Balmoral Castle – the beloved Scottish home where the Queen spent her final days

The product of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's enthusiasm for the Highlands, Balmoral Castle remained a much-loved home of the late Her Majesty The Queen

Balmoral Castle Scotland
(Image credit: Andreas Karnholz / Alamy Stock Photo)

Far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands has offered a green-filled sanctuary to our Royal Family for nearly 170 years. 

Overlooking the River Dee, chasmal lochs, and steep hillsides of ancient Caledonian pine forests, many monarchs and their extended families have sought refuge in this sprawling 50,000-acre royal residence, relishing its natural beauty each summer. Balmoral Castle, undoubtedly the late Queen's haven, is also amongst the world's best homes.

The royal love affair with the property began with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert: they bought the 27-year lease on the then 11,000-acre Grampian estate in February 1848 on the recommendation of the Earl of Aberdeen, lately their foreign secretary. Though they did so unseen (except for watercolors of the house), they were not to be disappointed when they finally saw it in person. 

In her diary of September 8, 1848, after a journey lasting several days, Queen Victoria recalled: ‘We crossed the Dee about five miles before getting to the castle, and the scenery became prettier and prettier. There is much agriculture and cultivation which gives a flourishing look to the country.’  It is believed that Prince Albert's love of Balmoral was influenced by a childhood spent in the wooded wilds of Thuringia in central Germany. It was pure mountainous solitude for the couple who very much enjoyed time away from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Balmoral offered the young couple a private refuge far from official life. It was pure mountainous solitude for the couple who very much enjoyed time away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It would also contribute a significant chapter to the story of how the Victorian perception of the Highlands transformed the image of Scotland in the 19th century.

Away from her public duties, this beloved royal retreat became famously known as the late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's 'happy place'. Balmoral Castle is also where she spent her last moments with family before she passed away on Thursday 8th September 2022.

Balmoral Castle

(Image credit: Andrew Barker / Alamy Stock Photo)

Where is Balmoral Castle?

Balmoral Castle is an expansive 50,000-acre estate house in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and a residence of the British royal family

Who owns Balmoral Castle?

Though official royal residences like Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace are owned by the Crown Estate – which is funded by British taxpayers – Balmoral Castle is a privately owned residence, inherited through the family. The only other privately owned residence is Sandringham, located in Norfolk, England.

Who designed Balmoral Castle?

The original estate of Balmoral on Deeside, deep in the Highlands of Scotland, was originally bought from the Farquharson family by Victoria and her husband Albert in 1848 after they fell in love with the landscape. The estate came with a house, which was soon discovered to be too small for the Royal Family and related officials. Work quickly started on a new one, constructed in the then popular Scottish baronial style by father and son architects John and William Smith – Prince Albert is said to have played a large role in its design. 

The gardens and grounds were improved as well, with the creation of five miles of walks. Unlike every other royal property except Sandringham, Balmoral is privately owned, so not the property of the crown.

Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II with the Duke of Edinburgh and their children at Balmoral Castle

(Image credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

When did the Queen visit Balmoral?

Until the Queen's death, Balmoral Castle was a great favorite of the Royal Family, with the Queen spending many of her summers on the glorious estate. It served as both a summer home as well as a rural treat and the Queen once said: 'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot'. She spent much of her later years there and died at the house in September 2022. 

Local people are quite protective of the family’s privacy, and over the years the Queen has become a regular sight in the neighborhood, often driving by herself and it’s said that she, her husband Prince Philip and the former Prince of Wales, King Charles III all took a personal interest in the running of the estate. The King is known to particularly love Balmoral – in 1980 he published a children’s book for the Prince's Trust called The Old Man of Lochnagar, inspired by the highest mountain on the estate.

balmoral castle royal deeside with garden & conservatory

(Image credit: allan wright / Alamy Stock Photo)

Is Balmoral Castle open to the public?

The grounds, gardens, exhibition in the stables and the Ballroom in the Castle are open to the public for part of the year (The late Queen’s private rooms are never available to view) until Sunday 31st July. Opening times are from 10.00am until 5.00pm (last admission 4.30pm.)

However, following the tragic death of Her Majesty The Queen, a statement on the Balmoral Castle website reads as follows: '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.'

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.