The picturesque harbour town of Stonehaven has something to offer for everyone: romantics, families and solo travellers, nature lovers, history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. From the fairytale ruins of Dunnottar Castle to Aunt Betty’s famous ice cream: here are 15 things to do in Stonehaven for the perfect seaside getaway in Scotland.
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Located just a few miles south of Aberdeen, Stonehaven is a favourite stop on the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail and a popular day trip from Aberdeen. First and foremost, people come here to see the stunning ruins of Dunnottar Castle, but the town has so much more to offer.
Stonehaven is a great destination for a short break in Scotland. It is easy to get to by train, so bringing a car is not necessary (more on that below). The town is steeped in Scottish history and surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes. From the craggy cliffs and serene woodlands to a thriving foodie scene and local history, there is a lot to discover.
This post is a practical travel guide for the area and provides plenty of inspiration for things to do in Stonehaven, including…
- How to get to Stonehaven,
- Where to stay in Stonehaven,
- Great restaurants, pubs and shops in Stonehaven (incl. vegan-friendly options).
- The best outdoor activities in Stonehaven,
- Where to learn about local history (incl. Dunnottar Castle),
- The best day trips from Stonehaven and more.
Stonehaven is also a fantastic home base to explore the wider area. Plan a road trip up the Aberdeenshire coast, go hiking in the Royal Deeside or hop from castle to castle on the Scottish Castle Trail.
Stonehaven Travel Guide
Getting to Stonehaven
Stonehaven lies approximately 16 miles south of Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland. The town is super easy to get to by train and it is not necessary to drive. Stonehaven lies on the main railway route up the east coast and is one stop before Aberdeen.
The train journey from Edinburgh to Stonehaven takes around 2.5 hours. Many trains are direct, but on some connections you might have to change trains in Dundee. From Glasgow, it also takes around 2.5 hours on the direct train to Stonehaven.
You don’t need a car to explore Stonehaven and nearby Dunnottar Castle, but if you plan to continue your journey to other parts of Aberdeenshire, it might be a good idea to drive instead of taking the train.
Driving from Edinburgh to Stonehaven takes around 2 hours on the quickest route via the M90 through Fife and the A90 up the coast. From Glasgow, it takes a little longer – around 2.5 hours.
Where to stay in Stonehaven
There is a variety of hotels and B&B accommodation in Stonehaven, but personally, I preferred staying in a self-catering option.
I stayed at Bayview Apartments which is located right by the sea. There are two options: a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor and the two-bedroom penthouse on the top floor (which is where I stayed). Both sleep up to 4 people, are beautifully decorated and fully equipped with everything you could need during your stay.
As suggested by the name, both apartments offer fantastic views of the bay of Stonehaven from the lounge and full-length balconies. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the Penthouse make the views even better. The property is located right at the beachfront boardwalk, but also just a quick walk from the town square, nearby restaurants and shops.
Book Bayview Apartments on AirBnB.
Getting around Stonehaven
Stonehaven itself is very walkable, especially if you stay at the central Bayview Apartments. The train station is around 20 minutes walk from the town centre. The walk to Dunnottar Castle takes around 40 minutes from the apartment.
There are local buses you can use to get around which leave from the town square, but departures are not super frequent.
For transfers, I recommend booking the local taxi company Dash Cabs. They cap all fares within Stonehaven at £4 and offer fixed fares to nearby towns and restaurants. I used Dash Cabs to get home after dinner in a nearby village and also to get back to the train station on my departure day.
Restaurants in Stonehaven
As a vegan, I was really pleasantly surprised by the food scene in Stonehaven. Whether you have dietary requirements or not, here are some of my favourite restaurants in Stonehaven.
Shamrock & Thistle Cafe, 6 Arbuthnott Place: Famous for its waffles and crepes (sadly not vegan), Shamrock & Thistle also has some vegan cake options and serves luxurious hot chocolate.
Nikki’s Coffee Shop, 25 Market Square: A traditional cafe serving breakfast, light lunch and cakes on the town square.
Tandoori Haven, 54 Allardice St: An award-winning Indian restaurant with mouthwatering curries right near the town square.
Molly’s Bistro, The Promenade: A popular restaurant by the beach that does breakfast, lunch and dinner and has several vegan options on the menu.
The Bay Fish & Chips Shop, The Promenade: Not the only fish & chip shop in town, but certainly the most popular one.
Aunt Betty’s Ice Cream Parlour, The Promenade: A famous ice cream shop on the beach of Stonehaven. More below!
The Stack Restaurant, Muchalls: A bit of a hidden gem in Muchalls, one village over from Stonehaven. The food at Stack Restaurant is beautifully presented and well worth the trek. You can get to Muchalls by bus, by car or simply take a taxi from Stonehaven like myself.
Pubs in Stonehaven
Some of the local favourites are:
Marine Hotel bar, 9-10 Shorehead: A hotel with a cosy lounge bar at the colourful harbour of Stonehaven. They serve locally brewed Six Degrees North beer.
The Market Bar, 4 Market Ln: A traditional Scottish pub on the town square.
Shopping in Stonehaven
Co-op Food, Allerdice Street: There is a small Co-op supermarket on the town square, but if you are planning to stock up the fridge for a few days in town, I recommend heading to the larger Co-op on Allerdice Street – just a 5-minute walk from Bayview Apartments.
My Beautiful Caravan, 17 Market Square: A beautiful gift shop with handpicked designs and many locally made souvenirs.
Great Things to do in Stonehaven
Easily one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, Dunnottar Castle sits on top of tall cliffs just a few miles south of Stonehaven. Even though the castle fell into ruins nearly 300 years ago, it has lost none of its charm – one might even argue that the ruins of Dunnottar Castle are more breathtaking than some fully restored castles.
For the perfect visit to Dunnottar Castle, walk along the coastal footpath from Stonehaven (approx. 40 minutes from the town square). Hiking equipment is not required, but I recommend bringing some water and a snack as there is no cafe at the castle. There is a small food truck at the car park though.
As the castle thrones on a steep headland, you have to climb the stairs down and up to the ruins to actually visit the castle. It is worth it though, as Dunnottar Castle is massive and you get to learn a lot about Scottish history on site.
If you can, time your visit so that you catch the evening sun illuminating the castle in golden hues. There are many scenic viewpoints along the coast, so keep exploring the paths.
Read more about the castle, its history and what to expect from a visit in my visitor guide for Dunnottar Castle.
Stonehaven War Memorial
On the way to Dunnottar Castle, you will walk past the Stonehaven War Memorial.
The Memorial was built in 1921 to commemorate the dead of World War I. Designed to resemble a ruined Greek temple ruin, it serves as a symbol for the lives shortened and ruined by the war. Additional names were added to the monument after World War II.
Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum
The Stonehaven Tolbooth was built in the 16th century to serve as a courthouse and prison by the harbour of Stonehaven. It was built by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal who also expanded his family seat at Dunnottar Castle
Today, it houses a volunteer-led local history museum and a cafe with views of the picturesque harbour.
Ice cream at Aunt Betty’s
No visit to Stonehaven would be complete without an ice cream from Aunt Betty’s! Overlooking the local beach at the Promenade, this iconic ice cream parlour has a huge range of homemade ice cream and other sweets on offer.
Vegans will be happy to hear that they also have a selection of vegan ice cream and sorbets, vegan cones and vegan-friendly toppings, including wine gums.
Hiking in the Dunnottar Woods
The serene Dunnottar Woods stretch south of Stonehaven, between Carron Water and the Burn of Glaslaw. Locals come here to walk their dogs or simply to enjoy the peace and quiet of the local patch of woodland.
There are a few trails leading through the woodland and you can easily combine a walk up through the forest with a loop out to Dunnottar Castle by the coast. The entrance nearest to town is at the bottom of Carron Gardens.
Standup paddleboarding on the coast
Hit the waves with Stonehaven Paddleboarding and explore the coastline from the water. Beginners can learn the basics in a lesson at the harbour, more advanced paddlers can head straight for an adventure along the coast.
Paddleboard tours from Stonehaven include journeys to Dunnottar Castle, exploring coves and sea caves along the way. Longer tours may take you to the cliffs of Fowlsheugh nature reserve or up the River Dee in the Royal Deeside.
SUP rentals are also available for experienced paddlers. You must be a strong paddler and familiar with paddling in the sea.
Stonehaven Open Air Heated Pool
Stonehaven has something that is very unusual in Scotland – probably because of the weather: a heated outdoor pool. The pool was opened in 1934 and still features the typical art deco style of the era. It is also the northernmost lido in the UK.
The Olympic-sized Open Air Pool in Stonehaven is located right next to the sea – although, there are no infinity pool vibes. The sea water is heated to 29C/84F and the pool is only open during the summer (May to September).
The pool hosts Midnight Swims every Wednesday – swimming under the stars with DJs – and several Aqua Ceilidhs throughout the season.
Sea Safari Boat Trips
If paddleboarding is not your thing, you can still discover the dramatic coastal landscape around Stonehaven from the water. Simply book a boat trip with Stonehaven Sea Safari.
Their tours last from 45 minutes to 2 hours and offer the chance not only to see the castle from the water, but also to spot animals like dolphins, puffins and seals, and see waterfalls and caves you couldn’t spot from land.
Bird watching at Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve
Fowlsheugh is an RSPB nature reserve with spectacular cliffs that are home to many bird colonies, especially during the summer. Among the birds that nest here are thousands of guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills, and even some puffins.
You can walk along the coast from Dunnottar Castle to Fowlsheugh, but the path is overgrown and very uneven. It is probably better/safer to take the bus from Stonehaven to Catterline and walk from there to Crawton Ness – the location of the nature reserve. You can walk along the road or on the coast.
See the Fireballs at Hogmanay
Among the most famous fire festivals in Scotland, the Stonehaven Fireballs are a spectacular ceremony to welcome the New Year. Held every year on Hogmanay (31 December) the event sees 40 people parading on Stonehaven’s streets and down the beach while swinging flaming fireballs over their heads.
PS: The balconies of Bayview Apartments are in a prime location to see the Stonehaven Fireballs in action.
Day trips from Stonehaven
As mentioned above, Stonehaven is a great home base to explore the rest of Aberdeenshire. You could easily spend a week here, explore the town and do day trips to beautiful places near and far. Here are some suggestions for day trips from Stonehaven.
Take the train to Aberdeen (approx. 20 minutes, one way) and spend the day in the city. Discover Aberdeen’s granite architecture and follow the NUART street art trail. Visit the historic campus of the University of Aberdeen in Old Aberdeen and enjoy a walk along the beachfront promenade. Go off the beaten track in the quirky fishing village of Footdee and stop for food & drinks at the street food market on the Green (during the summer).
Montrose & Arbroath
Take the train to Montrose and spend a day on the long sandy beach of Montrose Bay. If you are motivated, head out to Scurdie Ness Lighthouse or go birding at the Montrose Basin of the RIver South Esk.
One more stop on the train line brings you to Arbroath. Here, visit Arbroath Abbey (£9, FREE with the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass) where in 1320 Scotland’s ruling families declared independence from England by signing the Declaration of Arbroath. While you are here, wander down to the scenic harbour or visit the Signal Tower Museum.
Scottish Castle Trail
If you have a car, I highly recommend a road trip along the Scottish Castle Trail. Dunnottar Castle is one of 19 castles on this scenic route through Aberdeenshire – although there are hundreds of castles here overall.
I particularly recommend visiting the pink fairytale castle at Craigievar, the 13th-century Drum Castle and a detour to Balmoral Castle, which is the official summer residence of the British Royal Family.
The lush valley along the River Dee is also known as Royal Deeside. When Queen Victoria bought Balmoral Estate in the 19th century and built her stunning dream castle (Balmoral), many others followed suit and declared the area their preferred holiday spot. Today, the Royal Deeside is a great area for family-friendly hikes, for example at Loch Kinord or to Burn o’Vat. Throughout the valley, there are starting points for challenging routes into the Cairngorms. The charming small town of Ballater is among my favourite towns in Scotland, but there are also many other villages well-worth a stop here. Just take your time and explore along the A93 road.
Aberdeenshire Coastal Road
For more spectacular coastal scenery, follow the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, a scenic road trip up the Scottish east coast. Dig your feet in the warm sand at Balmedie Beach and spot the thriving seal colony sunbathing at the Ythan Estuary near Newburgh. Wander among the ruins of Slains Castle near Cruden Bay and walk to the collapsed sea cave at the Bullers of Buchan. Visit the Prison Museum in Peterhead and learn about the Stevenson family at the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh. You could spend days exploring the Aberdeenshire coast.
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Stonehaven and even more places to visit in the nearby area. Stonehaven is an absolute gem on the east coast of Scotland and perfect for a seaside getaway.
Are you excited to start planning a trip to Stonehaven?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.