I visited Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city a few years’ back with a friend. The city definitely surprised me with just how picturesque and historical it was, something I really wasn’t expecting, despite it being located on the North Sea coast and in close proximity to the Highlands. I think this is partly owed to the fact that all I had ever really learned about Scotland was kilts, cold, grey weather and bagpipes. Terrible, I know. However, Aberdeen has long been recognized as a booming city thanks to the oil industry and there is plenty to do if you’re thinking of visiting.
Where to stay
With Aberdeen homing a population of more than 228,000, you definitely wont fall short in your search for accommodation, but this city offers so much more than just your typical bed and breakfast. If you’re feeling adventurous then check out coastal carriage, a private and relaxing retreat in the countryside which offers rooms onboard its vintage rail carriage. Complete with a log stove, double bed and some cracking panoramic views of the Moray Firth, this takes your average nights sleep to a whole new level! If you’re searching for something more lavish but still want that quintessential Scottish vibe, then take a look at Ardoe House hotel & spa. Set amongst 30 acres of plush countryside and inspired by Balmoral castle, this hotel offers some incredible views across the River dee as well as modern rooms, a fully-equipped gym, indoor swimming pool and of course, a spa.
Perhaps one of the most notable key points in Aberdeen is the St Machar’s cathedral, a 12th century Church of Scotland which still serves as a place of worship today. It is widely believed to be the home of the left arm of dissenter William Wallace. If you’re not familiar with the story of Wallace; he was executed in 1305 and cut up into tiny pieces which were then sent to different parts of Scotland as a warning. Pleasant, I know. The Maritime museum has won multiple awards for providing a highly educational and interactive insight into Aberdeen’s historical relationship with the sea. This place is great for history-geeks (like me) or for a family day out with the kids. The gardens at Balmoral castle are the perfect place to wander around in the summer sun. One of the official residences of the British royal family, (and the queens go-to holiday haven) this place is just beautifully plush with the most amazing gardens, farmland and wildlife. Open daily between April and July, it is well worth a visit. Dunnottar Castle- which now serves as a medieval fortress- is just a short bus ride out of the city, resting neatly atop of the rocky cliffs. The castle is widely recognized as being the hiding place for the Scottish crown Jewels when Oliver Cromwell invaded the country in the 1600’s. This was hands-down my favorite spot in all of Aberdeen and made for some incredible photos too. The university and king’s college of Aberdeen is quite magnificent. Founded in 1494 with a charter from King James IV, the university grounds include a large tower featuring a huge dome replica of Charlemagne’s crown. If you’re a whisky-lover, then you’ll most likely be in whisky heaven at the GlenDronach distillery, In between Huntly and Portsoy. This place has been making its signature whisky for more than 200 years and provides guided tours on how they are produced. They also offer tasting sessions so I would highly advise that you sufficiently line your stomach before going!
Eat like a Scotsman
Being the coastal city that it is, you can bet your bottom dollar that Aberdeen can serve up some incredible fresh sea food and there are of plenty of great spots to find it. The Moon fish cafe has featured in the observer food monthly awards no less than twice and had made quite the great reputation for itself when it comes to beautifully presented fish dishes and off-the-chart flavours. If its good old fashioned fish and chips you’re after then take a look at either Mikado express or Hass’s fish and chips which are both favourites with locals and tourists when it comes to quick and simple but tasty takeaway. If you’re looking for a more fine-dining experience with a higher price tag, then I would highly recommend reserving a spot at Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant near Stonehaven. This place is regarded as one of the best in the city when it comes to local seafood. From pan-seared scallops to braised beef, your tastebuds are truly in for a treat. Fancy a change from seafood and Scottish cuisine? Visit Madame Mews Thai café which serves up some of the best Thai food (outside of Thailand, of course) for a very reasonable price.
Shop like a Scotsman
Head down to the international outdoor street market on Union terrace where you’ll find more than 70 stalls selling everything from flowers to handmade goods. Aberdeen country fair, which is held on the last Saturday of every month, predominantly sells goods from the northeast of Scotland. It’s a slightly toned-down version of the outdoor market but is definitely still worth a visit if you’re looking to pick up some unique Scottish souvenirs or try out the local food. If its recognizable high-street brands you’re searching for then head down to the Bon Accord & St Nicholas shopping center on George Street. But be warned- it can sometimes turn into the Sottish equivalent of Oxford street, particularly on weekends! Finally, if you really want to get into the typical Scottish spirit and nab yourself a kilt, check out Alex Scott & Co, who stock traditional Scottish clothing which can be custom-made and fitted just for you!
All photos taken by Andy Fritzsche