What to do in Stonehaven

Coastal walks, a dramatic castle and fine food make this the perfect Scottish seaside escape.

By Tamsin Wressell
Published 24 Sept 2019, 08:00 BST, Updated 13 Jan 2021, 10:31 GMT
Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven.
Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven.
Photograph by Getty Images

Just a 20-minute train ride from the Granite City, Stonehaven is a generous slice of coastal Aberdeenshire charm. Postcard-pretty, with a walled harbour, whitewashed houses and mouth-watering fish and chips, it’s an ideal base for travellers looking to explore the great outdoors. Beaches, coves and plenty of hiking trails are available to while away a long weekend. But Hogmanay is when the town really comes into its own — locals flood the streets come 31 December, swinging balls of fire over their heads in a local tradition of ‘purifying the soul’. And getting to this corner of northern Scotland is even easier on board the newly renovated Caledonian Sleeper, which runs nightly from London and arrives bright and early in Aberdeen at 7.39am.  

What to do: The views alone warrant a trip to dramatic Dunnottar Castle. Presiding over the North Sea on a rocky headland, the imposing fortress can trace its origins all the way to the third century. It’s accessible by car, but the 40-minute walk from Stonehaven Beach — along a winding clifftop path — is well worth lacing up your boots for. 

Where to drink: Drop by The Ship Inn on the harbour for a wee dram or one of the Scottish craft gins on offer. If you’re a serious gin aficionado, however, jump on a train to Aberdeen and check out Orchid & Porter’s Gin Micro Distillery, which has won numerous accolades as Scotland’s best cocktail bar.  

Where to stay: Opened in 2018, Dalriada Luxury Lodges’ clutch of five self-catering lodges sits high above the town, and offers chic self-catered stays in a supreme setting. With views out to Dunnottar Castle, it’s the perfect place to hole up after a day exploring the windswept coast. There’s the option to add bike hire and access to the nearby golf course, too.

Where to eat: Make a beeline for the award-winning Bay Fish & Chips. Right on the seafront, this is the place to go for a delicious, locally-caught fish supper. Opt for the battered scampi with a generous squeeze of lemon.

We like: Stonehaven’s most famous culinary export is perhaps the deep-fried Mars bar, but at Aunty Betty’s, you can get your sugar fix with a giant ice cream covered in pick-and-mix and mini marshmallows.

Don’t miss: Keep your eyes peeled around the harbour, where you’ll find maritime-themed sculptures made of scrap metal — including fishing boats and a lighthouse. Their creator was a mystery until this year, when the ‘Stonehaven Banksy’ was revealed to be local artist Jim Malcolm. 

Published in the October 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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