Aberdeen has been a popular tourist destination for its central place in Scottish history and its closeness to the wild and remote beauty of the Highlands.
It is a relatively small city with excellent transportation links and is famous for its gardens, parks and endless seasonal floral displays.
Aberdeen is known as the 'Granite City', by its characteristic grey colour buildings, primarily in the city centre and its oldest buildings. It is also famed as the 'Oil Capital of Europe' since the discovery of vast oil reserves in the deep waters off its shoreline. The resulting oil boom catapulted the city's economy skywards, attracting major international oil companies to its business district. However, the reserves have gone down a lot since 20010, and many companies are no longer present or moved elsewhere.
Many of its districts retain a distinct 'village' feel, and its easy to walk around the highlights of the city, which include the Old Town, the University grounds and the sandy beach with its long promenade, between the mouths of the two rivers, which attracts many locals and visitors during the summer months. There are spectacular coastal golf courses to put to the test and unparalleled natural beauty of the nearby Cairngorm mountain range to take in with a hike or by bike.
Thanks to many connections by air, train and by road, Aberdeen is a good city to act as a hub for your travel around Scotland as well as the departure point if you plan to visit the Shetland Islands.
Aberdeen is one of the coldest cities in the UK, as it receives a lot of Eastern winds coming from Scandinavia, though it is mild in comparison to much of northern Europe. Winters feature average temperatures around -3°C, while the days are very short, with December seeing the sun for only six hours per day.
Summers are much more hospitable, with long days (up to 18 hours of daylight) and mild temperatures ranging between 10°C and 22°C. Precipitation stays fairly steady throughout the year, although October and November receive a little more rain than other months.
The best time to visit Aberdeen is during the summer months May to mid-September, although visitors should be prepared for sudden showers anytime.
When arriving to Aberdeen by air, the airport is located 11 Km from the city centre. There is only public transport by bus, operated by Stagecoach 727 service, which runs 24 hours a day. The single ticket costs £3.50 bought online or with the driver. The trip takes 25 minutes and takes you to the bus station of Aberdeen which is also next to the train station. Handy if you have any connections to other cities.
Another option from the airport, is to take the train from Dyce Station, which is closest to the airport, but to get there you need to go by taxi.
When arriving by train, you can take direct trains from Glasgow, Inverness or Edinburgh. By regional bus, check Megabus, which have the best fares online.
Once in the city, Scottish cities like Aberdeen are easy to walk around by foot if you are only in the city centre, to get to many of the sights.
Longer journeys will require transport however, and many visitors choose to take advantage of the city bus system, run by First Aberdeen or by Stagecoach, when travelling to the suburbs. Tickets are always cheaper now, if you buy online or via the APPs. Check the websites from the bus companies for fares and timetables. You can get day riders or weekly passes which save a lot of money for multiple travel.
Taxis are also widely available from ranks dotted around the city or by phone, and though expensive this is the best mode of transportation in the evenings when the buses are less frequent.
Aberdeen is a city for all ages. One of the world's largest international youth festival takes place here in the summer, with literature, jazz and traditional folk festivals taking place in the spring. For history lovers, Aberdeen has an abundance of museums and tours of its historic buildings. Aberdeen also acts as a perfect hub from which to explore the majesty of the Grampian Highlands.
Aberdeen has a few worthy attractions in itself. The Maritime Museum and Aberdeen Art Gallery are worth a visit to get a taste of the local culture and history, for sunny days head towards the picturesque Brig o' Balgownie, the lovely Duthie Park, and a number of other pleasant green spaces in the city. A little further afield is the malt whisky trail of the Grampian Highlands, and Balmoral Castle, one of the most magnificent castles in the British Isles.
Below you find the best highlights of what to see and do in Aberdeen in more detail:
- The Aberdeen Art Gallery: first opened in 1885, it continues to be one of the city's most popular attractions. The gallery has a large permanent and changing collection, housed in an impressive 19th-century building with an exquisite marble interior. Highlights include collections of Modern Art, the Scottish Colourists and the Post-Impressionists. The Gallery reopened in November 2019 after undergoing major renovations, with the revamped facility housing more galleries and significant improvements to social spaces, such as a new top-floor cafe bar and roof terrace. Buy tickets online at https://thelittleboxoffice.com/aagm/ Free Entrance.
- Aberdeen Maritime Museum: it proudly exhibits the city's strong maritime history and its close connection to the sea. It is an award-winning museum and is housed partly in Provost Ross's House, built in 1593, which justifies a visit all by itself for lovers of architecture. The city's significance in the North Sea oil industry is explored, as well as the importance of fishing, shipbuilding and sailing in the development of the area. There is also a café and gift shop at the museum for souvenirs and refreshments.
- Aberdeen Beach: located 15 minutes to the north-east of the city centre, it provides a surprising contrast to the historic architecture of the Old Town and Castlegate. Stretching for approximately 2 km, this sandy beach lies between the mouths of the River Don and the River Dee. In its height, the beach was central to a thriving seaside resort, although its popularity has diminished in recent years, in favour of cheap package holidays abroad. Nevertheless, on a sunny day, this beach still manages to draw the crowds, with its family orientated seaside attractions including Codona's Amusement Park and its funfair rides, the indoor arcade games and the very hands-on Satrosphere Science Centre.
- Old Aberdeen and the Old Town House: Walking 30 minutes from the city centre, or by taking a 10 min bus, you reach the old part of Aberdeen with its university founded at the end of the 15th century, although sightseers should note that the Castlegate area (at the eastern end of Union Street) is an even older part of the city.
The cobbled streets of this historic quarter contain many of the essential visitor sights, in addition to the magnificent university buildings themselves. Everything here can be comfortably visited on foot, with the principal attractions including the King's College Chapel, the Old Town House, St. Machar's Cathedral, the Powis Gates, the Cruickshank Botanic Gardens and Seaton Park.
The Old Town House stands out from the rest, it was built in the latter part of the 18th century, it was, and still is, the gateway into Old Aberdeen. Meetings of the Burgh Council were held here, criminals were imprisoned and tolls were collected. The town market was held in its courtyard and local merchants met here. You are able to enter the building, its free entry.
- Castlegate Tolbooth Tower: The early 14th-century Tower is all that remains of the castle that once protected the town and is the oldest building in the entire city. Formerly the Town Hall and Town Jail, the tower and gate were linked to the now destroyed walls enclosing the town. As with many ancient buildings here, the Tolbooth Tower has been restored and is today in fine condition. Free entry is available for those who want to explore it inside.
- Footdee: (Fittie as it is known by locals), is one of the most unique communities in Scotland, hidden away at the end of a rewarding stroll along the beachfront. The charming mid 19th century former fishing community was designed by John Smith, the architect responsible for Balmoral Castle, and to visit them today really is like stepping back in time. The cottages all face inwards in squares with their backs to the ocean to protect them and their inhabitants from the fierce storms from the sea.
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For those spending a few more days in Aberdeen and wanting to explore further, we have put together a few trips that are easily managed within a day, taking a bus or driving.
- Balmoral Castle: set on the banks of the River Dee, is one of the best known and most prestigious castles in the UK. The castle, with its fairy-tale turrets, is set on 50,000 acres of spectacular grounds, and the Royal Family has preserved the surrounding wildlife, buildings and scenery since it was bought by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852. A visit to Balmoral includes access to the gardens, some exhibitions, the ballroom (the largest room in the castle) and the grounds, but the Queen's Rooms are out of bounds. The Balmoral Castle and its estate are set within the Cairngorms National Park and offer breathtaking vistas of the Highlands. You will need at least 90 minutes for a visit to Balmoral. Note that entry will not be allowed after 4.30pm. Book your tickets at Balmoralcastle.com
Getting there by public transport is easy, take bus 201 from Aberdeen. It costs £16 for a day rider (unlimited travel). Trip takes 1 hour 45 minutes.
- Dundee: Comfortably under two hours from Aberdeen, the city of Dundee comes with many excellent tourist attractions and places of interest. The City Square forms the very heart of Dundee and is home to the Caird Hall and a bronze statue of the city's famous comic character, Desperate Dan. Within the Cultural Quarter, the Dundee Contemporary Arts galleries showcase Scottish contemporary art and feature the chance to watch artists at work. Also in Dundee and worth looking out for is the Discovery Point with Captain Scott's RRS Discovery ship, the HM Frigate Unicorn at the Victoria Dock, the Verdant Works industrial museum, the McManus Galleries, and the Dundee Law hill, where you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the Tay bridges.
Getting to Dundee from Aberdeen is easy by Bus, take service X7 by Stagecoach or other services by Megabus which stop at Dundee. Trips takes 2 hours.
- Perth: the market town of Perth is 3 hours away from Aberdeen by bus. Most people choose to come to Perth to see the neighbouring historic 16th-century Scone Palace and its numerous period features, although the magnificent Georgian architecture lining the River Tay is worth experiencing in the flesh as well. Also of note is the JD Fergusson Gallery at Perth's former waterworks, and St. John's Kirk, an ancient church with origins in the early part of the 12th century.
Getting to Perth from Aberdeen is easy by taking the X7 service, taking just over 3 hours.
✔️Tip: Visit Dundee and Perth in one trip from Aberdeen to save time and make the most of day to see all the major highlights. Take a day rider for £16 which allows you to take as many bus services (by Stagecoach) to travel around the East part of Scotland. Depart in the morning and return from Perth in the Evening.
With two universities and a large number of people spending time in the city while on leave from the North Sea oil rigs, Aberdeen has a lot of bars and pubs to cater for their needs, making it an ideal party city. Aberdeen also offers some great clubs that are bound to give you a memorable experience. But do not ignore the city's numerous cultural events and offerings, with plenty of live music venues and world-class theatres putting on some unique and memorable shows.
Most of the bars and clubs are located within the city centre, in and around Union Street.
Those who want a bit of shopping time, will be pleased to hear Aberdeen boasts every retail outlet found in many cities in the UK. There are a number of large city centre malls and shopping complexes, such as The Academy, Bon Accord, St. Nicholas Centre, Trinity Centre and Union Square.
These all take care of high-street fashion and designer outlets under their extensive roofs, as well as providing convenient supermarkets, coffee shops, eateries, fast-food joints and entertainment. The newest is the Union Square complex just off Union Street, a leading venue for fashion, independent outlets, thrift stores and local designer boutiques.
The broad pedestrian sides of Union Street running through the heart of Aberdeen was built during the Georgian period in the early 19th century, nearly bankrupting the city's treasury. A mile in length, Union Street was, and still is, an immensely impressive entrance to the city from the south. Shops of all kinds and malls crowd the high concentration of old terraced Victorian granite buildings, where you can find everyday commodities to souvenirs and gifts.
Wherever you stay in Aberdeen, a warm Scottish welcome is always easy to find, regardless of your budget.
A wide choice of accommodation is available, from business-oriented hotels for the oil community in the city centre, to cosy hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and youth hostels. For a taste of the occasionally wild side of Scottish life, some local pubs offer lodging as well.
Aberdeen city centre holds a most of the more expensive hotels, with more lining the main road towards Bieldside and a group of business hotels based around the northern industrial district and the airport. Some popular B&Bs are to be found close to the railway station, on Springbank Terrace and along Bon Accord Street.
Scottish Hotels are generally expensive and can cost around £50-70 per night. But by doing some research online and booking early, you can get good prices within the city centre, by staying at private guest houses or B&B's, for a more affordable £20-25 per night.
Also, check Airbnb for longer stays or more budget accommodation if you don't mind sharing.
On a first visit to Aberdeen, it might seems there is not much to see, but once you look into the options and the highlights on what's around then you will discover you will want to stay a little longer. For the city itself and its main highlights a short weekend (one night) would be enough.
But if you want to visit places like Balmoral, the National Park, some distilleries or other towns nearby , then you will need a stay of at least 3 nights.
Aberdeen Photo Slide 📷