Free things to do in Aberdeen City and Shire

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  • Looking over Aberdeen, also known as the Granite City
    Aberdeen, also known as the Granite City
  • Aberdeen Art Gallery
    Aberdeen Art Gallery
  • A display case containing a model tall ship in Aberdeen Maritime Museum
    Aberdeen Maritime Museum
  • Man walks his dogs along St Cyrus beach
    St Cyrus beach
  • View of the Old Royal Station from the outside
    The Old Royal Station, Ballater

There are plenty of great things that you can experience for free across Aberdeen City and Shire, from attractions with no entry fee, to outdoor activities and events.

Free places to visit

In the city it’s free to visit Aberdeen Maritime Museum which explores the area’s deep ties with the sea, including the fishing, ship building and the oil industries.

For two contrasting historical views of Aberdeen, see prison cells which date from the 17th century at the Tolbooth Museum and then head to St Machar’s Cathedral. This 12th century site is said to have links with both St Columba and William Wallace.
Other free places to go in the city include the Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Peacock Visual Arts.

Across Aberdeenshire there are also many free attractions, including village museums which chart local history, such as Banchory Museum. Whether you find out about traditional carpentry at Fordyce Joiners Workshop and Visitor Centre or watch biscuits being made at Dean’s Shortbread Visitor Centre in Huntly, it won’t cost you a penny. 

The Old Royal Station in Ballater offers an insight into the former train station which served Queen Victoria when she visited Royal Deeside. Also look out for excellent creative spaces, such as Milton Art & Craft Gallery in Banchory, where you can browse displays and exhibitions.

Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, Aberdeenshire
Muir of Dinnet NNR, Aberdeenshire

Free outdoor activities

The outdoors offers endless free activities, whether you’re looking for a challenging hike, a laid back cycle or wildlife spotting in a country park.  From the Munros of the Cairngorms National Park to circular routes in castle grounds, there are plenty of great walks to enjoy in Aberdeenshire.

Walkers can follow the Formantine and Buchan Way, which has been designated as one of Scotland’s Great Trails and traces the area’s old railway routes. Or take the Coastal Trail to explore the region’s beaches, bays and fishing villages.

The free country parks and gardens of Aberdeen City and Shire are ideal for a family day out, with great facilities, walks for a range of abilities and fun things to do for kids. It’s free to visit Aden Country Park in Buchan and enjoy the nature trails, excellent adventure playground, and the Aberdeenshire Farming Museum. In Aberdeen itself both the David Welch Winter Gardens in Duthie Park and Cruickshank Botanic Garden offer free entry.

At Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNR) there is a great chance of spotting local wildlife on a free day out. Dolphins are often seen off the coast of St Cyrus NNR, the UK’s largest colony of breeding eider ducks arrives at Forvie NNR in the summer, and Muir of Dinnet NNR is home to otters.

For an energetic day out, why not follow Aberdeenshire’s cycle routes, such as those in the forests of Glen Tanar, or try the mountain biking trails at Pitfichie? With forest tracks and open hilltops, Pitfichie includes challenging descents and panoramic views over the Vale of Alford and the hills of Bennachie.

A tradttional boat is rowed out of the harbour as crowds look on.
The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, Portsoy

Free events

From the famous Stonehaven Fireballs during Aberdeen City and Shire’s Winter Festival to the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy, many of the area’s big celebrations are free to attend. Look out for a range of local events such as the free lunchtime concerts at Cowdray Hall in Aberdeen, ranger-led activities at country parks and special events such as the children’s Discovery Day run by the University of Aberdeen during National Science and Engineering Week.

Annually in September the Doors Open Day weekend offers free entry to a range of attractions, venues and places of interest which usually cost money or are not open to the public.