- Explore the 16th-century history of this beautiful Scottish castle.
- Wander around the walled garden, created by Alexander Burnett in the early 20th century.
- See the iconic Horn of Leys, a relic that was given to the Burnett family over 700 years ago.
- Children can play to their heart's content at the Wild Wood adventure play area in the woods.
- Discover Crathes Castle estate from the treetops on a Go Ape adventure.
With a 16th-century castle, beautiful gardens and stack of activities for kids and grown ups alike, Crathes Castle Garden and Estate is one of Scotland's favourite attractions, and is less than half an hour's drive from Aberdeen. Now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Crathes Castle was built in 1596 by Alexander Burnett of Leys, but the land it sits on had been owned by the Burnett family since being given to them in 1323 by King Robert the Bruce. There are several distinctive cultural features to the castle that remain to this day, including Scottish renaissance painted ceilings, that are unique to the period and area. The gardens are almost as grand as the castle itself, with over four acres of walled gardens, set within 530 acres of woodland on the estate. Some of the hedges in the gardens date all the way back to the 18th century, and are remarkably well-preserved. However, one of the most fascinating elements of the site, unlike other castles in Scotland, is the fact that in 2004 a series of pits were found under the castle that date back 10,000 years. These pits are now thought to make up the oldest lunar calendar in the world, and were found when crop marks were noticed from aerial photographs.
Now, when you visit the estate of Castle Crathes, you can explore the turrets of the tower house, wander in the walled garden and stretch your legs on one of the many local nature trails. Sometimes known as the Enchanted Castle, Crathes is certainly home to many woodland creatures that seem like the stuff of fairytales. A spookier legend of the castle, is that a ghost named the Green Lady wanders the grounds, with multiple supposed sightings over the years. Inside the castle itself you'll find many beautiful painted ceilings, as well as unique traditional artefacts and antique oak panels. Here you can even see the Horn of Leys, an ancient ivory horn that was given to the Burnett family by Robert the Bruce along with the land, and can also be seen in the Burnett family coat of arms.
The grounds of Crathes Castle are also a huge part of the site's history, with Irish Yew hedges dating back to 1702. The walled garden is also worth a visit, and was created by Sir James Burnett and his wife in the early 1900s. This formal garden contains beautiful flowers, manicured lawns, ornamental pools and sculptures that make it the perfect place to explore as a family. Once you've had a look around these impressive and historic gardens, you can delve further into the flora and fauna of the Crathes Estate by embarking on one of their six nature trails. These waymarked trails are the perfect way to catch a glimpse of rare wildlife, such as buzzards, otters, red squirrels and roe deer as you make your way around the estate. Crathes Castle walks are popular with visitors, and are a great way to explore the local area and discover the rest of the grounds.
There are also several activities to take part in at Crathes Castle that are aimed at families. The Wild Wood adventure play area is the perfect place for kids of all ages to get rid of some energy, with plenty of equipment to climb, slide down, and zip wire along. Go Ape Crathes Castle is another incredibly popular attraction that brings families to Crathes. With treetop walkways that allow you to swing and climb through the trees in a harness, this is the perfect way to see the forest from a whole new angle.
There are Crathes Castle events on all year round, run by National Trust for Scotland. From egg hunts at Easter to festive Christmas activities, there is always something going on at the castle or in the grounds.
After exploring the 16th-century castle and historic gardens, head to the Crathes Castle cafe, also known as Cafe 1702 in a nod to the Castle's history. Here you can enjoy some lovely tea and cakes, and the brave can even sample the Extreme Hot Chocolate on the menu! Plus, there's a children's play area here so it's the perfect place to have a cuppa while watching the kids play. There are also plenty of great spots in the grounds for a picnic, if you'd prefer to bring your own lunch. Alternatively, there are some local eateries nearby where you can enjoy a sit-down lunch or dinner, or Aberdeen is only half an hour away for even more options.
If you and your family had a great time exploring Crathes Castle Gardens and Estate, continue the Aberdeenshire adventure with a trip to Balmoral Castle, famous as the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Or, for some local transport history, head to the village of Alford to check out the Grampian Transport Museum, where you'll find hands-on exhibits and immersive learning for kids and adults.
What to know before you go
- Crathes Castle opening times are from 10.30am - 5pm daily. The grounds are open from dawn until dusk.
- The ground floor of Crathes Castle is accessible, but the top floor can only be reached by stairs, meaning it isn't suitable for buggies or wheelchairs. The Cafe, however, is fully accessible. The walled garden is also accessible for wheelchairs and buggies.
- There are accessible toilets and baby-changing facilities available on site.
- Dogs are welcome on the estate, and can run off the lead in the 50 acres of grounds.
- Crathes Castle is accessible by car via the A93. The estate is located three miles east of Banchory, and 15 miles from Aberdeen. There is parking available on site for a small fee.
- If travelling by public transport, the 201 bus from Aberdeen passes by the castle and takes just over 40 minutes.
- You can also travel to Crathes Castle by bike, and the grounds are a popular place for cyclists.