How to get to Dunnottar Castle: The ultimate guide

Last Updated on May 16, 2022 by ashleighsatlas

Are you wondering how to get to Dunnottar Castle? Or if it’s worth visiting?

Dunnottar Castle was one of the first places I added to my bucket list when I moved to Scotland. But I didn’t have a car and it looked tricky to get to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh without public transport.

When I went on a road trip around Scotland after four months’ in lockdown, Dunnottar Castle was one of the first places I visited. 

Keep reading for my ultimate guide to Dunnottar Castle, including:

  • Everything you need to know about how to get to Dunnottar Castle
  • The best way to get to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh and where to stop on the way
  • The prettiest route from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle (don’t listen to Google maps!)
  • How to get to Dunnottar Castle from Aberdeen
  • The top 3 options to get from Stonehaven Train Station to Dunnottar Castle
  • If you should do the Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk
  • The exact buses and trains you should catch
  • Dunnottar Castle parking tips
  • Everything else you need to know about visiting Dunnottar Castle – best time to visit, where to take photos + much more
Scotland-Aberdeenshire-Travel-Guide

HOW TO GET TO DUNNOTTAR CASTLE  

Dunnottar Castle is in Aberdeenshire, which is a large county on the East Coast of Scotland. Dunnottar Castle is a 5 minute drive from Stonehaven, a small fishing village. The nearest large town is Aberdeen, which is the biggest city in Aberdeenshire

Dunnottar Castle is a 25 minute drive from Aberdeen, and a two and a half hour drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow. There is public transport, but it will take longer. 

You can also do a small group tour from Aberdeen, which will also stop at Braemar (a small cute village) and the Cairngorm National park – two of my favourite places in Scotland.

Read my detailed guide for the best way to get to Dunnottar Castle below.

Top tips for how to get to Dunnottar Castle

  1. If you want to go to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh or Glasgow, it’s a long way for a day trip.  Combine it with a weekend away in Aberdeenshire or a road trip around Scotland. Read my Ultimate Aberdeenshire Travel Guide to find other places to add to your Aberdeenshire bucket list.
  2. I recommend driving to Dunnottar Castle because it’s faster than public transport and there’s lots of great places you can visit nearby which is easier when driving (like Craigievar Castle, which you can easily visit in the same day, but has no public transport options). I always book rental cars with rentalcars.com – it’s like booking.com but for rental cars.
  3. If you’re driving to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh or Glasgow, Google maps tells you to go inland from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle, but I recommend following the coast from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle which is more scenic and not that much longer. 
  4. Arrive early to get a carpark. 
  5. If you only want to visit the castle and don’t mind the extra time, it’s easy to get public transport from Aberdeen and you don’t need to change buses or trains. If you’re going to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh or Glasgow, you can get there by bus or train, but they’re not direct, so you’ll need to either swap trains/buses or walk for a bit. 
  6. Decide if you want to go to the main castle carpark entrance, of if you want to do the Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk. You can then work out if getting the train or bus is the better option for you. Read my guide to this below before you plan your trip. 

Dunnottar Castle parking

Dunnottar Castle parking is free. There’s a small carpark at the entrance to the castle. You still have to walk from the carpark down lots of stairs to the castle.

The Dunnottar Castle website says the carpark is very small for the number of visitors, and recommends that visitors walk from Stonehaven. I visited first thing in the morning, and there were plenty of carparks still free. By the time I left around midday, the carpark was filling up. This was just after the UK lockdown in 2020 though, when there were very few tourists in Scotland, so I imagine it’s usually busier. 

If you want to go to the Dunnottar Castle Carpark/main entrance, the easiest option is to drive. If you need to get a rental car, I found the easiest way to book was with rentalcars.com – which compares every rental car company and finds the best option.

If you want to get public transport to the Dunnottar Castle carpark, the easiest option is the bus. The nearest bus stop (called Dunnottar Junction) is a 10 minute walk from the carpark.

There are no trains that go to directly to the carpark/main entrance. You will need to catch a train to Stonehaven. To get from the Stonehaven Train Station to Dunnottar Castle, there are three options:

  1. The Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk.
  2. Taxi.
  3. Transfer to the X7 bus which goes to the Dunnottar Junction.

Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk

Stonehaven is the closest town to Dunnottar Castle. The Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk is a popular option to get there. It’s a 40 minute walk from Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle along the cliff tops. There is a map and directions for the Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk here.

The Dunnottar Castle website recommends doing the walk because of the limited parking at the castle. There are beautiful views along the walk and you can look around Stonehaven which is a charming fishing village.

You can catch either the bus or train to Stonehaven. The bus stops in the centre of Stonehaven, near the start of the cliff top walk. The train stops outside Stonehaven and you will need to walk an extra 15 minutes into town, although the train is faster than the bus, so overall the train and bus take a similar time. 

Stonehaven Train Station to Dunnottar Castle

There are 3 options to get from Stonehaven Train Station to Dunnottar Castle:

  1. The Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk (40 minutes – get a bus or walk from the Stonehaven Train Station to the centre of Stonehaven, then walk along the Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle walk along the cliffs.)
  2. Taxi (5 minutes).
  3. Bus (get the X7 Stagecoach bus which goes to the Dunnottar Junction, then it’s a 10 minute walk to the castle).

How to get to Dunnottar Castle from Aberdeen

The best option to get to Dunnottar Castle from Aberdeen is to drive or do a small group tour. The tour also goes to Braemar (a small village in the Scottish Highlands) and the Cairngorm National Park, which are two of my favourite places in Scotland I recommend to everyone.

You can also get the bus or train from Dunnottar Castle to Aberdeen.

  • Car: It’s a 25 minute from to Dunnottar Castle from Aberdeen. You can either drive directly to the castle carpark, or drive to Stonehaven if you want to do the cliff top walk. I always book my rental cars with rentalcars.com – they compare all the cars available from every rental car company.
    • Dunnottar Castle parking: It’s a 25 minute drive from Aberdeen along the coast. It’s an easy and well-marked drive. Follow the A92 and then turn left onto the Coastal Tourist Route (there’s a sign for Dunnottar Castle at the turn off). There’s a small carpark on the right. 
    • Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk: Also follow the A92, but turn off earlier onto the B979. There will be a sign for Stonehaven at the turnoff. It’s also around 25 minutes. The Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk will take around 40 minutes each way and you can find a map and directions here.
  • Bus: You can either get the bus to Stonehaven if you want to do the Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk, or get the bus to the Dunnottar Junction stop which is a 10 minute walk from the castle carpark. Both go directly there from Aberdeen and you don’t need to change buses. 
    • Dunnottar Castle parking: Get off at Dunnottar Junction. The bus takes 45 minutes. Once you’ve got off the bus, turn down the Coastal Tourist Route and walk for 10 minutes until you reach the castle carpark on the right. 
    • Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk: Get off at Stonehaven, Barclay Street. The bus takes 35 minutes and stops in the middle of Stonehaven near the harbour, where the walk starts. It’s then a 40 minute walk to the castle along the cliff top walk. See the Dunnottar Castle website for a map and directions for the walk. 
    • Price: £7.70 for a day ticket (Zone 3) 
  • Train: The train doesn’t go to the Dunnottar Castle carpark/main entrance, so if you take the train you will need to go to Stonehaven and do the cliff top walk from there. The train goes directly there from Aberdeen and you don’t need to change trains. 
    • There are multiple operators that service this route (Scot Rail, LNER, Cross Country, Caledonian Sleeper). Scotrail is the most frequent. Go on the Scot Rail journey planner and select the stations “Aberdeen ABD” to “Stonehaven STN” to see the timetable. 
    • The train takes around 20 minutes each way. The train stop in Stonehaven is not in the middle of Stonehaven near the harbour, like the bus stop is. When you get off the train you will first need to walk around 15 minutes to the Stonehaven town centre/harbour, where the cliff top walk starts. The Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk is then around 40 minutes and there is a  map and directions here.
    • Price: £6.40 return

How to get to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh

The best option to get to Dunnottar Castle from Edinburgh is to drive. You can also get the bus or train from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle, although they’re not direct.

  • Car: Depending on which route you take, it’s around two and a half hours from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle. I recommend booking a car with rentalcars.com – it’s what I always use because you can easily compare all the different companies. Google maps will tell you to take an inland route from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle, which is slightly quicker. I recommend following the coast instead from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle, which is more scenic and there are lots of lovely seaside towns along the way: 
    • If you have time for a detour, stop at St Andrews. Don’t follow the coast to get here, just take the most direct route from Edinburgh. Wander around the town for a few hours. It’s one of my favourite towns in Scotland and feels like a mini-Edinburgh. (If you don’t want to drive there, you can also do a day tour to St Andrews from Edinburgh).
    • Briefly stop at Dundee. Whether you’re coming from Edinburgh or St Andrews, just take the most direct route that Google maps suggests. Don’t follow the coast. It’s worth stopping for a quick look at the V&A, especially the outside of the building which has amazing architecture, but there’s nothing else worth seeing in Dundee. 
    • From Dundee, ignore Google maps telling you to drive inland. Instead, drive along the A92 along the coast. Stop for a quick walk around Arbroath, which is a cute small fishing village. 
  • Bus: There’s no direct bus from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle, so you will have to swap stations at Dundee. The bus goes to the Dunnottar Junction near the castle carpark/main entrance. If you want to do the Stonehaven cliff walk, get the train instead. 
    • Take the bus from Edinburgh to the Seagate Bus Station in Dundee (the main bus station in the city centre). This takes around one and a half hoursv. You can take the M9 Megabus or the X54 or X61 Stagecoach. Check their websites to see what time lines up best with the Dundee to Dunnottar leg.
    • You’ll then need to swap buses and get the X7 Stagecoach bus from Seagate Bus Station in Dundee to the Dunnottar Junction. This takes around two hours. It’s then a 10 minute walk to the castle. 
  • Train: The train doesn’t go directly from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle. You can either get the train to Stonehaven and do the cliff top walk from there, or if you want to go to the castle carpark/main entrance and don’t want to do the cliff top walk you’ll need to change to a bus at Montrose. 
    • Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk:  Take a train from Edinburgh to Stonehaven. There are multiple operators that service this route (Scot Rail, LNER and Cross Country). It takes around two hours. Scot Rail is the most frequent so check the journey planner on their website. The Stonehaven train station isn’t in the town centre so when you get off the train you will need to walk 15 minutes to the Stonehaven town centre. Then follow the map and directions for the cliff top walk to Dunnottar Castle which takes around 40 minutes. 
    • Dunnottar Castle parking: Take a train from Edinburgh to Montrose. There are multiple operators that service this route (Scot Rail, LNER and Cross Country). It takes around an hour forty five. Scot Rail is the most frequent so check the journey planner on their website. Then catch the X7 or 107 Stagecoach bus from Montrose, Lloyd’s Pharmacy to Dunnottar Junction. This takes around 40 minutes. It’s then a 10 minute walk from Dunnottar Junction to the castle.  

Dundee to Dunnottar Castle

The best option to get from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle is to drive. You can also get a bus or train from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle, but they’re not direct.

  • Car: It’s around one hour drive from Dundee to Dunnottar Castle. Ignore Google maps which suggests the inland road from Dundee. Instead, follow along the coast along the A92. It’s slightly slower but much more scenic. The coast road goes through lots of cute little fishing villages like Arbroath, which is worth stopping at. If you need a rental car, I use rentalcars.com – it’s the same people that run booking.com and it’s the best way to compare the rental car companies.
  • Bus: The bus goes to the Dunnottar Junction near the castle carpark/main entrance. If you want to do the Stonehaven cliff walk, get the train instead. Get the X7 Stagecoach bus from Seagate Bus Station in Dundee to the Dunnottar Junction. This takes around two hours. It’s then a 10 minute walk to the castle. 
  • Train: The train doesn’t go directly to Dunnottar Castle. You can either get the train to Stonehaven and do the cliff top walk from there, or if you want to go to the castle carpark/main entrance and don’t want to do the cliff top walk you’ll need to change to a bus at Montrose. 
  • Stonehaven to Dunnottar Castle Walk:  Take a train from Dundee to Stonehaven (Scot Rail or LNER). It takes around one hour. The Stonehaven train station isn’t in the town centre so when you get off the train you will need to walk 15 minutes to the Stonehaven town centre. Then follow the map and directions for the cliff top walk to Dunnottar Castle which takes around 40 minutes. 
  • Dunnottar Castle parking: Take a train from Dundee to Montrose (either on Scot Rail or LNER). It takes around 30 minutes. Then catch the X7 or 107 Stagecoach bus from Montrose, Lloyd’s Pharmacy to Dunnottar Junction. This takes around 40 minutes. It’s then a 10 minute walk from Dunnottar Junction to the castle.  

Is there a shuttle bus? 

Dunnottar Castle doesn’t have a shuttle bus, but there are public buses and trains from Aberdeen and elsewhere around Scotland (see above). 

Dunnottar Castle tour 

You can do a day trip from Aberdeen to Dunnottar Castle. The tour also stops at Braemar (a cute village in Aberdeenshire) and the Cairngorm National Park – two of my other favourite places in Aberdeenshire. I recommend going to them too, so it might be an easy way to tick a few things off in one day, especially if you don’t have a car.

WANT MORE SUGGESTIONS?

Want more suggestions for things to do in Scotland? Download my Edinburgh Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Edinburgh.

TOP TIPS  

Does Dunnottar Castle really look like that photo on Pinterest 

If you’ve looked up Dunnottar Castle on Pinterest, chances are you’ve seen that photo of the castle: From high above you can see green hills pointing in so many directions you can’t tell which way the hills are turning, leading to a round island jutting out to the ocean, surrounded by steep cliffs, with a castle sitting on top.

If I’m honest, the first time I saw Dunnottar Castle I was a little disappointed. If you’re expecting Dunnottar castle to look like that photo from Pinterest: it won’t. The dramatic photos you see looking down on the castle from high above must have come from a drone. There are still viewpoints which have lovely views of the castle, but they’re nothing like the views from that photo. I always search for the highest hill to climb to get the best viewpoint, but I couldn’t see any hills nearby where the dramatic photos could have been taken from. 

Is Dunnottar Castle worth visiting

Even though Dunnottar Castle isn’t as dramatic as some of the photos online, it’s still worth visiting (just manage your expectations so you’re not disappointed that it won’t look like that Pinterest photo).

If I had to pick my top castles in Scotland, it would be: Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Dunnottar Castle. Each one is really unique and offers something different, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. If I really had to narrow it down, Edinburgh Castle and Dunnottar Castle are the two castles you can’t miss in Scotland. 

Dunnottar Castle is mostly ruins, with one building still standing which you can go inside. If the castle was in the middle of a plain field, it wouldn’t even make my top 10 castles in Scotland. But the location of Dunnottar Castle is incredible. There’s a windy pathway down hundreds of stairs that leads you to a tiny rocky headland that overhangs into the sea, surrounded by steep cliffs that fall away into the ocean. Sometimes castle ruins can be boring and you wish the actual castle was still there, but here the ruins add to the dramatic scenery.  There’s no other castle in Scotland that has such a dramatic backdrop. 

Dunnottar Castle is on the East Coast of Scotland, which is the opposite side to the main tourist trail. Most tourists only go to the West Coast (Glen Coe, Skye, Loch Ness, Inverness…). If you’re considering skipping Dunnottar Castle because it’s out of the way: don’t. It’s one of the best castles in Scotland, because of the dramatic location which is unlike any other castle you will see in Scotland.

It may seem like it’s out of the way and there’s not much else around, but there’s lots of other beautiful places to go in Aberdeenshire and it’s easy to incorporate into a road trip that loops around both the West and East coasts. 

When is the best time to go to Dunnottar Castle

Best time of day. If you want to avoid crowds and get a park, go first thing in the morning when the castle opens. 

I was there when the castle opened at 10am and I had the castle to myself; there were only a few other people there. There were still lots of parks left. When I left at around midday there was a queue of around thirty people waiting to get in and the carpark was filling up. This was just after lockdown in July 2020 when there were very few tourists in Scotland, so I imagine it is usually much busier, especially in Summer.   

If you do the small group tour, you obviously won’t have to worry about parking.

Best time of the year. Avoid July and August. This is the Summer school holidays and there are a lot of tourists visiting Scotland. 

The best time to visit Scotland is Spring (March to May) or early Autumn (September or October; November is dark and miserable). It’s less rainy than Summer, there are fewer tourists, and the Spring flowers and Autumn leaves are beautiful. 

How long to spend at Dunnottar Castle

If you want to….

  • Walk to the castle from the main carpark (there are a lot of stairs), look around the castle grounds, and take photos around the top of the cliffs: two and a half to three hours
  • Do all of the above, but walk from Stonehaven, rather than the main castle carpark: four to four and a half hours
  • Walk around the cliffs and take photos, but not walk down to the castle: 30 minutes

You could easily combine the castle with other sites around Aberdeenshire in one day. We went to Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeen, Craigievar Castle, and some whisky distilleries in Speyside in one day. This felt too rushed (we were driving for four hours) but you could easily choose two or or even three of these to do in a day.

Read my Ultimate Guide to Aberdeenshire for a complete list of all the best things to do in Aberdeenshire (and where to skip).

You will definitely need a car or join a tour if you want to see other places around Aberdeenshire. It’s would be far too difficult to get around by public transport.

  • If you want to rent a car, I recommend using rentalcars.com – I’ve used them for years and it’s the easiest (and often cheapest) way to find a rental car.
  • If you want to do a tour, I recommend this one which also goes to two of my other favourite places in Scotland – Braemar and the Cairngorm National Park.

Best places for taking photos 

There are two places to go for the best photos of Dunnottar Castle. Both are spots along the cliffs, just off the main path that goes from the carpark to the castle. Each spot gives a different perspective of the castle, so it’s worth going to both. They are both short walks not far from the carpark. They are well worn and there will probably be others taking pictures, so you can’t miss them. 

  • Turn right off the path: From the carpark, walk down the path towards the castle. Shortly before the stairs which lead down to the castle, there is a path that veers off to the right. If you follow this for about five minutes, it leads to a beautiful viewpoint which looks back and shows the castle from the side. You can see the tower and horse stables, and this angle really shows off the steep cliffs surrounding the castle. The photo below on the left is taken from this lookout. This path is a dead end. This spot is quieter than the other one because it’s a bit further off the main path. There were lots of beautiful huge Scottish thistles along the path when I was there in July. 
  • Turn left off the path: From the carpark, walk down the path towards the castle. Just as the stairs to the castle start, there is a path that veers off to the left. There will be lots of people here taking photos. Keep walking left to get away from the crowds. As you keep walking, you will get slightly different angles of the castle, all looking down at the front of the castle. The photo below on the right, and most of the photos in this post, are taken from along this path. The path goes to the nearby town Stonehaven, so you can keep walking as far as you want. There’s plenty of space along the cliff so it’s easy to get a photo without anyone else in the way. I only had to walk a couple of minutes to find a good spot. 
Scotland-Aberdeenshire-Travel-Guide

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

HISTORY OF DUNNOTTAR CASTLE

Why is Dunnottar Castle famous 

Dunnottar Castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The history is long and can be quite confusing, so here’s a quick overview of the key events. 

  • 4th century – A chapel was built on the site. 
  • 900 – Vikings destroyed the chapel and killed the first King of Scotland.
  • 1276 – A new chapel was built, together with some defensive buildings. 
  • 1297 – During the Scottish wars of independence, the English captured and destroyed the castle. In 1297, William Wallace and his Scottish troops recaptured the castle from the English. The 4000 English soldiers tried to hide in the church and William Wallace burnt them alive.
  • 14th century – From the 14th century, Dunnottar Castle was home to the Keiths, one of the most powerful families in Scotland. They built the tower house in 1392 (this is partly still standing today and you can walk through it). In 1593, they built the palace which overlooks the sea (this is the building still standing where they have reconstructed the drawing room and filled it with furniture, which you can walk through today). They had a pet lion. The Keiths had lots of royal visitors. Mary Queen of Scots visited in 1562 and 1564. 
  • 1651-52 – During the civil war, the Honours of Scotland (Scottish Crown Jewels) were hidden at Dunnottar Castle. Oliver Cromwell’s troops found out they were hidden there and sieged the castle. The castle held out for eight months. In 1652, heavy canons arrived and the castle surrendered. Before surrender, the Honours of Scotland were smuggled out of the castle. 
  • 1685 – 167 covenanters who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new king were imprisoned in Dunnottar Castle. Some died and others who attempted to escape were tortured. 
  • 1715 – The owner of the castle, George Keith, was convicted of treason for supporting the Jacobites. His estate, including Dunnottar Castle, was seized by the government. The castle was sold to the York Mining Company who removed everything, including the floors, ceilings and all the furniture.
  • 1919 – The castle was bought by the Pearson family. They restored the castle and opened it to the public. It has remained in the Pearson family since then. 

Who owns the castle

The castle is currently owned by the Pearson family, who have owned it since 1919.   

Does anyone live there

No one lives in Dunnottar Castle now. It’s mostly ruins. 

What movies were filmed at Dunnottar Castle

Lots of movies have been filmed at Dunnottar Castle. My favourites are Mary Queen of Scots and the animated Disney film Brave (the palace at Dunnottar Castle was the inspiration for the palace in Brave. When I was walking around the palace, all I could imagine was a bear running around the corridors and the big feasts they had in the dining room). 

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Can you go inside Dunnottar Castle

Kind of. 

The castle grounds are quite spread out. There are lots of separate “buildings” to walk around. Most of the buildings are just ruins. It’s not like Edinburgh or Stirling Castles which are still standing. There is still a lot to see though. You can clearly see where the buildings were – there are still foundations and parts of the walls. There are signs up everywhere telling you what each room was used for.  

There’s one section of the castle that’s still standing and you can go inside: the palace. This is the main building in the castle grounds – it’s where the drawing room and bedrooms were. It’s still very much in disrepair and most of the rooms are empty and very wonky. They have reconstructed one of the rooms – the drawing room – to its original condition and it’s filled with furniture. My favourite fact about Dunnottar Castle is that the palace from the film Brave was based on this part of the castle. 

Have a look at the reconstruction photos on the Dunnottar Castle website before you go. It shows what the castle looks like today, and overlays it with what it originally looked like when it was still standing. Although there are helpful signs telling you what each building is, it’s a bit hard to imagine what everything looked like because it’s so spread out and most of it’s in ruins. I wish I’d seen these photos before I went, which would make it a lot easier to understand the layout of the castle. The Dunnottar Castle website also has a map of the castle layout.   

Can you do a tour?

There are no official tours around the castle grounds – you just walk around yourself. There are lots of helpful signs, and staff walking around who are really informative and will share fun facts about the castle. There’s also a free mobile app you can download, or you can buy a guide book there for £5.

You can book a tour which goes from Aberdeen. It’s a day trip and also goes to Braemar and Cairngorm National Park – two places that are also on my Aberdeenshire bucket list so it’s a good way to see them all in one day.

Even though Dunnottar Castle isn’t as dramatic as some of the photos online, it’s still worth visiting (just manage your expectations so you’re not disappointed that it won’t look like that Pinterest photo)

When is it open

The castle grounds are open 9.30 to 5.30 (last entry 4.30) during Summer (1 April to 30 September). 

There are restricted hours over Winter. The hours change depending on the date, so check the Dunnottar Castle website before you go. 

During lockdown the castle grounds were closed, but they’re open again now. 

If you don’t want to visit the actual castle grounds, you can still walk around the cliffs which have beautiful views overlooking the castle. The walks around the cliffs can be accessed 24/7. 

How much does it cost

If you want to go into the castle grounds, you have to pay. It’s very reasonably priced: Adult £8; Child (age 5 – 15) £4; Concession £7; Adult Season Pass (1 year) £20; Child Season Pass (1 year) £10. 

It’s free if you just want to walk around the cliffs at the top of the castle, but I recommend going into the actual castle grounds too. 

How to book tickets

You can buy tickets either at the castle (card payment only) or online

You can also book a tour which goes from Aberdeen here.

Access

There are a lot of stairs to walk down to the castle – 219! You don’t have to be super fit. It’s not hard and most people with reasonable fitness will be fine. Just take it slow if you’re not very fit. Unfortunately, there is no wheelchair access. 

Walks 

There are lots of short walks around the cliffs where you can take photos. It’s where most of the photos you see of Dunnottar Castle will be taken from. Have a look at the best places for taking photos (near the top of this post) for some suggestions. 

If you fancy a longer walk, can you walk from Dunnottar Castle to the nearby town Stonehaven along the cliff top walk. The track follows the cliffs along the coast. It’s around 40 minutes each way. I hadn’t heard of this walk before I went to Dunnottar Castle, but if I was going again now I would definitely do this walk. I walked along the cliff top walk for a few minutes to get some photos, and the views were incredible. There is a map of the walk and detailed directions on the Dunnottar Castle website.

Is there a cafe at Dunnottar Castle 

There is a food truck in the carpark which sells local Scottish food (including haggis).  

There is no café or shop in the castle grounds themselves, but there are toilets.  

WHERE TO STAY

The best place to stay will depend on what you plan to see – do you want a convenient base in Aberdeen and do day trips from there, do you want to spend a relaxing weekend at a luxury lodge in the countryside, or do you have to coordinate your accomodation with a road trip around Scotland?

I recommend using Airbnb, booking.com or Mr & Mrs Smith to book your accommodation. They’re the websites I always use. Mr & Mrs Smith has a small curated collection of the best luxury boutique hotels in the world. There’s none in Aberdeenshire (they have very high standards so not many places make it!), but if you’re planning to visit my other favourite places in Scotland you should check it out.

Best luxury boutique hotels in Aberdeenshire?

Douneside HouseBest for luxury countryside and spa
Banchory LodgeBest for luxury countryside and historic building
Lys-Na-GreyneBest for countryside B&B with beautiful interiors
Chester Hotel Best for the convenience of being in Aberdeen

Can you stay at Dunnottar Castle? You can’t stay in Dunnottar Castle (it’s mostly ruins) and there is no accommodation on site. 

Should you stay in Aberdeen? I don’t recommend Aberdeen as a destination, but it’s a convenient place to stay. It’s only a 25 minute drive to Dunnottar Castle, and there are good public transport options from Aberdeen. Aberdeen is also very convenient if you’re visiting Craigievar Castle (which I also recommend – but you can’t get there by public transport so you’ll need a rental car). Check out the Chester Hotel in Aberdeen which has beautiful interiors.

Best hotels near Dunnottar Castle? There are some beautiful luxury boutique hotels in Aberdeenshire, which are reasonably close to Dunnottar Castle – Douneside House (1 hour), Banchory Lodge (30 minutes), Lys-Na-Greyne (45 minutes). These hotels are always on every list for the best hotels in Aberdeenshire.

Should you stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow? Edinburgh and Glasgow are quite far away from Dunnottar Castle (about two and a half hours each way) so I wouldn’t recommend staying there. It would be a long day trip. 

(If you’re looking for a luxury boutique hotel in Edinburgh – try Kimpton Edinburgh, House of Gods, and Dunstane House. If you’re looking for somewhere in Glasgow, try Kimpton Glasgow).

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WHAT ELSE TO DO NEARBY

My favourite places nearby

Combine your visit to Dunnottar Castle with some of my other favourite things to do near Aberdeenshire

  • Craigievar Castle: A pink castle that inspired Walt Disney’s castle. It’s about 50 minutes away. Read my ultimate guide to Craigievar Castle.
  • Cairngorms National Park: Base yourself in Aviemore and visit the Cairngorm reindeer herd, walk around one of the most beautiful lakes in Scotland, and visit the Highland Wildlife Park. It’s about two hours and fifteen minutes away. 
  • Speyside: Stay in the charming small town Dufftown and join a whisky distillery tour (they go from Aberdeen, Inverness or Edinburgh). It’s around an hour and twenty minutes away. 
  • Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and Dunkeld: Despite being on the A9 main tourist trail, these small towns retain their charm and traditional Scottish architecture. There are lots of beautiful walks and whisky distilleries. It’s around two hours away. 
  • Arbroath: We stayed here before visiting Dunnottar Castle. It’s a small fishing town with charming buildings set around a harbour. There will be nae a tourist in sight. I’d never heard of it but loved it and would go back. It’s around 50 minutes away. 
  • Lossiemouth: We stayed here after visiting Dunnottar Castle. It’s a small seaside town up north. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go here, but if you’re in the area it’s a lovely place to spend a night. It’s around one hour forty minutes away. 
  • Ballater, Braemar and Balmoral Castle: I was supposed to go here for Christmas, but sadly it was cancelled due to lockdown. Imagine a small village in the Highlands with lovely walks. Oh, and the Queen’s Scottish castle. It’s around one hour twenty minutes away. You can do a day tour from Aberdeen.
  • Crovie: Another trip I sadly couldn’t do because of lockdown. A single row of fisherman’s houses on the edge of the sea, with a giant cliff pressed up behind them. It’s around one hour twenty minutes away. 
  • St Andrews: If you’re driving from Edinburgh or Glasgow, make sure you stop here. It’s my second favourite town in Scotland (Edinburgh is my favourite). It feels like a mini-Edinburgh. It’s about one hour twenty minutes away. You can also do a day trip from Edinburgh.

Even though Aberdeen is only a 25 minute drive from Dunnottar Castle, I would skip it. The buildings in Aberdeen are grey and ugly. It feels very different to the rest of Scotland, which has cobbled streets and beautiful stone buildings.

Aberdeen is not worth visiting, especially when there are so many other beautiful places near Aberdeenshire. Read my Ultimate Guide to Aberdeenshire to find out the places you should visit (and should skip) and all my top tips.

If you want to see these other places, you’ll need a car to get around (unless you do a tour). Most of them are not easily accessible by public transport. If you’re overwhelmed with the best rental car company to use in Scotland, I always use rentalcars.com. You just put in your dates and it compares every option from every rental car company. You can check the reviews to make sure it’s a reputable company.

Check out this helpful guide if you need help Planning A Trip to Scotland.

The best castles in Scotland 

These are my other favourite castles in Scotland that you shouldn’t miss. 

  1. Edinburgh Castle:  Edinburgh Castle is busy and touristy, but I still love it. It’s in a beautiful location – on the main street in one of the most beautiful fairytale cities in the world, surrounded by cobbled streets and medieval buildings. You can buy a ticket online in advance and skip the lines.
  2. Stirling Castle: I love Stirling Castle because so much of it is still standing, whereas many castles in Scotland are just ruins. You can walk through all the rooms and really feel the history (Mary Queen of Scots lived here) and what it would have been like living there. You can easily do a day trip to Stirling Castle from Edinburgh.  
  3. Eilean Donan Castle: I really want to hate this castle. It is very touristy. But the location is incredibly beautiful. There’s a cobbled bridge leading to a tiny island with a castle on it, in the middle of a lake. The lake is often covered in haar (sea fog) and you can see the castle peeking out through the mist. I wouldn’t recommend doing a day trip from Edinburgh (it’s quite far). Instead, weave it into your Scotland road trip itinerary.
Scotland-Aberdeenshire-Travel-Guide

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT DUNNOTTAR CASTLE 

Dunnottar Castle is in my top four castles in Scotland – perhaps even top two if I was forced to choose. If it was anywhere else, it wouldn’t even make my top 10 list. But the location of Dunnottar Castle is incredible. You look out from the cliffs and see a small piece of land which looks like it has risen from the sea, with pointy steep cliffs surrounding it, and the ruins of a castle on top.

If you’re wondering if it’s worth venturing off the main Glen Coe-Skye-Loch Ness tourist trail to see Dunnottar Castle: it definitely is. You won’t see any other castles in Scotland that are as dramatic as Dunnottar.  

Read my Ultimate Guide to Aberdeenshire and Ultimate Guide to Scotland to find other things to add to your Scotland bucket list.

If you have any questions about Dunnottar Castle I’d love to help, so send me a message on Instagram or Facebook or ask below. 

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4 Comments

  1. Caroline @ PackTheSuitcases
    January 10, 2022 / 5:31 am

    You’ve covered so much info in this post; really useful. It’s been years since I’ve been up to Aberdeenshire so I need to get back and will have to see this castle 🙂

    • January 10, 2022 / 11:54 am

      Aberdeenshire is such a beautiful and underrated area of Scotland! Definitely go see this castle and also the pink castle Craigievar too!

  2. January 12, 2022 / 3:10 pm

    I actually hadn’t heard of this castle! I guess I’m just the typical tourist who just goes up the west coast! (Face palm.) I definitely want to get to the east coast and check it out. Those cliffs are stunning!

    • January 18, 2022 / 3:00 pm

      Haha we’ve all been there! Yes it’s so beautiful and def worth visiting the East Coast.

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