For Aberdeen, we only decided on our trip about 24 four hours before we did it. We booked a hotel in Edinburgh, and then got the train up one afternoon, stayed in Edinburgh overnight, and then got up nice and early to get the train on to Aberdeen. If we had started from Carlisle for a day trip we wouldn’t have had long in Aberdeen but starting from Edinburgh is a few hours closer and we were in Aberdeen for 9ish in the morning. Perfect!
Status: Aberdeen City, City, Scotland
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Edinburgh Waverley), Scotrail (Edinburgh Waverley – Aberdeen), East Coast (Aberdeen – Edinburgh Waverley), Transpennine Express (Edinburgh Waverley – Carlisle)
Eating & Sleeping: Costa Coffee, Greggs
Attractions: Marischal College, Mercat Cross, Citadel, Town House, Tolbooth Museum, King’s College, Maritime Museum, Harbour, St Andrew’s Cathedral, St Machar’s Cathedral, Arts Centre, Powis Gate Towers etc
Aberdeen is known as the granite city, and you can see why. The buildings are all granite in the city centre, and although it’s a dark colour it makes the city even more special, as not many places are so uniform in their design.
This is the high street, and there are many spires and towers around the city. The train station comes out very close to here, so we moved through to the main street first, and started to explore.
The station itself is part of a large complex that links it directly into a shopping centre called Union Square, where we stopped for lunch later on.
This is my favourite building in the city. It’s sat slightly off the main street, past the Kirk of St Nicholas, a towering building from at least 1157. It is the current seat of Aberdeen City Council, although that wasn’t the buildings original intended function.
It began life as Marischal College in 1835, and holds the distinction of being the second largest granite building in the world. Various universities and colleges have been associated with the building including Aberdeen University and King’s College. Most of the University functions moved out to the main King’s College campus by the start of the 21st century, so a new function was sought. The City Council moved in, and the building itself was opened to the public in 2011.
We did go in, and you can pass through the entrance hall into a courtyard behind the main building, and you get a great view of the rest of the building. You may notice that at the right end of the building there is a tower that is a different colour to the rest?
This is where the Greyfriars Collegiate Church, built in 1532, used to stand on this site along with many other buildings, but they were demolished to make way for this new grand building. Following a dispute about this, a new church was built to be incorporated into the main building, and has a distinct architecture of it’s own.
It’s a fantastic building, and it did take my breath away a bit when we first found it. Sat outside, on his horse, resplendent in battle, is a statue of Sir Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329, ancient King of Scots) that was placed in 2011.
Just a few metres further down the road from the new council offices is the Aberdeen Town House, and the Tolbooth.
The building pictured (with the clock tower) is the Town House, another splendid granite construction, that contains the Sheriff Courts. Built between 1867 and 1873, we have linked back to the main street here and it towers over it. The Tourist Information shop is sat on the other side of the road opposite the building.
The Tolbooth (shown first left) is a 17th century jail building. Now the jail has long since closed and it is a museum, and you can view the old cells and other parts of the prison.
Moving past the Town House and the Tolbooth, you will reach this beautiful little square, full of interesting little gems. In the centre stands a monument to the Gordon Highlanders, the Regiment of the North East of Scotland between 1794 and 1994.
We also found a Gold Post Box, dedicated to Katherine Grainger, who won Gold in the Women’s Double Sculls.
At the back of the square you can see the square tower, which is the Citadel of Castle Street (so named as the site of Aberdeen Castle until 1308), owned by the Salvation Army. In front of it stands the Mercat Cross from 1686, and around the base are medallions representing various Scottish Monarchs, from James I to James VII.
We have nipped into the Tourist Information Centre earlier as we passed it, and I asked where about’s Kings College was in the city, as I had seen a picture of the main building and it looked very impressive. We were pointed in the right direction, and we followed the main road round for this square, into the depths of the city.
It’s about a mile and a half walk through the city to get to King’s College, and we passed many interesting building’s on the way.
The first of these was St Andrew’s Cathedral, built in 1817, and becoming a Cathedral in 1914. Next was the pictured building, Aberdeen Arts Centre, a combined theatre and arts centre, which is sat very close to the back of Marischal College, and we could see the main towers again from here.
The entrance to the grounds of King’s College genuinely feels like stepping back into medieval times. The cobbled streets, ancient buildings and general castle feel make it an enchanting place.
On the left you can see the Powis Gate Towers, and unusual addition to the scene but one that further enhances the fairytale feel. They were constructed between 1833 and 1834, and mark the entrance to the similarly titled Powis House, built in 1802. The house is now part of the halls of residence for the college.
This is the main entrance to King’s College, and contains that lovely crown structure at the top of the tower that I have come to associate with Scotland, and it tops St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh as well. We even saw a similar design in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
If you pass though this part of the building you enter a little courtyard, and at the far end of it stands the English Lion and the Scottish Unicorn, symbolising the union between the two countries. It’s a beautiful area of the city, and there are many other old buildings back out onto the cobbled streets, leading towards a building I have been dying to see…
St Machar’s Cathedral dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s a magnificent structure and although it was much larger and grander, it fits in really well with the surrounding streets and buildings, and really looks like its from hundreds of years ago. We had a good look around inside, and it was very peaceful, and full of great detail.
This area of the city is known as Aberdeen Old Town, and the city centre is part of the New Town. Both areas were separate until 1891 when the old town was incorporated into the new. The Old Town has it’s own town house where the local government once met, and it is between King’s College and St Machar’s Cathedral, and walking from one to the other you can’t miss it.
From here we made our way back into the main city centre, and round to the docks. Aberdeen is an important port, looking out into the North Sea, which is full of Oil, giving Aberdeen it’s second nickname, Oil Capital of Europe. The port is heavily used and there is also a large industry in ship building in the city. There is a wide expanse of docks, only a portion of which we saw.
Above is the River Dee, which is one two major rivers flowing through the city, the other being the River Don. There were lots of ships moored around the city, serving the various factories around the river.
Not far from the train station is the city harbour, full of more ships that frequently trawl out into the North Sea. There were even a few offering cruises of the harbour.
We kept going over the river, and stopped there too look back at the city. The ships are visible in the foreground, with the glittering grey spires of the main city far behind them. Aberdeen is an amazing city, there are hundreds of old and fantastic buildings, great architecture runs along every street and there are lots of wide open spaces, museums and cultural attractions available.
The largest park is Seaton Park near the old town, which is for public use. There are others in the city centre, including Queen’s Terrace Gardens, Bon Accord Terrace Gardens and Union Terrace Gardens.
Museums around the city include Aberdeen Art Gallery, Maritime Museum and Provost Skene’s House (a house dating from 1545 containing rooms from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to show how people would have lived back then).
Aberdeen Airport is about 20 minutes outside of the town, and provides transport to many international destinations. By train, Aberdeen has direct connections to Inverness, Dundee, Stirling, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as East Coast Train services running to London via Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, York and Peterborough.
Aberdeen is one of my favourite Scottish cities, and is a must see for any traveller to the North of the country. The Scottish Highlands and the Cairngorms National Park are not far away from the city and it is seen as one of the gateways to the Highlands.