How to Spend 48 Hours in Aberdeen

The Castlegate in Aberdeen was the original site of the Gordon Highlanders barracks before moving to the Bridge of Don
The Castlegate in Aberdeen was the original site of the Gordon Highlander's barracks before moving to the Bridge of Don | © Simon Price / Alamy Stock Photo
Tori Chalmers

Amidst Aberdeen’s iconic silver buildings are an array of must-see cultural treasures, including an ancient university and many historic sites. As Europe’s off-shore capital, Scotland’s Granite City boasts a vibrant population from across the globe. Perfect for whistle-stop adventures, discover our 48-hour guide to Aberdeen and explore the top attractions.

Day One

Morning: Experience the magic of Old Aberdeen

The historic Old Townhouse beside the University of Aberdeen is a typical building among the cobbled streets

But first coffee! Start on Union St, the city’s main thoroughfare, and grab a bite of breakfast nearby. Foodstory (a hyper-local trendy café with an arty vibe and great vegan options) and Books & Beans (a total gem with homemade treats, books for days, fab coffee and Wi-Fi) are top picks.

A historical mosaic of cobblestones and age-old buildings, Old Aberdeen is a quick taxi or 10-minute bus ride (take the 20, 25 or x40) from the city centre. Until an 1891 Act of Parliament when it became part of Aberdeen, Old Aberdeen was a separate royal burgh. Home to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland’s third oldest university, this pretty part of town retains its unique character.

St Machar’s Cathedral in Old Aberdeen is a treasure chest of history

For example, King’s College, founded in 1495, is of significant architectural interest, as is St Machar’s Cathedral, a grand former cathedral overflowing with striking heraldic carvings, and the 15th-century King’s College Chapel. Wander through Seaton Park to find the Brig o’ Balgownie, formerly known as the Bridge of Don. This wee bridge boasts a single Gothic arch and dates all the way back to 1320. Also, take note of the Sir Duncan Rice Library, built in 2012 and opened by the Queen, for its mesmerising glass-adorned façade. Kilau is a perfect pit stop for a light on-the-go lunch – the salads are incredible.

Pro Tip: If time (and the weather) permits, investigate Cruickshank Botanic Garden on St Machar Dr. This verdant haven is a prime spot to enjoy your Kilau coffee and lunch!

Afternoon: Marvel at Marischal College and visit Footdee

Marischal College in Aberdeen originally taught Law and Medicine, but now homes the Council headquarters

As the world’s second largest granite building, Marischal College is an Aberdonian icon. This massive granite wonder, finished in 1906, is a hybrid of styles, including Marshall Mackenzie’s perpendicular Gothic and Archibald Simpson’s austere.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum in Shiprow tells the history of the city’s fishing, trading and shipbuilding industry

Next, enjoy a brief walk to Aberdeen’s award-winning Maritime Museum where you can delve into the depths of the city’s maritime history from shipbuilding to North Sea oil and gas. The museum also hosts Provost Ross’s House, which dates back to 1593.

The old fishing village next to Aberdeen harbour is now part of the city and a conservation area

Continue soaking up Aberdeen’s seafaring history with a visit to Footdee or ‘Fittie’ to locals, an old fishing village comprised of Instagram-friendly fishing cottages and narrow streets. This hidden gem had a settlement in the area during medieval times.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to chat with the locals – Scots (and especially Aberdonians) are extremely friendly and usually more than happy to tell you about the local history and culture.

Evening: Indulge in good food at an arty and atmospheric converted church

Aberdeen is home to some quirky places to eat Scottish fare

Kick off your evening at Musa, a restaurant, art gallery and live music venue situated – like many Aberdeen establishments – in a 19th-century converted church. This arty eatery adopts an eat local, think global mentality with dishes that star only the finest artisanal and seasonal ingredients. If visiting at the weekend, why not stay for the live music and open mic nights.

Pro Tip: The Gin 33 Club is on the second Monday of each month, while the Whisky Club runs on the last Monday of each month. Be sure to check if these dates align for added booze-filled banter.

Night: Catch a show and delight in home-grown talent

Scottish musicians like Ivan Drever perform at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen

After a jam-packed day of Culture Tripping, there’s no better way to spend your night than catching a performance at The Lemon Tree. This hip venue hosts an artistic programme featuring the best in alternative and experimental music, theatre, dance, performance art, comedy, spoken word and creative learning. When it comes to resting your head for the night, Hotel Ibis, Bauhaus, and Rox are all brilliant central locations.

Pro Tip: The Lemon Tree is a great platform to experience Scottish talent and the creative side of Aberdeen.

Day Two

Morning: Hop on a train to Stonehaven and visit Dunnottar Castle

The aerial view Dunnottar castle in Scotland is a sight to behold

Start the day at So…, an independent family-run eatery bang smack in the centre of town. The coffee is on point, and the breakfast items hit the spot – think porridge pots, bacon rolls, eggs benedict and French toast. After a brief stroll to the railway station, hop on the train to Stonehaven, a picturesque harbour town in Aberdeenshire famed for its Hogmanay fireballs ceremony and fishing heritage. Nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking coastal views along the journey.

Stonehaven harbour is the largest recreational harbour in Aberdeenshire

Upon arrival, enjoy a scenic wander for around two miles (3.2 kilometres) until you reach the brooding medieval fortress ruin that is Dunnottar Castle. Precariously perched on the edge of a vertigo-inducing cliff, the Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden inside these very walls during the 17th century. Worthy of attention, the village of Stonehaven is a joy to explore from its bobbing boats to the beautiful vernacular architecture. Swing by the Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant for superior ocean fruit.

Pro Tip: Wear comfortable footwear and bring a wind/rain-proof jacket just in case!

Afternoon: Investigate a 17th-century prison and spot some urban dolphins

You can see Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from Chanonry Point in Moray Firth

Hop back on a train to the Granite City where you can either grab a taxi or enjoy a brief meander to the Tolbooth Museum. This former prison is regarded as one of Scotland’s best preserved 17th-century gaols. Tour the local history displays to learn about the development of crime and punishment over the ages and peek inside the 17th- and 18th-century cells. If prisons aren’t your thing, then why not try a Dolphin Adventure Cruise. Just a mere 10-minute walk from the city centre and the Tolbooth Prison, these one-hour expeditions are a savvy way of spotting the famous Aberdonian urban dolphins.

Pro Tip: Before dolphin-spotting, make sure to check the website first for any seasonal offers.

Evening: Indulge In Aberdeen’s award-winning restaurant scene

Thankfully, Aberdeen isn’t short on restaurants, as nothing beats a good slap-up meal following a day of adventuring. A true winner, Moonfish Cafe is a culinary institution praised for its effortless atmosphere, varied menu and superior gin collection. Cafe 52 has mastered the art of modern British cuisine and has great light bites and tapas, whereas 8848 holds the key to delicious Nepalese and Indian options.

Pro Tip: While at the adored Moonfish Cafe, take note of the centuries-old Kirk of St Nicholas, the city’s ‘Mither Kirk’ (or mother church).

Night: Hit up the bars and get your jazz on

The Blue Lamp is considered to be one of the best places to listen to Jazz in the UK

As a student city, the Deen is overflowing with places for drinks. Permanently buzzing and lined with restaurants, bars and pubs, Belmont St is just the ticket for a fun-filled night. Slains Castle, a popular pub housed in a Gothic church, is dressed to the nines with dramatic wood panelling and Dracula-themed accents. For a more upscale experience, take a taxi or bus to the West End and have a tipple or two at The Albyn. Jazz fans must seek out The Blue Lamp, a magnet for world-class musicians and one of the UK’s most raved about jazz venues run entirely by volunteers. Popular West End hotels range from the upscale (and recently renovated) Chester Hotel to cult-favourite Malmaison.

Pro Tip: Aberdeen’s many local pubs make for a great refreshment pit stop and are the best way to soak up the local culture. Listen out for ‘Doric’, the Scottish dialect spoken by some in Aberdeen and surrounding areas.
Looking for relaxation? Here’s our round up of the best spas in Aberdeenshire.

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