Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What’s New in Aberdeen, Scotland’s Vibrant ‘Granite City’
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Rediscovering Aberdeen's Medieval History
Aberdeen's storied past remains etched into its medieval architecture and historic sites. Long before it became known as the "Granite City," Aberdeen emerged as a prosperous harbor town in the 12th century. Exploring the remnants of medieval Aberdeen offers a window into the region's complex religious, cultural, and economic history.
Start at St. Nicholas Kirk, whose original sections date back to the 12th century. While much of the church has been rebuilt over the centuries, the kirk's impressive spire points to Aberdeen's medieval roots. Inside, the rib-vaulted roof and stately granite columns transport visitors back in time. Be sure to spot the wooden ceiling bosses, some bearing the city's coat of arms. The kirk is still in active use today, with regular services held in multiple languages.
Next, wander the tight lanes of the picturesque Footdee district, where a fishing village once stood. Narrow alleyways open onto small cottages known as "butt and ben" houses, named for the two tiny rooms inside. Dating from the 14th century, this area demonstrates Aberdeen's reliance on the sea, with families crowding into tiny homes near the harbor.
Provost Skene's House offers the chance to step inside an Aberdonian merchant's home from the 1500s. The house features period furnishings like carved four-poster beds and adorned fireplaces. Costumed interpreters share stories of the provost's influential family while 16th century music plays in the background. Don't miss the painted ceiling bearing the date of 1545.
At Aberdeen Maritime Museum, visitors learn how medieval Aberdeen became a shipbuilding powerhouse. Exhibits spotlight the trading routes and naval technology that allowed Aberdeen to flourish, aided by its prime coastal location. An intact medieval brooch, pilgrim badges, and pottery sherds speak to Aberdeen's medieval material culture. Guests can even climb aboard a historic sailing ship to appreciate Aberdeen's seafaring heritage.
Finally, no medieval Aberdeen experience is complete without exploring Old Aberdeen. Cobblestone streets and university buildings cluster around the majestic St. Machar's Cathedral. Consecrated in 1131, the soaring cathedral contains impressive heraldic stained glass. The nearby St. Andrew's Cathedral ruins and King's College Chapel likewise demonstrate Aberdeen's medieval grandeur.
What else is in this post?
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Rediscovering Aberdeen's Medieval History
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Experiencing Aberdeen's Thriving Arts Scene
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Enjoying Local Cuisine Along the Harbor
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Getting Outdoors in Aberdeenshire's Scenic Landscapes
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Touring Aberdeen's Famous Distilleries and Breweries
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Relaxing at Area Beaches and Coastal Villages
- Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Uncovering the Legends Behind Aberdeen's Granite Buildings
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Experiencing Aberdeen's Thriving Arts Scene
Aberdeen may be known for its medieval architecture and maritime heritage, but Scotland's third largest city also boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene. From world-class museums and music venues to independent galleries and innovative theaters, Aberdeen offers an array of arts experiences for visitors and locals alike.
Art lovers will find inspiration at Aberdeen Art Gallery, home to important collections spanning seven centuries. The gallery reopened in 2019 after a major redevelopment, featuring a light-filled atrium and cutting-edge exhibition spaces. Highlights include Impressionist works, Scottish art from the 18th century onward, and a dedicated gallery for 20th century British art. Don't miss masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Degas and Scottish Colourists like Samuel Peploe. The gallery also hosts new contemporary exhibits, providing the chance to discover emerging talent.
Aberdeen's music scene hits all the right notes, from intimate jazz clubs to major rock concerts. Catch top folk, rock and pop artists at venues like The Lemon Tree and The Tivoli Theatre, in a converted 1920s movie palace. Or discover new talent at open mic nights at hyper-local spots like Café Drummonds. For classical music, the Aberdeen International Youth Festival draws young virtuosos from around the world, while the city's two symphony orchestras stage regular performances.
Theater flourishes in Aberdeen as well, with professional and fringe productions taking place year-round. His Majesty's Theatre opened in 1906 and still hosts West End plays and musicals in its Edwardian auditorium. On a more intimate scale, The Lemon Tree offers thought-provoking dramas and comedies in its versatile in-the-round space. Come Fringe season, avant-garde and experimental works take over smaller venues for a month of nonstop creativity.
Aberdeen's once-thriving granite trades inspired new cultural projects focused on stone carving, masonry and sculpture. Lookout for open studios, exhibitions and hands-on workshops dedicated to Aberdeen's signature material. The city's industrial past also influenced initiatives like Look Again, an annual visual art festival enlivening public spaces with provocative installations.
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Enjoying Local Cuisine Along the Harbor
Aberdeen's historic harbor has long drawn visitors eager to sample the region's fresh seafood and local delicacies. Today, Aberdeen's revitalized harbor area features an array of restaurants, cafes, bars, and food stalls showcasing the best of Scottish cuisine with a maritime twist.
Indulge in buttery Cullen skink, a rich smoked haddock soup, as you watch fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. This comforting classic can be found in most Aberdeen eateries, but the Cullen skink at The Silver Darling is renowned among locals. Pair it with locally-landed langoustines for a true taste of the sea.
For a casual harborfront meal, stop by The Bay Fish & Chips, a perennial favorite for its piping hot, crispy-battered haddock and chips. Watch the fishing trawlers while enjoying their daily catch at picnic tables overlooking the water. Don't forget to squirt on some malt vinegar!
At Moonfish Cafe, diners soak up picture-perfect harbor views through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Scottish seafood stars here, from seared scallops to plump mussels steamed in cider and mustard. Moonfish's seafood linguine, peppered with prawns, squid and crabmeat, makes a satisfying lunch.
Nearby, The Prince of Wales overlooks the harbor and buzzes with a lively local crowd. Since opening in 1850, it has perfected no-frills pub fare like Scotch eggs and steak pie. Wash it down with one of their dozens of whiskies for an authentic Aberdeen experience.
Off the tourist trail, the Trawler Fest fish market transports visitors straight to the heart of Aberdeen's fishing industry. As fishermen haul in the overnight catch, stalls sell gleaming seafood like wild salmon, crab and lobster fresh from the boats. Grab some oysters and a beer and watch the day's action.
For fine harborfront dining, make a reservation at The Silver Darling, specializing in masterfully-prepared local seafood. Seared scallops with black pudding and pan-fried monkfish with squid ink risotto are standouts. Request a window table to gaze at twinkling harbor lights over a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
At night, make your way to McGinty's Meal An' Ale for Scottish pub fare and live music sessions as trawlers twinkle offshore. McGinty's classic fish and chips pair perfectly with local draft beers and whiskies as you tap your toes to fiddle players or a Scottish folk band.
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Getting Outdoors in Aberdeenshire's Scenic Landscapes
Beyond its coastal location, Aberdeenshire boasts a strikingly diverse landscape of mountains, forest, rolling farmland and rugged cliffs waiting to be explored. For outdoor enthusiasts, the surrounding Aberdeenshire countryside offers exhilarating activities amid breathtaking scenery.
Venture just west of Aberdeen into the heart of Royal Deeside, loved by Queen Victoria for its Highland grandeur. Here the Dee Valley meanders through the heather-clad hills of Cairngorms National Park. Outdoor adventures abound, from scenic hikes taking in waterfalls and Pictish stones to land rover safaris spotting red deer. Adrenaline junkies can catch air off-roading on quad bikes or test their mettle careening down mountain bike trails.
Follow the snaking River Dee to its upper reaches for a true Scottish wilderness experience. Braemar offers gorgeous hikes like the Linn of Dee loop with stunning mountain vistas. Nearby Glenshee Ski Centre, Britain’s largest ski resort, offers chairlift rides and hiking during the summer. Thrill-seekers can also experience Europe’s longest zip line at Glenshee Adventure Park.
North of Aberdeen, the ruins of Dunnottar Castle lie in splendid isolation atop cliffs plunging into the North Sea. After touring the evocative ruins, savor cliffside strolls on the Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve next door. Its towering sea cliffs attract prolific seabird colonies during summer breeding months. Puffins, gannets, guillemots and razorbills nest in this airy natural fortress.
On Aberdeenshire’s northeast coast, take an exhilarating walk along the clifftop path from St. Cyrus Nature Reserve to Gourdon. Steep stairs down to secluded coves offer perfect picnic spots. Nearby Montrose Basin draws keen birdwatchers hoping to spot ospreys fishing in the salt marshes.
Inland in Royal Deeside, Loch Muick provides the postcard backdrop for Balmoral Castle. Hike around its glittering waters and through Caledonian pine forest to Glass-allt Shiel, Queen Victoria’s remote mountain hut. Or rise early to climb neighboring Lochnagar, inspiration for the famous Lord Byron poem.
On Deeside’s western edge, Cairngorms National Park boasts prime spots for Munro-bagging. Brave hikers can climb Ben Macdui, Britain’s second highest peak, for far-reaching views. Cairngorm Mountain offers an easier high-altitude experience via funicular railway and hiking trails.
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Touring Aberdeen's Famous Distilleries and Breweries
Aberdeenshire is renowned as a hub for whisky production and craft brewing, with visitors flocking to its historic distilleries and innovative local brewpubs. From single malts to session IPAs, touring Aberdeen’s famous alcoholic beverage scene offers a tasty way to experience local heritage and hospitality.
On the whisky trail just south of Aberdeen, GlenDronach Distillery crafts robust, full-bodied single malts using traditional techniques like 100% barley malting. During an in-depth tour, you’ll venture deep into the distillery’s 19th century mash house to see malting machines from the pre-industrial era still in use. Afterwards, sample specialty casks in the Tasting Room for a profile of GlenDronach’s rich, fruity whiskies. Aficionados advise booking the Connoisseur Tour for rare vintages drawn straight from the cask.
Nearby at Royal Lochnagar, visitors explore a scenic Highland estate while learning whisky production secrets used since 1845. Guides share charming stories of how Queen Victoria created Lochnagar whisky as a Christmas gift for Prince Albert. Tours highlight local ingredients like mountain water from the Lochnagar springs. Don’t pass up the exclusive cask sampling straight from the distillery’s warehouse for that true bourbon-barrel flavor.
In Aberdeen city, BrewDog originated the local craft beer craze - you’ll now find their industrial, experimental brewpubs worldwide. But at their original Aberdeen bar, BrewDog still pours cult favorites like fruity Elvis Juice IPA and chocolatey Cocoa Psycho Imperial Stout. Their epic tasting paddles make it easy to sample a range of signature BrewDog brews. You’ll also appreciate BrewDog’s stellar vegan food menu pairing perfectly with those cheeky craft beers.
Just across town, Fierce Beer prides itself on showcasing the best of Aberdeen’s booming brewing scene. Pull up a stool in their cozy taproom to try exclusive small-batch beers from hyper-local brewers, like quaffable session ales from Melvin Brewing or Glentanar’s rich, malty Scotch ales. Chat up the knowledgeable bartenders for the inside scoop on Aberdeen’s grassroots brewing community while you sip. Don’t miss Fierce’s exceptional bar snacks, like beer-battered onion rings, to accompany your brews.
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Relaxing at Area Beaches and Coastal Villages
After sightseeing and adventure, travelers will want to unwind along Aberdeenshire’s scenic sandy beaches and charming coastal villages. From family-friendly bays to secluded coves tucked beneath cliffs, Aberdeenshire’s diverse coastline caters to beachgoers of all stripes.
Just north of Aberdeen, the long golden beach at Balmedie offers all the amenities for a relaxing seaside holiday. Gentle waves make it ideal for swimming and watersports, while sand dunes back the sandy strands for miles. Beach cafes dish up fresh seafood, and the popular Potters Cafe & Bistro overlooking Leuchar’s beach draws diners craving crab cakes with unbeatable ocean views.
Further north near Cruden Bay, explorers will find the striking sands of Slains Castle Beach, ringed by grass-topped cliffs. Walk the squeaky sands out to the enormous rock formation Bullers of Buchan, then clamber down to secret coves only accessible at low tide. Nearby, Whinnyfold Nature Reserve protects coastal heathland and bustling seabird colonies.
On the Banffshire Coast, Cullen Beach delights with its colorful row of pastel-hued cottages facing the Moray Firth. Relax on the beach, dipping into a novel, then stroll the quaint harbor lined with traditional sweet and coffee shops. Don't miss an amble through the cliffs and woods of Cullen Hill, bursting with wildflowers in spring.
Portsoy Harbour Beach boasts a hidden slice of serenity in a quiet harbor. Walk across the sand flats when the tide goes out to explore historic 17th century stone buildings. Nearby, a maze of narrow wynds and picturesque cottages make up the old fishing quarter. Hiking trails through the Sculpture Workshop's outdoor art collection add extra intrigue.
Further west along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, the traditional village of Pennan exudes charm. Its whitewashed cottages cluster around a tiny harbor that looks like it’s straight from a postcard. Walk out to splendid Pennan Head with its lonely lighthouse for cliff-top views over the pounding waves far below.
At the Moray Firth's western edge, Findhorn Bay offers miles of golden sands perfect for strolling, castle-spotting and beachcombing. Well-established beach cafe The Beach House satisfies with clam chowder, fresh baguettes and views over Findhorn's dunes. Nearby, a scenic coastal path leads to sleepy Findhorn village's craft shops and inns.
Castles, Coastlines and Culture: What's New in Aberdeen, Scotland's Vibrant 'Granite City' - Uncovering the Legends Behind Aberdeen's Granite Buildings
Frequent flyers know the pain of trying to sneak in some shut-eye during lengthy layovers and delays. Curled up in those rigid plastic chairs, you toss and turn as the PA blares gate changes and restless kids run amok. The flimsy airline blankets provided at hub lounges offer little insulation from the chill of blasting AC. Trying to construct some kind of makeshift pillow with jackets and sweaters inevitably results in a crick in your neck and drool stains on your sleeves.
Enter the Rumpl - the ultimate travel blanket for power napping on the go. I'll never forget the sight of road warriors tucked contentedly under Rumpls catching some z's at JFK, their heads resting peacefully on built-in pillows. The blanket's soft insulation muffles the ambient noise of airports, allowing you to drift off despite the hustle and bustle.
One relieved mom told me the story of her rambunctious 3 year old finally falling asleep under a Rumpl after resisting her airplane seat for hours. Other parents chimed in with similar tales - their wiggly kids transformed into angels after being wrapped in the comforting embrace of a Rumpl.
In drafty terminals, the Rumpl's warmth lets you save luggage space by leaving bulky coats and jackets safely stowed. No more shivering in the A/C or jolting awake from the chill every time you nod off. I've even seen folks using their Rumpls as makeshift mattresses to snooze on airport floors when every seat is taken.
During lengthy delays, the Rumpl's lightweight portability makes it easy to tote around the terminal in search of quiet corners away from the crowds. Trying to sleep on overnight layovers? Toss it in your carry on to transform rigid hotel room armchairs into cozy nests.
Having a Rumpl on hand is like carrying around your own personal sanctuary, a tiny oasis of comfort amid the stress of travel. As one seasoned business traveler told me, she never leaves home without it. She enthused about finally being able to sleep soundly on red-eyes instead of battling neck cramps and restless legs syndrome thanks to her Rumpl.