Balmoral: a closer look at the Queen's favourite summer retreat

Prince William once surprised his then-girlfriend Kate with a visit to the castle

Ainhoa Barcelona

The Queen is enjoying her summer break in Scotland, undoubtedly one of her favourite places on Earth. The 92-year-old monarch has been visiting her residence, Balmoral Castle, for years, with her granddaughter Princess Eugenie once saying the sovereign was most happy there. "Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there's always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time. 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," Princess Eugenie revealed during an appearance on ITV's Our Queen At Ninety.

"It's the most beautiful place on earth," she added. "I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands." Read on for everything you need to know about the glorious royal residence…

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Where is Balmoral?

The large castle is located in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. The Queen usually takes her private helicopter from England to Scotland, and in the past, she has been pictured boarding the jet with her clan of corgis. The magnificent estate is set amid mountains, lochs and glens.

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The Queen travels everywhere with her corgis

What does the Queen do in Balmoral?

Balmoral is where the Queen and her family can truly relax and be themselves. It's quite usual for visitors to see Prince Philip grilling sausages over a barbeque or Her Majesty washing up; Margaret Thatcher was so baffled by the monarch's habit of washing up with bare hands, she sent her a pair of gloves. Picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks are all laid on.

And despite being on their summer holiday, the royals will occasionally attend official engagements, namely the Braemar Games. The Queen and her husband Prince Philip are always pictured having a laugh as they watch the annual tug-of-war and the sack race. Royal watchers can also catch a glimpse of the Queen when she attends Sunday church at nearby Crathie Kirk. This summer, she has been pictured attending with a lady-in-waiting, and her granddaughters Princess Beatrice and Lady Louise Windsor.

The Queen spends every summer at Balmoral

When does the Queen visit Balmoral?

The Queen usually starts her summer holiday in mid-July, but while the main castle is officially open to tourists until August, she stays in a seven-bedroom stone house on her estate, Craigowan Lodge. She then moves into the 'big house' in August and stays in Scotland until September/October time.

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When have Prince William and Kate visited Balmoral?

William and Kate have spent some of their most romantic times at the residence, staying at a cottage called Tam-na-Ghar during their breaks from St Andrews University. The Prince also surprised his then-girlfriend in 2009, arranging a candle-lit dinner in a remote log cabin on the banks of the River Dee. Since then, the Duke and Duchess regularly return and drop in for short summer visits, now with their young children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and for the first time this year, baby Prince Louis.

Picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks are all laid on

Which members of the royal family visit the Queen?

Her Majesty and Prince Philip receive visitors throughout the summer. Apart from their immediate family including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who also have a mansion on the Balmoral estate, other royals include Prince Andrew, his daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and the Cambridges. Prince Harry's wife Meghan is expected to be invited to Scotland for the first time this summer. In past years, Kate's parents Carole and Michael Middleton have been guests of Prince Charles at his mansion, Birkhall.

Balmoral is privately owned by the royals

What is the history of Balmoral?

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert first visited the Highlands in 1842 and were so struck by its beauty they resolved to return. The monarch famously called Balmoral a "paradise in the Highlands" and wrote in her diary: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils."

The magnificent estate, set amid mountains, lochs and glens, held a special place for Victoria, so much so that in 1852 her husband Albert bought it for her. The original house was deemed "small but pretty", which led to the commission of Balmoral Castle. Unlike other properties such as Buckingham Palace, it is privately owned.

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