Banffshire Coast – Our favourite things to see and do in this amazing area of Scotland (2023 Guide)


Often referred to as 'Scotland's Dolphin Coast', the Banffshire Coast is well known for being a great area to catch a glimpse of those cute critters. However, although this alone is an amazing reason to visit the Banffshire Coast, there is plenty more to see and do along this stretch of Scotland - much more than you'd think.

Even with publications like National Geographic describing the Banffshire Coast as one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, we think this area of Scotland remains overlooked.  We wanted to highlight some of the best things to see and do in this area, to hopefully inspire you to visit. Let's get into the guide:

Where is the Banffshire Coast?

In simple terms, where the Aberdeenshire coast turns a corner westwards is where you'll find the Banffshire coast. It runs from Cullen in the east along the North Sea towards Fraserburgh, and then round to Peterhead. The entire coastline is around 60 miles in length and takes in a variety of quaint towns and villages including Whitehills, Portsoy and, of course, Banff.
FireShot Capture 1735 - 7 reasons to visit the Banffshire Coast, Scotland -

What is there to see and do along the Banffshire Coast?

As you can imagine there is quite a lot to see and do along the Banffshire Coast, and we couldn't possibly include all of it. But what we've tried to do is include a good mix of well-known favourites and some hidden gems. Most of these can be found right on the coast, however, some will require you to go slightly inland - it'll be worth it, trust us! Let's get into the guide, moving from the East to the West:

Cullen Beach

As you'd imagine, there are lots of amazing beaches along the Banffshire Coast to explore but we genuinely believe that Cullen Beach is one of the best. Firstly, it is surprisingly large - there is plenty of space to explore, with rock pools at low tide and plenty of sand for dogs to run about on. You've also got a harbour here which is very charming and great for swimming in (no boats use it). This beach is also a popular spot for watching the Northern Lights. This beach is free to park at, and it's also very well looked after (even the toilets are spotless!). A must-visit.

Findlater Castle

This castle actually sits between Cullen and Portsoy, but it is marginally closer to the latter, plus there is a walk from Cullen to the castle which is considered to be one of the best walks in the area. Perched on a 50-foot-high cliff overlooking the Moray Firth, the setting is dramatic and the views are incredible. The castle is ruinous but is still an impressive thing to look at, and the information board fills in the gaps to give you an idea of what it would have looked like when it was built. Plus, a trip to Findlater Castle is more about the amazing setting than anything else.
Findlater Castle

Pet Cemetery

Honestly, we'd understand if you didn't fancy visiting a pet cemetery during your time along the Banffshire Coast. But there is something fascinating and, dare we say it, hauntingly beautiful about this pet cemetery in Cullen. Particularly if you're a pet owner and understand the connection people can develop with animals, you'll probably find this site quite touching. It's just along from the beach and well worth a visit, you might even shed a tear if you've ever lost a dear furry friend.

Boyne Castle

Built in the 16th century, not much remains of this castle but, similar to the aforementioned Findlater Castle, we still think a visit to Boyne Castle is worth your time. It's only 2km from Portsoy but feels like a well-kept secret when you arrive. The ruins are beautiful to look at and you can imagine what the castle would have looked like 400 years ago. This is a hidden gem and unlike so many castles around Scotland, you won't find hoards of people here - that is part of what makes a visit to Boyne Castle such a magical experience. It doesn't even have a website!

The Salmon Bothy

It would be so easy to fill this guide with stunning beaches and lovely walks, but we always look for quirky and interesting things to visit - The Salmon Bothy in Portsoy definitely fits that bill. Dating back to the 19th century, this bothy has now been turned into a fascinating museum detailing the history of salmon fishing in this part of Scotland, as well as the history of Portsoy. Learn more here -

Duff House

This impressive Georgian mansion is definitely a must-visit during your time in Banff. Designed by William Adam for the Earl of Fife, it is a stunning piece of architecture and also houses some beautiful art pieces. Exploring the amazing rooms is also a joy, as are the amazing gardens. Learn more here -

Sandend Beach

We mentioned dolphins in our introduction - it's normal for a pod to be spotted in and around Sandend Bay, and if you're looking to spot one of those adorable squeaky guys then a trip to Sandend Beach is probably the place to head to. The walk from Portsoy to Sandend is lovely and takes you along cliff tops with dramatic views. Similar to the beach at Cullen, Sandend is spotless and very well looked after. At most times of year you'll find surfers here huddled in Dryrobes, which is a real treat (and you're welcome to get involved yourself!).

The Red Well (Whitehills)

Locals might be surprised to find The Red Well in our list, but we wanted to include something in the Whitehills area. And although The Red Well is somewhat interesting, the main reason to visit is the lovely views across the sea. The Red Well is named so because of the spring of water which appears from the ground inside the dome hut. The water leaves behind a red deposit, thought to be coloured red due to the iron content. The dome building dates back to Roman times and the construction is fascinatingly perfect - the doorway is exactly 1m wide, the the height of the doorway is exactly 2m, and the inside of the dome is exactly 3m high. To get this sort of precision with tools from Roman times is very impressive. Learn more here -

MacDuff Marine Aquarium

It might sound odd to go to an aquarium when you've got so much natural sea life to admire along the Banffshire Coast, but it is precisely the location of the MacDuff Marine Aquarium which makes it so excellent to visit. MacDuff Marine Aquarium is definitely one of the best aquariums in Scotland, and actually plays a really important role in the conservation of the local area. It's a small aquarium and is mostly home to the types of animals you'd find in the local area, which makes it quite a unique experience. However, it does also have 6 species of shark which are of course one of the main attractions here. It's a great place to visit with kids, especially if they're not afraid to get up close and personal with sea creatures like starfish. Overall we'd highly recommend a visit to MacDuff Marine Aquarium, learn more here -

St. John's Church & Kirkyard

Like so many of the locations we've included in this list, you might not be bowled over the by the ruins of St. John's Church. Particularly given that the walk up to the church is a bit of a trek from Gardenstown, through a grassy area. But trust us, the views from the church back across the town are well worth the effort! And we actually think the church is worth a visit in its own right - it's said to be the 2nd oldest churchyard in Scotland, and the site has quite an eerie, magical feeling to it.

Cullykhan Beach (& Fort Fiddes)

This beach is small but beautiful, and is well known for having a variety of coloured stones which are great for collecting (or lobbing into the sea if that's your kind of thing).
Fort Fiddes is nearby - this is the site of an old Pictish Fort, perched at the top of a promontory which provides amazing views across Pennan and Hell's Lum (a slightly scary looking collapsed sea cave).

Aberdour Beach

Just to the North of New Aberdour (half-way between Banff and Fraserburgh) you'll find Aberdour Beach, a mostly shingle beach with a beautifully unique look and plenty to explore. Of particular interest are the limestone caves, which can be found towards the Eastern end of the beach and are fascinating to look inside (be safe, of course, and watch the tide). In the middle of the beach you'll spot St Drostan’s Well, where it is said that St Drostan used the well water to baptise local people and perform miracle cures.

Pitsligo Castle

This ruined castle just along from Rosehearty is surprisingly large and has lovely views out to sea. Despite being ruinous there is actually quite a lot to still explore - the circular stair tower is one of the best-preserved sections of the castle and is quite impressive, as is the courtyard. One of the great things about visiting Pitsligo Castle is that it isn't too popular with tourists, so you'll often get to explore the ruins in peace.
It's free to visit and is a great way to spend a couple of hours.

See the Northern Lights

The Banffshire Coast is one of the best parts of Scotland for seeing the Northern Lights, despite many people overlooking this area for seeing the phenomenon. The low light areas and flat terrain near the beaches make it perfect for uninterrupted viewing of the aurora borealis.
To try and increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights during your time on the Banffshire Coast, you'll want to visit between October to mid-April when the sky is darkest. Although saying that, in the early hours of the morning you might even catch them during the summer months.

Museum Of Scottish Lighthouses

A museum might not be at the top of your list for things to see along the Banffshire Coast, but trust us, this museum is special. The Museum Of Scottish Lighthouses at Fraserburgh is a fascinating insight into the world of lighthouses, detailing their importance and the immense skill involved in their design and creation. Highlights include close-ups of the mechanisms used, as well as powerful binoculars which you can use to spot seals out at sea. We think a trip to this museum will ensure that you'll never look at a lighthouse the same way again. Included in the ticket price is a tour of Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, a really amazing experience which provides you with excellent views of Fraserburgh. Learn more here -

Waters of Philorth Beach

By the time you reach Fraserburgh, you might feel a little "beach-ed out" - by this point you will have enjoyed miles of beautiful coastline and visited a number of beaches, so the idea of visiting another beach might not sound all that enticing. But we highly recommend a visit to Waters of Philorth beach. The beach forms part of the Philorth Local Nature Reserve and is a great place for spotting wildlife such as redshanks and dunlins. If you're a keen birdwatcher then this is a great place to head to.

What should you be aware of before visiting the Banffshire Coast?

You've probably realised by this point that there is plenty to see along the Banffshire Coast and you might not get round to it all, but that's ok! Instead of trying to cram everything in during your first visit, you could always come back. Also, despite this area of Scotland being pretty underrated, it can still get pretty busy during the summer months, so if you're not a fan of crowded beaches then visiting during the Spring/Autumn might be a better idea.
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to visit this amazing part of Scotland. If you've already ticked the Banffshire Coast off your list then why not explore some other beautiful parts of Scotland such as Argyll, Isle of Skye, or Luing. You could also go for a seaside town such as Crail or St Andrews.

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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