This week we head up north to the picturesque county of Aberdeenshire for a visit to Balmoral Castle- the Scottish holiday home of the royal family. The magnificent region is steeped in history and is a fantastic place to visit as there is much to do. We love to visit whenever we can, and it is fun to share our travels for virtual and future visitors. In fact, another famous castle we’ve written about, Braemar, is less than 10 miles away.
Unlike the Royal Palaces (such as the Palace of Holyroodhouse) that are owned by the Crown, Balmoral Castle is a private residence owned by the Royal Family. Therefore, there is limited access inside the Castle. In fact, no pictures or video are allowed inside the Castle. Which means that, unfortunately, our photos are bit limited for this post. Nevertheless, we will cover a bit of the history and provide some photos of the grounds and gardens (please note that the photos in this post were from a visit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Queen Victoria & Balmoral
Inspired by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited Scotland in 1842 and quickly fell in love with the Highlands. The ‘wild and majestic’ qualities of the land appealed to them and they decided to buy a home where they could continue to enjoy the Scottish landscape. Prior to this, no other royals since the 1707 Acts of Union lived in Scotland and rarely visited.
Prince Albert bought Balmoral for Queen Victoria in 1852. For him, the mountains, lakes, and forests surrounding Balmoral reminded him of his native Germany. Victoria and Albert decided that the existing castle was too small for the family and decided to build a new one. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the castle Prince Albert helped to design is very much reminiscent of the fairytale castles that can be found throughout Germany. However, it’s clear that its design was also influenced by the Scottish Baronial style as Albert worked in conjunction with Aberdeen architect, William Smith.
Queen Victoria thoroughly enjoyed her time at Balmoral as it was a break from London and afforded the family a place to get away from city life. Victoria would take long walks on the estate while Albert would often spend his days hunting. When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria (famous for her grief and mourning) sought refuge at Balmoral more than ever- retreating there for months at a time.
The Royal Family & Balmoral Today
Ever since Queen Victoria’s time, it has been a tradition for the royal family to visit Balmoral. However, it was during the reign of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), that Balmoral became a popular place again for the family to visit. Like Queen Victoria, King George VI and family thoroughly enjoyed their opportunities to holiday at Balmoral. Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) spent a great deal her childhood there and that love for the Scottish countryside continued into adulthood. In fact, she has spent part of every summer at Balmoral since the beginning of her reign and is currently (as of this writing) enjoying some time there with the Duke of Edinburgh.
The royal family owns approximately 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land at Balmoral. As such, hunting and fishing are popular sporting activities by the family and guests. Each summer, members of the extended family come to visit the Queen while she is at Balmoral in addition to various prime ministers over the years.
Visiting Balmoral Castle
For the month of September 2020, the grounds, gardens, and exhibitions are closed to the public. However, the Visitor Information Centre is open daily from 10:00am- 2:00pm. The good news is that starting 3rd October through December, daily guided tours at Balmoral will be available. Obviously, due to the COVID-19 situation, visiting Balmoral is a little different right now. Therefore, be sure to check their website for advance booking and the most up to date information.
Please note that, as Balmoral Castle is a private family residence, only the ballroom is normally open to visitors. This is the largest room in the Castle and is still used for the famed Ghillies Ball that have taken place since Queen Victoria’s reign. When it is open for visitors, the exhibition has a variety of works of art and other artefacts on display. In the Carriage Hall Courtyard there are exhibitions about the estate. Here are a few photos of the exhibition from our visit (click on the arrow to enjoy the slideshow):
Prince Albert is responsible for starting the gardens, and now, over 150 years later, they are open to be enjoyed to the public. More recently, the Duke of Edinburgh extended the gardens including a kitchen garden. According to Balmoral Castle, the formal gardens cover about three acres and include a ‘range of Victorian glasshouses and a conservatory.
One fun fact about the Balmoral grounds is that it is home to some residents who have become quite popular- red squirrels. In fact, much to our Golden Retriever tour guide, Sawyer’s, chagrin, they have their own squirrel cam so that you can check in on these little ones anytime you fancy.
If you are looking to do more than a day visit to the Castle, there are a selection of holiday cottages to rent as well as a variety of activities available such as golfing, salmon fishing, and guided ranger walks. Please check the Balmoral website for more information.
I hope you have enjoyed our brief visit to Balmoral Castle. It is a place that is rich in royal history and offers a wonderful day out for visitors during the open season.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!