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City Guide – Aberdeen, Scotland
Aberdeen, known as The Granite City, should be on every enthusiastic traveller’s bucket list. Beautiful, particularly in the rain when the grey stone buildings sparkle, the authorities have made enormous efforts to maintain the Georgian and Victorian architecture, providing a historic backdrop to a contemporary and cosmopolitan city where great shopping centres like Union Square and Bon Accord stand alongside older attractions including His Majesty’s Theatre, the University of Aberdeen and the Mercat Cross – erected around 1540.
Named from the Gaelic word meaning river mouth, Aber, Aberdeen was built around the River Dee, accumulating its wealth through an extensive fishing industry and burgeoning agricultural trade. When oil was discovered in the 1970s, the North Sea oil industry introduced a new source of economic prosperity to the region, attracting multiple international companies to the ever-expanding commercial district.
Yet despite this very business-like underpinning, Aberdeen has numerous attractions that have little to do with the stock market and more in common with the thistle-and-heather Scottish image that the international community more usually associate with the third largest city in Scotland and the capital of the North East.
Things to see
Ranked as one of the most prosperous cities in the UK, Aberdeen accommodates different tastes and interests in less than 130 square miles. With a diverse culture that includes music venues of all sizes, including the Royal Opera House, there are art galleries, theatres, bars and world-class restaurants, as well as cinemas, clubs and excellent shopping facilities.
Aberdeen Art Gallery
The striking 19th century building houses paintings and sculptures from the 1500s to the present day. You’ll find an important collection including powerful 20th century works by Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, Stanley Spencer and Francis Bacon. The paintings also include excellent examples by French Impressionists and Post Impressionists Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas.
Travel north of the city centre to see the Castlegate Tolbooth Tower, the oldest structure in the city and all that is left of the castle. The 16th century King’s College is little changed from the day it opened, as are St Machar’s Cathedral and Marischal College. Visit the harbour
with its centuries old fish market, or if the rain is putting you off, the Maritime Museum and Gordon Highlanders Museum are both nearby and highly recommended.
Attractions in Aberdeenshire
Never too far from nature in the raw, Aberdeen is a central hub for exploring the castles and forts that make up Aberdeenshire’s world-famous heritage sites. Understandably thought of as one entity, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are actually two separate entities, with the latter offering more than 350 places to visit. There are family residences, huge stone forts that could still withstand a siege, as well as crumbling ruins that mark the spot of some long-forgotten battle or struggle.
Balmoral, one of the Royal Family’s Scottish residences, was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1852 and it is an excellent example of Scottish Baronial architecture. Public access is allowed to the castle’s ballroom and formal gardens where a number of audiovisual exhibitions can be enjoyed. Balmoral is only closed to the general public from the beginning of August to the end of October when the Royal Family are in residence.
Those with an interest in architecture should also visit Craigievar Castle, another Scots Baronial construction, which is less than 30 miles from Aberdeen and is open to the public from the 1st April until the 30th of September every year. Nestled in the picturesque countryside, this is a fairy-tale castle of perfect proportions that is little changed since it functioned as a full-time residence. Turreted and towered with cupolas and corbelling, this ‘Danzig Willie’ design still boasts the original Jacobean woodwork and beautiful period furniture, as well as a Victorian kitchen garden and extensive parklands.
Aberdeen airport is less than 10 miles from the city centre with shuttle buses running a convenient regular service. The main train station is located on Guild Street, right in the centre of the city, and as the third busiest station in Scotland, it is an excellent way to travel more widely.
Where to stay
The various districts of Aberdeen have a distinct ‘village’ feel and that includes accommodation. Although there are a number of competitive options available in the south-west of the city where the B&Bs and guest houses are clustered, the hotels in the city centre provide an excellent base for both business visitors and pleasure seekers.
City centre accommodation
The Hilton Garden Inn on St Andrew Street (rooms from £93 per night)and the Premier Inn on West North Street (rooms from £29) are a great corporate choice. The Copthorne Hotel on Huntly Street has all of the amenities of an international chain with the charm of an independent operator. On the outskirts of the city, The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa is an exquisite combination of contemporary culture and historical romance – a description that is equally applicable to Aberdeen itself.
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