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Scotland | Exploring the NE 250 Route – A 5 Day Itinerary

So, you have no doubt heard of the NC500 (North Coast 500) tourist route in the north of Scotland, and now to give you another reason to travel around Scotland, there is the NE250 (North East 250) tourist route which is located in the north-east of Scotland

and is a 250 mile circular tourist route that heads through Royal Deeside, the Cairngorms, Speyside and along the coasts of the Moray Firth and Aberdeenshire.

This region can often be overlooked to the tourist visiting Scotland because it seems out of the way of the popular destinations like Edinburgh and Isle of Skye but actually Aberdeenshire has the most castles per acre than the rest of the UK and therefore is an amazing area to travel around, as well as special mention to the Royal Family’s Scottish home, Balmoral Castle in Royal Deeside. Although it is not just the abundance of castles that will make you want to do this road trip, but also this region is home to excellent whisky distilleries in Speyside, pretty coastal villages on the Moray Firth, excellent free museums in Aberdeen and remarkable mountain passes and diverse landscapes in the Cairngorms National Park.

The tourist route is only so much so as guide to help you traverse the area, the route can be completed in either on a clock-wise route or anti-clockwise direction and being around 250 miles you could complete in 1 day, but that wouldn’t give you enough time to stop along the way. We suggest a minimum of 5 days to explore at a good pace, especially if you plan to visit some castles. Really you could spend two weeks in this region if you go at a relaxing pace, there is so much to see and do with amazing landscapes and museums and castles…

This is our clockwise itinerary starting in Royal Deeside, travelling through the Cairngorms and Speyside before reaching the coast and travelling along and down the east coast stopping at Aberdeen and finishing at Stonehaven.

To reach the Cairngorms National Park from Glasgow it will take around 3 hours travelling north-east, and the same time north from Edinburgh.


The Cairngorms National Park is the largest National Park in the UK, and here amongst Royal Deeside you will be surrounded by many stunning mountains and landscapes. Hiking these mountains should be on your list, we climbed Lochnagar and the views and vistas were out of this world

> Read more about Lochnagar here <


The stunning region of Royal Deeside incorporates Braemar, Ballater and Balmoral. Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home to the British Royal family since the days of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, each year the Queen and Royal family visit here for a few months from August; at such time the castle is closed to visitors but well worth the visit when they are not in residence

> Read more about Balmoral Castle here <

For your first night’s stay we highly recommend getting close to nature and go Glamping at Howe of Torbeg, which is located near the village of Ballater. Relax at your pod with marshmallows at the firepit after your big climb

> Read more about Howe of Torbeg here <

From Howe of Torbeg to Speyside is around 1 hour and 42 miles


Start the morning by choosing a designated driver as today you will be heading to Speyside, which is the heart of Whisky country, you have your pick of fantastic world famous distilleries to choose from, which include Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Glenlivet, Maccallan and Aberlour. In peak season you may need to book distillery tours in advance, and also for those designated drivers, during the tour you can ask for a takeaway dram to have after the driving is done. If you don’t fancy a tour, then pop into the distillery shop for a taster

From Speyside to Elgin is around 25 minutes and 14 miles


Not actually part of the NE250 but only a 20 minute detour is Elgin which has one of Scotland’s most grand and stunning cathedrals. The 13th century Elgin Cathedral is now a ruin but still mega impressive. View from the outside the gates or entry is £9 for adults/ £5.40 for children, or buy as part of the Historic Scotland membership passes

We have now reached the part of the land where we want to start heading east along the Moray Firth on the North Sea.

From Elgin to Bow Fiddle Rock is around 35 minutes and 20 miles


Bow Fiddle Rock is a rock formation out to sea and looks incredible- we didn’t actually make it here but will visit one day

From Bow Fiddle Rock to Cullen is around 7 minutes and 2.5 miles


Famous for its yummy Cullen Skink soup which is thick Scottish soup make of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. But try this dish anywhere on your travels through Scotland

From Cullen to Portsoy is around 9 minutes and 5.5 miles


Portsoy is a gorgeous coastal village, known for its marble (used in the Palace of Versailles) and its award winning ice-cream and its pretty harbour

From Portsoy to Banff is around 12 minutes and 8 miles


Two neighbouring coastal towns with architecturally rich buildings, you will drive through these towns on your way. Visit Duff House for a rather Downton feel

From Banff to Gardenstown is around 20 minutes and 9.5 miles


Gardenstown is one of many pretty coastal villages, Gardenstown stands out as a favourite because of the rows of fisherman’s cottages facing out to sea

From Gardenstown to Crovie is around 5 minutes and 1.5 miles


Probably the most famous coastal village, is Crovie. There is no access to the village by car, not even for the locals who park at the start of the village and walk- this is because there is no room for cars! As you approach Crovie you will see signs for the carpark, go here, don’t go further or you will get stuck- anyway the best views are in fact from the viewpoint at the car park which is situated high on the cliff edge and you peer down on Crovie and its cute houses

From Crovie to Pennan is around 9 minutes and 4 miles


Another cute coastal village is Pennan, here you can drive down, but the roads are narrow, so we stopped high on the cliff and peered down at the cuteness of Pennan

From Pennan to Peterhead is around 40 minutes and 25 miles


‘Pee’er-heed’ to locals is a large town on the easternmost point of mainland Scotland and is a busy fishing port as well famous for the Peterhead Prison Museum which was a functioning prison until 2013

From Peterhead to Slains Castle is around 15 minutes and 7.5 miles


Near to Peterhead you will find Slains Castle, now in ruins this 16th century castle is said to have inspired Bram Stoker with the inspiration for Count Dracula’s castle

From Slains Castle to Newburgh is around 22 minutes and 11.5 miles


Like many areas in Scotland there is an abundance of wildlife, seabirds, dolphins and seals. Look out for seals at Aberdeen beach and Torry Battery, but come to Newburgh and Forvie Nature Reserve to get up close to seal colonies. At Newburgh beach you will spot hundreds of seals in the Ythan River and on its sandy banks

From Newburgh to Aberdeen is around 23 minutes and 13.5 miles


Known as ‘The Granite City’ Aberdeen’s buildings incorporate locally quarried grey granite, which can be many shades of grey in the changes of weather including sparkling like silver in the sunshine, however it is not all grey, there is lots to do in Aberdeen and we suggest basing yourself here for at least a night or two. We stayed at The Copthorne Hotel a few streets back from the main area of Union Street. In Aberdeen visit one of the many free museums, eat ice-cream at the famous Mackie’s store, get a drink in at BrewDog, a famous brewery and pub chain which originates from Ellon, Aberdeen, you can visit and tour the brewery or pop into one of the two bars in the city. The staff are amazing and will help you chose the beer best suited to you, the best option is to try the beer flight, where you get to try out 4 of the beers, the food is also awesome! Also visit Old Aberdeen, which is located nearby, is full of interesting buildings and museums, and the Brig o’ Balgownie which dates back to 1320! With King’s Collage dates back to 1495

From Aberdeen to Footdee is around 9 minutes and 2 miles


Known locally by its Scots language name of Fittie this is an area of Aberdeen which is an old fishing village with cute granite cottages and townhouses and intriguing and eclectic mix driftwood shacks, sheds and summerhouses making the place so unique


Now we say to base yourself in Aberdeen as from there you can reach many castles in all directions, so step back in time to explore Scotland’s past by visiting castles such as Fyvie Castle and Gardens, Drum Castle, Crathes Castle, Castle Fraser and the most famous - as it is pink and said to have inspired Walt Disney for Cinderella’s castle, Craigievar Castle. There are many more dotted around, but we chose these castles to explore as we are members of the National Trust for Scotland and these are included in our membership

Options for cramming in as many castles as possible-

* One day you could visit Fyvie Castle which is north of Aberdeen, or you could visit here from Newburgh before reaching Aberdeen

* The others mentioned can be done together but bear in mind that if you do a guided tour (often the only way to visit inside the castles) then these could be over 1 hour in each castle plus drive time

* From Aberdeen to Drum Castle will take 30 minutes / 14 miles then from Drum Castle to Crathes Castle 14 minutes / 6 miles then onto Castle Fraser will take 30 minutes / 14 miles, from Castle Fraser to Craigievar Castle 25 minutes / 13.5 miles The journey time for all castles will be 1 hour 30 /48 miles one way

* If whisky isn’t your thing and you want to skip Speyside or at least some of the distilleries then you could visit Craigievar Castle after leaving Royal Deeside which is a 35 minute drive / 20 miles, then you would continue north past Speyside which the total journey time would be 1 hour 30 at 56 miles

From Aberdeen to Fyvie Castle is around 47 minutes and 26.5 miles

From Aberdeen to Drum Castle is around 33 minutes and 14 miles

From Aberdeen to Crathes Castle is around 37 minutes and 18miles

From Aberdeen to Craigievar Castle is around 52 minutes and 27 miles

From Aberdeen to Castle Fraser is around 40 minutes and 19 miles

> Read more on Aberdeen Castles here <