The first people to live, or at least visit, what is now Aberdeen were stone age hunter-gatherers, around 8,000 years ago. Since then various tribes and groups of Celts and Picts called the area home and the Romans sent an army of tens of thousands of men into battle near here. In 580 A.D. a disciple of Columba, Saint Machar, arrived to convert the Picts to Christianity, founding a church that eventually was given his name and forming the basis of the settlement of Old Aberdeen. Aberdeen is blessed with several excellent museums, some of which tell the story of the history (and prehistory) of the area. Aberdeen was to reach its heyday in the late 18th and then 19th centuries, when huge public building schemes were funded, creating the Granite City we see today.
This building is a must-see, especially now it has been cleaned and revitalised. It is the second largest granite building in the world and a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, replacing an earlier university building on the site. Still owned by the University of Aberdeen it is presently leased to the City Council. Following restoration the building’s granite once more sparkles in the sunlight. Throughout the city there is a wealth of stunning architecture to be seen and a walking tour of some of these sites is highly recommended to the visitor.
Scotland is the ancestral home of golf and Aberdeenshire features several legendary courses. The city itself is home to the sixth oldest club in the world, the Royal Aberdeen which was founded in 1780 along the links behind the beach to the north. Golf was played along the dunes around the city since the 1600s, and this depth of history and the challenging courses bring players from across the globe to the city. The beach is also worth a mention, as few such large UK cities play host to such a stretch of sand.
Not all the green spaces in Aberdeen are golf-related, however. There are several remarkable parks and gardens throughout the city’s boundaries, 45 to be precise! These include the vast Hazlehead Park and the beautiful Johnston Gardens, as well as an array of others. With all these flowers and greenery, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that Aberdeen has enjoyed considerable success in the annual horticultural contest of Britain in Bloom, winning no fewer than 11 times, most recently in 2016!
Up until 1891, Aberdeen was actually two Royal Burghs, Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen. The latter is quite different in character, centred around the High Kirk of St Machar and also the University of Aberdeen. This is the third oldest university in Scotland, the fifth oldest in the UK, and has played a huge role in the city ever since its foundation in 1495. Old Aberdeen is definitely worth a visit, with King’s College chapel and the new Sir Duncan Rice library being just two of the outstanding buildings.
Aberdeen has a vibrant and flourishing food scene, centred around ideas of sustainability, using the best of seasonal and, where possible, locally grown produce. This is especially true in the city’s cafés, where the quality really is second to none. As can be expected, locally caught seafood and fish feature heavily on the city’s restaurant menus, as does the world-renowned Aberdeen Angus beef.
Aberdeen has a long history of being a centre for the arts, with live music and entertainment eclectic enough to suit all tastes. Famous names to have performed in the city include Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, Charlie Chaplin, Cream, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and many others. However, it’s not all famous names, and the city has a habit of producing homegrown underground talent, with bands often cutting their teeth at venues such as The Lemon Tree, Café Drummond or The Tunnels.
It can be said that Aberdeen has so much art it is all over the city, unable to be contained within the walls of the excellent galleries on offer. The renowned Aberdeen Art Gallery has been undergoing an extensive series of renovations and repairs and is due to reopen in winter 2017. With public art dotted all over the buildings and streets of the city, as well as innovative arts festivals, Aberdeen continues to flourish as a vibrant home for diverse arts and artists.
It should come as no surprise that Aberdeen has some excellent bars. While most pubs sell a range of whiskies, there are some that stand out as truly special, such as The Grill, where you can choose from over 600 different malts in a beautiful setting. This bar is said to be one of the best whisky bars in the world, but Aberdeen drinking establishments are not solely dedicated to the famous Scottish spirit. In recent years locally distilled gins have made a comeback, and cocktail bars are also popular in the city. Whatever your tipple, you will find it here.
One of the excellent things about the Granite City is not just the city itself, but the wider area in which it sits. Throughout Aberdeenshire and even further afield, most of the big roads head to the city, as does the railways, making it a perfect place to explore this corner of Scotland. From mountains to iconic castles, there is something for everyone here, all within easy reach of the city and its comfortable hotels. Add to this the port and airport, and communication with the wider world is easy.