Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish holiday home of the royal family for almost 170 years. Away from the bustle of public duties, the royal retreat was famously known as Queen Elizabeth II's 'happy place' — and was where she spent her last moments with family before she died peacefully on Thursday 8th September 2022.
Keep reading for everything you need to know, including the architects behind Balmoral and what it means to the royal family.
Where is Balmoral Castle?
Balmoral Castle is a 50,000-acre estate located in the Dee Valley in Aberdeenshire, about 100 miles north of Edinburgh.
Who designed Balmoral Castle?
Balmoral, not part of the Crown Estate, is considered to be Scottish baronial and Gothic revival. The original castle was brought from the Farquharson family by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, but was said to be too small for the growing royal family and subsequently ended up being demolished. The replacement was built by father-son architects, John and William Smith, who constructed the castle out of local granite.
It was Queen Victoria who first fell deeply in love with the evocative Highland scenery surrounding Balmoral (it helped her come to terms with the death of Prince Albert in 1861). Away from palace grandeur, Balmoral boasts five miles of walks in the grounds, formal gardens around the house, a water garden, Victorian conservatory, a splendid library (below), and an area laid out by Queen Mary in the earth 20th century.
Historic Environment Scotland explains: 'Balmoral is a particularly fine example of a handsome country estate typical of the mid 19th-century with parkland, woodland, arboretum, woodland walks, shrubberies and gardens set within the dramatic backcloth and 'romantic' Highland scenery of the Dee Valley and the Grampians.
'References suggest that the landscape gardener James Beattie and the artist James Giles assisted Prince Albert with the design of the grounds and that the layout of many of the estate paths was designed for Queen Victoria.'
How often did the Queen visit Balmoral?
Every summer, Her Majesty would travel to her Scottish estate, with members of her family invited to spend time with her while she was there. The Queen was said to have loved spending time at Balmoral because it was away from the public eye where the family could explore the outdoors, ride horses and take in the beautiful scenery.
'I think Granny is the most happy there,' said Princess Eugenie, the Queen's granddaughter, in the documentary Our Queen at Ninety. 'I think she really, really loves the Highlands. It's a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there, where you just have room to breathe and run.'
While Balmoral Castle was known to be one of the Queen's favourite royal residences, it has also been a popular holiday home with other members of the family, too. Back in 1980, Prince Charles brought Princess Diana to spend a weekend with his family, returning again a year later as part of their honeymoon.
It was also at Balmoral where Prince Harry and Prince William learned of their mother's death in 1997. More recently, the Queen invited the 15th British Prime Minster, Liz Truss, to the informal setting of her Aberdeenshire home, rather than Buckingham Palace.
Can you visit Balmoral?
Balmoral Castle is usually open to the public from April to July each year, and group visits can sometimes be arranged outside of that period.
Following the death of Her Majesty the Queen, a statement on the Balmoral Castle website read: 'Balmoral Estates will be closed to visitors until further notice and during the Period of Mourning the main gates will be closed to all traffic. Please note that it is likely the main gates, the roads around Balmoral and the local villages will be extremely busy at this sad time.'
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