Known as the ‘Granite City’, Aberdeen is a port city on the northeast side of Scotland. It is the third-largest city in Scotland after Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is well-known for its oil industry and boasts a large international population. With its beautiful sandy beaches, rivers, parks, museums, and incredible historical sites, it is on the top of my list of places you should visit in Scotland.
When I first thought of moving to Scotland, I had originally wanted to move to Edinburgh. I had fallen in love with it a few years prior and my heart was set on living there, but when I found out that the University didn’t have a non-fiction program, I had to start searching elsewhere. My sites then fell on Aberdeen. I thought that living a bit further north would be nice because it would give me more access to the Highlands and its culture. It was right! When planning your visit to Scotland, Aberdeen needs to be on your list. Here is some key information about the city.
The Granite City: The Highlights
Moving to any new place, especially a new country, can be unnerving, but as someone who has spent years in the military, moving tends to be a bit easier for me. However, this was the first time in a long time that I had moved somewhere entirely alone, and it was the first time I had ever been gone from my kids. So, this was a big change in more ways than one!
Moving close to the University, I was located close enough to the city centre to walk downtown, finding restaurants, shopping malls, pubs, museums, and more. The people of Scotland are typically extremely kind and welcoming. Aberdonians are no different. It didn’t take me long to make friends and start exploring the city on foot and by bus. I often took strolls through the city and in the surrounding Aberdeenshire. I never ran out of places to go, things to see and to do. A great way to meet people was with Meetup. I am also part of an international running club called the Hash House Harriers. Through them, I made tons of friends and always had something fun to do on the weekends and a way to get out of the city and explore.
Aberdeen is known as the oil capital of Europe. It is set along the North Sea on the northeast side of Scotland and has a typically sunnier climate compared to the rest of Scotland. One of the reasons that it is known as the granite city is because of Marischal College which is the world’s second-largest granite building. It is one of the most interesting buildings in the entire city.
Filled with flowers during every season, Scotland’s lush greenery flows into the city of Aberdeen. There are several parks and gardens within the city and on the outskirts that are all quite fantastic. There are several great places to take a stroll and charming parks to explore. My favorites were Seaton Park and Duthie Park, but Johnson Gardens is fantastic as well.
If you are looking to go on a nice long bike ride, you need to head to Deeside Way otherwise known as the Old Deeside Railway line. It is a 41 mile long trail that follows the railway from Aberdeen to Ballater, Scotland. Along the way you have multiple choices and chances to change course. It will take you right past Crathes Castle and the town of Banchory and Aboyne which both darling places to explore.
Old Aberdeen and the University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen surprised me. I didn’t know what to expect but was thrilled with what I found. Each day, I started my mornings at the Aberdeen Sports Village and would stroll on the beach to watch the sunrise. The University was just a 10-minute walk from my flat and is a part of Old Aberdeen. Old Aberdeen is an adorable and well-preserved historical village that is filled with cute homes, apartments, and historical buildings some of them dating back to the Middle Ages.
Many of the streets remained paved with stone and brick which give it a special kind of ambiance. The uni has its own bakery and pub as well as a bookstore, library, and more. The University also has its own botanical garden. The Cruickshank Botanic Gardens is a must. It is filled with a large variety of plant life all taken care of by the school and its students.
From the University, you can take an easy walk down to the student accommodations or down to St Machar’s Cathedral. The cathedral sits just at the edge of Seaton Park which is probably my favourite park in Aberdeen. Through the park, you can reach the River Don and the Brig o Balgownie (Scotland’s oldest bridge).
There are several schools and universities within the city including my own University of Aberdeen. There is also Robert Gordon University, North East College, and Marischal College, all with their own specialities.
Downtown Aberdeen: My Favourite’s
Aberdeenshire, like the rest of Scotland, is known for its whisky. This area though has the largest number of whisky distilleries in all of Scotland. When venturing around downtown Aberdeen, it is an absolute must to stop into The Grill. The Grill is known as Aberdeen’s favourite Whisky bar and is an excellent place to stop in for a tasting. The bartenders know exactly what they are doing and will help you pick out just the right flight for you.
Downtown you can find all sorts of pubs and restaurants as well as several places to do some shopping. The Union Square mall is jam-packed full of stores and even more restaurants. Downtown you can also find a Primark and M&S which are my favourites.
There are also a few museums and galleries downtown that really neat. The Aberdeen Art Gallery is filled with fantastic collections of Scottish and international art. During Covid it was closed, but the Aberdeen Maritime Museum is another must for tourists and locals alike who want to learn more about the area and its history.
Where to Eat
If you are looking for where to eat, it all depends in what kind of food you are looking for.
- My favourite Italian place was Rusticos.
- If you are looking for something more laidback with your standard burgers and wings, head over to BrewDog. There are three separate locations in Aberdeen, both with their own special feeling.
- For a light lunch, I loved Books and Beans. It’s nestled inside its very own library!
- For something fancy, go to The Silver Darling. It is over near the shore and has delicious seafood.
- If you want vegan/vegetarian foods, try the Foodstory. It has tons of light and healthy, yet delicious foods.
- If you want breakfast, head to the beach and the Sanddollar Cafe.
- Shri Bheema’s Indian Restaurant for Indian
- For steak, go to either Maggie’s Grill or Miller & Carter.
The Aberdeen Beach and Footdee Village
It might not be a big suprise with me, but my number one place to go in Aberdeen was the Aberdeen Beach. It was a simple walk east from my flat. I would cross through a large cemetery and before I knew it, my feet were on the sand. There is nothing quite like starting off your day with a sunrise, and I was privileged to experience some of the most brilliant sunrises as I walked along that beach.
The golden coastline goes on for what seems like forever, but from where I started it was just about a mile walk each way. There is plenty of room to walk either along the sand or not the pavement up top when the tide is in. There is a wide promenade that offers space for walkers, runners, or cyclists.
Sections of the beach are separated by concrete walls that are there to try and keep the eroding sand in place. There is the Codona’s Amusement Park with a large Ferris wheel as a backdrop.
The beach leads down the darling Footdee or “Fittie”, a quaint fishing village with adorable cottages and gardens. This little village is a must for visitors to silently stroll through.
I moved to Aberdeen in January 2020. Two years previous, I had visited Edinburgh and hadn’t been able to get Scotland off my mind since. When the opportunity arose to get my master’s degree there, I jumped. I was so excited to move there I could just barely contain myself.
I miss it there every day and know that one day I will be back, maybe even to stay. Even despite Covid-19 and all of its restrictions, it became home quickly and easily. With an almost endless list of castles to visit, the Cairngorms National Park to explore, and tons of coastline to enjoy, there is still so much more I want to see.