Drenched in fresh, salty air and bright, clean light, the seaside city of Aberdeen is the perfect manifestation of all of one's romantic imaginings of Scotland. Here the rugged natural beauty of wide oceans and rolling mountains merges with rich history and fascinating culture. It is unsurprising that it has been praised by National Geographic as "one of the world's top-rated coastlines". Aberdeen's history seamlessly melds with its contemporary, industrious nature. Doric; an original Scots language, can still be heard in the streets, and gothic towers rub shoulders with sleek, modern structures. Lose yourself amid the city's enchanting streets and towering buildings, which glitter in the midday sunshine due to the prized Aberdeenshire granite.
History buffs will be delighted by the Old Town, which flaunts a university founded in 1495, and by stories of the legendary Picts who once used to inhabit the region. Pay a visit to the seemingly endless beach, where it is possible to catch a glimpse of dolphins frolicking in the expansive bay and to view local fisherman hauling in their catch of the day. Sample this fantastic local produce at one of the many welcoming eateries in the city, not forgetting to finish off the meal with a 'wee dram' of the region's finest whiskey. There are spectacular coastal golf courses to put to the test and unparalleled natural beauty of the nearby Cairngorm mountain range to take in with a hike or by bike.
There are plenty of hiking, running and cycling trails dotted in and around Aberdeen, and outdoor fanatics will have no shortage of things to do during their time in the city. Kirkhill Forest, Gight Wood Reserve and the Bin Forest are just three of the many outdoor havens located near Aberdeen, and each offer magical walks and cycling trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
Royal Deeside Tours and Hillgoers are two companies that offer guided walking and hiking tours of such reserves. They're ideal options for visitors that are wary of taking on new landscapes on their own or who are traveling without a hired car, as most of these areas are best reached by vehicle. For snow sport enthusiasts, Lecht 2090 is a slope that towers above the Eastern Cairngorms and is a popular ski spot during the winter. Fraserburgh Beach is a surfing and water sport paradise during the summer time.
With courses stretched out over rambling beaches, or hidden within castle-dotted forests, Aberdeen is likely to tempt even the most unenthusiastic of golfers to a round. Some of the world's greatest golf tournaments have taken place in the area. The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club having hosted the Scottish Open in 2014, and the Trump International Golf Links in Balmedie wears the title of Best Modern Golf Course in Great Britain and Ireland.
The UK's highest golf course is housed at Braemer, which straddles the majestic Cairngorms National Park, and it is even possible to attempt a birdie at the royal's summer retreat, Balmoral Castle. Come summer time, when this northern area gets twelve hours of sunshine, it is possible to enjoy a full day of the favourite Scottish pastime, before retiring to a nearby country pub to enjoy one of the region's many fine whiskies.
The Grampian Highlands area is famous for its delicious malt whisky, and the best way to explore this long-standing tradition is by following a whisky route to eight different distilleries, including the Glenfiddich Distillery that was founded in 1886. Visitors can learn about the age-old process of coaxing different scents, tastes and colours from a mixture of yeast, barley, peat and water. Most distilleries offer tours and tastings but some can only be visited with advanced bookings.
Glenfiddich, the most famous and popular, is worth visiting alone if you don't have time for a full whisky tour. The renowned distillery offers three different tours. The Classic Tour, which is a fantastic introduction to the art of whisky making, takes an hour and includes tastings, it is free of charge with no advance booking required. The Explorers Tour takes an hour and a half, including a more extensive tour and tasting session, this tour should be booked in advance. The Pioneers Tour, lead by the senior guide, provides a four-hour immersion in the world of the distillery and will delight connoisseurs, affording the chance to taste whiskies up to 30 years old.
Created by Lady Elizabeth Duthie in 1881 to commemorate her uncle and brother, Duthie Park is beautifully situated on the banks of the River Dee and draws hundreds of visitors to its colourful floral displays and 44 acres (18ha) of well-maintained grounds. The park is famous for its Winter Garden, an indoor garden with a spectacular array of tropical plants and cacti. The Rose Garden with over two million plants and the stylish Japanese Garden are not to be missed. There is also a boating pond, plenty of winding walkways for a romantic stroll, children's playgrounds and a restaurant. The park is great for picnics and often hosts concerts and other fun events.
It's a great spot for those wanting some exercise, with joggers traversing the paths, and people playing cricket on the lawns. Although the gardens are most popular in the summer months, the indoor gardens ensure that it is worth visiting in any season. Other 'green lungs' worth exploring in Aberdeen include Hazelhead Park, the Union Terrace Gardens and the Johnston Gardens.
Built from granite and sandstone, the single-arched Brig o' Balgownie, stretching over the River Don, dates back to the 13th century and was completed in 1320 during the Scottish War of Independence. Although part of the bridge has never changed, it was extensively renovated in the 1600s after it had fallen into disrepair. It is a very picturesque structure and these days its main allure is purely aesthetic, but for five centuries the bridge was strategically vital as the only means of moving large armies quickly along the east coast of the region. It also formed part of an important trade route to the northeast of Scotland.
The bridge stretches for 39 feet (12m) and offers beautiful views of the river. It is only open to pedestrians and bicycles and is popularly used by students as a fun place to jump into the river during the summer months. The area around the Brig o' Balgownie is rather charming, with some quaint cottages, making it a lovely place for a stroll. The modern Bridge of Don is only a 15-minute walk away from the Gothic original, and the lovely Seaton Park is also just a stroll down the path from Brig o' Balgownie. There are plenty of pretty picnic spots located near the bridge or alongside the river, making this a wonderful activity to undertake on a balmy summer's evening or a crisp, wintery afternoon.
Situated on historic Shiprow, with spectacular views of the busy harbour, the Aberdeen Maritime Museum proudly exhibits the city's strong maritime history and its close connection to the sea. It is an award-winning museum and is housed partly in Provost Ross's House, built in 1593, which justifies a visit all by itself for lovers of architecture. The city's significance in the North Sea oil industry is explored, as well as the importance of fishing, shipbuilding and sailing in the development of the area.
Displays are aimed at allowing visitors the chance to investigate the working environment and duties of workers on offshore oil platforms, and include collections of photographs and plans from major Aberdeen shipbuilders, and various naval paintings. Some interactive exhibits ensure that the museum is modern and that children should be entertained by the content, making it a good stop for families. A pirate mascot called Granite Jack guides kids through the museum and there are quiz sheets designed for specific age groups for younger visitors to fill out as they explore. There is also a café and gift shop at the museum for souvenirs and refreshments.
The Aberdeen Art Gallery was first opened in 1885, and more than a hundred years later, continues to be one of the city's most popular attractions. The gallery has a large permanent and changing collection, housed in an impressive 19th-century building with an exquisite marble interior. Highlights include collections of Modern Art, the Scottish Colourists (including artists such as Leslie Hunter and Francis Cadell), and the Post-Impressionists. The collection spans from the 15th century to the present.
There is also a collection of local applied art and crafts, including fine examples of Aberdeen silver. The collection of the Aberdeen Art Gallery is extremely varied, ensuring that art lovers of all kinds should find something to delight them. The gallery also hosts a full programme of temporary exhibitions, lectures, concerts and other events, details of which can be found on the official website.
The Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened in November 2019 after undergoing major renovations, with the revamped facility housing more galleries and significant improvements to social spaces, such as a new top-floor cafe bar and roof terrace. The work took two years longer than expected and cost around £5m more than the original £30m budget.
No trip to Scotland is complete without a visit to one of its magnificent castles, and Balmoral Castle - set on the banks of the River Dee - is one of the best known and most prestigious. The castle, with its fairy-tale turrets, is set on 50,000 acres (20,234 ha) of spectacular grounds, and the Royal Family has preserved the surrounding wildlife, buildings and scenery since it was bought by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852. A visit to Balmoral includes access to the gardens, some exhibitions, the ballroom (the largest room in the castle) and the grounds, but the Queen's Rooms are out of bounds. Many beautiful works of art and royal treasures are on display despite the limited access. The Balmoral Castle and its estate are set within the Cairngorms National Park and offer breath-taking vistas of the Highlands. An audio guide in English, German, French and Italian is included in the entrance fee. It is recommended that visitors allow at least one and a half hours for a visit to Balmoral, and are advised that entry will not be allowed after 4.30pm.
Aberdeen is one of the coldest cities in the UK, though it is mild in comparison to much of northern Europe. Winters feature average temperatures around 23°F (-5°C), while the days are very short, with December seeing the sun for only six hours per day. Summers are much more hospitable, with long days (up to 18 hours of daylight) and mild temperatures ranging between 50°F (10°C) and 64°F (18°C). Precipitation stays fairly steady throughout the year, although October and November receive a little more rain than other months. The best time to visit Aberdeen is during the summer months (June to mid-September), although visitors should be prepared for sudden showers.
Old Scottish cities like Aberdeen are fairly compact, so walking is a good way to get to many of the sights in the city centre. Longer journeys will require transport however, and many visitors choose to take advantage of the city bus system, run by First Aberdeen, when travelling to the suburbs. Tickets are sold by the driver, and both single-trip tickets and day passes are available (note that drivers do not give change). Taxis are also widely available from ranks dotted around the city or by phone, and though expensive this is the best mode of transportation in the evenings when the buses are less frequent.
Aberdeen is a place that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. One of the world's largest international youth festival takes place here in the summer, with literature, jazz and traditional folk festivals taking place in the spring. For history lovers, Aberdeen has an abundance of museums and tours of its historic buildings. Aberdeen also acts as a perfect hub from which to explore the majesty of the Grampian Highlands, enjoy an extended tipple on the Malt Whisky trail, or ramble around ancient Scottish castles and historic battlefields nearby.
Aberdeen has a few worthy attractions to draw tourists in. The Maritime Museum and Aberdeen Art Gallery are worth a visit to get a taste of the local culture and history, while picturesque Brig o' Balgownie, the lovely Duthie Park, and a number of other pleasant green spaces in the city are at their best in the summer months, May to August. The vibrant waterfront district also merits exploration, as well as some of the lovely sandy beaches close by. A little further afield is the malt whisky trail of the Grampian Highlands, and Balmoral Castle, one of the most magnificent castles in the British Isles.