While many have decided to flock to the countryside in recent times to enjoy the wide open spaces and vast countryside, we have partnered with Visit Scotland as part of their ‘Hame Town Tourist’ Campaign, in order to reconnect with the city of Aberdeen and share our journey of discovery.
It is not often that Aberdeen City is at the top of the agenda for many travellers when visiting Scotland, with the capital usually taking prominence on many people’s must see places. It may not get the credit that it deserves, but in recent years the Granite City is fast becoming a lot more vibrant. With a blossoming art scene, an art gallery that has just undergone a major renovation, a city jam packed with history, green spaces, parks, architecture and its very own beach. Not forgetting the plethora of independent businesses that you will find dotted around the city.
The city by the coast has a lot to offer any visitor, and you will find some ideas to help you on your way throughout this guide.
First things first, detailed below, are the different travel options for getting to and around the city.
Dundee – 1 hour 20 minutes
Inverness – 2 hours 30 minutes
Edinburgh – 2 hours 30 minutes
Glasgow – 2 hours 40 minutes
Stirling – 2 hours 15 minutes
Perth – 1 hour 44 minutes
The main bus station in Aberdeen City is also located at Union Square on Guild Street. All of the city’s buses embark here, so you can catch a bus to most places within and around Aberdeen from this point. You can purchase day passes, where you can take as many bus trips as you need in a day for a set price, family passes are also available.
Aberdeen International Airport is located in Dyce which is about a 15 minute journey by road to the city. The airport has a shuttle bus service into the city centre, stopping at the Bus Station in Union Square, mentioned above. Taxis and hire cars are also available from the airport to help with your onward journey.
See & do throughout the city
Johnston Gardens is one of the smaller parks in the city, but a firm favourite for locals, with many even admitting they didn’t know it existed. This gem is located at Viewfield Road, which is beside The Gordon Highlanders Museum (which reopened yesterday – Saturday 12th June) and is not too far away from Figment Coffee.
This city garden is bursting with blooms and is a welcome sight at any time of year. A charming pocket within the city that has streams, waterfalls, ponds, rockeries and a bright blue rustic bridge at its heart. Its vibrancy stands out against the blooming flowers and greenery, and creates a lovely focal point for taking pictures. The duck pond is also a nice feature where you can often spot Herring if you’re lucky.
Recommendation: Before making your way to the park, be sure to stop at Figment Coffee to pick up some treats to enjoy, such as their house made Sunshine Brew for a sunny day or a freshly roasted specialty coffee. Figment also serves various breakfast and lunch options; as well as cakes to complete your picnic in the park.
St Machar Cathedral
Situated in Old Aberdeen, to the north of Aberdeen City Centre, St Machar’s Cathedral is an important historical and political landmark in the city. Named after St Machar, a Celtic Saint and disciple of St Columba, a place of worship was established on the very site in around 580 AD. It wasn’t officially recognised as a cathedral until sometime in the 1130s and it wasn’t until 1165 that a Norman-style cathedral was constructed. The building then underwent extensive restoration in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until 1530 that works were finally complete. Since then, St Machar’s has lost and regained its cathedral status (in name only) and seen its central tower collapse and be rebuilt.
Recommendation: If you can take a look inside, you won’t be disappointed. The cathedral opens from 10am – 4pm, so be sure to time your visit right.
Brig O’ Balgownie
Recommendation: This is a good starting point if you wish to enjoy a substantial walk along to Donmouth Nature Reserve. At the start of the bridge coming from Cottown of Balgownie, where you will be treated to a row of pretty cottages built in the early sixteen hundreds, make a left down the stairs and continue walking this way. Keep your eyes peeled for seals bobbing their heads in the River Don, and even deer hiding amongst the trees.
Built in the early 1600s by Sir Robert Keith of Benholm and so previously known as Benholm’s Lodgings, some still refer to the tower by this name, but it’s now been called Wallace Tower for more than a century. But the name isn’t the only thing to have changed. While visitors will now head to the south-west entrance of Seaton Park to see Wallace Tower, it’s only been in that spot since the 1960s. Before then, the tower sat neatly in Netherkirkgate in the heart of the city. However, due to a desire for a store expansion by Marks and Spencer, the retail giant demolished Wallace Tower, stone by stone, relocated and rebuilt it in its current location.
Donmouth Nature Reserve
As mentioned briefly above Donmouth Nature Reserve is actually not that far away from Brig O Balgownie, and within walking distance if you prefer to go by foot. For those that are making their way by car, you will be pleased to know that there is car parking available just a short walk away from the beach.
Designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1992, this beach site is in the historic Old Aberdeen. It is where the River Don, a river that starts its journey in the Grampians, meets the sea. It is in fact this mighty river that has, over time, altered how the beach looks. As well as admiring the beauty of the area, keep an eye out for seals and a range of seabirds.
It is worth noting that there are excellent pathways, making it accessible for buggies and wheelchairs.
Just a short walk away from Donmouth Nature Reserve you will find yourself immersed in the streets of Old Aberdeen. A wander around this area is a delightful walk through time, where the quiet cobbled streets are lined with well-preserved historic buildings – The High Kirk of St Machar, King’s College, and the Old Town House, among others – that opens a window onto the city’s earliest origins.
Here, some of the city’s most celebrated thinkers – scientists, philosophers, writers, and inventors – lived, studied, and taught; it’s impossible not to sense the power of learning as you wander through the narrow medieval streets, with the impressive architectural creations that surround you.
Recommendation: Walk the full length of the beach promenade, and look out for wild swimmers, surfers and watch the boats coming into the harbour. Some local eateries nearby that we wholeheartedly recommend are: The Pier, Roots Catering Food Truck, Sand Dollar Cafe and The Silver Darling. New to the Aberdeen food scene this year is ‘The Backyard Beach collective’. This is a group of Aberdeen’s best local independent street food operators, who have come together to create a welcoming atmosphere for friends and family to unite and enjoy great food and drinks in their communal outdoor seating areas.
Recommendation: Keep up to date with Greyhope Bay, which is coming soon to Torry Battery. Greyhope Bay aims to connect and engage communities with the local marine world, and is developing a unique space as part of a 5-year plan to establish Torry Battery as a destination.
Through the delivery of a marine experience centre and community space where visitors can enjoy and connect to the natural, marine and historical environment on Aberdeen’s doorstep, they are beginning a community-led conversation about what a permanent solution for this historic monument could be.
The first phase of the project will deliver a low impact, glass-fronted centre, café and outdoor decking that will enhance access to Torry Battery, a site with a unique heritage and spectacular panoramic views of Aberdeen city, harbour and coast, and the best view of our charismatic bottlenose dolphins.
Recommendation: While you are able to marvel at the stunning architecture, the museums are currently closed, they do have a selection of online exhibitions and events that are currently taking place until they open again https://www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Located on Schoolhill, in the heart of Aberdeen city centre, you will find the engrossing Aberdeen Art Gallery. Originally built in 1884 with a Neoclassical design by Alexander Marshall, it’s home to one of the finest collections of art in the United Kingdom.
It was closed in 2015 when a £34.6million transformation started and reopened in 2019 with the number of galleries increasing from 11 to 19 and the number of permanent collections increasing from 370 to 1080.
This modern, bright and airy space makes for a fantastic day out viewing a brilliant range of works by artists, designers, and makers. Highlights include works by Tracey Emin, Barbara Hepworth, Samuel Peploe and Joan Eardley.
The ’BP Portrait Award’ makes a welcome return to Aberdeen Art Gallery, with its exhibition taking place on the top floor. Aberdeen Art Gallery is the only UK venue to host the most prestigious portrait painting competition in the world.
There is a cafe and shop on the ground floor and a new rooftop café and terrace, where you can expect some amazing views over Schoolhill and Belmont Street.
Recommendation: The reopening of the Art Gallery has also welcomed a new retail space on the top floor – called ‘Shop at The Top’ and offers some of the very best local talent’s wares for sale. This pop up style retail space will showcase a selection of artists at a time, and after 3 months, a new selection will pop up in its place. This is a must visit and a great excuse to go back again. You will currently find Helen Ruth Scarves, Hackley Bags, jewellery by Dolly Dimple Design and ceramics by Alison Thyra Grubb.
Nuart Aberdeen Trail
The street art created over the years for the Nuart Festival provides an exciting way to explore the city on foot. By following the trails provided online, not only can you discover new artwork and learn of new artists from all over the world, it is also a great way to unearth some parts of the city that may often go overlooked. For locals it’s a great way to reconnect with the city and appreciate the spaces and places in a whole new way.
Brought to you by the team behind Stavanger’s internationally renowned Nuart Festival and developed in collaboration with Aberdeen Inspired and Aberdeen City Council, Nuart Aberdeen has been providing a platform for local, national and international artists to showcase their work through a series of site-specific murals, installations, interventions, and temporary exhibitions since 2017.
After being cancelled in April 2020 due to the pandemic, Nuart festival is back for Summer 2021 with artists such as Fanakapan, Helen Bur and local artist KMG with more to be announced soon. Nuart Aberdeen Summer 2021 will run throughout June and July with artists producing work under the festival’s theme of “Memory and the City”.
For this year the walking tours will not be taking place but people are encouraged to get back out onto the streets to seek out the latest artworks for themselves.
Persley Walled Garden
Gordon Highlanders Museum
It is a pleasure to be able to include the Gordon Highlanders Museum within this blog post, after being closed for a while during the pandemic and also to make way for refurbishment and rejuvenation. The Lord Provost of Aberdeen City announced on 7th June that the museum will be opening to the public again on Saturday 12th June. They also announced that their new cafe, Cognito at the Museum, will also be open, and in all areas will be following Covid-19 regulations.
The Gordon Highlanders Museum is committed to preserving and sharing the legacy of the world-famous Gordon Highlanders for future generations. Forming the ranks were farmers and fishermen, ghillies and labourers, aristocrats and university students. Ordinary men with an extraordinary sense of duty; all with a story to tell.
These stories are brought to life at The Gordon Highlanders Museum by exploring the Nationally Significant Collection. Retrace the remarkable history of these famous fighting men of the North East, guided by their knowledgeable staff and volunteers.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE CITY
The Ferryhill House Hotel
‘The Ferryhill’ is a family run hotel, bar & restaurant not too far away from the Duthie Park and riverside drive. The hotel is set within their own private gardens and provides a comfortable and stylish bedroom for the night. The bar and restaurant serves hearty traditional food, and the outdoor terrace offers a great place to catch up with friends and family for a drink and some traditional pub grub.
A chic hotel situated in the West End of the city on Queen’s Road, that promises luxurious finishing touches to enhance your stay, such as rainfall showers, egyptian cotton sheets and designer toiletries. With seventy-two bedrooms and suites to choose from, as well as a restaurant, bar and outdoor area this is the perfect place to indulge yourself. View The Chester here.
Just outside the city, Tahuna Bothies provide exquisite self-catering accommodation for a couple seeking a romantic getaway, or a group of four seeking quality time together as friends or family, in high spec, cosy bothies that offer unrivalled views over Aberdeen’s coast. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows frame the stunning sunrise, while you can watch the sun sink below the horizon over a glass of wine in the private outdoor dining area. Each of the three bothies is equipped to the highest standard, with a kitchenette, super king-sized bed, and modern bathroom.
Located within the Marischal Square district, Residence Inn offers a home from home experience within their selection of stylish suites. Each option offers a living area, workspace, bedroom and a fully equipped kitchen to make your stay comfortable. You can start the day with a free breakfast and if you are missing out on your at home routine, there is the option to work out in the fully equipped on-site gym.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN THE CITY
Perfectly situated just in front of Rubislaw Gardens, you won’t have to go far to find a spot on the grass to enjoy your takeaway coffee and lunch.
They prepare daily hot specials, mouth-watering salads, and fresh sandwich fillings, not to mention their delicious selection of freshly baked cakes. Their selection goes far beyond the standard sandwich you may find elsewhere, their creative approach to putting together their menu is not to be missed. A few highlights are their breakfast burrito, poke bowls, kuku hash, quiche with salad and not forgetting their kimchi burger.
They also stock fresh produce and dried goods from local suppliers, so you can pick up a loaf of bread, a punnet of fresh strawberries along with many other delights to try at home.
Parx Cafe offers local artists the opportunity to showcase their work on the walls of the cafe, so you will be treated to a different exhibit every 2-3 months.
Found on Countesswells Road, this speciality coffee shop is a must-visit for anyone who can’t get their day started without a quality cup of coffee! With a range of delicious coffee options to try, you can buy some beans for brewing at home. Coming from locations as diverse as Peru, Rwanda and Madagascar, there is something for every palate. View Figment here.
Foodstory believes in bringing people together through great food, art and music.
From morning to evening, they serve food for all dietary requirements, brew tasty coffee, and stage regular events to give people a chance to get together and have fun.
They serve mostly plant based food at the cafe to align with their beliefs that a more veggie diet is friendlier to the planet. They use a lot of vegetables in the dishes that they prepare themselves, such as soups, hot pots, dips, salads, cakes etc and they like to use local eggs, chutneys and jams. They want you to leave the cafe feeling inspired as well as feeling good.
Foodstory also has a zero waste cafe based at Aberdeen University in Old Aberdeen.
A bright and colourful coffee shop, where amazing artwork adorns the walls. The laid back, friendly atmosphere welcomes you and your dogs inside to enjoy artisan coffee, warm fresh scones, and delicious slabs of cake.
The coffee shop is filled with plants, supplied by local business Rooted, that are available for sale too. So why not pick up a plant while stopping by for your afternoon pick me up. View The Cult of Coffee here.
A family-run patisserie that specialises in handmade macarons and afternoon teas. Upon arrival you are greeted with a colourful display of Macarons, neatly lined up in a row ready for you to make your selection.
This beautiful patisserie also has tables for you to dine in and is beautifully styled with quaint place settings and a statement flower wall, making this an ideal choice for a spot of afternoon tea. There is something quite special about Almondine, which is why many people choose to host an event or celebration here.
Second Home Studio + Cafe is brand new to Aberdeen City and you will find this unique art space and cafe on the second floor of ‘The Gym’ on Huntly Street, just look for the bright pink door – you can’t miss it!
The Gym is a building filled with amazing creative businesses founded by local women, that includes hair stylists, nail technicians, a swap shop and photography studio.
Second Home Studio + Cafe is a not for profit organisation that focuses on making art more accessible. As well as serving a great selection of delicious food such as their freshly prepared Tabbouleh and topped toast, also encouraging cake for breakfast; they also host a range of workshops to help aid your creativity and encourage you to try something new.
The space is bright and beautiful and has an overall calming aesthetic making it the ideal place to spend an afternoon creating and sampling the delights on offer.
The Tippling House is at the top of the list for an outstanding hand-crafted cocktail, made by expert mixologists in Aberdeen, also specialising in boutique spirits and fine Scottish ales. The subterranean late night tavern welcomes you with its dimly lit cosy atmosphere. Get together with friends and take a seat in one of their booths, which acts as the perfect snug for that long overdue catch up, while working your way through the cocktail menu.
The Tippling House is forever creating fresh ways to deliver high quality food to its customers, with a current tasting menu concept on offer from Wednesday to Saturday every week. They have also brought back their popular Champagne Bottomless Brunch each Saturday from 1pm-3pm.
Wander to Rose Street if you love freshly baked bread (and who doesn’t). This artisan bakery is in the heart of the city centre, and already has something of a fan following. Get there early to beat the queues and take home some superior sourdough. View Bandit Bakery here.
This deli and artisan cheesemonger has a wide range of cheeses on offer to suit every palate. They are fast becoming known for their carefully curated hampers, that they will make up for you on the spot for yourself or a gift, pairing the cheeses with wines and other locally sourced produce. View Gourmet Cheese Co here.
SHOPPING LOCAL IN THE CITY
Rosemount Market is brand new to the area and is already creating quite the buzz with locals. Owner Hazel (who also owns Nature’s Larder on Holburn Street) takes pleasure in introducing the refill concept to Rosemount. Hazel has consciously paired the refill concept with lifestyle products that are also on offer, as well as a flower bar that catches your eye from the street.
As well as the refillery, they have installed a kombucha tap, with the choice of three flavours to fill your glass bottles with, and a selection of groceries and dried goods. With many of the produce and products being sourced from local makers. A few favourites are: Our Lovely Goods candles, bags of Figment coffee, flowers by Maryfield Flowers, bread from Bandit Bakery and Summer House Drinks sodas.
Hammerton Store on Great Western Road, is a general food store and deli which is perfect for picking up a sandwich to takeaway or shop around for some farm shop style produce. Owner Susan has carefully curated the essentials, stocking numerous products from artisans local and further afield. There is a great range to add something special to a home-cooked meal. There are also some great gifts in store such as cookbooks, wine, cheese, ceramics and travelling rugs.
Houseplant and Lifestyle shop Rooted – Botanical Emporium, is a wonderful treasure trove, filled to the brim with Indoor plants and a selection of lovely artisan goods to enhance life, all inspired by botanicals. Knowledgeable and friendly owner Fiona, takes pleasure in making recommendations for your home or space, and provides you with tips and tricks to make sure you get the best out of your plants.
A modern family lifestyle store offering sustainable, organic clothing for adults, children and baby, nursery and home interiors, toys and gifts. This beautiful shop, is the perfect place to buy gifts for family, especially if you are looking for something unique and stylish. View Indi + Will here.
A modern family lifestyle store offering sustainable, organic clothing for adults, children and baby, nursery and home interiors, toys and gifts. This beautiful shop, is the perfect place to buy gifts for family, especially if you are looking for something unique and stylish. View Juniper here.
OUTDOOR EAT AND DRINK IN THE CITY