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Traveling around Scotland with Ballater as Home base

Hi, everyone. My husband and I are traveling to Scotland, London and Paris for the first time June 2019 to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We fly in to EDI and will be staying there for 2 nights, then going to Ballater for 4-5 days. If we decide not to rent a car, what is the best way to travel to all the beautiful places in Scotland? Are they accessible by bus or train from Ballater? Thanks for your help.

Posted by
11392 posts

Take look at See what options there are from Ballater to the places you want to visit.

BTW, why did you select Ballater?

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, 4theloveofhummingbirds,

Ballater is a charming town, but if you don't have a car, there's not much to do there. The Deeside Railway has been shut down for decades, so the only way to get to Ballater from Edinburgh is the train to Aberdeen, and then the bus to Ballater. Stagecoach buses operate that route, and they run very frequently.

If you don't have a car, you'd have to rely on the bus or a taxi to get about. Buses run to Braemar, Crathie, and Balmoral. From Ballater you can take day trips along Royal Deeside, and up in to the Grampians via the Lecht Road, as well as south to Glenshee. There is also a nice hike around Loch Muick, which is south of Ballater. The Lochnagar circuit starts from near there. However, you would definitely need a car for any day trip that would take you off of the A93.

If you want to get anywhere from Ballater, you would pretty much have to go all the way back in to Aberdeen on the bus to transfer. There is a bus from Crathes which goes over the Slug Road to Stonehaven. You could catch a southbound bus from there. As far as I know, there is no bus service from Braemar through Glenshee to Blairgowrie. There may be a tour company which does minivan day trips out of Ballater or Braemar.

Without a car, you will certainly have a relaxed time in Ballater, but by all means, if you can, rent a car. You'll see so much more.

Congratulations on your upcoming 30th., by the way!

All the best,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you so much for your quick reply, Mike. We will highly consider renting a car. Is it an easy drive? I will also check on tours. Thank you also for the well-wishes on our anniversary.



Posted by
271 posts

I presume the reason you have chosen Ballater might be availability of timeshare at Hilton Grand Vacations at Craigendarroch?

Whatever the reason Ballater is a good choice in my opinion and not only because I live in the area and know it well :-)

Ballater is a good base to visit a number of places within a 1-2 hour car drive, then returning to the village at the end of the day. As with other areas of Scotland, Ballater is not well served by public transport because of the Beeching Cuts of the 1960's which affected railways. With an ever increasing number of people in the country owning cars since then demand for bus routes has gone down too.

More about Beeching here

June is a good month to visit because extended daylight hours will enable you to make the most of your time.

Some of the places you can visit for day trips are Culloden, Clava Cairns and Loch Ness, Glamis Castle, Pitlochry and Blair Atholl, The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and Highland Wildlife Park. Other places closer to Ballater would be Crathes Castle, Castle Fraser, Braemar Castle, Dunottar Castle, Drum Castle and more besides. You can also visit distilleries on Speyside with ease as well.

You just need to look at Google maps and find inspiration!

A word of warning though, our roads here in the Highlands are not straight, flat or wide and sometimes it can take much longer than you think to get from A to B. Also photo opportunities abound with attractive views around every bend in the road :-)

Information about the castle trail may be found here, but there are more websites to be found

The whisky trail is here

If you like walking then the following pages from the Walk Highlands website may be of interest

Just so that you know Ballater has two petrol (gas) stations and one of them (Riverside Garage) is 24 hours accessible.

The village website may also be of interest to you, but if I can help further then please send me a private message if you wish. I am always happy to help anyone who wants to spend time on Royal Deeside :-)

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi again, Cecille,

Edinburgh to Ballater is a relatively easy drive, as you'd be on main roads the entire time. You'd have two options coming out of Edinburgh, both starting with the Forth Road bridge.

Option 1: You would take the M90 to Perth, the A90 through Dundee to Aberdeen, then the A93 west to Ballater

Option 2: Take the M90 to Perth, then the A93 to Blairgowrie and through Glenshee to Braemar. From Braemar, the A93 turns east toward Ballater, and along Royal Deeside. It's a little tricky finding the A93 around Perth. The M90 splits, and you have to take the section that goes toward Dundee. You would take the first exit after you cross the long bridge over the River Tay. The A93 is well signposted from there. If you miss the turnoff for Dundee, and end up on the A9, you can take the A923 from Dunkeld to Blairgowrie.

Option 2 is much more scenic, especially through Glenshee, and much more direct. So unless you have a reason to go by way of Aberdeen, and deal with the roundabouts at the Bridge of Dee, and along Anderson Drive, you should go with option 2. Having said that, if the new Aberdeen bypass (A90) has opened up all the way to Stonehaven, then that would make the option 1 route a lot easier. If you do end up going that way, you should take some time to visit Dunnottar Castle, which is just south of Stonehaven. As another option, you could take the Slug Road (A957) from Stonehaven to Crathes, thereby avoiding most of the heavy traffic.

That walk around Loch Muick is very pleasant, although if you do the complete circuit, the east bank of the loch is more of a scramble in the initial part. Many people, especially bicyclists and parents pushing prams, turn around at Queen Victoria's house (Glas-allt Shiel) and go back the way they came. The walk (hike) is on the WalkHighlands website.

Once again, best wishes!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5678 posts

I stayed in Ballater several years ago and found it was a lovely base for exploring the area. You do need a car. There are likely buses, but that will hamper your ability to see what you want to see. And don't worry! You can drive a car on the left! :) The most obvious things to visit in the immediate area are the castles. Take a look at this info on VisitScotland. There is a great variety of castles in the area. There are some that are basically impressive ruins--Killdrummy--and others that are more like stately homes with ancient history--Cragievar--and others with a more military history--Corgarff.

You can also get up to Elgin easily from Ballater, or over to Balmoral. There are galleries that are interesting to visit. And look for the stone circles. And lastly, if you haven't seen Local Hero, you should and then you can visit Pennan. Of if you fall completely in love with the film check out this Guardian article.


Posted by
15 posts

Thank you, Mike, Laurel, sownack, and Pam. Great information here. Yes, you did presume correctly, sownack. We are owners with the HGVC and so we were able to book a 6-night stay in Ballater. We might do a 4-night stay instead because we want to explore Edinburgh for the first two days. Probably we'll take the train from Edinbrugh to Aberdeen on June 5th, and then rent a car in Aberdeen. Then we will take the train from Aberdeen to Glasgow after we return the rental car. We are staying in Glasgow overnight and flying to London on the 10th of June. Keep your thoughts/tips/advise coming. These are really a big help.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi again, 4theloveofhummingbirds,

There are no car hire agencies at the Aberdeen train station. Most of the biggies (Avis, Hertz, National/Alamo, Sixt, etc.) are out at the airport. However, Enterprise and Thrifty have locations not too far away. Enterprise is closest. You may possible be able to arrange being met at the train station. Enterprise is sometimes good about that, if they have a spare agent at the office.

Once you get your car, it is extremely easy to get to Ballater. From Union Street, turn left at Holburn Junction, then right on Great Western Road. That's your A93, and you can follow it all the way to Ballater. Be sure not to drive in the bus lanes on Union Street or Holburn Street. The cameras are unforgiving!

You'll be driving through Banchory. If you have a few minutes to spare, turn left at the traffic light in the center of town, and drive down to the Brig o' Feugh. There is a wonderful waterfall that flows under the bridge. There's a car park on the left just before the bridge, and you can walk over. That's also the way to go if you plan to visit Cairn o' Mount, which is just south of Strachan, on the way to Edzell.

In addition to the castles previously mentioned, Fyvie Castle and Haddo House are definitely worth a visit, and Slains Castle, with its connection to Bram Stoker, is a well situated ruin. The Bullers of Buchan are worth a visit if you're heading up the coast.

By all means, try to see Local Hero before you go. Even if you never make it to Pennan or Camusdarrach, it's one of the best Scottish based movies ever. After it was released in 1983, there was a considerable uptick in visitors to Scotland. It was the start of a series of movies filmed in Scotland (Ae Fond Kiss, Hallam Foe, My Name Is Joe, Rob Roy, Dear Frankie, Trainspotting, The Rocket Post, True North, Breaking the Waves, the updated Whisky Galore, Sunshine on Leith, etc.). Those movies, along with television programs like Outlander, have made Scotland an extremely popular destination. Sunshine on Leith, Dexter Fletcher's paean to the City of Edinburgh, should be required watching for anyone visiting "Auld Reekie."

Hope I've given you some information that you can use.

Best wishes for your travels!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
15 posts

Definitely helpful, Mike. Thank you so much! I will keep these directions and suggestions handy for us when we are there.