Edinburgh is great, but a few 1-night trips away from the capital are an easy way to explore Scotland without having to eat into your holiday allowance. From snow capped mountains to unexpected white beaches, our diverse little country squeezes a hefty offering into a remarkably small area, making travel in Scotland all the more appealing.
In this post, we’re packing our bags and investigating the roads between Edinburgh and Aberdeenshire, taking a little detour up the East of the country, through Perthshire, and into the Cairngorms before crossing over to the coast. This thorough Edinburgh to Aberdeen route planner packs in loads of free sightseeing spots, charming hidden gems, and pretty cabin accommodation.
Day 1 of our 2 day road trip in Scotland
Stop 1: Meikleour Beech Hedge
This wasn’t part of our original road trip plan, but it popped up as a place of interest on Google Maps just as we rounded the corner for it (and it seemed silly not to stop).
Standing proudly between the road from Perth to Blairgowrie, this enormous hedge was initially planted in 1745 and has now been officially recognised as the world’s tallest (and longest) hedge. A quick Google search also told me that it’s trimmed every 10 years.
If you’re wanting to stop for a photo, there’s a small parking bay on the left (just before the corner turns onto the stretch where the hedge lies). Park here, and from there, you can follow a thin path along its full length.
Stop 2: Linn of Dee (Braemar)
The Linn of Dee is a popular waterfall and gorge just 6 miles West of Braemar. The extraordinary picnic spot is famous for its cascading waters that rush from the river and force their way through the deep rocks, generating a thundering natural spectacle.
We spent a good bit of time scrambling up and down the rocks on both sides of the bridge, and even took a quick ankle paddle in the shallows after the falls. Wild swimming is not recommended here (even on peaceful days) as there have been numerous drownings and the waters contain hidden undercurrents.
Parking will cost you £3 (unless you are a NTS member, in which case it’s free). It’s worth noting, the machine only accepts coins.
Stop 3: Lunch at The Bothy, Braemar
The lady running front of house couldn’t have been friendlier, explaining that (although there are no listed vegan options on the main menu) they are happy for you to mix and match options to create your own. I opted for a roasted veg and homemade hummus toasted sandwich, with crisps and side salad.
For such an affluent area, The Bothy’s menu prices are really quite reasonable (our sandwiches came in at £7.50 each). We went on for seconds, each choosing a cake from their impressive baked goods offering (there were two vegan options here!).
Stop 4: Lock Muick
(You could swap this out for Scotland’s Pyramid/Balmoral Estate – listed below)
Speeding out of town, we missed out Braemar Castle, but you could easily swing into the parking bay here on the way out to Loch Muick. This route also takes you right through the grounds of Balmoral Estate (where you’ll find Scotland’s enormous pyramid hiding quietly in the woodlands – my Secret Scottish Pyramid blog post provides you with full details about how to reach it).
We encountered a Google error whilst trying to get out to Loch Muick, Google Maps is determined to take you down the shortest route, which includes a private (gated) road. We ended up having to turn around and follow the longer route provided by iPhone maps.
At just over 2 miles long, you could easily spend a full/half day just exploring the forks in the paths and looking out for the local wildlife here (red squirrels and deer are common). With limited time on our hands, we followed the trail down to the bridge on the Eastern banks, over to one of the boathouses to take in the views.
Parking here is £2 and their system allows you to pay via PayPal
Final stop: Tahuna Bothies
We’d initially planned in extra stops at the Burn O Vat AND dinner in Aberdeen before heading to our accommodation. However, after a day of multiple stops, I was keen to get to our cabin and catch some time to relax before sunset.
Tahuna Bothies are located 20 minutes or so up the coast from Aberdeen, perched on a hill overlooking the coast at Newburgh. There’s a couple of places to eat here, including The View (just a stone’s throw away from the huts and serving up plenty of vegan options for both breakfast and dinner).
With only 3 cabins on the grounds, guests can enjoy a peaceful evening staring out across the beach (floor to ceiling windows mean that you don’t miss out on cold nights). The cabins are big enough for 4 adults, with a large king-size bed fitted above the kitchen, and a handy double sofa bed on the main floor. The shower was powerful and hot, perfect for tending to weary legs!
Day 2 of our 2 day road trip in Scotland
Stop 1: Newburgh Seal Beach
Hold onto your knickers, this is about to get exciting. Another stop we hadn’t initially plotted into our road trip, but most definitely my favourite!
Tahuna Bothies provided us with a list of things to do in and around Newburgh, and Seal Beach was one of them. More Google searches unearthed that the beach (a pleasant walk from the cabins) was the regular home to a 400-strong seal colony!
We got up early, rambling down to the beach at 8am, in the hopes of getting the place to ourselves and catching a glimpse of a curious seal (or 2?). However, there wasn’t 2, there were hundreds! You’ll find a parking bay at the start of the beach walk and, from there, the route down to the seal colony is signposted well.
Please note: Don’t disturb them! We got these shots using a drone, making sure to use the zoom function so they couldn’t hear it.
Stop 2: Bullers of Buchan
An incredible viewpoint and walking route, the Bullers of Buchan is a collapsed 30-meter-deep sea cave that gains some of its water via an impressive eroded archway in the rock.
The cliffs are a popular nesting site for an abundance of seabirds, including gannets, shags and … wait for it … puffins!
Stop 3: Slains Castle
Just South of the Bullers, Slains Castle perches on the cliff edge, guarding the coastline and providing a backdrop for many of Bram Stoker’s novels.
Originally built in the 16th century, it was sold out of the family in 1913 (to the owner of the Ellerman Lines Shipping Company). Clearly not one for preservation, he removed the roof to avoid taxes and the fortress quickly fell into ruin.
Stop 4: Den Finella, The Lost Waterfall
After a quick stop in Stonehaven for a meal-deal lunch (I’m cheap and want to see lots of things), we continued South for our final planned stop: the lost waterfall at Den Finella.
As its name suggests, this is the hidden gem to end all hidden gems! Travellers going between St Cyrus and Johnsaven would never know that the tiny bridge they cross between the two towns is actually harbouring one of the most impressive waterfalls on the East of Scotland.
The scramble down to the bottom is not for the faint-hearted; visitors must semi-abseil down the tight path using knotted ropes installed by kindly helpers. Prepare to get muddy!
BONUS STOP: Seaton Cliffs, Arbroath
In a bid to avoid the nightmarish rush hour traffic across the Forth Road Bridge back to Edinburgh, we bolted in an extra stop at Arbroath Cliffs.
The well sign-posted coastal path has lots of well-trodden turn offs so that you can explore the rocks and capture alternative views. Time the tide right, and you can make it into one or two of the cliff’s magical little caves. We did not time it right.
More of the best road trips in Scotland …
The North Coast 500 is often hailed as the best Scotland road trip. My 4-day itinerary (including accommodation and day-by-day to do list) breaks down all the must-see stops on the famous route.