The 10 best sites for a royal-themed visit to Scotland

Balmoral Castle has been a Royal residence since 1852 - VisitScotland / North East 250 / Damian Shields

Members of the public will be granted access the previously unseen interior of Balmoral Castle for the first time this summer, in line with the King’s wish to make royal residences more accessible to the public. Tours of the castle will operate as part of a trial period, and will take in several rooms used by the King and Queen.

Scotland has a complex relationship with the Royal family, and yet the fact remains that Queen Victoria was responsible for much of the global conception of “Scottishness” – an idea which was refined by the late Queen, and is now embraced by today’s kilt-sporting monarch.

It’s not just the famous castle that attracts visitors from around the global though. A Royal-themed visit to Scotland offers a beguiling adventure alive with history, epic scenery and the romantic whiff of Royal intrigue. The 10 spots below all offer excellent opportunities to do as the Royal family do (or did), and to absorb Scotland at its most regally magnificent.

Balmoral Castle

The must-visit attraction in any royal-themed visit. It’s easy to see what so bewitched Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they descended on the tree-shrouded hills in search of an idyllic Highland estate, adding the royal sobriquet to Deeside. Savouring the majesty of the Balmoral Estate is like strolling through Hollywood Scotland, while also providing an intimate window into Queen Victoria’s life and those of more recent Royals. Currently, the interior of the vast castle largely remains out of bounds to members of the public, with tours limited to just the ballroom, the grounds and the gardens; this summer’s trial will determine whether visitors will be permitted to venture further in the future.

Where to stay: The next best thing to kipping at Balmoral is Braemar’s Fife Arms, one of Scotland’s most exclusive and breathtakingly over-the-top retreats. Sketches by Queen Victoria adorn the walls. Doubles from £757.

The Fife Arms is one of Scotland’s most exclusive and breathtakingly over-the-top retreats
The Fife Arms is one of Scotland’s most exclusive and breathtakingly over-the-top retreats - Sim Canetty-Clarke


No Scottish village has been embraced by the Royal family quite like Balmoral’s neighbour Ballater, and this trim bolthole has embraced their regular guests in return, with many businesses proudly displaying Royal Warrants. When the funeral cortege passed through last year, 1,400 residents paid their respects. Don’t miss the Victorian Station complete with a vintage carriage housing a waxwork of Queen Victoria arriving at Balmoral’s railhead. September’s Braemar Gathering Highland Games is a royal favourite.

Where to stay: The Balmoral Arms reeks of royalty with themed names for bedrooms and the restaurant. Ask about the – discreetly discussed – royal loo. Doubles from £185.

The station in Ballater village centre
The station in Ballater village centre - Dennis Barnes

The Deeside Way

The Deeside Way follows the old royal rail route from Ballater east to Aberdeen, 41 miles – and a swathe of shortbread tin-pretty scenery – away. If you don’t have time to complete it, just tackle a scenic stretch or two around Banchory. A shorter adventure is the scramble to the spectacular pothole at Burn o’Vat. Eke through the rock into a geological wonder forged by glaciation, or enjoy the eight-mile circular hike around another royal favourite – Loch Muick.

Where to stay: The walker-friendly Banchory Lodge has doubles from £113.

Royal Perth

Scotland’s unofficial ancient capital is draped in royal history. For centuries, Scottish monarchs were crowned on the mysterious Stone Of Destiny at Scone Palace, where Victoria once stayed. Edward I stole it in 1296 and, though it temporarily returned to Westminster Abbey for King Charles III’s Coronation, it is now back home in Scotland. Don’t miss the hulking statue of Prince Albert in North Inch Park.

Where to stay: It has to be the Royal George Hotel, named after Queen Victoria’s 1848 stay. A Royal Warrant is proudly displayed by two lamp stands fashioned from the bedposts of Victoria’s bedroom. Doubles from £150.

Scone Palace is at the heart of Perth's connection to the monarchy
Scone Palace is at the heart of Perth's connection to the monarchy - Chris Watt

Glamis Castle

One of the UK’s most historic castles, alive with tales of the Queen Mother at her ancestral and childhood home. Princess Margaret was born here, the first Royal born in Scotland since Charles I, and many Royals have enjoyed Glamis’ legendary hospitality. Allow a full day for the castle and its grand gardens, and be sure to lunch in the old Victorian kitchens.

Where to stay: Stay with your family in royal style at Glamis House in the grounds. You can even shoot your own pheasants and partridges for dinner, if that’s your sort of thing.

St Andrews

As if the student-dappled historic streets of fair St Andrews were not enough, this beachfront town is also where the Prince and Princess of Wales met and fell in love after she switched at the last minute from the University of Edinburgh. Visit the bars they frequented then follow their footsteps to West Sands, made famous by that Chariots of Fire scene. St Andrews is, of course, the Home of Golf, with various Royals made Captain of the Royal & Ancient.

Where to stay: The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa is the place. Peer over the legendary Old Course, then wander across it to West Sands. Doubles from £420.

St Andrews: where William and Kate met and fell in love
St Andrews: where William and Kate met and fell in love - getty


Dunfermline was crowned Scotland’s newest city as part of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Rich layers of royal history run through the cobbled streets of this mini-Edinburgh: Scotland’s monarchs once resided in the grand palace where the ill-fated Charles I was born, and Scotland’s only Royal saint – Margaret – once held sway. Robert the Bruce is buried in an abbey that rivals Durham, and though the Stuarts shipped their entire court to London in 1603, a rich legacy lives on.

Where to stay: Forrester Park Resort, in Cairneyhill, four miles west of Dunfermline, is set among 350 acres of parkland and has a gold course. Doubles from £120.


The Royal family spends more time in Edinburgh than anywhere else in the country, bar Balmoral. A Thanksgiving Service was held at St Giles’ Cathedral to mark the Coronation, a striking edifice that was also part of the Queen’s final journey to London from Balmoral. The Honours of Scotland (Britain’s original Crown Jewels) – which once evaded Cromwell and were presented to Charles during the Coronation – are displayed at Edinburgh Castle. Today’s royal residence is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, open as an intoxicating window into royal life.

Where to stay: The Balmoral is named after the Highland castle, with a similar grandeur. Think plush public spaces and palatial bedrooms. Doubles from £313 – read our review here. Plan the perfect trip to Edinburgh with our guide.

The Royal residence in Edinburgh: the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Royal residence in Edinburgh: the Palace of Holyroodhouse - Getty

Old Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia – Trip Advisor’s top-rated UK attraction – was built in Scotland in 1954 and, fittingly, is now moored in the Firth of Forth. Catch the tram down and nosy around five decks: visit the State Apartments, survey the engines, peek in the Royal bedrooms, and savour afternoon tea on the Royal Deck Tearoom.

Where to stay: Fingal is a luxury ship hotel moored nearby, whose restaurant serves up a treat to match Britannia’s glory days. Doubles from £300.

‘New Britannia’

The Hebridean Princess is the stately old small cruise ship that the Queen chartered twice to sail around her beloved Hebrides in lieu of Britannia. She only sleeps 48 guests, and Her Majesty’s portrait hangs above reception (if you’re lucky, the crew may speak warmly of their personal Royal encounters). Sailing the Hebrides aboard this luxurious dame is the closest mere mortals will ever get to cruising with the Royal family – and, of course, they stock Laphroaig, King Charles’ favourite dram.

Where to stay: The Hebridean Princess offers various cruises, with a seven-night Hidden Isles trip in May from £5,880 per person, all-inclusive.

Plan the perfect two-week holiday in Scotland with our expert guide.

This story was first published in July 2023 and has been revised and updated.