I came to visit Aberdeen whilst studying at the University of Manchester, popping up for the weekend and making the wee 8 hour train journey to visit my best friend from home, as well as experience a new part of Scotland I hadn’t seen before.
If you look on a map, you can see that there is a significant distance between the two cities, the journey is as if from Brighton to Manchester, travelling over a large proportion of the UK. The furthest north I had travelled before in Scotland was Oban, I had never reached higher into the wilderness of rural Scotland. Where, I expected strong burly men spoke with thick accents and everyone ate haggis all day.
I was surprised to stumble upon Aberdeen, a city that shone out amongst the windy wild Scotland that encompasses my expectations of the north, layers of green rural landscape contrasting with grey miserable skies. The city sparkled with prosperity, (all that wealth gained from the North Sea Oil) and gleamed with its traditional granite architecture that stood grand and erect. Noone ever speaks of Aberdeen as a tourist destination within Scotland, many wandering through Edinburgh, St Andrews and the Isle of Skye, skipping out vast areas of country at a time.
I was surprised by its carefree attitude, where random welcoming people spoke to each other in pub gardens asking your opinion of the city, or a football team you have never heard of. I was surprised at the pleasant sandy beach that rolled out for miles. I was surprised at the city that was a combination of authentic Scotland – unlike other tourist destinations, that also appeared glam and smart, especially in the evening. I was mostly surprised at how nice the city was and how many attractions there were to do in the surrounding areas, offering nature on one hand and a city filled with history and culture on the other. I expressed my surprise to my friend, and she merely nodded at me without raising an eyebrow- as if to say, “duh, that’s why I’m here“.
I was taken to the beach, where we sat and watched the pounding waves roll in whilst brave surfers resembled seals as they dipped and dove through the tumbling water. The surrounding landscape is beautiful and it is a perfect spot for a walk, without leaving you too exhausted. Head to Footdee, a quaint fishing village which is now embedded into the cityscape. Filled with quirky outhouses that line the harbour, the village offers a laid back ambiance with a picturesque setting. If you are lucky, you may be able to spot wild dolphins on the horizon.
A quaint fishing village that sits in a cove nestled away from the howling winds of Northern Scotland and isn’t sidelined next to a vast city, is Stonehaven. The seaside town has a reputation for being a special destination. One filled with an impressive ruined fortress of Dunoottar Castle which looms in the background, amazing giant ice creams at Auntie Bettys sweet shop, and smells of battered fish and battered Mars bars that float in the air and tantalise your taste buds.
Another incredible destination just a short distance away from the city is Cairngorms National Park. Whatever the weather, this park is filled with an array of attractions to keep you entertained. Try your hand at skiing; mountain biking, white water rafting, canoeing, hiking, horse riding, wind surfing, cliff jumping- the list goes on, and its fitting for any extreme sports enthusiast.
However, I didn’t have much time to explore what was outside the city walls. Rather, we spent time wandering the cobbled stone streets and learning what took place within the city. Visiting the Aberdeen Art Gallery is a must for anyone who is interested in art and wants to learn about the traditions of Scotland through this medium. Otherwise, The Gordon Highlanders Museum is a fantastic museum which highlights the heroic bravery of one of the most famous regiments from the British Army (and is filled with every stereotype of what a Scottish man is like). Or, pop into the the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, where it narrates the story of Aberdeen’s relationship with the sea, how it has been affected by the booming oil industry, as well as the technicalities of the process. An excellent insight into what has made Aberdeen so successful.
Dining in Aberdeen varies from how much you are willing to spend. If you are looking for somewhere a little upmarket, try Fusion or Rustico’s, both varying in style of cuisine. Or if you are on a more affordable budget (like I was -being the visiting student) then head to Josephine’s BYOB for good tapas, or Musa Art Cafe which has a menu filled with local produce cooked in a quirky way in a buzzing atmosphere.
The clubs and bars are thriving with life throughout Aberdeen as those that revel in the night, live up to the stereotype of every citizen in the UK, hitting it hard. Students mingle with young workers, whom mingle with party crazed regulars whom mingle with knowledgeable locals- all looking for a good time. My time was short (and my evenings here felt even shorter), however popular haunts are Underground, Bar Korova, The Moorings and if wanting to drink like a king- head to Slains Castle on Belmont Street.
Really, a weekend spent here feels like you have barely scratched the surface to see what this city has to offer. More time here would be a wise choice.