What Does Queen Elizabeth Do During Her Two-Month Vacation at Balmoral Castle?

It's where the Queen and the other members of the royal family are free to do as they please, which sometimes means washing the dishes for their guests.

Every year, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip retreat to their summer getaway in the Scottish Highlands where they are free from any royal duties—which only applies to Queen Elizabeth now—in the comforts of the massive Balmoral Estate. During this two-month period, the royals are said to be at their happiest. And really who wouldn’t be with all the postcard-worthy cliffs, scenic coasts, and towering mountains surrounding Aberdeenshire?

The property has been with the family since 1852, when Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, purchased the estate for his wife. The original castle was deemed too small to accommodate the royal family—which consisted of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their eight children at that time—so they commissioned the structure that we see today. When the queen died, Balmoral was passed on to Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King Edward VII. To this day, Balmoral remains a favorite among the descendants of Edward VII who choose to spend their summers there every year.

Visitors may spend their holidays there, too, but once the Queen and her family are in town, the castle is usually vacated for royal occupancy. If you’re curious to know what goes on at Balmoral all summer, here’s what we know:

Her Majesty first inspects the royal troops.

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The summer holiday kicks off with the Queen inspecting the guard of honor who flank the gates of the castle. Bagpipers and large crowds gather to witness this welcoming ceremony. Stationed at Victory Barracks in Ballater, these soldiers clad in tartan quilts serve as the Queen’s security during her stay at the summer residence.  

For the family, there’s no shortage of “walks, picnics, dogs” while on vacation.

In the documentary Our Queen at Ninety, Princess Eugenie speaks fondly of the summers she’s spent with her “granny” and “grandpa” at Balmoral. “It’s the most beautiful place on earth,” she shares, “I think Granny is the happiest there… walks, picnics, dogs, a lot of dogs—there’s always dogs and people coming in and out all the time. Family-wise we’re all there, so it’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa to be—for us to come and see them up there where you just have room to breathe and run.”

Her Majesty keeps things frugal by staying in a separate house on Balmoral grounds.

To incur fewer costs and to keep tourists paying to visit the main castle, the Queen sometimes resides in a separate house. The Scottish retreat usually costs them about £3m a year, which is why the Queen is “prepared to make sacrifices in order to keep costs down” a courtier tells the Daily Mail.

She attends her Sunday service at the Crathie Church.

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The sovereign makes sure never to miss a weekly service at this church.

The Royal Family attends the Braemar Gathering.

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Queen Victoria started a trend by attending the annual games in 1848, which is held just a short distance from Balmoral. Usually, 15,000 to 16,000 people gather and this year, the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne were among that crowd that enjoyed watching the sack races and other games. Her Majesty has been attending since she was seven years old.

The Queen also hosts the annual Ghillies Ball at the castle, where she dances all night long.

Held in the Castle Ballroom, the largest room in the castle, a dance known as the Ghillies Ball has been taking place since Queen Victoria’s reign. During this event, the monarch throws a dance for the estate’s staff, estate neighbors, and some notable members of the community.

Esteemed guests are invited to join the royal family.

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Many historical visits transpired within the grounds of Balmoral. The Middletons were once guests of Prince Charles at Birkhall, and it was days after that Kate’s engagement to Prince William was made official.

Several prime ministers, such as Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, have paid visits to Balmoral and some of them found it surreal. Thatcher has been known to call it “purgatory.” Blair once revealed that the Queen even did the dishes after their meals together. Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip made their first trip to Balmoral last year, in which they were well taken care of. Books that might interest the couple were taken from the castle’s library and placed at their bedside.

Weekends are either spent with a formal dinner or an informal barbecue.

The activities depend on the weather but members of the royal family have been known to love spending their days outdoors. Walking, fishing, and hunting are usually on the table.

If you’re interested in spending a summer at Balmoral just like the royal family, check Balmoral’s official website and plan your visit from there. If you can’t spare the visit, you can always stalk the red squirrels running around the grounds with the site’s dedicated squirrel cam.

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Hannah Lazatin
Features Editor
Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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