Our picks: 12 walks in Aberdeenshire

Taking in a huge swathe of Northeast Scotland, Aberdeenshire has remarkable variety. There’s the Granite City itself, set on a dramatic coastline of towering cliffs and perfect sandy beaches. Inland is a rural hinterland of rich farmland, dotted with castles and iconic smaller hills, rising in stature to the west into the high mountains of the Cairngorms National Park. Local residents know that it’s a real paradise for walking, but there are many secrets to discover for those from further afield. When you’ve finished your hike you’ll have built up an appetite to enjoy the fabulous local produce and world-famous seafood, and there’s an enviable array of accommodation options to rest your weary legs at the end of the day.

In this post, sponsored by VisitAberdeenshire, we pick out 12 of our favourite walks that really showcase the breadth of opportunities to get out and explore on foot.

Dunnottar Castle, from Stonehaven

Distance: 5km
Time: 1½ – 2 hours

Aberdeenshire is justly famed for its castles. Dunnottar Castle has one of the most spectacular locations, perched on a gigantic rocky outcrop almost detached from the mainland. It is the highlight of this short, family-friendly coastal circuit which extends southwards from the harbour at Stonehaven, a town which is itself well worth exploring. Don’t miss the chance to go for a swim afterwards at the Olympic-sized outdoor heated seawater pool.

Lochnagar, near Ballater

Distance: 19km
Time: 6 – 7 hours

Aberdeenshire shares Britain’s second highest mountain, Ben Macdui, with neighbouring Moray, but it is Lochnagar, on the Balmoral Estate in Deeside, that was celebrated in verse by Lord Byron. The ‘steep frowning glory’ of its great corrie still inspires awe in those making the ascent. For anyone lacking the hillwalking experience or would prefer something more gentle, the 3 – 4 hour circular walk around Loch Muick at its base makes a great alternative.

St Cyrus beach and cliff, St Cyrus

Distance: 5km
Time: 1 – 1½ hours

The wonderful St Cyrus National Nature Reserve is one of the most ecologically diverse in Britain, renowned for its grasslands, rare flowers, butterflies and moths. This straighforward walk heads out along the wonderful sandy beach before climbing the cliffs for spectacular views. The return is along the base of the cliffs, passing the remains of old salmon bothies used by generations of fishermen.

The Burn O’ Vat, Muir of Dinnet

Distance: 6.5km
Time: 1½ – 2 hours

The Vat is a real hidden wonder of Aberdeenshire, a 13 metre deep bowl carved out of the rock by glacial meltwaters 14,000 years ago. Today you enter the Vat on stepping stones where the burn exits through a narrow gap. After visiting the mighty Vat, this moderate circular walk climbs through pleasant pinewoods before crossing more open countryside to make a grand circuit through the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

Huntly Castle and the River Deveron, Huntly

Distance: 4.5 km
Time: 1 hour

Known as Milton of Strathbogie until the early 16th century when the Earl of Huntly was granted a charter to change the name of his castle and surrounding lands, the name Huntly gradually came to refer to the settlement along the River Bogie. Following the building of the planned town in 1796 by the then Duke of Gordon, Huntly became known by its current name. This rural Aberdeenshire town is a great place to explore, with an attractive central square, fine clocktower and quality cafes. This easy circular walk visits the town’s showplace, its eponymous castle, renowned for its heraldic sculpture and inscribed stone friezes. The earliest castle here gave refuge to Robert the Bruce in the 14th century. The walk then continues beside the rushing waters of the River Deveron before returning to the town centre through attractive woodland.

Morrone Birkwood, near Braemar

Time: 4.5km
Distance: 1½ – 2 hours

Morrone birkwood (‘birk’ is the Scots word for birch) clothes the flanks of the hill of the same name, rising south of Braemar in upper Deeside. It is an important place for nature, said to be one of the finest examples of ‘downy’ birchwood in the UK, and has vast areas of juniper. This magical circular walk explores the nature reserve with lots of spots to relax and enjoy the wonderful views towards the giants of the Cairngorms.

Old Aberdeen and beach circuit, Aberdeen

Distance: 8km
Time: 3 hours

This easy circular walk in the Granite City is a real gem, including a picturesque beach, tranquil riverside and woodland, as well as a fascinating history. Explore Old Aberdeen with its cobbled streets, ancient grounds of King’s College and impressive St Machar’s Cathedral. Taking half a day, this walk leaves plenty of time to discover Aberdeen’s captivating museums and art gallery, or to refuel in the many independent coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

The Mither Tap, Bennachie

Distance: 6km
Time: 2 – 2½hours

The iconic Bennachie rises from the heart of Aberdeenshire, its granite tors and distinctive outline of the Mither Tap ensure it is instantly recognisable from miles around. Although not the highest summit on Bennachie, the Mither Tap will captivate you with its unique history, surrounded by the remains of a ancient hill fort. This short but steep circular route from the Bennachie Visitor Centre climbs though the woods and returns across the open moors.

Scolty Hill, Banchory

Distance: 3.25km
Time: 1½ hours

The monument on Scolty Hill was built to commemorate General William Burnett who fought with Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars; today it is a much loved landmark in Banchory and the middle reaches of Deeside. This fantastic short walk ends with a steep climb to the summit of the hill, where you can ascend the monument’s spiral staircase to enjoy stunning vistas of the surrounding countryside and beyond.

Five Farms and Troup Head, from Crovie

Distance: 9.5km
Time: 3- 3½ hours

This superb circular walk takes in two of Aberdeenshire’s beloved locations – the picturesque former fishing village of Crovie, and the high cliffs of the Troup Head Nature Reserve, home to the largest colony of gannets on Scotland’s mainland. The village has been settled since 1297, but it was only after the Highland Clearances that its population increased to around 300 people as families moved from the land to seek a living from the sea. In 1953 a great storm destroyed many of the fisherfolk’s homes and led many to leave. The demolition of the village was considered before a successful campaign led to its preservation, thankfully saving the quiet charm of this unique place for us to enjoy today.

The Tap o’ Noth, Rhynie

Distance: 5km
Time: 2 – 2½ hours

The prominent cone of the Tap o’ Noth rises near Rhynie in the Cabrach, one of the most isolated corners of Aberdeenshire. The short ascent to its summit would be more than worth it just for the 360 degree views, even if it were not crowned by the extensive remains of the second highest hillfort in Scotland. The fort encloses a huge area and is somewhere between 1,000 to 3,000 years old. The perfect place to sit for a while drinking in the wide views and vast skies and thinking about the folk who called this place home all those years ago.

Bullers of Buchan to Boddam, near Peterhead

Distance: 5km
Time: 2½ – 3 hours

This moderate linear coastal walk takes in some of Aberdeenshire’s finest coastline as it heads along the clifftops with stacks, arches and birdlife galore. The start and finish are served by bus, and it is possible to extend it to a longer walk by starting at Cruden Bay.

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You should always carry a backup means of navigation and not rely on a single phone, app or map. Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is every walker's responsibility to check it and to navigate safely.