Scotland | A Local's Guide to the Perfect Aberdeen City Break

This article is part of a paid partnership with VisitAberdeenshire.

As someone who lives in Aberdeenshire, I'd normally find myself in the Granite City once or twice a week. However, with the current pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions, it's been 4 months since I visited the city centre! I was delighted when VisitAberdeenshire invited me to enjoy a wee staycation as part of their #rediscoverABDN campaign. We had a wonderful weekend which just proves you don't need to travel far, or spend a fortune, to enjoy an Aberdeen city break. Whether you're a local in need of a staycation, or someone from further afield seeking a little Scottish hospitality, now is the time to rediscover Aberdeen.


Getting to Aberdeen

The city is connected well by Scotrail trains from other Scottish cities, as well as the Megabus service, with both the train and bus stations centrally located at Union Square in the city centre. It's less than a 3 hour drive to Aberdeen from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness.

For travel within Aberdeen and shire, check routes with Stagecoach and First busses. Aberdeen is a very walkable city and the majority of attractions are easily reached on foot. The new AWPR makes driving from the surrounding areas much easier, and most hotels provide ample parking.

For international visitors, Aberdeen Airport has recently undergone a terminal transformation, resulting in a vastly enhanced travel experience. You can catch regular busses to the city centre directly outside the airport.

Couple below "Shiny Happy People Laughing" NuArt at the Green, Aberdeen

Free things to do in Aberdeen

NuArt and Painted Doors - Since 2017, annual street art festival NuArt Aberdeen has been making a lasting impact on the city. One of my favourite things to do is wander the city centre admiring the striking murals, but keep your eyes peeled for some smaller pieces and hidden gems along the way! The Painted Doors project has also seen local artists adorn abandoned doorways with beautiful imagery which really brightens up the streets.
This map is a handy tool to help with your own self guided tour.

Walk along the beach and explore Fittie - Aberdeen beach front is a lovely place for a stroll. Look out for brave surfers taking on the waves, with the ferris wheel and ice cream parlours creating that typical, much loved seaside vibe. At the far end, you'll reach Footdee (or Fittie), which is a lovely little old picturesque fishing village, with quirky houses and gardens to admire.

Dolphin spotting at Torry Battery - Staying on the coast, head up to Torry Battery overlooking the harbour. This old fortification is a popular location for viewing the pod of bottlenose dolphins that feed in the surrounding waters.

Duthie Park and the Winter Gardens - Despite being known for it's grey, granite buildings, Aberdeen is actually home to quite a few green spaces. One of my favourites is Duthie Park, which features play parks for the kids, a boating pond and (my personal favourite) the David Welch Winter Gardens, which is home to a plethora of exotic plants! Unfortunately the gardens are closed at the moment, but hopefully it won't be too long until they reopen.

St Machar's cathedral in old Aberdeen

Visit Old Aberdeen - For a complete change of scenery, you want to head to the pretty cobbled lanes of Old Aberdeen. You could spend the whole afternoon here, with so many sights to see. Start at the 13th century Brig o' Balgownie, apparently built at the instruction of Robert the Bruce, and stroll through the manicured lawns of beautiful Seaton Park towards St Machar's Cathedral.

Built in the 15th century, the church is known for it's striking heraldic ceiling. Look out for a star on the wall which marks the spot where William Wallace's left quarter was supposedly interred after his legendary execution. Unfortunately I can't tell you if there's any truth to that story!

From the cathedral it's worth carrying on towards the impressive Kings College and Powis Gate. I recently learned that the gate was built by Hugh Fraser Leslie, who made his wealth from coffee and sugar plantations, and slaves, in Jamaica.

Powis Gate, by the University in Old Aberdeen

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums - Reopened in 2019 after an extensive redevelopment, Aberdeen Art Gallery is well worth a visit, especially as an escape on a rainy day! I believe they intend to reopen later in the year with free, ticketed entry. Both the maritime and Tolbooth museums will hopefully follow suit.

I highly recommend the Tolbooth museum as it's housed in one of Aberdeen's oldest buildings on Union Street, and packed full of grisly tales of crime and punishment from the 17th century. The Maritime Museum has an excellent viewpoint of the harbour too!

Find the Leopards - Poised, the leopard sculpture created by Andy Scott of Kelpies fame, has been well received since it's installation in Marischal Square in 2017. Perched at 15m high, the structure towers over the eateries below, but it's not the only leopard in town! Aberdeen's coat of arms features two leopards either side of three towers, which is why the animal has become an unexpected symbol of the Scottish city. There's one very nearby Poised, next to Marishcal college, and you'll spot another on your NuArt tour. There's even a second, lesser known Andy Scott sculpture, featuring two leopards, outside of the city centre.

Looking up at Hama Woods leopard street art on Crooked Lane - part of NuArt Aberdeen

Marischal College - Speaking of Marischal College, did you know it's the second largest granite building in the world? The Broad Street structure was originally built as a university but since 2011 it's been used as Aberdeen City Council's headquarters. A statue of Robert the Bruce stands proudly outside. The architecture here, and at nearby Castlegate, is some of the best in the city in my opinion.

Join a free walking tour - If you'd like to learn more about the history of Aberdeen as you explore, Scot Free Tours run a free walking tour every Saturday, starting from the Mercat Cross at Castlegate.  Old Aberdeen tours take place on Sundays. I'd recommend getting in touch to book a space in advance as numbers may currently be limited.

Blackberry sour cocktail at Moonfish Cafe

Where to eat and drink in Aberdeen

We're extremely lucky to have an abundant local larder here in Aberdeenshire. From the freshest seafood landed daily at our harbours, to the finest Aberdeen angus beef, and not to mention our thriving craft drinks scene. Beer, gin, whisky - whatever your tipple, you'll find it aplenty in Aberdeen. Naturally we're spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out, but here I've selected a few of my favourite cafes, bars and restaurants, depending on what you're looking for.
Please be aware that some eateries may still be currently closed or operating a reduced service, so check for updates ahead of your visit. Booking in advance is recommended.

Fine dining - We enjoyed a delicious meal of octopus and chorizo, chicken croquettes, treacle cured beef and braised onion gnocchi, crafted by head chef and masterchef finalist Brian McLeish, at Moonfish Cafe in the city's Merchant Quarter. At The Chester Hotel we tucked into King scallop, followed by hearty plates of fish and chips and scampi, in their beautiful new outdoor restaurant. Both of these restaurants feature in the Michelin guide, alongside The Silver Darling where you can treat yourself to delicious seafood overlooking the harbour. For great steak, head to Vovem Meat & Liquor on Union Street.

King scallop starter at the Chester Hotel's outdoor restaurant in Aberdeen

Casual dining - For a more casual affair, I recommend Howies on Chapel Street where they serve local dishes such as cullen skink and haggis, neeps and tatties, or No 10 Bar and Restaurant, who have currently expanded into Queens Terrace Gardens with outdoor seating. Siberia is a great spot for a relaxed lunch on Belmont Street, or grab a toastie at nearby Melt - Aberdeen's favourite retro cheese restaurant!

Coffee - One of my favourite coffee stops in the city is Foodstory cafe on Thistle Street, or if you fancy a sweet treat head to Mackie's 19.2 at Marischal Square. Here you can choose from a multitude of weird and wonderful ice creams - made 19.2 miles away on the family farm. For a unique way to sample a local delicacy, try the buttery and jam flavour, with biscoff sauce!

Mackie's Buttery and jam ice cream, topped with Biscoff sauce, on a sprinkle cone outside Marishcal College

Craft beer - Brewdog is probably the most well known of Aberdeenshire's beer exports, with three bars in the city centre. Behind their Castlegate bar you'll discover Fierce beer or head to Six Degrees North, and sample some incredible BBQ food from their kitchen residents Smoke & Soul! A tour of the major craft beer bars in the city has become known as the Craft Beer Kilometre.

Cocktails - For a late night tipple, the Silver City is home to some of the best cocktail bars in Scotland. The Tippling House serves food as well as cocktails at their Belmont Street bar, 99 Bar and Kitchen have a vegan food offering from Roots catering, and if you're a gin fan, you'll want to check out Orchid - the home of Porter's gin. To enter speakeasy 21 Crimes, you'll need to find the elusive password first!

Colourful umbrella installation in the entrance to Sandman Signature Hotel Aberdeen

Where to stay in Aberdeen

The Sandman Signature Hotel is fast becoming one of our favourite hotels in Aberdeen. With it's stylish interior, lush and comfortable rooms, and cosy whisky bar, it feels exactly like the warm hug (or should I say bosie?) you'd expect from Scottish hospitality, aided by it's Canadian roots.

Due to Covid restrictions, the hotel is currently offering room service at the same prices as in their Chop Bar and Grill, so if you're not quite comfortable hitting the public bars just yet, you can safely relax with a drink or two in the comfort and privacy of your own room.

The usual breakfast buffet has been replaced by table service, with screens between booths, so there's no reason to miss out on a top quality Scottish breakfast during your stay at the Sandman.

Alternatively, I'd recommend the Park Inn by Radisson or Malmaison Hotel from previous experiences.

Sandman's Scottish breakfast below "Gie's a Bosie" illuminated sign

Day trips from Aberdeen

The surrounding Aberdeenshire countryside is some of the most spectacular in Scotland, with dozens of historic and beautiful attractions not to be missed. If you want to escape the city and explore more of the area, the following are just a few of the day trips from Aberdeen that I'd recommend.

Stonehaven - A short drive South from Aberdeen, this coastal town is a great half day seaside trip. Visit Stonehaven harbour and take a walk up to Dunnottar castle on the cliffs, before refuelling with classic fish and chips from the Bay chipper, and ice cream at Aunty Betty's.

Peterhead - For a full day trip you want to head North to Europe's largest fishing port. Stop at the Newburgh seals beach and Slains castle at Cruden Bay on the way from Aberdeen, then onto Peterhead Prison museum to learn about the dramatic history of the former Victorian jail. A visit to Brew Toon Microbrewery and Cafe is a must as well!

Royal Deeside - Taking you in the direction of the Cairngorms, Royal Deeside is a stunning part of the country. I'd recommend seeing the geological spectacle that is the Burn o' Vat, stopping for lunch at The Boat Inn in Aboyne, and then head in the direction of Balmoral Castle to complete the Balmoral cairns walk and find Scotland's hidden pyramid! Alternatively, Loch Muick makes for a lovely, picturesque walk and is not too far from the village of Braemar, where a stop at The Fife Arms Hotel is highly recommended.

If you have more time, you could enjoy the Castle Trail or North East 250 driving route.

Union Street architecture viewed from Castlegate

To rediscover the Granite City on your own Aberdeen city break, check out the Visit Aberdeenshire website where you can use their map and MyABDN functions, and look out for the "Open for Business" banner on listings to help you plan ahead. Please be respectful of current Government guidelines when out and about, and don't forget to tag your Instagram posts with #RediscoverABDN!

Where's your favourite spot in Aberdeen?

5 comments:

  1. I visited Scotland a couple of years ago, but didn't make it to Aberdeen. This is a lovely little guide and it makes me want to go back!

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    1. I think we're sometimes forgotten about, tucked away in our little corner in the North East, but there's so much to see and do here! Hope you can visit one day

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  2. Yesyesyes!! This post makes me want to visit so bad!! I’ve only been to Edinburgh in Scotland and that was only to visit a University! NuArt sounds so cool!

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    1. Edinburgh is fab but Aberdeen is a little more off the beaten track compared to it. A great place to escape to!

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  3. Such mouth watering food suggestions!! It's the first time I have read about this city and am already in love with it! Thank you for sharing..

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