Ballater is a small town in Aberdeenshire in North East Scotland, about 25 miles west of Aberdeen. It grew up as resort town in the Victorian era. It’s on A93 the main road up the Dee Valley and is a good base for exploring Deeside and Cairngorms National Park. This pages also covers the area around Strathdon.
Getting here by public transport means first reaching Aberdeen, which has UK and European flights, trains from England, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow, and long distance coaches.
Stagecoach North Scotland Bus 201 runs from Aberdeen Union Square via Crathes Castle and Banchory to Ballater (2 hours) and continues via Crathie (for Balmoral) to Braemar. It runs hourly M-Sat and every two hours on Sunday.
Stagecoach Bus 218 runs from Aberdeen, five buses M-F as far as Alford, 80 mins. Schooldays only, a single Bus 219 continues from Alford to Strathdon, another hour.
By car, the quickest approach is along A93 west from Aberdeen. A slower scenic route is to follow A93 north from Perth up Glenshee to Braemar then east.
Attractions are scattered, you need a car or at least a bike.
- 1 Balmoral Castle, Balmoral Estates, Ballater AB35 5T (off A93 midway between Ballater and Braemar). April-July daily 10:00-17:00, occasional guided tours in winter.. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, bought this land and built a grandiloquent pile of a castle, the prototype of the "Scottish Baronial" style, all mock-turrets and stags heads looming over the stairways. Completed in 1856, it remains the Royal Family's summer holiday home. You can only visit one room within the castle, the ballroom, plus an exhibition in the stables, and the gardens. The queen is usually resident in Aug & Sept, so there is no access then. See website for dates of guided tours in winter. Adult £11.50.
- See Banchory for Crathes Castle & other nearby attractions.
- 2 Glenbuchat Castle, Strathdon AB36 8TN, ☏ . Ruins of a Z-plan historic castle built in 1590 for John Gordon of Cairnborrow to mark his wedding. The castle is fenced off limits for exploring, but it is still worth a visit.
- 3 Corgarff Castle, AB36 8YP. Apr to Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.00pm. Mid 16th century tower house castle with reconstructed 1750 redcoat barracks. £6.
- 4 Doune of Invernochty. 12th-century castle of which only earthworks survive.
- 5 Kildrummy Castle (on A97 near Alford). daily Apr-Sept 09:30-17:30. is an extensive 13th C ruin, perched over a ravine and with gardens. adult £6.
- Ski at 1 Lecht 2090, Strathdon AB36 8YP (on A939 between Ballater / Strathdon and Tomintoul), ☏ . "2090" means in feet, it's only 645 metres altitude at base, with the hills above rising to 775 m. So do the maths, it's a beginners' and family-oriented resort. 12 lifts including a "magic carpet" for wobbly novices. Half a dozen short runs on the shady side west of the road, one even shorter run on the sunny east slope. Mountain bike trails here in summer.
- You can also ski at Glenshee, see Aberdeenshire.
- Climb mountains: the signature ascent is 1 Lochnagar, a Munro of 1155 m (3789 ft)
- Ballater Highland Games are held in August at Monaltrie Park. The 2020 event was cancelled so the next are on Thurs 12 Aug 2021, tbc.
- 2 Lonach Highland Games, Hawthorn, Strathdon AB36 8UL (7 miles north of Ballater), ☏ . Founded in 1823, these are held on the fourth Saturday of August, though the next are on Sat 21 Aug 2021. Events include parades, tossing the caber and hammer, tug-of-war, piping and Highland dancing. Adult £10.
- The Farmer’s Market is held on the 4th Saturday of the month 10:00-14:00 at Church Green, Ballater.
- Ballater has a reasonable selection of shops including a Wilkies clothes shop, a Co-op supermarket and a bookshop.
- 1 Bike Station, Ballater. Bicycle sales and hire
- 2 Bellabeg Spar, Bellabeg, AB36 8UL. Grocers
- 1 Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Crathie AB35 5TB (by Balmoral). M-Sat from 10:00, Suns from 12:00, to 16:00 Nov-Mar and 17:00 or later April-Oct. Royal Lochnagar single malt whisky is distilled here. Standard tour £9.
- 2 Balmoral Bar, 1 Netherley Place. Serves food.
Places along the main street include Rocksalt & Snails, Clachan Grill, Shorty’s, India on the Green, and Lochnagar (Indian).
- There’s a caravan & camping site on Anderson Rd towards south edge of town, open April-Oct.
- 1 Ballater Hostel, Bridge Square. is central, open all year. from £22.
- Deeside Inn, 13-15 Victoria Rd, AB35 5RA, ☏ . 56 room hotel. B&B doubles from £85..
- B&Bs include Gordon Guest House at Station Square, Fairdene on School Lane, and Auld Kirk B&B on Braemar Rd.
- Further out: 2 Kildrummy Inn, Kildrummy Alford AB33 8QS. 4 room hotel with campsite. Two course dinner £28 Wed - Mon. from £80.
- Further still, but worth the journey and the splurge is 3 Douneside House, Tarland, Aboyne AB34 4UL, ☏ . Wonderful small hotel, 23 rooms with 9 in cottages. Excellent decor, welcome and cuisine. B&B double from £200.
- Aberdeen east and Glenshee west are the obvious routes
- The scenic A939 winds north over the hills to Tomintoul then down into the Spey Valley at Grantown.