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Aberdeen HarbourAberdeenshire is one of the most abundant regions in the Highlands, both in natural resources as well as historic and prehistoric finds.  It has been inhabited since the Neolithic ages, and is a joy to archeologists and enthusiasts.  Aberdeenshire does not govern the City of Aberdeen, after which it was named, as the city has its own separate council.  However, it is hard to separate the two, so for the sake of lessening confusion, we are putting the city of Aberdeen under the county.  It is hard to imagine separating the two, because even the headquarters of Aberdeenshire’s council is in the city of Aberdeen. 



Union Street, AberdeenScotland’s third largest city, Aberdeen sits right in the middle of the northeast coast, on the banks of Rivers Dee and Don.  Many find the city too grey and bleak, sometimes uninviting.  Its nickname “Granite City” is by no means metaphorical—the whole city, even its roads, is made of granite, which glints in sunshine, but seems doubly gloomy when it rains.  So this means the city is doubly gloomy most of the time, as the weather in Aberdeen is comparable to that in Russia. 

However, don’t let the depressing weather and dismal physical appearance of Aberdeen turn you off at first glance.  This is a city that experienced a boom in the 1960s as an oil town, and since then it has not slowed down.  Its corporate façade has given birth to a cultural movement, as well as an active nightlife, all because of its vibrant student population.  It is a decidedly urban city, with its great number of museums and galleries, most of them for free.  It cannot be more different from the wilderness of nearby Highlands.

Marshall CollegeThe area of what is now Aberdeen has been inhabited for at least eight thousand years, because of its proximity to two rivers.  It experienced its first boost when it became one of Alexander I’s prime towns in the twelfth century.  The subsequent years saw the town rise as a market town centered on fishing.  The establishment of a Catholic university in what is now known as the Old Aberdeen helped cement the town’s prominence.  When its local industries started faltering, it seemed like the city was beyond saving.  But this did not last for long, as in the 1960s, oil reserves were discovered in the North Sea, near the coast of Aberdeen.  This ultimately helped the town boom again.  Since this discovery, the port of Aberdeen has been one of the busiest in the country, and remains so to this day.

The physical centre of the city is Guild Street where the train station is located.  This makes it a convenient spot to start exploring the city.  It is located south of Union Street, which is the main commercial district of the city, and is characterized by historic buildings, amidst garish shopping centres and chain stores.


Union Street
remains the main commercial centre of the town, long after the castle, which is now marked by the Castlegate, has gone after its destruction in the 1300s.  Here, too, you will find the town’s Mercat Cross, which is a distinctive feature of Scottish market towns.  Union Street’s collection of historical architecture is overshadowed by the fact that there are more people walking down this mile-long road who are only interested in its shopping centres.

Provost Skene's House, AberdeenWest of Union Street, you will find the oldest existing house in Aberdeen, Provost Skene’s House (Guestrow, between Broadstreet and Flourmill Lane, +44 1224 641086, free).  The house was built in 1545, and features popular interior design trends during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century.  It is home to many interesting permanent displays, such as archeological exhibits, coin collections, and religious paintings that date from the seventeenth century.  It is one of the last examples of early burgh houses in the country.

Marischal Museum collection- clockAlso on Broad Street, Marischal College stands, a dominant figure in the skyline of the city.  It is only second to Madrid’s Escorial as the biggest structure built in granite.  Art historians have a love and hate relationship with the building, with some revering its magnificent neo-Gothic structure that stands out in a block full of, well, block buildings, while others refer to it as gray wedding cake.  The college was founded in 1593, and in 1860, it joined Catholic King’s to form the University of Aberdeen.  Nowadays, the building that used to hold the college is the city council’s new headquarters and is pretty much closed to the public.  The adjoining Marischal Museum (Broad Street, +44 1224 274301, free) is the one that’s open to the public, but since 2008, it has been closed for renovations.  Its permanent exhibits feature the eccentricity of Victorian anthropologists, with their odd collections from all over the world. 

From the Marischal College, take a bus ride to the north of the city to Old Aberdeen.  As if in defiance to the steely appearance of the city centre, Old Aberdeen has maintained a quaint feel.  It has always been an independent community, away from the corporate Aberdeen, and this isolation has worked out for the best, resulting in medieval cobbled streets and narrow lanes.  The community is dominated by the fifteenth century St Machar’s Cathedral (Old Aberdeen, +44 1224 485988).  Legend has it that the site where the Church of Scotland high kirk now stands was founded by Machar in 580.  It overlooks the lovely River Don, and is surrounded by the Seaton Park.  Another distinguishing feature of Old Aberdeen is the old buildings of King’s College Chapel, with its characteristic Renaissance spire and its collection of rare Scottish woodcarving dating from the medieval ages.

Aberdeen Art Gallery 'Pope Innocent X' by Francis BaconThe Aberdeen Art Gallery (Schoolhill, 44 1224 523700, free) is housed in a nineteenth century building, and is one of the best art galleries in Scotland.  Every corner of the gallery is an artwork, from the erotic stained glass windows to Francis Bacon’s paintings of the Pope.  There are six rooms that display the galleries’ collections of paintings, according to their era.

Appropriately, opposite the gallery you will find the Bohemian hangout, the Academy.  It is home to many bars and restaurants, and gets crowded every last Saturday of the month, when farmer’s markets set up in the street. 

Before you reach the harbour, soak in the city’s maritime history at the engaging Maritime Museum (Shiprow, +44 1224 337700, free). The imaginative building, which incorporates the sixteenth century house of Provost Ross, houses an equally imaginative narrative of the city’s harbour history.  It focuses mainly on the fateful discovery of oil in the North Sea, but it also gives importance to other local industries, such as whaling, and shipbuilding.  After the history lesson, you are now Aberdeen Maritime Museumready for the actual harbour, which is filled with many modern oil supply ships and cruise ships.  If you walk further along Market Street, you will likely stumble upon Footdee or Fittie, a fisherman’s village dating from the nineteenth century.

The sandy beach of Aberdeen is perhaps one of the biggest and best (not to mentions cleanest) city beaches in Britain.  It is located east of Union Street, and is a great place to watch and meet the locals who gather on the shores during weekends.



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If you are on a budget and would be willing to share a room with a few strangers, then the Aberdeen Youth Hostel (8 Queen’s Road, +44 1224 646988, from £16) is for you.  It is a set in a quintessentially Aberdeen structure (a granite townhouse).  There is a curfew, though, so make sure to let the staff know if you want to get in a later time. 

Jay’s Guesthouse (422 King Street, +44 1224 638295, £45) is a bit tiny, but it more than makes up for its great and friendly atmosphere, its comfortable suites and great service.  It also has fast free Wi-Fi and is very near the city centre. 

Skene House Rosemount (96 Rosemount Viaduct, +44 1224 659392, £55-106) is one of the Skene Houses in Aberdeen which capitalize in serviced apartments with a luxury hotel feel.  It is perfect for a big group of people traveling together.  It is also quite close to the city centre and is located within the Cultural Quarter of the city.

With reduced value during weekends,
Brentwood Hotel (101 Crown Street, +44 1224 595440, £59-99) is a value-for-your-money type of hotel with not much personality to offer, but has good enough rooms and a great central location.  Its pub downstairs boasts of real ale on tap.

City Wharf Apartments (47 Regent Quay, +44 1224 589282, £60).  These luxury serviced apartments are located in two locations, both central to great sightseeing—one is near the harbour, while the other is just off Union Street. 

Allan Guesthouse (56 Polmuir Road, +44 1224 584484, £70).  A ten-minute walk from the city centre, this guesthouse is close enough without having to soak up all the noise—perfect for a good night’s sleep if you’re a light sleeper.  It is well furbished and comfortable, as well as tastefully decorated.

Ferryhill House (169 Bon Accord St., +44 1224 590867, £70-110) is very near Union Street, but it’s not swallowed up by the city.  The mansion has a great garden surrounding it, and it is famous for its historic pub.  It gets quite busy during peak season, but this does not detract from the comfortable experience.  It also has lots of free parking, which is something you will need if you are driving a car going to Aberdeen.

A chain hotel in the tradition of the Hotel du Vin, Malmaison Aberdeen
(49-53 Queens Road, +44 1224 327370, £195) is pretty new but is making waves for its traditional-meets-modern approach to the hotel experience.  If you are lugging around heavy baggage on your trip, pray that you do not get booked into an upstairs room as they have no elevators. 

Marcliffe at Pitfodels
(North Deeside Road, Pitfodels, +44 1224 861000, £215-245) is essentially one of the few luxury hotels that Aberdeen has, but it is still family-owned.  The structure and its surrounding garden are both picturesque, and its suites are as tasteful too, only, some rooms need updating and refurbishing because their furnishings are showing age.

A cozy guesthouse a few minutes away from Union Street and the bus and train stations—these characterize what Aldersyde Guesthouse
(138 Bon Accord, +44 1224 580012) is.  It is a clean and well-furnished with the basic amenities (nothing very luxurious but serviceable) and the service is friendly and efficient.


Bridge over the River Dee, near BanchoryOne of the best, though admittedly not the most efficient, ways to see the length of Aberdeen to Perth is the A93 Road, the highest road in Britain.  The hundred-mile road is not so well-traversed these days, but it is a great way to appreciate the diverse natural and historical beauty in this part of Scotland.





Balmoral CastleSituated on the Royal Deeside (by the River Dee), Balmoral Castle (Ballater, +44 1339 742534, £8.70) is still a private summer residence of the Royal family, years after it was bought by Prince Albert for his Queen Victoria.  The castle itself was originally owned by the Gordon family.  It is an inspiring view on the vast grounds of the estate.  However, the price may be too steep considering that you cannot even enter the castle, save for the ballroom which houses a not-quite-interesting collection of royalty memorabilia.  The grounds are quite awe-inspiring, though, and may be worth the admission charges.  The Queen always visits the castle during August, when the gardens are in full bloom.


Shotputter at the Braemar GatheringWest of Aberdeen, you will find, on the upper course of the River Dee, the village of Braemar, which is patronized by outdoorsy travelers, and those trekking to Glen Shee will find the village to be the best base to start their journey on.  The village is most famous among travelers and even the Royal family for the Highland Games at the yearly Braemar Gathering (+44 1339 755377, £16-30), which happens every first Saturday of September.  The High games have been a royal family tradition since 1832.  It gets crowded, and walk-in audience is not permitted—you will have to book months in advance if you want a spot.  However, if you would just like to soak in the festive atmosphere and would be willing to lounge on the surrounding hills within the grounds, then you can turn up on the day of the games itself and pay £10 for a spot.

Braemar Castle

 Aside from the Braemar Gathering, you will also find the Braemar Castle (+44 1339 741219, £5) worth your while to visit.  It is being enthusiastically restored by the community, who now run the castle and estate.  The castle was originally built in 1628 as the hunting lodge of the Earl of Mar.  You may have to check the website before going, as restoration is still underway.



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Rucksacks (15 Mar Road, +44 1339 741517, £7-15).  On a great day, young backpackers and hikers occupy this well-equipped bunkhouse which even has a proper sauna.  It offers different kinds of accommodation, from dorms to huts or a cabin at the back of the house.

Clunie Lodge Guest House
(Clunie Bank Road, +44 1339 741330, £30).  This former Victorian house is worth staying in just for the great window view of the Clunie Glen and the Grampian mountains.  It is a tranquil place that is only a few minutes away from the village proper.  The rooms are reasonably-equipped with cozy beds and en-suite bathrooms.

Braemar Lodge Hotel (Glen Shee Road, +44 1339 741627, £45-90 )  is former shooting lodge with the feel of a big family holiday home, but offers varied accommodations to the discerning.  They offer bunkhouses, log cabins, and traditional rooms.  It is quite expensive for its size, though.

A perfect B&B for a family of hikers, or a big group of outdoorsy travelers, Craiglea 
(Hillside Road, +44 1339 741641, £56) is run by a family who understands the needs of trekkers, even putting a drying room for when you get your gear wet from the hike.  The six en-suite rooms are well-equipped, and decorated in soothing colors.

Moorfield House Hotel (Chapel Brae, +44 1339 741244, £60-68)  is located in a secluded area of the village, and is perfect for visitors to the Highland Games as it overlooks the area where they are held.  All rooms except one are en-suite, and if you get the front rooms, you can easily see the Cairngorms Mountains from your window.


Glenshee snow fieldsSouth of Braemar on the historic and scenic A93 road is Glen Shee, which is the site of Scotland’s most accessible ski areas. It is only a few hours’ drive from Edinburgh and Scotland.  Its name is from the Gaelic word for fairies, which is “shith” so that it is generally known for its beauty.  There is no other reason to go here than to ski, as the area is dominated with ski fields, with four mountains and three valleys flanking the area, and numerous ski lifts spread out all over the fields.  This area is situated above the Cairnwell mountain pass.  You can find more information at the Glenshee Ski Centre (+44 1339 741320), which is at the base station.  They also offer ski board rentals and lessons, and one of their chairlifts can reach the top of the Cairnwell mountain.

All accommodations in Glenshee are located in the Spittal of Glenshee, which is the settlement in the area.  There is a shortage of accommodations, however. 

Dalmunzie House Hotel
(Spittal of Glenshee, +44 1250 885224, £170), a mansion built in the Scots Baronial style, is surrounded by a massive estate. All seventeen rooms are gifted with great views of the mountains and decorated in individual historical themes.  Have a taste for the food as they have award-winning cuisine.

Spittal of Glenshee Hotel
(off the A93, +44 1250 885215, £55-70).  The hotel looks unremarkably furnished, but the atmosphere is friendly, and its surroundings offer a great walk.  Age is starting to show in its rooms, but it remains tidy and a reasonable accommodation.


Stonehaven beach flickr Chuck MauriceFifteen miles south of Aberdeen, on the northeast coast, lies Stonehaven, an unassuming seaside town with plenty of great nature walks.  Back then it was known for its fishing industry, but nowadays it is popular among middle class professionals working in Aberdeen as commuter residence.  Locals usually gather in the new Art Deco –style swimming pool when the weather permits.

The oldest structure in town, the Tolbooth (The Harbour, +44 1771 622906, free) is now a museum illustrating the town’s colorful history.  Upstairs is a restaurant that offers seafood fare that is a little on the steep side.

One great place to stay nearby Stonehaven is the Marine Hotel (Shorehead, +44 1569 762155, £110) which overlooks the historic harbour of the town.  It has recently refurbished, so you can rest assured that the hotel has not succumbed to its age.  The rooms can be quite small, but definitely cozy and well-appointed, with free Wi-Fi.  The seafood fare the hotel restaurant offers is commendable as well.

Dunnotar Castle near StonehavenFurther south of the town, you will find one of the most haunting ruins of a fortress in Scotland set on a cliff looking out into the sea. Dunnotar Castle (Dunnotar, +44 1569 762173, £5) stands on the site where St. Ninian built one of the Christian churches in the Pictish region.  It also became home to the Earls Marischal and occasionally, royalty would stay in the fortress, which was then known for its strength.