How to do Scotland like a royal

Whether it’s train travel, the wears to buy or finding the perfect Braemar bolthole, we help you put a stately spin on your next trip north of the border…

In February, 1952, upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, our current monarch, King Charles III, became the heir apparent. And, alongside becoming Duke of Cornwall in this dynastic change, and, years later, Prince of Wales, he also assumed a handful of other titles.

And, many of these – including the Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Isles – were Scottish. The young Charles, who also became the Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, was likely delighted with these new designations, as the royal family has felt an affinity for Scotland for decades. With this in mind, here’s how to put a stately spin on your next trip north of the border…

How to get there…

First, you must travel up to Scotland. And, if you’re fully committed to following in the royal family’s ermine-trimmed footsteps, that means doing so in style. Over the years, the monarchy has taken several different routes and types of transport to reach Britain’s most northerly climes.

Sometimes, they fly. If it’s an emergency – or the weather won’t make for a nice drive – royals are taken to RAF Northolt, in Ruislip (historically, some royals have also flown from Heathrow), but, it has been documented that they have a penchant for train travel.

Today, the British Royal Train is employed for such trips. A mainstay of the monarchy’s garage of vehicles and transport options since 1842, it is marshalled on a bespoke basis whenever required, and comprises dining cars and a royal chef. From the station of arrival, any one of the monarchy’s cars will escort a visiting royal out into rural Aberdeenshire. For King Charles, that may be one of three Rolls-Royce Phantoms. It could also be his bespoke 2015 Range Rover Hybrid, or the Jaguar I-Pace he acquired in 2018. If he’s driving himself, it might even be the Aston Martin DB6 Volante he had converted to run on bioethanol produced from supply waste (wine wastage and a by-product of cheesemaking).

But, whatever wheels the royals choose to meet them on the runway or at the station, the destination will doubtlessly remain the same: Balmoral Castle.

Where to stay…

Although the Edinburgh-based Palace of Holyroodhouse is the king’s official residence in Scotland – it sits at the end of the city’s Royal Mile, and was once home to Mary, Queen of Scots – modern royals tend to spend their Scottish getaways on the estate at Balmoral.

Bought by Prince Albert, in 1852, the original castle was deemed ‘too small’, and, thus, was demolished to make room for a larger home, one designed by a local Aberdeen architect whose plans for the house were revised by Prince Albert. Today, the castle has more than fifty bedrooms and, though the summer residence of the incumbent monarch, it is not part of the Crown Estate, as it is privately owned by the royal family.

A working estate, Balmoral also features grouse moors, forestry and farmland, and, when the royal family visits, common activities are said to include dog walks and picnics, and the local River Dee offers up one of the best fly-fishing spots in Scotland.

Elsewhere on the estate (and nearby), there are smaller properties, including Tam-Na-Ghar cottage, the third home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroomed stone property where the late Queen Elizabeth used to stay at the beginning of summers.

For a comparable stay, we’d recommend heading into nearby Braemar – a small village in the Cairngorms National Park – where princely five-star hotel The Fife Arms offers up a similarly royal reception. Each of the 46 guest rooms and suites are distinctly decorated to tell a separate story of Braemar: the Royal Suites, for example, are inspired by some of the more noble visitors to the area; and the Victoriana Suites reflect the hotel’s history as a 19th-century coaching inn. They also do a mean black-pudding bon bon at on-site pub The Flying Stag. Which brings us to…

Where to eat and drink…

Food has always been an important ingredient in the life of a royal. Whether it’s the cheesy baked eggs King Charles famously favours for brunch or the late Duke of Edinburgh’s penchant for steak Diane, delicious dishes are key to any royal engagement. And that goes double for a trip to Balmoral.

Allegedly, Queen Elizabeth was partial to fish and chips from a shop in the nearby town of Ballater (she would dispatch a footman to collect it – perhaps from Phoenix Chip Shop). The Duke of Edinburgh would barbecue in the grounds. But, our new monarch, King Charles, is a little more upscale in his tastes. His Highness prefers to eat out, to the extent that he even helped open a restaurant in Ballater – Rothesay Rooms – in 2016.

Serving seasonal, locally sourced food, it’s a tribute to the local land and is well worth your time when you’re tucked up in this corner of the country. Current dishes on the ever-changing menu include black pudding and apple gateau, and haggis cottage pie.

If it’s a good dram you’re hunting for, the monarchy also loves the whisky distillery situated closest to the Balmoral Estate: Royal Lochnagar. Sitting at the foot of the Cairngorms, a mere mile away from the royal castle, the distillery welcomes visitors for tours and tastings so that they can find out how the grassy character of the label's single malts are procured.

What to wear…

And, finally, we address the wardrobe. If, like a true togged-out royal, you want to take to the Scottish Highlands ready to tackle the wildest, windiest weather the Cairngorms has to offer, perhaps you should check out brands favoured by the royals, including Hunter Boots, a label spotted on Princess Diana and Queen Camilla.

King Charles is your best bet for Scottish style inspiration, in general, and he often turns to Campbell’s of Beauly for his tailoring and tweeds, Johnstons of Elgin for his knits and Kinloch Anderson for his kilts – just as his parents did before him.

Want more Scottish travel recommendations? These are the best whisky distillery hotels (if you’ve had one dram too many…)

Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?

Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?

Like the Gentleman’s Journal? Why not join the Clubhouse, a special kind of private club where members receive offers and experiences from hand-picked, premium brands. You will also receive invites to exclusive events, the quarterly print magazine delivered directly to your door and your own membership card.

Click here to find out more

Further reading