Our Journal

Informational, Tips & Advice
27 January 2022
Kim Pierce

The Ultimate Guide to the North East 250

If you know us at Highland Overland, you will have heard us rave about the North Coast 500, however have you heard about it’s little “sister” route, the North East 250?

Stilll within easy reach of our base in Inverness, if you’ve already enjoyed a roadtrip around the North Coast 500 and looking for a new route or are more limited on time then this is the route for you.

Although shorter, the North East 250 still has everything that Scotland is famous for from whisky distilleries, the historic and magnificent castles and the beautiful hikes amongst the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park.

Here’s everything you need to know to get you planning your North East 250 adventure.

Road through Cairngorms National Park – Image by Milda Vigerova via Unsplash

What is the North East 250 route?

Similar to its big brother, the North Coast 500, the North East 250 (or NE250) is a self-drive road trip loop that runs along 250 miles of stunningly scenic Scottish roads.

Launched in 2017, the driving route was created to help tourists explore this beautiful area of Scotland which takes you through Speyside, Royal Deeside, Aberdeen, Moray Firth and the adventure paradise of the Cairngorms National Park.

Officially there are 3 main starting points including Aberdeen Airport, Ballindalloch and Glenshee. However, we have our very own Highland Overland North East 250 itinerary so you can pick up one of our trucks in Inverness and enjoy your adventure in our perfectly kitted out 4×4 trucks.

How long does it take to drive the North East 250?

The North East 250 can be done over 3 days, however we always like to recommend taking your time and taking in all the stunning scenery the route has to offer. There’s enough things to see and do to easily keep you busy for 5-7 days and with some great whiskey distilleries to enjoy along the way you won’t want to be spending every day behind the wheel so we recommend spending a couple of nights at the same spot so you can kick back and relax.

Where does the NE250 start?

As the North East 250 is a circular route you have your pick of the places to start your adventure on. The main starting points are Aberdeen Airport, Ballindalloch and Glenshee.

If you’re picking up your Highland Overland truck in Inverness and driving down then we recommend starting in Aviemore or Fochabers.

Hill of Allargue viewpoint at Corgarff is the location of the Watchers installation by John Kennedy at Corgarff – Image via VisitScotland

What is there to do along the North East 250?

Visit a Whiskey Distillery – No trip to Scotland is complete without a tour and tasting of a whiskey distillery (if you’re not with the kids..). One of the most famous distilleries along the route is The Glenlivet Distillery near Ballindalloch in Moray, founded in 1824. Also within The Glenlivet estate is the Tomintoul Distillery built in 1964 with its award winning single malt “the gentle dram”.

Others worth a stop are Strathisla Distillery, Royal Lochnagar Distillery and Ballindalloch Single Malt Distillery.

Explore the history and heritage – There’s not many castles which are still home to queens, however the Balmoral Estate is still regularly used by the British royal family. Open to the public between the 1st April until the 2nd August in 2022, visitors can explore the grounds and gardens as well as enjoy the exhibitions and restaurant. Also on offer are guided walks, a nine hole golf course and salmon fishing for the keen angler.

Other Scottish heritage sites worth a visit are Ballindalloch Castle, Elgin Cathedral and Braemar Castle.

Golf – There are over 30 different golf courses to choose from varying in price from £30 to some over £100 per round. Choose from golfing royalty at Balmoral castle (closed in August when the royal family are in residence), enjoy playing alongside the River Dee at Banchory Golf Club or enjoy playing a course created by one of Scotlands finest golfers, The Paul Lawrie Golf Centre to name just a few.

Lose yourself in the wildlife and nature of the Cairngorms National Park – You can’t drive the North East 250 without a visit to the stunningly beautiful Cairngorms National Park. Take in the beautiful landscapes and enjoy a range of outdoor activities while wildlife watching some of Britain’s most threatened species.

Golfing along the North East 250 – Image via VisitScotland

What’s the best spots for food and drink?

Brewdog Dogtap Ellon, Balmacassie Industrial Estate, Ellon

Attached to the Brewdog brewery in Ellon, Aberdeenshire is the craft beer lovers paradise in the Dogtap Ellon. They have two bars with 60 pouring taps as well as a beer school & library, beer museum and a children’s play park so you can sit back and relax.

Food choices include an array of salads, burgers, pizzas and wings with a great selection of Vegan options for all.

Top tip: Don’t walk away without trying their Deep Fried Oreo’s with chocolate sauce!

The Carriage Cafe, Ballater

The Old Royal Station in Ballater has been beautifully transformed into a little bistro, cafe and tea room. Delicious food and an impressive wine list, what more could you want!

Top Tip: Stop off in the afternoon to enjoy a delightful after tea which includes sponge cakes, finger sandwiches and scones.

The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff

Overlooking the sands of Moray Firth and close to the Speyside Whisky Trail is the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel restaurant and brasserie serving traditional Scottish cuisine using the locally sourced ingredients. Try the hotels Sparkling or Cocktail Afternoon Tea or book yourself in for fine dining at the restaurant with options such as Roast Pigeon Breast, Local Smoked Sea Trout Fishcakes and Chicken & Chorizo Ballotine with pistachio and manchego mash. Delicious!

Portsoy Ice Cream, Banff

A family run Artisan Ice Cream shop located in the picturesque harbour village of Portsoy in Aberdeenshire on the Moray Firth using local ingredients where possible. Choose your flavour from options choices such as Salted Caramel, Pistachio and Strawberry Cheesecake and complete it with a your choice of a wide range of luxury toppings and hot sauces for the ultimate indulgence.

Vegan, dairy free and gluten free options are also available.

Glenglassaugh Distillery

Located at the east end of Sanded Bay this distillery was founded in 1875 and uses the highest quality Scottish barley and traditional distilling methods.

Top Tip: Call ahead to check opening times as the visitor centre does close in the off season.

Coffee at the Kings, Cullen

A mobile coffee business based out of an original vintage Airstream caravan which can usually be found pitched up at Cullen beach Moray. Serving up a variety of local premium barista coffee from the Inverness Coffee Roasting Co. Options include luxury hot chocolate and a selection of tasty tray bakes.

Image by Carlos Linder via Unsplash

What are the best castles along the North East 250?

Huntly Castle

Visit the home of one of Scotland most powerful families, the earls of Huntly. Take a tour of the castle and see treasures such as the heraldic fireplaces and inscribed stone.

Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens

Immerse yourself in the history of the castle with its beautiful architecture and interiors. Beneath the 16th century stone floors lies a dungeon where the enemies of the Grant clan would once reside but in the past few centuraries has been turned into a wine cellar. General James Grant is thought to walk the corridors trying to rediscover his beloved cellar.

Walk the gardens which were principally laid down in the 2nd half of the 19th century, the gardens have been planned to make the most of the soil and landscaper throughout the year.

Tolquhon Castle

Once a fairytale castle, these impressive ruins found in the Grampian countryside have been described as one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. A beautiful building wander and explore its secrets such as a secret compartment above the lairds quarters to hide valuables.

The castle does have to close in harsh weather conditions so do check ahead if you’re going out of your way to see it.

Balmoral Castle

The Scottish home to the Royal Family the grounds have exhibitions, gift shops, coffee shops and gardens to explore as well as activities such as salmon fishing, golfing and guided walks around the estate. There are also holiday cottages if you want to sleep like a queen.

The castle is only open until August when the Royal Family take up residence for their holidays.

Braemar Castle

Explore 12 rooms still authentically decorated as if the chief of the clan has just stepped out. The original residents of the castle were the Earl’s of Mar who were amongst some of the earliest rules of Scotland and built Braemar Castle as a base for his hunting excursions. For the last 10 years the castle has been operated by the local community who fund-raise to restore it so go along and support this great cause.

Ballindalloch Castle is one of the most romantic and renowned castles in Scotland – Image by Damian Shields via VisitScotland

Where is there to stay along the North East 250?

  • Ban-car Hotel – Found in the rural countryside of Aberdeenshire with excellent accommodation in 22 rooms and including full Scottish breakfast, guests can enjoy high stand of service in the hotel and restaurant.
  • The Gordon Guest House – In the heart of Royal Deeside at the edge of Cairngorms National Park with the most famous Scottish castle, Balmoral nearby. It’s an ideal base for walking, cycling, golf and munro bagging.
  • Laichmoray Hotel – 34 individually styled rooms for all occasions from romantic getaways to family fun and a restaurant serving up breakfast, afternoon teas and delicious dinner menus including vegan options.
  • The Banff Springs – Enjoy beautiful seascapes and walks along the golden sands of Moray Firth with a stay at The Banff Springs. 36 bedrooms for both the business and leisure travellers and a lounge bar to relax in and choose from an extensive whisky list before taking dinner in the fine dining restaurant.

Where is there to camp along the North East 250?

  • Marina Bay Holiday Park, Peterhead – A dog and family friendly site along the award-winning Lido Bay in Peterhead. Facilities include kids play area, shop, internet access, toilets and shower as well as watersports. The campsite is perfectly located just a short stroll from the town and alongside the beach.
  • Aden Caravan and Camping, Peterhead – Set beside the beautiful Aden Country park, the Aden Caravan and Camping park has 23 touring pitches with electric hook up as well as 20 camping sits. Toilets, showers and laundry facillities are all available. Enjoy the local cafes and restaurants or explore the beautiful beaches at Fraserburgh and St Combs.
  • Glenmore Campsite, Aviemore – The 206 pitches at Glenmore Campsite with combination of landscape or mountain views are open year round. Nestled within the Glenmore Forest Park near to the popular town of Aviemore, this beautiful campsite is just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Loch Morlich and the Cairngorms National Park is easily accessible.
  • Dalraddy Holiday Park, Aviemore – All of the touring pitches at Dalraddy Holiday Park are on hard standing ground with facilities including a licensed shop selling local produce including wild venison, camping accessories and gas as well as fishing permits for the Loch Alvie, two wash blocks are also on site and children’s play area.
  • Wester Bonnyton Caravan and Camping Park – Based in Gamrie, Banff with nearby local activities including golf, fishing and hiking, Wester Bonnyton is the perfect spot for the whole family including the four-legged members.
  • Braemar Caravan Park – Located in Invercauld Estate by the beautiful village of Braemar in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, the Braemar Caravan Park is a perfect base for walking, hiking, cycling, photography and wild watching. The Estate is also home to Scotlands highest 18 hole golf course as well as the Glenshee Ski Centre. Facilities include heated shower and toilet block, dish washing areas, laundry, gas available, chemical disposal points, ski lockers and play area and there are plenty of places to visit as well as eat and drink in the nearby Braemar town.

What is the best time to drive the NE250?

The best time to road trip in Scotland is from April through to the end of September. The popular spots can get very busy over June, July and August so our favourite time is spring time in April and May or a late summer September getaway.