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Issue 53 - 24 hours in Aberdeen

Scotland Magazine Issue 53
October 2010


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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24 hours in Aberdeen

Gilly Pickup takes us on a tour of the granite

Exuberant, cultural Aberdeen, Scotland’s third biggest city and oil capital of Europe, packs a punch. What’s more, thanks to its east-coast location, Aberdeen is one of the sunniest places in Scotland. In this proud and prosperous city on the sea, there is the opportunity to discover architecture worth a second look, enough chic shops to satisfy an army of WAGS and an abundance of parks and colourful, rose-heavy gardens. In fact, Aberdeen, famous for its roses, won Britain in Bloom so often that for some years it was banned from entering. Mind you, that is probably not surprising since it took the title a record 11 times and the Beautiful Scotland in Bloom ‘Best City Award’ on 38 occasions!

This city of many charms is nicknamed the ‘Granite City’ because the glory of granite, hewn from the now abandoned Rubislaw Quarry, is all around. In the sunshine or after rain the buildings sparkle, creating a mesmerising effect. Striking Marischal College, part of Aberdeen University, is the world’s second largest granite structure. (The first, in case you’re wondering, is Spain’s Escorial Palace.) There is no shortage of things to see and do in this cosmopolitan metropolis, proud of its flourishing arts scene and lively café culture, so let’s not dilly dally. Aberdeen is sure to gladden the most jaded of city-break hearts.

Morning A good way to start the day is by paying a visit to the Aberdeen Maritime Museum (admission free) situated on historic Shiprow in the heart of the city close to the harbour.

The multimedia displays centre on a threestorey replica of a North Sea oil production platform. This tells the story of Aberdeen’s relationship with the sea from the early days of fishing to ship building and right up to the oil industry. The Museum houses a rich collection including ship models from 1689 to the present, 14th century jugs traded to Aberdeen from Holland, a fine lighthouse lens assembly, a display of ‘Captain’s Paintings’ from the sleek clipper ship era and a host of other fascinating objects associated with the restless sea. The Museum also offers visitors a spectacular viewpoint over the busy harbour.

Not too far away is The Tolbooth one-time jail which housed more than 50 Jacobite prisoners after the Battle of Culloden and which is now a museum of civic history.

Narrow staircases lead down to the old cells and visitors can discover the ingenious ways prisoners escaped – or tried to. Those who like all-things gruesome will love the displays which include the blade of Aberdeen’s 17th century guillotine. The building is claimed to be one of the most haunted in the city and has been subject to investigations by paranormal investigation teams. The most notable was when the LivingTV series Most Haunted visited. The episode aired in December 2009.

Aberdeen Art Gallery in Schoolhill is another popular attraction. It houses one of the finest art collections in Great Britain, including works by Raeburn, Hogarth, Reynolds, Monet, Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst. A fine collection of Aberdonian silver can be seen here too.

On a fine day it’s a pleasant walk to the old fishing village of Footdee (locally referred to as ‘fittie’ ), near the entrance to the harbour.

The low 19th-century fishermen’s cottages face inward to give protection from the harsh storms that have been known to rage in from the sea, pitched roofs keep the rain off with chimney pots designed to keep seagulls away.

If you prefer, you could stroll to Aberdeen Beach, a two mile arc of pristine sand, 800m east of the city centre stretching between the mouths of the Rivers Dee and Don. Sensibly there are plenty of rainy-day attractions here too like the Beach Boulevard with frequent live music and entertainment stage, 3D motion ride theatre and amusement park.

Stratosphere, a cool science centre is where kids of all ages can make a skeleton ride a bike, step inside a bubble, uncover the secrets of DNA or programme a robot to do what you ask!

The Esplanade offers several traditional seaside attractions including Codona’s Amusement Park. Here dare devils can ride the Looping Star Rollercoaster, get wet on the white water log flume, try not to get spooked in the Haunted Mansion or ride the Grampian Eye. This 100 foot high big wheel offers fabulous views of the city, harbour and surrounding countryside.

Mid Morning Before hitting the shops, relax with a coffee in one of the cafés and restaurants that line the city’s famous ‘Granite Mile’ otherwise known as Union Street. Make like a local and eat a ‘rowie’ as you sip.

For the uninitiated, this local delicacy is a type of roll originally baked for fishermen because they remained fresher longer at sea.

Topped with butter or jam they are delicious.

(Forget the calories for the day.) Shoppers can ricochet from one shop to another. Union Street is home to more than 800 shops, not including the five indoor shopping malls. The Trinity, St Nicholas and Bon Accord are the largest, the Galleria and the Academy are slightly smaller with a selection of more intimate boutique style shops. The shopping centre is also where to find Aberdeen’s Country Fair, a monthly market held on the last Saturday of the month. This is a bright and breezy affair with over 30 stalls selling local crafts, fresh farm produce and more. Union Square, the city’s newest and largest shopping and leisure destination, has more than 60 shops and restaurants, a 10 screen Cineworld and a hotel, all under the one roof.

Lunchtime After the morning’s whirlwind tour, you probably need a lunch break. If you don’t want to waste too much time, ‘The Beautiful Mountain’ or ‘Books and Beans’ both in Belmont Street, are great for soups, snacks and sandwiches. This is the centre of Aberdeen’s Bohemian Quarter and is approximately halfway down Union Street.

It has a selection of decent bars, second-hand bookstores and an arthouse cinema, appropriately named The Belmont.

Afternoon Old Aberdeen, to the north of the city centre, is rich in historical buildings and is in effect the main campus of the University of Aberdeen. This cloistered academic enclave is where to see King’s College, founded in 1495 by Bishop William Elphinstone. This was Scotland’s third university and first medical university, famous for its Chapel (c.

1500) which has the largest surviving collection of medieval woodcarving in any Scottish building. Take time also to have a look at St Machar’s Cathedral, with its lookat- me position beside the River Don and lush Seaton Park, one of the city’s biggest parks.

Back in the centre of town, Marischal Museum founded in 1786, has well worth seeing collections of Egyptian and Classical antiquities, non-Western ethnography, Scottish prehistory and numismatics that rank alongside the largest in Scotland.

Time to Eat Aberdeen and the surrounding area is renowned for its food and drink, including Aberdeen Angus beef, fresh seafood and the finest whisky. Wet your whistle with a predinner drink at one of the bustling bars and cafés along the water front while deciding where to eat. The Ashvale (Great Western Road), a multi-award winning chip shop with 200-seat restaurant serves freshly caught North Sea fish. The menu includes delights such as Fisherman’s Feast (a platter of haddock, cod, sole, rock turbot, scampi and salmon) or for those who are even more hungry – or greedy – the Ashvale Whale might hit the spot. Anyone who can finish the 1lb cod fillet can have another free! The Malmaison (Queens Road) with its artnouveau style cast iron entrance and castle-like turret has a cosy whisky snug with a signposted corner for ‘canoodling couples’.

Eat in the hip brasserie or private glass walled dining room where you can see the chefs in action.

Still Going?

Nightbirds are spoilt for choice with dozens of hip clubs, bars and live music venues to choose from. Belmont Street in particular has several grand old churches converted into pubs or nightclubs, like the gothic Slains Castle and Priory nightclub.

Check out some live music at the Lemon Tree (5 West North Street), the epicentre of Aberdeen’s art scene attracting edgy, awardwinning performers. Jazz lovers might prefer the Blue Lamp (121 Gallowgate) while those who want to dance instead of just sit on the sidelines might try Snafu (1 Union Street), or Babylon (9 Alford Place), both places to see and be seen and shake that booty. His Majesty’s Theatre meanwhile, one of the UK’s finest Edwardian houses, is where to take in a ballet, opera or musical.


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