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Old Aberdeen is packed full of interesting buildings, museums to visit, parks and gardens and places to pause and grab a coffee, or something stronger. The best bit is that it is everything is close together, so you can walk along pretty cobblestoned streets, then meander through some of Aberdeen’s most cherished green areas. Here’s our guide to the best bits of Old Aberdeen.
If you walk through Seaton Park and along the banks of the meandering Don towards the sea, you come to what used to be known as the Bridge of Don and is now called the Brig o’ Balgownie. This is an ancient bridge, completed in 1320 and comprised of a single Gothic archway, with a 12 metre (39 feet) span and the walkway being over 17 metres (56 feet) above the water. Historians debate exactly who ordered the bridge built, but there is a strong consensus that it was the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce. The bridge no longer sees traffic, as a new one was built further downstream in 1830. It is also mentioned in the poem, Don Juan, by Lord Byron.
Back in the centre of Old Aberdeen, and near King’s College, the Powis Gate towers are definitely worth a moment of time. These tall towers once flanked the entrance to Powis House. Built from 1833 to 1834, they are a pair of cylindrical towers, topped by Turkish style minarets and both have parapets near the top. Unusual in design, they were recently restored by the University of Aberdeen, who now own them. Due to the 1833 Abolition of Slavery the Leslie family, who owned Powis House and ordered the gates be built, commemorated the freeing of the slaves they owned in Jamaica in the form of a shield on the gates.
Many people come to Scotland to trace their roots and personal tours around kirkyards are common. In Old Aberdeen there is a hidden gem of such a place. Once the parish church of Old Aberdeen, named St. Mary of the Snows, this graveyard is unknown to many Aberdeen residents, it is so well hidden. Although the stones only number in the 40s, there are many others deeply buried here. For a long time it was a place where Catholics met in secret, beginning after the church building fell out of use after the Reformation and this continued for many years. Burials that can be dated are between 1776 and 1934, but these are just those that have been recorded. A visit to the Snow Kirk is a visit to a hidden and lost part of Aberdeen — even the name conjures up an interesting image!
Once the business centre of Old Aberdeen, the 18th century building of the Town House is now in the care of the University, who restored it and use it as a museum. A fine Georgian building, with an elegant clock and cupola, its image is used on the logo of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. The University museum collection was begun in 1727 and is utilised to produce exhibitions that change every few months. Although not the largest of museums, it is welcoming and the displays are always well planned and interesting. Standing in front of the building is a fragment of the original Mercat Cross, where once proclamations were read, fairs held and punishments meted out.
If you love plants, trees, and peace and quiet, then a visit to the beautiful Cruickshank Botanic Garden is a must. This enclave of harmony is spread over 11 acres and has many different elements, from a sunken garden to an arboretum and a rock and water garden to wonderful herbaceous borders — this is a must-see for gardeners and those who love the natural world, or those who simply want to pause and rest for a time.
Although a part of the university, the double-height ground floor is open to visitors and features the Hardback Cafe and a space for exhibitions. It is the building itself that is especially worth a visit, with an award-winning modern design featuring striped external glass and a fascinating internal structure. Outside there is a bronze sculpture designed by Nasser Azam. Opened by the Queen in 2012, this building has since been listed among the most beautiful libraries in the world and it’s not hard to see why.
The ancient heart of the University, King’s College was founded in 1495, with construction of the chapel beginning in 1498, the design of which was based on King Solomon’s Temple. Inside, the wooden rood screen and stalls date back to the year of consecration, 1509. This makes the medieval church interior the most complete in Scotland. Other buildings of interest include the Cromwell Tower, Elphinstone Hall and New King’s, all of which add to the architecture of the area. Such is their timeless appeal, you could be forgiven for thinking you are walking around the university buildings of Oxford or Cambridge!