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One of our favourite places to visit here in the North East of Scotland is the pretty harbour town of Stonehaven.
It’s somewhere that we visit quite often, so you can expect a couple of posts to pop up on the main Stonehaven attractions and even the best things to do near Stonehaven.
Where is Stonehaven?
Stonehaven is a coastal town that lies around 15 miles south of Aberdeen and is quite rightly one of the most sought after areas for buying property in Aberdeenshire and that’s thanks to its strong sense of community and the beautiful sea views. It’s also just a short drive away from the city of Dundee which lies about 50 miles to the south of Stonehaven, so it’s a great base between of the two cities. Stonehaven is also in a prime position for those hoping to visit Royal Deeside if you are looking to head further inland.
The town is a particularly popular destination for those that enjoy outdoor activities and water sports such as paddle boarding, surfing and sailing but it’s also very popular among tourists during the summer months due to its picturesque setting (and great fish and chips).
The best thing I can say about visiting Stonehaven, is just to walk around. It’s a wonderful town to explore and wander through the streets and lanes. No two houses are the same, which I love, I think it adds so much character and there are some beautiful sights and viewpoints to discover.
Many of the attractions in Stonehaven are close to one another, so walking is certainly manageable but I do find many of the pavements along the harbourside quite narrow and there can be a lot of uneven ground if this is something of concern to you. Please don’t take that as a reason not to visit though as there are plenty of areas with better and more modern walkway access should you need it.
Things to do in Stonehaven
Stonehaven Swimming Pool
The Stonehaven open-air swimming pool is one of the most unique pools in Scotland as it is an Olympic sized, heated open-air swimming pool and lido. And it’s just across from Stonehaven beach which I think along with those bright colours, really adds to its charm.
This Art Deco building and open-air pool is only open during the Summer months, (the North East of Scotland can be very cold the remainder of the year) and I remember visiting often during the school holidays as a child. It is a great place to take children. It seemed such a novelty at that age, a real holiday at home. There are sheltered sun terraces, a cafe, inflatables and slides.
I’m also thrilled to say that it does offer special needs access, including full wheelchair access with a hoist. So, a swimming pool, that’s outside, with salt water and it’s warm. Tempting?
Oh, and if you are keen to experience the pool without children as I know many people will be, they also hold quieter and midnight swims during the peak season. Somewhere you can swim under the stars, at your own pace and all while listening to some disco music! It’s an experience to be had.
Just another thing I love about this Stonehaven swimming pool and think is pretty special.
One of the most popular local attractions is Stonehaven harbour itself.
Filled with small fishing boats and sailboats, it certainly draws crowds in the hotter weather and where you will find people dipping their feet in the blue waters and children and dogs playing in the sand.
Surrounded by cafes, bars and ice cream shops it is a favoured spot to take a seat on one of the benches and enjoy the view.
Make sure to pop over to the Seafood Bothy which can be found on the Stonehaven Pier. They offer delicious fresh and locally caught seafood dishes from lobster, crab, mussels and king prawns to mackerel pate and if the weather is a littler cooler, a hot drink if you need it.
But back to talking of the hotter weather (rare as it is in these parts), Stonehaven is the place to be when the sun is out, so expect long queues for those ice creams.
Stonehaven War Memorial
Standing proudly on Black Hill overlooking the town and not far from Dunnottar Castle, is the Stonehaven War Memorial.
This war memorial is different from many others that you may have seen before as it is octagonal and resembles an old ruin. It was actually built to look this way as a reminder to signify the lives lost and ruined by the war.
We are so much more familiar with those strong and imposing structures associated with war memorials that this one, high up over the town and with such a different aesthetic, really catches your eye, even from the distance and makes you take note of its presence.
The ruins of this Stonehaven castle are some of the most recognised in Scotland and iconic throughout the world thanks to its dramatic cliffside location.
Dunnottar Castle is 2 miles south of Stonehaven and is a hauntingly brooding and unforgettable attraction to visit. The ruins of the castle overlook the rugged cliffs which lead down into the North Sea.
This castle is often used as a romantic backdrop and ceremony location for weddings throughout the summer and it is best to check visitor details with the castle for such events in advance as it may close some areas off from the public.
Two popular options for getting to Dunnottar Castle; you can either walk along the clifftop walk from Stonehaven Harbour which offers amazing views but is extremely windy and quite a distance, although I would say it is worth it. I did it on New Years Day and it was absolutely baltic, as you can imagine but it’s a fantastic memory for me. Or if you choose to drive, there is a car park by the castle which leads to a much shorter walk.
When visiting Dunnottar Castle, please be aware that there are many uneven steps to reach the castle and this may cause difficulty for some.
Dunnottar Castle Ticket Cost
Adult – £7
Child – £3
Family (2+2) – £17
If you’re thinking of visiting then you should read our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Dunnottar Castle.
Dunnottar Castle may be closed in bad weather for safety reasons, so it is always advisable to check the official website before booking any travel.
Stonehaven Land Train
The Stoney Express is a charity funded land train that provides tours to many of the attractions in Stonehaven such as the outdoor pool, Stonehaven harbour and Dunnottar Castle.
Running from early April to October this popular tourist attraction draws in crowds from kids to adults alike and from far and wide. A storyteller is on board this hop on, hop off train to provide a humorous guide to the town throughout the 45-minute journey.
The Stonehaven Land Train has two carriages and is also available for private hires such as weddings, birthdays, group trips etc.
The Stoney Express Ticket Cost
Adult – £5
Child – £3
Family (2+2) – £14
The Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum is located on the harbour front and holds many artefacts relating to not only the history of Stonehaven but from the days that this old red sandstone building was a courthouse and prison. You can even view one of the original cell doors, stocks and a crank that was used on the prisoners.
This is one of my favourite buildings in Stonehaven, and the oldest building in town, with beautiful views over the harbour water and full to the brim with fun things to see for the whole family.
The Tolbooth Museum is a real step back in time and a reminder of days long gone, throughout the eras, with many items from the home and kitchen stoves to old creels and boating history that are sure to evoke memories and interest for many.
Entry to the Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum is free
Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum Opening Times
Saturday – 12.30 – 15.30
Sunday – 12.30 – 15.30
You can also find the popular Tolbooth Seafood restaurant upstairs.
If you are looking for an activity to entertain all the family, consider a trip to Dunnottar Woods.
On the Southside of Stonehaven, Dunnottar Woods is not your typical woodland. Once owned by the Kennedy family it is now there for visitors and the community to enjoy.
Make sure to look out for interesting structures such as the Shell House, Ice House, Lady Kennedy’s bath and Gallow Hill. You may also spot from Fairy doors hidden in the woodland which add a nice touch for the young, or those young at heart.
There is a car park at Glasslaw, otherwise, you can walk to the woods from the town centre.
RSPB Fowlsheugh Reserve
Just South of Stonehaven, the cliffs at Fowlsheugh are home to over 100,000 seabirds during the summer months.
The cliffs range from 30-60 metres and host seabirds such as guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and puffins. If lucky, you may also see seals and dolphins offshore.
The RSPB Fowlsheugh Reserve is the largest seabird colony here on the East Coast of Scotland and birds can be seen between May and August.
And finally, the last offering I want to share with you today is probably the most unique of all and falls only on New Year. It is, of course, the Stonehaven Fireballs.
Ok, if you haven’t heard of them before you are probably wondering what on earth I am on about.
Well, the Stonehaven Fireballs are part of a unique ceremony held in the town to bring in the New Year. As the bells ring at midnight there is a parade on the high street with men and women swinging great big balls of fire around their heads.
Surrounded by the sound of bagpipes and street performers they make their way towards the harbour water where they eventually cast off the fireballs and finish with a grand firework display over the water. Cool, right?
As you can imagine, this draws in BIG crowds. We’re talking 10,000+ people, but what an amazing experience!
There are no tickets or costs involved to attend but I do think they appreciate donations in order to continue the event for the future.
Places To Eat In Stonehaven
There are a lot of fantastic Stonehaven restaurants that deserve to be mentioned from The Villa to the Marine Hotel or for good takeaway fish and chips like The Carron.
I have no doubt that we will write about these in future posts but let’s start with the most popular.
Those of us in Aberdeen (and I’m sure from other places) will take a day trip to Stonehaven specifically to visit some of these.
Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant
The Tolbooth restaurant can be found along the Stonehaven harbour wall with beautiful views overlooking the water. This is one of the most historic buildings in the town and has a great reputation for its use of good value, good quality, fresh and seasonal produce. While many of the dishes are seafood as you may expect from the name, such as Cullen skink, scallops and lobster but there are also meat alternatives although I do not believe that there are plant-based options at the moment.
Private dining at the Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant is also an option for families and parties and celebrations of up to 50 people.
The Station Hotel Restaurant
The Station Hotel in Stonehaven offer separate gluten free, dairy free and vegan menus so if you are looking to suit many dietary requirements, this may be the place to go for you. For the most part, The Station Hotel Menu features more of your pub style of food such as steak pie, macaroni cheese and chicken fillets but they do also serve some locally caught fish dishes.
The Bay fish and chips have gained somewhat of a cult status throughout Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and there is nothing quite like visiting a seaside town and getting fish and chips.
The Bay has won so many awards that I wouldn’t even know where to begin, so let’s just say that numerous awards and daily queues out the door should be enough of an accolade as to why they are a top spot to visit for your Stonehaven fish and chips fix.
Conveniently, for another popular seaside treat, Aunty Betty’s is right next door to The Bay. Well known for its extravagant ice creams covered in sweets and chocolates, there are always queues waiting, no matter the weather.
Aunty Betty’s provides an array of flavours from your iron brew, Scottish tablet and Turkish delight to the more conventional mint choc chip and raspberry ripple. Topped with sweets, flakes and wafers they are perfect for that Insta picture against the water backdrop.
But let’s not forget our four-legged friends as they also provide ice creams for dogs! Which just melts (aha..) my heart.
So there we have it, a beginner’s guide of things to do in Stonehaven Scotland.
Make sure to let us know your favourite thing to do.