32 facts about the royals' traditional summer holidays in Balmoral

The royals have resided in Balmoral Castle over the summer for decades. We take a look into the interesting facts about their annual summer holidays...

Balmoral Scottish Royal Scots baronial revival style castle and grounds in summer; Europe Great Britain, Scotland, Aberdeenshire, the Balmoral castle, summer residence of the British Royal Family
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The beautiful Scottish Highland getaway of Balmoral Castle is where the royal family annually head to escape their hectic day-to-day schedules and enjoy a break in the summer months. 

Nestled among the rugged Aberdeenshire countryside and set on a vast 50,000-acre plot of land, Balmoral Castle has been a summer holiday tradition in the royal family since it was initially purchased by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1800s. Since then, it has seen royals come and go year after year to amble the wild countryside, hunt in its grounds and enjoy tucking into legendary barbecues done by the late Duke of Edinburgh.

Here we take a deep dive into some of the most interesting facts about the royal family's beloved traditional holidays to Balmoral...

32 royal family Balmoral holiday facts

There are always plenty of activities to be enjoyed

Prince Charles In Kilt And Sporran And Shepherd's Crook Walking Stick With Prince William & Prince Harry At Polvier, By The River Dee, Balmoral Castle Estate. Prince William's Dog Widgeon (black Labrador) And Prince Charles's Jack Russell Dog Called Tigga (tigger) Are With Them (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

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Spending your summer holidays on a 50,000-acre estate means there are endless activities to pass the time while off official duty. From salmon fishing (an apparent favourite pastime of the Duke of Wales) to enjoying a long wander on the moors, all royals and visitors can take part in as much or as little as they please.

It is often a holiday home for other famous faces

President Eisenhower (centre) with the British Royal family (L-R) Prince Philip, Princess Anne, HM Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Captain John Eisenhower, at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, September 1959. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Each year when the royals travel to Balmoral, they invite a steady stream of well-known faces, from politicians (pictured here in the centre is American President Dwight D. Eisenhower) to religious leaders. King Charles and Queen Camilla settled into the same tradition as they welcomed Rishi Sunak and his family to the idyllic Scottish holiday home in 2023.

It was where the late Queen felt most at home, according to her closest relatives

The Queen walking at Balmoral whilst attending Gun Dog Trials, 1967. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

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We already know that Balmoral Castle was a much-loved place for Queen Elizabeth. However, those closest to her have shared on more than one occasion that it was the most special place to her, and where she felt most at home. Princess Eugenie, the late monarch’s granddaughter, said in the TV documentary ‘Our Queen at Ninety’ that the Scottish hideaway was where she was "most happy” and that she “really, really loves the Highlands." That much we know is true!

It is home to a very famous royal ball, the Ghillies Ball

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, dancing at a state ball at the palace in Valletta during a Commonwealth Visit to Malta, 16th November 1967. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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A tradition started by Queen Victoria, Balmoral Castle is home to a famous end-of-summer ball called the ‘Ghillies Ball’. Translating to 'gamekeeper' in Gaelic, the Ghillies Ball is a large-scale royal occasion in which the monarch celebrates the end of their time off by thanking staff alongside other intimate members of the royal family. Queen Elizabeth attended her first Ghillies Ball when she was just 12 years old, just one of the many parts of her extraordinary life.

It is the home of a royal summer holiday tradition, ‘The Balmoral Test’

Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh, and her three sons, the Prince Andrew the Duke of York, Prince Charles the Prince of Wales and Prince Edward the Earl of Wessex on holiday in Balmoral, Scotland in 1979. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

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You may have seen in an episode on season 4 of Netflix’s hit royal drama The Crown a game being played in which visitors alike are expected to complete a set of challenges if they want to be proverbially ‘accepted’ into the royal family. In fact, biographer Andrew Morton writes in his book Diana: Her True Story that it was apparently a real game! Visitors were expected to be up to date with their royal knowledge, have a top-rate outfit planned for all occasions and even be prepared to take part in silly parlour games…

Picnics are always a must

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh with their children, Prince Andrew (centre), Princess Anne (left) and Charles, Prince of Wales sitting on a picnic rug outside Balmoral Castle in Scotland, 8th September 1960

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There is nothing quite like relaxing on holiday with a picnic in the great outdoors where the family can eat, play and really have some downtime. Whenever staying at Balmoral Castle for their summer sojourn, the royals were known to be very fond of getting outside and having picnics on the moor. We can only imagine the scenes of the young royals running around the fields while the adults chat and joke amongst themselves…

The future King and Queen have their own idyllic hideaway, Tam-Na-Ghar Cottage

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (wearing his red tunic uniform of the Irish Guards, of which he is Colonel) travel down The Mall, on route to Buckingham Palace, in the 1902 State Landau horse drawn carriage following their wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011 in London, England.

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As we know, plenty of royal family members attend Balmoral Castle during the summer months. The Prince and Princess of Wales have their own private residence on the grounds of Balmoral called Tam-Na-Ghar, a quiet cottage gifted to them by the Queen Mother before she passed away in 2002. Little is known about the residence other than it has three bedrooms and is located not too far from Birkhall, the preferred small, country residence of the now King and Queen if they are not taking up residence in the main castle.

Just like the rest of us, they are powerless to the call of a takeaway

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge watch a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on July 10, 2018 in London, England. The 100th birthday of the RAF, which was founded on on 1 April 1918, was marked with a centenary parade with the presentation of a new Queen's Colour and flypast of 100 aircraft over Buckingham Palace. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

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When on holiday all of us try to relax and indulge, be it with an extra helping of dessert or a tempting cocktail before a meal. Apparently, the royal family are no different in that relaxed holiday feeling and are partial to the odd takeaway when having a summer holiday at Balmoral Castle. A source told The Sun that while the late Queen was a big fan of British takeaway classic fish and chips, other royals like Princes William and Harry loved pizza, Chinese food and the famous peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s.

There’s a royal sleepover for the younger children

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge watch a flypast from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Colour on June 2, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

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As children, there is nothing quite like a sleepover. Something universal to most people’s experiences growing up, Queen Elizabeth was no different in allowing this fun tradition to continue at the famous summer holiday residence in Scotland. Hosting sleepovers in the last week of August for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Balmoral Castle, the late Queen made sure the affair was one to remember each time it happened and would go the extra mile to make it a whole lot more exciting by leaving special treats and gifts on their beds. We wonder what sort of gifts the children received!

Dogs are always in invited to the summer holiday to Balmoral

28th September 1952: Queen Elizabeth II poses in the garden of Balmoral Castle with two of her dogs. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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The royal family have always been big fans of animals, from the late Queen's love of horses to her equally beloved corgis. Princess Eugenie once said in an interview that there were “a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs” when the family relaxed and took time off in the Scottish highlands. We’re certain that the late Queen no doubt showed her less serious side when playing with her much loved Corgis and that they were certainly given the VIP treatment and allowed to roam the grounds as freely as the human members of the family…

Queen Elizabeth wasn’t afraid of doing chores

Queen Elizabeth II attending the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on May 21, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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While others in the royal family may be out relaxing on the terrace post-Prince Philip BBQ, the Queen was said to be happy to get stuck in and help out clearing away after dinner. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recounts how she was shocked to see the late monarch standing at the kitchen sink wearing a pair of yellow gloves and washing the dishes. It was then famously reported that not long after, the politician sent the Queen a pair of washing gloves!

It is a haven for young royals, too!

Prince George, Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte during Trooping the Colour on June 02, 2022 in London, England. The Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II is being celebrated from June 2 to June 5, 2022, in the UK and Commonwealth to mark the 70th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952, (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

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While the adult royals let off steam and relax while at Balmoral, it is also a much-loved place by the new generation of younger royals including George, Charlotte and Louis. 

Prince Louis is said to have so much fun playing pranks that his mother, Catherine Princess of Wales told the Australian Governor-General that he asks if they are still allowed to play games now that his great-grandmother has passed away.

The late queen was something of a petrol head

Queen Elizabeth II seen driving her Range Rover car as she watches the International Carriage Driving Grand Prix event on day 4 of the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Home Park on May 17, 2014 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

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While relaxing on her summer holidays, Queen Elizabeth was known to spend at least some of her time harkening back to her days of service in the Army. Although she wasn't driving around in heavy armoured vehicles on the 50,000-acre plot of land, it is well documented that the late monarch was a big fan of driving her Land Rover around the estate, no doubt taking in the breathtakingly rugged landscape.

One of the most famous stories of the Queen behind the wheel was during the visit of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince in 1998, in which the Queen got behind the wheel and drove off at top speed, something the Prince was not used to as at that point in Saudi Arabia no female was permitted to drive, as recalled by Saudi Ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles in his memoir.

The reigning monarch always visits the Braemar Highland Games

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles attend the Braemar Gathering and Highland Games in 1975, in Braemar, Scotland. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

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The Braemar Highland Games are the most famous Highland Games in Scotland, hosting a range of outdoor events that are enjoyed by both royals and the public. It is tradition for the monarch and other royals to attend the games on the first Saturday in September, making it a much-loved tradition to end the holidays at Balmoral Castle. The Late Queen and Prince were often pictured watching in awe of the events going on and it's a tradition that the now King and Queen have also begun to follow.

The controversial shooting tradition

King George V (1865 - 1936) enjoys some shooting at Balmoral, beside the River Dee in Aberdeenshire.(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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A long-standing tradition of the royals' holiday to Balmoral in Scotland is to go hunting. Something of a rite of passage, it's widely known that younger royals attend a deer or grouse hunt as they grow up, often shooting their first prey as young adults. 

Prince Louis was spotted attending a grouse shoot in 2018, and while it is unclear whether the King will continue the grouse hunting tradition, the deer-stalking and fishing tradition at the nearby Abergeldie estate has ended due to developments by the owners of the neighbouring plot of land.

Balmoral inspires Princess Catherine’s passion for photography

Catherine, Princess of Wales arrives at the Shaping Us National Symposium at the Design Museum on November 15, 2023 in London, England. The symposium event, hosted by The Princess of Wales and The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, brings together leaders and specialists to consider key foundational skills for early childhood which can result in healthy adult lives. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

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The Princess of Wales is widely known to be a fan of photography, sometimes releasing the snaps she takes of her family. Early on in her relationship with Prince William, the Queen apparently gave her permission to bring her camera along to Balmoral and take photos of both the family and the beautiful Scottish countryside. 

One particularly sweet photograph taken by the princess and released to celebrate what would have been her 97th birthday shows the Queen surrounded by many of her great-grandchildren in one of the many cosy countryside rooms at the castle. 

Prince Albert threw himself into the spirit of holidaying in the Scottish countryside

Balmoral, Scotland (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

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Much like his wife, Queen Victoria, it has been documented that Prince Albert thoroughly enjoyed getting out in the surroundings of Balmoral Castle. It's said that the landscape reminded him of his birthplace of Thuringia in Germany, and that he liked to go game and deer shooting. 

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria are the second-longest-reigning monarchs in history, reigning over England for 63 years. They were only surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II, who overtook the record by reigning for over 70 years.

Balmoral has also been a honeymoon destination

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a suit designed by Bill Pashley, pose for a photo on the banks of the river Dee in the grounds of Balmoral Castle during their honeymoon on August 19, 1981 in Balmoral, Scotland. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

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A castle as grand and charming as Balmoral Castle is the perfect setting for newly married royals who want to honeymoon out of the private eye. Towards the end of the summer season at Balmoral in 1981, Prince Charles took Diana, Princess of Wales to the castle for their honeymoon shortly after their wedding. 

There has been the odd royal birthday party thrown during the summer months

Prince Harry plays rugby with children as part of the Coach Core sporting apprenticeships at National Ice Centre on November 6, 2016 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

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Balmoral Castle is a summer getaway of extraordinary proportions, boasting 50,000 acres of ground and over 100 buildings. It was said that for his 32nd birthday party, Prince Harry took advantage of his late summer birthday and held a celebration in the family’s holiday home in his young party-goer days before meeting his future wife Meghan Markle. 

The family take part in daily expeditions

Queen of Great Britain Elizabeth II attends the North of Scotland Gun Dog Association's Open Stake Retriever Trials at Balmoral with one of the Trial judges Lord Porchester and one of the head gamekeepers James Gillan. (Photo by Cowper/Central Press/Getty Images)

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It’s no wonder that whenever the royal family spend their summer holidays in Balmoral Castle, plenty of physical activity occurs. Hunting and horse riding have been long-standing traditions at the castle for decades, but the daily ritual many of us can identify with is that of a daily amble through the stunning countryside. Royal photographer Lord Lichfield recalled in 1972 how the family spent most days outdoors and always going on expeditions, showing us their love for nature.

King Charles used to enjoy painting the glorious Scottish landscape

Prince Charles sketching in Balmoral, Scotland, 1984 circa. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)

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Each royal often has one particular hobby they love to do in their downtime. For Queen Elizabeth, it was horse riding, while for Prince Philip it was Carriage Driving. For the now King Charles III, it seems Balmoral was the place for him to do his hobby of sketching and painting. In this photo, you can see a young Charles sketching on the banks of a loch surrounded by purple heather as he paints the imposing landscape at Balmoral in the 1980s.

It is sometimes a getaway outside of the normal summer holiday routine

King Charles III meets members of the public after the inspection of Balaklava Company, 5th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, at the gates of Balmoral, as he takes up summer residence at Balmoral Castle on August 21, 2023 in Aberdeen, Scotland. (Photo by Jane Barlow - Pool/Getty Images)

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The royals travel to Balmoral Castle every year from August to September, inviting family and close friends throughout the season to enjoy its colossal grounds and relax in private. However, since Queen Elizabeth II passed away in 2022, it has become the location of shorter stays for the monarchs. In 2023, rather than spending the whole summer at the castle, King Charles spent a shorter amount of time at the castle, instead first visiting the Castle of Mey in Caithness, Scotland before travelling on to take up residence at Balmoral. 

They would attend local events and fetes in nearby villages

This charming snapshot, taken at the Abergeldie Castle Fete, behind the marquee in which the two little Princesses sold white heather in aid of the funds of Crathie Church, Scotland, June 9, 1933. Princess Elizabeth is enjoying a tug-of-war with a spring of heather, while Princess Margaret Rose busies herself with the guy ropes of the marquee. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

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Balmoral Castle is an estate in rural Scotland, just 9 miles away from the local village of Ballater. Whilst taking time off in the Scottish hideaway, the royal family were known to visit local fetes and village celebrations, proving that even when taking time away from the public eye they enjoyed food stalls, games and fairground rides as much as the rest of us do when on our summer holidays.

The King's sweet and surprising holiday tradition with Balmoral’s red squirrels

British Royal Charles, Prince of Wales, on his 30th birthday, wearing a grey tweed jacket and waistcoat, in the grounds of Balmoral Castle on the Balmoral Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 14th November 1978. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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The grounds Balmoral Castle is set in is home to a whole host of wildlife - from birds to horses and squirrels. It is the latter that the King apparently has an affinity for, apparently giving the squirrels affectionate nicknames and letting them come inside the house itself! We hope they don’t make too much trouble once inside the immaculately decorated Highland hideaway… 

Prince Philip was fond of a rather cheeky prank

Queen Elizabeth II with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, at Balmoral. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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According to his grandson William, the late Duke of Edinburgh was fond of playing a cheeky prank on his relatives while taking time off at the Scottish castle. He recounts how “instead of a mustard pot, we’d have a mustard tube” that he would “squish your hands together to fire the mustard onto the ceiling” and no doubt cause plenty of trouble for getting areas of the castle covered in the bright yellow condiment. We can only imagine the mess of having to clear that all up!

Balmoral was the perfect opportunity for the late Queen to go horseback riding

Queen Elizabeth II horse riding on the Balmoral estate, Scotland, Great Britain, September 1982. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

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It’s commonly known that Queen Elizabeth was an avid lover of all things equine. From attending horse racing at Epsom, Derby and Royal Ascot to inheriting her own breeding and racing stock from her father King George VI, she truly loved all aspects of these beautiful animals. At Balmoral, she often took the time to ride horseback through the vast expanses of ground, taking in the sights and sounds of the gorgeous Scottish landscape. This tradition has been passed onto other royals as well, with Princess Anne being the first ever royal to compete in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

Queen Victoria loved Balmoral as much as her later relative, Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth Victoria (1819 - 1901), Queen of Great Britain, travelling on a carriage in the grounds of Balmoral Castle, a private royal residence near Ballater on the River Dee in the Scottish Highlands, UK, circa 1868. (Photo by W. & D. Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Balmoral Castle has been in the royal family since Prince Albert first purchased the land lease in 1848 and then went on to fully own and refurbish the castle by 1856, becoming the iconic royal holiday home we know today. The Queen herself was a huge fan of the blissful Scottish escape, writing in her diary that the castle and its surrounding area “breathed freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils”. It has also been noted that she enjoyed going out for long walks of up to four hours on the moors.

Going to a Sunday service is a holiday tradition

Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)

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When royals and visitors alike visit Balmoral, there are certain traditions that are strongly followed. Every Sunday, for example, the royals and any visitors attend a Sunday Service at Crathie Kirk, a local parish church on the Balmoral estate. 

The holidays at Balmoral begin with a royal inspection

Queen Elizabeth attending the Guard of Honour inspection from the Royal Highland Fusiliers

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When you arrive at your holiday destination, your first thought is often to have a look around your hotel room, nose around the grounds and generally get the lay of the land. The royals' holidays to Balmoral apparently start no differently, as when the monarch arrives to start their holiday at Balmoral Castle, the first port of call is an inspection of a guard of honour from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion, who are responsible for the safety of the family while they are there.

Prince Philip was known to be a master of the grill

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (wearing the regimental tie of The Rifles) attends a ceremony to mark the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles from him to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at Windsor Castle on July 22, 2020 in Windsor, England

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While Queen Elizabeth was known for riding around the Castle’s grounds on horseback, the Late Duke of Edinburgh was more partial to a summer’s day spent by the grill, revelling in more candid and light-hearted moments. In his memoir Spare, Prince Harry writes of his Great Grandfather ‘tending to the grill…stood amid a thick cloud of smoke, tears running from his eyes’. The Queen also apparently got stuck in preparing the food, and was apparently on salad-making duty ahead of these royal summer BBQs.

The Late Queen liked to be woken up by a rather loud musical instrument

Pipers Playing Their Bagpipes At The Gates Of Balmoral Castle.circa 1990s (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

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A tradition that was upheld not only at Balmoral but also at Buckingham Palace, Windsor and Holyroodhouse, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the daily ritual of a bagpiper playing underneath her window at 9 am every morning for 15 minutes. A tradition some of us may prefer not to hear every morning… 

Even the Late Queen had her preferred getaway cottage in the grounds

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Balmoral, Scotland, 1972. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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Balmoral Castle isn't just one big castle - it actually has 150 buildings. These include King Charles III and Queen Camilla’s preferred cottage home at Birkhall, and Craigowan Lodge, the hidden stone cottage the Late Queen herself loved to relax in away for the first week of her holiday, away from the eyes of the public and one mile away from the castle itself.

Elena Kiratzi

Elena Kiratzi is a freelance writer from London, who covers everything from beauty and fashion to travel and the importance of discussing the issues facing women today. Elena began her career in journalism by completing a course on the media and creative industry with the Media Trust, which led to her to write for Red Magazine where she interviewed her own Mum about the topic of menopause awareness. She then went on to complete a digital internship with the team at woman&home and cultivated a passion for lifestyle and culture writing.

When she's not planning her next big adventure or playing with her cats, she's always on the hunt for the next exciting product launch to attend or scrolling Pinterest for inspiration to create her next moodboard