History of Aberdeen City and Shire

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Boasting an impressive array of ancient castles, historic towns and villages, fascinating museums and the beautiful Royal Deeside - a place where the Royal Family have holidayed since Victorian era - the history of Aberdeen City and Shire is a fascinating one.

It’s impossible not to get a sense of Aberdeen city’s rich and compelling history while walking amongst its imposing granite buildings. Discover beautifully preserved historic buildings that offer a window onto the past such as the 16th century Provost Skene’s House and the Tolbooth, a 17th century jail.

The University of Aberdeen is home to another of the city’s oldest and most striking features – King’s College – a breathtaking fusion of medieval and Renaissance craftsmanship. Close by you’ll find St Machar’s Cathedral, the oldest granite cathedral in the world.

Learn about the region’s seafaring heritage at the award-winning Aberdeen Maritime Museum where engrossing exhibits and displays illustrate how the region’s fishing and North Sea oil and gas industries have been integral to its growth.

The towns and villages of Aberdeenshire have plenty of historic treasures of their own which span everything from crumbling castles to fascinating museums and ancient Pictish stones.

Learn more about the region’s maritime history at the Arbuthnott Museum in Peterhead, one of the oldest in Aberdeenshire, or why not pay a visit to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh?

Aberdeen City and Shire is home to 300 castles, more per acre than anywhere else in the UK. Follow Scotland only Castle Trail which takes in 17 of these centuries-old monuments. From haunting ruins like the cliff-top fortress of Dunnottar Castle to the fairytale Crathes Castle and the royal residence of Balmoral, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice.

Travel back in time to the Victorian age by taking a ride in a steam train along the Royal Deeside Line which once transported the Royal Family on its way to Balmoral. Closed in the 1960s, a mile-long stretch of the line has since be reopened allowing a train to run once more. You can even see a replica of the Royal train carriage used by Queen Victoria in 1869 at Ballater Old Royal Station.

Delve even further back into the region’s past and learn about the Picts, a Celtic tribe which inhabited Aberdeenshire nearly 2,000 years ago. All that survives of this mysterious civilisation are stone circles and elaborately carved stones found scattered throughout the region. See the ornate Kinord near Aboyne and Sunhoney, an enigmatic stone circle which stands on a hill near Echt, are just two Pictish sites found in Aberdeenshire.

You can find out if you have historical connections to the region by getting handy tips and using some of the great resources listed in the guide Routes to your North East Roots.

  • Looking across to Balmoral Castle from the south side
    Balmoral Castle
  • View of Balmoral Castle from the gardens
    Balmoral Castle
  • Dunnottar Castle perched on a clifftop near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
    Dunnottar Castle
  • Pipe bands march at the Braemar Gathering
    The Braemar Gathering
  • View of Balmoral Castle from the gardens
    Balmoral Castle
Looking up a road towards Crathie Kirk with trees on either side

Historic attractions

Discover fascinating historic attractions in Aberdeen City and Shire and learn about its fascinating royal connections.

Highland dancers compete at the Lonach Gathering

Heritage and outdoor events

Get a sense of the region's rich history and time-honoured traditions at a fantastic range of heritage and outdoor events.

The outside of Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire

Royal connections

Aberdeenshire is a beautiful part of the world where the royal family have holidayed since the 19th century.

Balmoral Castle and the River Dee

Victorian Heritage Trail

Discover why Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with Royal Deeside and visit the historic and picturesque places that make this part of north east Scotland a truly majestic place.

Marischal College, Aberdeen

Aberdeen City and Shire Ancestry

Trace your ancestry in Aberdeen City and Shire and discover if you have roots in one of Scotland’s most picturesque and fascinating regions.

Craigievar Castle

Scotland's Castle Trail

Follow Scotland’s only dedicated Castle Trail and discover the dramatic stories behind 18 of Aberdeenshire’s most famous castles, less than 30 minutes’ drive from Aberdeen city centre.