How to spend a weekend in Aberdeen

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We’re not long back from a sunny weekend in Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast. You may have noticed on Instagram that this was a sponsored trip; I was invited to cover Aberdeen’s Jazz Festival by the region’s tourist board but aside from those events, I had a free pass to explore the granite city.

I’ve been known to get a bit breathless on press trips in the past, but thanks to the flexibility of the itinerary and beauty of Aberdeen, it honestly was the best blogging weekend I’ve ever experienced.

I’ll be publishing a story from the festival very soon, but until then, here’s how we spent a whistle-stop weekend in the city…

The gateway to St Machar's Cathedral
The gateway to St Machar’s Cathedral

Wander the cobbles of Old Aberdeen.

North from the busy, branded thoroughfare of the city centre is a quiet and cobbled bubble of medieval history. Lined with just-budding branches and beautiful granite buildings, the streets of Old Aberdeen have seen centuries of change since its bloom in the Middle Ages.

It’s still home to the medieval place of worship St Machar’s Cathedral, fifteenth-century King’s College Chapel, scores of beautifully detailed buildings and quirky student cafés.

It takes about 30 minutes from the centre of Aberdeen to wander out like we did, and you could easily spend hours here basking in the film-set timelessness of the place. We grabbed lunch and coffee at Grub, which I’d recommend for the variety of hot sandwich options (especially vegetarian).

Walking the cobbles of Old Aberdeen
Walking the cobbles of Old Aberdeen

Dive deep into the Maritime Museum.

Given that my dad, brother and partner all work in the maritime industry it’s hardly surprising we ended up at this museum!

On the other hand, the older I get the more I value learning about the histories of the cities I’m lucky enough to visit — I think it’s key to understanding both people and place.

Looking upwards in the maritime museum
Looking upwards in the maritime museum

The Maritime Museum is the perfect venue to trace Aberdeen’s narrative, from its early days as a royal fishing port and industrial-era trade of whale oil and tobacco, to the more recent prosperity (and volatility) from its oil industry.

The museum spans four floors, with further exhibits on Rattray Head lighthouse, deep water exploration and the horrific Piper Alpha tragedy of the eighties.

Even in the sunshine, this is a must-visit if you truly want to understand the city as opposed to simply snap the Instagrammable buildings (a difficult temptation, I know).

Buildings by BrewDog Castlegate
Buildings by BrewDog Castlegate

Food and (lots of) drink at BrewDog.

As my designated driver and I were staying overnight in the granite city, no excuse was needed to pull up a corner booth in the popular and cosy Castlegate branch of BrewDog.

The now-international company was actually founded in Aberdeenshire, with its first ever bar opening in Aberdeen itself in 2010.

We sampled some of the craft beers alongside their meat or veggie-fuelled burgers (with potentially the most delicious, nutty bun I’ve had). Well worth a visit, but make sure you book in advance.

Sheds at Footdee fishing village
Sheds at Footdee fishing village

Spend Sunday morning by the beach.

On Sunday — after our last serving of poached eggs on toast at our hotel, Skene House Rosemount — we drove the short journey to the seafront.

Aberdeen Esplanade stretches for over two miles and provides a contrast to the rocky, diverse coasts of my hometown west: here there is nothing on the horizon but the sea, a handful of wind turbines, and the odd oil tanker.

To the south of the shore, there’s yet more flotsam of the city’s fishing heritage — Footdee. Pronounced ‘Fittie’ by locals, this pocket-sized village comprises a handful of cobbled streets, cottages whose doors peer directly onto the pavements (rather like Fife’s coastal communities), a mission hall and a hotchpotch of coloured sheds of all shapes and sizes.

It’s a lovely spot to wander, watching the hulk of shipping traffic slide out of the harbour above the houses, but it’s becoming a popular spot. I wonder how the residents feel about that.

Rows of cottages at Footdee
Rows of cottages at Footdee

More things to do (and eat…)

This is a non-exhaustive conclusion, because although we had so many suggestions via Instagram — thank you! — it was sadly impossible to squeeze them all in. So, for my future benefit as well as yours, here are a few other places and eateries to add to your list. Get curry at 8848 Union Street (thanks to Robbie for recommending this to us, the Nepalese chicken was delicious).

The Coffee House, Foodstory, the Bread Maker, Cup and the Cult of Coffee were all lauded for caffeine and cake — quite a few on this inventory come endorsed by my childhood friend Katie, who lives in Aberdeen with her husband. Curated Stories for a bit of local shopping was also mentioned by Corrin (who’s also an amazing illustrator by the way).

Marishal College, the second largest granite building in the world
Greyfriars Church and Marishal College, the second largest granite building in the world

And hey, you!

If you have any recommendations please let me know in the comments — I need to add them to my list for next time! And as always, thanks very much for reading.


11 responses to “How to spend a weekend in Aberdeen”

  1. Hello Laura, Thanks for the lovely article and all the recommendations. We only spent an afternoon in Aberdeen last November so we will definitely need to come back someday… 🙂
    Best wishes, Tanja

    • Hi Tanya! Thanks so much for the lovely comment on this blog. Like you, I’d only ever really passed through Aberdeen before, but honestly (and can I say this…) new favourite city in Scotland. Thought it was a beautiful place! Hope you have a lovely weekend, whatever you get up to 🙂

    • So welcoming! We got lucky and got one of the last tables (without booking… classic me) but the staff were so kind. Also can we talk about the PESHWARI NAAN?!

  2. Behind St Machar’s Cathedral take the path through Seaton Park and up over the hill to the old Brig O’ Balgownie – eminently photogenic. Aberdeen Art Gallery will be opening soon after a redevelopment – it has a fabulous collection. A bit further out from the city centre Duthie Park and it Winter Gardens is interesting all year round.

    • Hi James! Thanks for the tips, I’d wanted to get to the Brig but just didn’t have enough time that weekend — sounds like the art gallery is a perfect excuse to make a return trip… 🙂 Hope you have a good one!

  3. Beautifully written and some lovely suggestions. Wish I had recommendations for you but I have much of Aberdeen left to explore as I only really passed by last time I was there. But making some notes for my June trip and perhaps I will get to visit a few of these places.

  4. Lovely article Laura on my local city. Maybe I’m being a little too picky but I have to take issue with your photograph of Marischal College. In fact about half of your picture is of Greyfriars Church (the big dirty building to the right of centre). Unfortunately you missed most of the majestic, sparkling beauty of Marischal College the second biggest granite building in the world, most of which is to the left of your picture. A minor detail perhaps but I see this kind of oversight as another example of the Instagram effect which you mention in another article; facts overlooked in favour of a pretty picture.

    • Hi Stuart! Nice to hear from a true Aberdonian 🙂 Thank you for flagging the oversight in my caption; I’ll amend that. On your second point, equating a genuine, factual oversight with an attempt to manufacture the image in some way seems a bit of a jump — that was not and still isn’t my intention. If I was solely aiming to feature a pretty picture above all else, I would have included a photo of the ‘majestic’ college over the ‘dirty’ church, surely? Rather I posted this photo over the others because I simply liked it — I liked the shadows on the buildings; the clusters of people; the small clouds, all things I felt managed to show more of the movement of the city (despite my camera being very old and my lens substandard with regard to wide-angle shots ha!) Sorry it didn’t translate for you, hopefully in my explanation you can understand a little more what I was aiming for, despite the imperfect caption. Have a nice evening and thanks a lot for reading the blog 🙂 -Laura

  5. Hi I loved this, Aberdeen is my home town though I live in NZ. I was coming over last May but it was cancelled because of Covid. I’m in touch with family there and miss them so much. Hopefully things will improve with the new vaccine coming out and I’ll get back to the granite city this coming year.

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Marjory, and I’m glad you enjoyed the blog! I’m sorry to hear your trip was cancelled and that you’re missing family, I can understand how hard that is. I too am hoping there’ll be some better news this year; it’s so difficult being far from loved ones. Sending best wishes over to NZ from a snowy Scotland! -Laura

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