There are plenty of things to do and see here to keep you busy.
Where is Cullen
Cullen is a beautiful coastal village located on the coast of Moray Firth in North East Scotland, midway between Aberdeen and Inverness. This village sits on the eastern side of the bay, with less than 1400 people calling this place their home.
Cullen lies about 55 miles northwest of Aberdeen and about 59 miles from Inverness. It takes only about an hour and 25 minutes by car from Aberdeen.
Is Cullen Worth Visiting?
If you are visiting Inverness or Aberdeen, add this beautiful village to your itinerary. From history buffs to golfers, walkers to surfers – Cullen has something for all and is definitely worth a visit. You would love to spend a day or two in this picturesque village.
The lovely Cullen Beach attracts a lot of visitors during the summer months. You will get some of the most beautiful vistas of Moray Coast from the viaduct. Also, this former Royal burgh has a colourful history.
Cullen has an abundance of wildlife. The entire stretch of Moray Firth is famous for the bottle-nosed dolphins. So, keep your eyes peeled out for the pod of dolphins. If you want to take a dolphin cruise, head to the nearby village, Buckie – which lies just 6 miles from here.
Best Time to Visit Cullen
Cullen is the place best enjoyed in sunny warm weather. So, the summer months of June to early September are the best time to visit here. The weather stays relatively dry and warm this time of the year and is excellent for outdoor activities. Although, in Scotland, it’s a bit difficult to avoid the rain entirely. You may get all four seasons in a day. So, come prepared.
We visited this picturesque village in April, during our Easter Holidays and got lucky with the weather. It was extremely windy the first day but sunny and comfortably warm the next day.
Though winter is not the ideal time to visit Cullen, you might witness northern lights on clear nights.
Best Things to Do in Cullen, Moray Firth
1. Build Sandcastles at Cullen Beach
The long stretch of Cullen Beach is one of the main visitor attractions of the village. Sheltered by the surrounding cliffs, this golden sand beach extends a length of around 1 Km.
In summer, you can swim and sunbathe on the beach. The water quality here is excellent, and the beach is very clean. Also, this is a fantastic place for some water-based activities, like snorkelling, paddle-boarding and surfing. During low tide, kids can fish in the rock pools. You might catch a glimpse of some jumpy dolphins playing on the coast.
There are lots of wonderful coastal walks around Cullen. You can walk to Portknockie to see the magnificent Bow Fiddle Rock or hike in the opposite direction to visit the ruins of Findlater Castle.
The star attraction of the beach is the Three Kings. It’s an impressive rock stack standing on the east end of the beach. Legend has it, that the three stones mark the burial ground of a Scottish, a Danish and a Norwegian King. Therefore the name, Three Kings.
2. Marvel at the View from the Old Viaduct
One of the most beautiful features of this lovely fishing village is the stunning eight-arched railway viaduct.
Great North of Scotland Railway train company opened the Moray Firth Coast Line in 1886 to connect Aberdeen and Elgin. After the Beeching cuts – a major railway network remodelling event in British history, the Moray Coast Line ceased its operation in 1968.
Just imagine how scenic this train journey was along the Moray Firth. Later the station was destroyed, but the viaduct was preserved.
This Victorian viaduct is a Grade-B listed structure and a very photogenic landmark of Cullen. The single-track railway line today is used for cycling and walking. It is part of the Moray Cycle Route.
Take a stroll over the viaduct. You will get an incredible view of the coast and the village cottages. Walk a few more steps to reach Castle Hill, a restored hill and a viewpoint. There used to be a castle here in the 11th century. Today it is a scheduled monument.
It is believed, that Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Robert the Bruce – the King of Scot, died here falling from her horse. Some of her remains are buried in Cullen Auld Kirk.
You can continue along the old railway footpath to visit the nearby village Portknockie.
3. Take a Scenic Hike to Portknockie
This seaside village offers many coastal hiking opportunities with spectacular views. It reminded us of our favourite Scottish town, Inveraray, on the shore of Loch Fyne.
The Cullen Bay and Portknockie circuit is a circular coastal walk. It starts from the village centre. You can walk along the beach and return via the old railway viaduct.
This waymarked 4.75 miles long scenic trail takes approximately two hours and a half to finish. You would get a stunning view over the Moray Firth and the golden sands of Cullen Beach.
You would also spot many impressive rocks along the cliff, most notably the Whales Mouth, a cave shaped stunning rock formation. If you are lucky, you might spot some dolphins on the shore.
Portknockie is a neighbouring small coastal village which lies just a couple of miles west of Cullen. This village was founded in 1677. One of the main attractions of Portknockie is the magnificent Bow Fiddle Rock.
A short walk from rock lies the small Portknockie harbour. It’s hard to believe that in the 1800s, this was a bustling herring port. Over 150 fishing boats were based here at that time. But with the fishing industry declining in the north of Scotland in the 20th century, today only a few fishing boats are moored here. You would still see some fisher cottages around the harbour.
4. Seek Out Beautiful Views of Bow Fiddle Rock
One of the most iconic rock formations in the North of Scotland, the magnificent Bow Fiddle Rock stands on the Moray Firth Coast in the village of Portknockie. This unique geological feature is a firm favourite with photographers and visitors and a must-visit place from Cullen.
The natural sea-arched shaped hole inside the rock resembles the tip of a fiddle’s bow. You might also find similarities with a sinking ship.
You would be gobsmacked to see how the waves and erosion from the North Sea can sculpt such an impressive rock work. The sea stack is made of Quartzite rock and dates back millions of years ago. You would get to watch many sea birds bustling around this area. You can reach here by hiking from Cullen, riding a bus or driving here.
5. Tuck into Traditional Cullen Skink
This fishing village is well-known for its association with a famous Scottish dish, Cullen Skink. It is a rich and creamy fish soup made of potato, smoked haddock, milk and onions and served with a slice of bread on the side.
In Scottish, the word skink means knuckle, shin, or hough of beef. When the locals couldn’t source much beef around to prepare the beef soup, they replaced it with smoked haddock, which was plentiful in this part of Northern Scotland in earlier centuries.
Today, almost a hundred years after its supposed origin, Cullen Skink is served in many restaurants across Scotland. This dish is a must-try if you are keen on tasting hearty local cuisines.
There are quite a few local restaurants that serve this delicious dish. Rockpool Café and the Cullen Bay Hotel would be good places to try this out.
Also, Cullen Skink World Championship takes place annually in this village. So, if you know some secret twist to this recipe, this is your chance to shine.
6. Visit the Dramatic Ruins of Findlater Castle
Perched on a 50 ft headland that sticks out into the Moray Firth, Findlater Castle is one of the most dramatic coastal fortifications in Banffshire. Located about two miles east of Cullen, this Scottish castle is a designated scheduled monument.
There was a former castle at the same spot. During the 13th century, the Norwegians raided that castle and occupied it for quite some time. The name of this caste also has Norse influence.
The clifftop ruin that you see today dates back to the 14th-century. It was rebuilt and remodelled after the Roslin Castle near Edinburgh. During the 16th century, Findlater Castle was besieged by the Mary, Queen of Scots. Later Ogilvy family lived here for some years before relocating to a modern residence, Cullen House, in the early 17th century. Soon after, the castle was abandoned.
The path to the castle is very narrow and a bit dangerous. Take extra care if you are going inside. Better to enjoy the view from a safe distance.
The coastal walk from Cullen to Findlater Castle is very popular with the walkers. It takes about 3.5 hours to complete the circuit. The walk is moderately easy but can be a bit steep at places. So, we would recommend a sturdy walking shoe.
7. Soak up the Sun at Sunnyside Beach
Sunnyside Beach is a secluded, peaceful beach near Cullen. You can reach here either by following the coastal path from the village centre, or from Findlater Castle near the village of Sandend.
This isolated stretch of sand beneath the cliff is a great spot to relax and unwind. You will get an uninterrupted coastal view. The path onto the beach is a bit steep and rocky at places.
If you are coming from Cullen, you have to cross some steep steps at Logie Head. They are known as Giant Steps and are built single-handedly by a local. You will find a plaque on a cairn erected in his memory near the steps. The dramatic descent might require a bit of scrambling, but the route is easy to follow.
8. Go Antique Shopping
A simple stroll along Seafield Street will lead you to the front doors of the best antique stores. If you are a collector or an antique-lover, you will find quite a few quirky vintage shops in this village.
Housed in an old church, Cullen Antique Centre & Salvage Yard is the largest antique shop in North East Scotland. You will see a diverse range of collectables and vintage items – from jewellery to furniture, clocks to ceramics, and old maps to first edition books. You could spend hours browsing through different objects. They also house a bookshop and a cafe adjacent to the store.
Also, Cullen Collectibles, Bits ‘N’ Bobs, and Trash and Treasure are worth a visit if you are into antique shopping.
9. Walk around Cullen Harbour
Once a major fishing port, today Cullen harbour is mainly used to moor the recreational boats and a few fishing boats. This small harbour was built in the early 19th century by William Minto, based on a design by renowned Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford.
There is a small and clean sandy beach at the harbour where you can take a stroll. This harbour dries out completely at low tide. So, if you are planning to sail here, you will have to contact the harbour master in advance.
Cullen Sea school conducts a number of lessons in the harbour. You can learn a lot of water sports activities here, like paddle-boarding, kayaking and rowing.
10. Grab a Delicious Scoop from a Local Shop
A short walk from Cullen Harbour, The Ice Cream Shop makes ice cream in fresh-tasting flavours such as Turkish delight, raspberry ripple, tablet, biscoff, salted caramel, bubblegum and many more.
On a sunny warm day at the seaside, nothing beats a cone in your hand. They have a wide range of delicious homemade ice creams and a variety of old-fashioned sweets. This ice cream shop is a must-visit for anyone passing through Cullen. On summer days, you will find a long queue outside the shop.
If you are in the Moray Firth area, also visit the award-winning Portsoy Ice Cream shop. It’s just a short drive from here.
11. Visit the Pet Cemetery
As you walk along the coastal path from Cullen harbour to Findlater Castle, you will come across a small pet cemetery. Looked after by a local volunteer, this well-maintained cemetery on the Moray Firth is a peaceful resting place for pets.
Take some time to read through the epitaphs. It might make you feel emotional if you own a pet. It is a fascinating and unusual place to visit. Along with the beloved pet dog and cats, you will also find seals, dolphins and even a shark buried here.
12. Delve into Tasty Food in Cullen
There are quite a few great places to eat in the village. Try a warm bowl of Cullen Skink at the Rockpool Cafe, located right next to a busy ice cream shop. This cafe is one of our favourites in this pretty village. Pop in for some delicious breakfast or lunch. They serve fresh, locally sourced seafood among others. If you are a seafood lover, try their smoked fish board.
You can also visit the nearby Lily’s Kitchen Cafe for tasty homemade food and their award-winning Cullen Skink.
If you fancy having takeaway fish & chips, grab a warm fish supper from Linda’s Fish and Chip shop beside the old viaduct. For a Scottish luxurious dining experience, book a table at The Seafield Arms.
13. Explore the Old Church
The historic Cullen Auld Kirk lies about half a mile from the village centre. The earliest record of this church can be traced back to 1236. Even so many centuries later, it is still an active place of worship. Church services are still conducted here.
It is the burial place of the internal organs of Queen Elizabeth de Burgh, the second wife of Scottish king Robert the Bruce. She died in the early 14th century while visiting the nearby castle. It is open to visitors on specific dates in the summer.
Best Places to Visit around Cullen
After visiting this coastal village, you can explore the surrounding areas of Speyside, Moray Firth and Aberdeenshire. Here are some popular and must-visit attractions not too far from here.
14. Discover the Past of Elgin Cathedral
Often called the Lantern of the North, Elgin Cathedral lies about 20 miles west of Cullen in the town of Elgin – the capital of Moray. The impressive ruins of this 13th-century cathedral are one of the best medieval structures in Scotland. It has a rich and colourful past. This cathedral once served as the seat of the bishop of Moray. After the Scottish reformation, it fell into disrepair.
Take a walk around the cathedral to explore the towers of the west front, octagonal chapter house, chess tomb, 5m high gravestone – the tallest one in Scotland. You can enjoy a panoramic view over Elgin from the viewing platform of the chapter house.
The cathedral exhibits a collection of hundreds of medieval stones and fragments of window glass from here. Check out the carvings on the stones.
If you are driving to Cullen from Inverness, don’t miss a visit to this ruined 13th-century cathedral.
Entrance: Adult £9.50 and Child £5.50.
How to Reach: Only 32 minutes drive from Cullen.
Catch Stagecoach bus 35 from Elgin.
15. Take a Tour of Strathisla Distillery
If you are a whisky enthusiast, you surely have heard about the famous whisky-producing region of Scotland, Speyside. Here you will find over half of the whisky distilleries in Scotland. Among all of them, Strathisla Distillery is not too far from Cullen and a part of Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail.
Strathisla is the oldest continuously functional distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Located in the town of Keith, around 13 miles south of Cullen, Strathisla Distillery is home to the world-famous whisky Chivas Regal. Founded in 1786, it is one of the prettiest distilleries in Scotland, with its impressive pagodas and the water wheel.
Once here, join in one of their distillery guided tours and learn about the history of this place and the craft of distilling whiskey. Tour usually concludes with a tasting of a few wee drams.
Chivas The Blend tour lasts for about an hour and costs £30 per person. The Chivas Regal Celler Tasting tour gives you an exclusive tasting opportunity for £40. For a more in-depth visit, join the Discover The Reserve Collection tour. It offers you five varied expressions of Strathisla Single Malt from their collection and costs £50 per person.
Opening Hours: 12 pm to 4.30 pm Monday to Sunday. Tuesday closed.
How to Reach: Only 20 minutes drive from Cullen.
Train or Stagecoach bus from Elgin.
16. Explore Crovie and Gardenstown
If you want to explore a few more nearby pretty Scottish villages, then Crovie and Gardenstown are highly recommended. Crovie lies about 23 miles east of Cullen and takes only 38 minutes to drive here. Located on the north coast of Scotland, this cute little village is one of the remote well-preserved fishing hamlets in Aberdeenshire.
With just a row of whitewashed cottages tucked away beneath the cliffs, Crovie has a very rustic and charming setting. Frequently the sea sprays lash against the narrow ledge in front of the houses. Some of those cottages offer holiday accommodation if you fancy a stay.
This village is only accessible via the steps that descend the cliff to the seafront. So, if you are coming by car, you will have to leave it at the clifftop and then walk down the steps.
Just around 10 minutes’ walk from Crovie is Gardenstown, another picturesque fishing village. Take a stroll around the harbour. You would get a lovely view of the layer of houses clinging over the cliffs from there. Also, there are a few pubs, cafes and shops in the village.
A short walk from the harbour in the opposite direction of Crovie is a nice small beach. You can walk to St John’s Church, an 800-year-old ruined church perched on the cliffs.
How to Reach: Around 37 minutes drive from Cullen.
Local 273 bus from Banff.
17. Admire Artwork in Duff House
Designed by the famous Scottish architect William Adam, Duff House is a Georgian country house situated in Banff. It’s a must-visit place for art lovers visiting Cullen.
This Georgian A-listed house displays a great collection of paintings and contemporary art, mainly from the National Galleries of Scotland. Take a guided tour to access the interior of the house. Admire the artworks of El Greco, Ramsay, Raeburn and many more. Learn about the colourful past of the house and enjoy the walk around the grounds.
Due to a long conflict between the architect and the owner, William Duff, this mansion was never completed to the owner’s liking. In the early 1900s, the Duff House was gifted to the town of Macduff and Banff. Later, it served as a hotel and a war camp for prisoners.
Entrance: Adult £9.50, Child £5.50 and Family £18.
How to Reach: Duff House is only 14 miles from Cullen and takes only 22 minutes to reach by car.
Stagecoach bus 35 to Banff.
Map of the Attractions in and around Cullen
Here is a map of all the places to visit and the things to do in and around Cullen. Click on the link to save the Google map on your phone. You can use the map offline. You can find all the viewpoints mentioned in this article on the map. We have also marked the best places to eat and stay in the village.
How to Reach Cullen by Car
Driving is the fastest way to get here. Cullen is part of the 250 mile-long circular North East 250 road trip covering the Cairngorms National Park, Speyside and Aberdeenshire.
The coastal road A98, which runs between the Moray and Aberdeenshire coastline, goes through Cullen. Also, the village is connected to Keith by B9018.
From Aberdeen, it takes nearly 1 hour and 25 minutes to drive here. You could visit this seaside village while travelling to Inverness from Aberdeen. There are multiple routes you can follow.
From Edinburgh and Glasgow, drive towards Dundee, then follow A90. Change into A96 near Aberdeen.
There are free car parks at The Square and at the bottom of the viaduct.
Here is a rough estimate of time and driving distance from nearby cities of Scotland.
- From Aberdeen 1 hour 25 minutes / 55 miles
- From Inverness 1 hour 30 minutes / 59 miles
- From Dundee 2 hour 25 minutes / 118 miles
- From Perth 2 hour 50 minutes / 138 miles
- From Edinburgh 3 hour 42 minutes / 179 miles
- From Glasgow 3 hour 50 minutes / 197 miles
How to Reach Cullen by Public Transport
Cullen is served by Stagecoach bus service 35, which runs between Aberdeen and Elgin. The bus runs daily quite frequently but takes much more time when compared to a car. From Aberdeen Union Square Bus Station, it takes about 2 hours 40 minutes to reach here. Aberdeen is very well connected with other cities of Scotland by bus and train.
A single ride bus ticket costs £11.50 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 specific zones. If you are travelling around Aberdeenshire and Moray coast for a few days, consider buying the Bluebird Explorer 7 Day MegaRider for £42.50.
If you are coming from Inverness, hop on a Scotrail service to Elgin. From Elgin Bus Station, jump on the Stagecoach bus 35 to Cullen. It takes around an hour and 10 minutes from there.
How to Get around Cullen
This village is small enough to explore on foot. It doesn’t take long to walk around the entire village. Attractions are clearly waymarked and close to each other.
Walking is the best way to discover the nooks and crannies of Cullen. Also, there are some easy coastal trails from here. So, we will suggest bringing comfortable walking shoes.
For the places around Cullen, a car will definitely be helpful to get by. But you can also visit them by public transport. The Stagecoach runs the local buses around Moray and Aberdeenshire. They are comfortable but take a longer time to reach.
Where to Stay in Cullen
The Seafield Arms Hotel – Located at the centre of Cullen, The Seafield Arms Hotel is a boutique hotel with charming and beautifully decorated modern rooms. Apart from rooms and suites, they also have fully equipped self-catering cottages within the hotel premises. There is an on-premise restaurant, bar and lounge serving delicious locally-sourced food. Doubles from £160 (B&B).
Royal Oak Hotel – Located close to Cullen Viaduct, this family-run hotel has cosy and comfortable rooms. There is a restaurant, bar and garden within the hotel. Enjoy a delicious breakfast spread in the morning. Doubles from £120 (B&B).
Cullen is truly a beautiful place to explore, with tons of activities that you would love doing. If you are travelling around Aberdeenshire or Moray Firth Coast, definitely add Cullen to your travel itinerary. This wee gem is not to be missed.
We hope this article has given you lots of inspiration on what to do in and around this bonnie part of Scotland!
Love, Sankha and Moumita.