Aberdeen – The best this city has to offer
Aberdeen, or the ‘Silver city with the Golden sands’, is Scotland’s third biggest city and has been populated for almost 8000 years, making it a prime area for history lovers. The prehistoric villages around the mouth of the Dee and the Don rivers grew into a larger urban area, giving the modern town it’s name. Originally called ‘Aberdon’ as the largest settlement at the time was on the mouth of the Don river. Aberdeen means ‘at the mouth of the Dee’. The city has a long, beautiful sandy beach and a marine climate, which means cold summers and mild winters. The area was under ‘Pictish’ control at the time of the Romans and under the control of the English during the wars of Scottish independence. The city has been important in matters of trade and politics since at least 1179 when ‘William the Lion’ granted the settlement a royal charter.
Namely because of this rich historical background, Aberdeen and the surrounding lands are dotted with ruins, castles, churches and historic battlegrounds. In this post I will be guiding the potential visitor through some of the must-see attractions and sights in the greater area and within the city itself. Remember, Aberdonian’s traditionally speak ‘Doric’ traces of which remain in the vocabulary, it will be hard to understand a lot of the locals, especially in old areas like ‘Fittie’.
Marischal College was constructed as we know it in the early 1900’s with building work starting in 1835. The building is the 2nd biggest granite building in the world. It is hugely impressive to view, tours can be arranged at the reception. It was formerly the seat of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen which was founded in 1593, with the current building being on top of the previous. John Betjeman a famous poet of the 1940’s described it as such:
“No-one can dismiss Marischal College, Aberdeen, when looking at the work of the present century. Wedged behind a huge town hall in an expensive and attractive mid-Victorian baronial style, I saw a cluster of silver-white pinnacles. I turned down a lane towards them, the front broadened out. Oh! Bigger than any cathedral, tower on tower, forests of pinnacles, a group of palatial buildings rivalled only by the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. This was the famous Marischal College. Imagine the Victorian tower with a spire on top, and all that well-grouped architecture below of lesser towers, and lines of pinnacles executed in the hardest white Kemnay granite and looking out over the grey-green North Sea and you have some idea of the first impression this gigantic building creates. It rises on top of a simple Gothic one designed by Simpson in 1840. But all these spires and towers and pinnacles are the work of this century and were designed by Sir Alexander Marshall Mackenzie. You have to see them to believe them.”
Marischal College is on Broad Street which can be reached by taxi, on foot from the centre or by bus following the 19 line or 2 line. Tickets cost 4.80GBP for a day pass.
The King’s College Chapel in Old Aberdeen is another epic building yet the building itself is less impressive than the ancient streets that surround it. A walk through the University campus is one of the most quaint and beautiful experiences Aberdeen has to offer. It is highly recommended to take a walk along the ‘Spital’, the main road through the campus late in the afternoon to get the most atmospheric experience. Founded in 1495 the campus is the oldest University in Aberdeen, the third in Scotland and the fifth in the UK, with such ancient roots it is a humbling experience to explore the campus.
To get to the campus, either take the number 1 or 2 buses from the city towards Bridge of Don or simply walk the 20 minutes from the Marischal college to the Spital and enjoy the walk down one of Aberdeen’s oldest streets. Alternatively, taxis can be taken from Union street to the campus direct. A taxi should cost somewhere around 14GBP.
Footdee, otherwise known by the locals as ‘Fittie’ is an old fishing village on the southern end of the beach, it is now dwarfed by the deep water harbour that surrounds it. The area has been populated since time immemorial, with the first attested reference in 1398. A suggested visit would involve a walk down the beach, along the famous ‘Links’, a wild area with sand-dunes, undulating with grassy banks. It is really beautiful though the best example is further north, which I will mention in another article. Once at the bottom of the beach, a short walk will take you to the village, replete with insanely quaint little houses, really a good example of how the locals lived in previous times. Picture yourself braving the wild north sea on a small boat, in the stinging rain and wind trying to catch your dinner then coming home to one of these little huts. Pretty crazy. If the idea is tiring, then head up for a beer at one of the harbour side bars. Be warned, the accents of the locals here is ridiculously impenetrable and foreigners are extremely out of place in the local bars. One of them ‘Peep-Peep’s’ is apparently, ‘Britain’s hardest bar’ which makes it a must see on any tourists itinerary, if only so you can go there and have the huge, scary guests and barman eye you up and down with suspicion. Straight out of Irvine Welsh’s novel ‘Skagboys’ (translation: heroin boys), this area is extremely rough, yet it is tiny, not actually dangerous at all and truly about as Scottish as it gets. If you feel brave enough to swagger like a local fisherman, take a walk through ‘Fittie’ and the harbour up to ‘Peep-Peep’s’. Bragging rights may follow.
To get there, take a number 14 bus to the beach and walk south. “Peep-Peep’s” is a short walk towards the city on: 11 Commerce Street, right on the harbour.
The old Deeside railway line is another must see in Aberdeen. Also called the ‘Deeside Way’ it is an old railway line, now disused, which has been converted into a walking trail. Starting at the historic ‘Duthie’ Park, it stretches for 66 km towards the ‘Cairngorm’ mountains. It once ferried the royals towards their summer estate in Balmoral Castle. Now it is a popular route for tourists and locals alike as it comes close to the river Dee in many areas and provides a uniquely romantic and beautiful setting for an afternoon stroll, with birds chirping and a light breeze as it is protected by a wreath of old trees. Take a walk down to Peterculter, approximately 7kms out of town for the best experience. The part named locally ‘Lover’s Lane’, which stretches alongside the village of Peterculter itself is especially beautiful and romantic, with many benches to take a chill and look at the lovely scenery.
To get there take a number 2 bus towards Garthdee and exit at Ferryhill, walk to the north end of the park and join the trail. The number 19 bus services a road which runs essentially parallel to the trail and will ferry you home once you are finished so there is no need to walk back – unless you want to of course.
There are many other amazing things to do within the city centre however, I feel these four are absolutely unmissable. The rest are easily found within ten minutes of each other in the city centre and include the St. Machars cathedral, the Union Square Gardens, Castlegate and Belmont Street. Belmont street in particular is an amazing place to hang out at night with no less than three churches converted into nightclubs and bars. Truly unique experience to drink in an old church, part of the juxtaposition of old and new which makes Aberdeen such a funny little place to visit.
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