I meant to write this post so much sooner than now, but Ive been super busy over the last week or so, and blogging has slipped a little bit. More on what’s keeping me busy will be coming soon, but for now let’s all rewind to last weekend. Some of you may have already seen my post about Deaf Havana’s concert date in Aberdeen last week; some of you may even have wondered why I was at the Aberdeen date instead of the Edinburgh one the following night, considering I live in the south of Scotland. I was actually in Aberdeen for the whole weekend, from Saturday until Tuesday, as my sister now lives there for university, and we were going to the concert together. Having never been to Aberdeen before, nor having seen her since I moved back to the UK, it made sense to spend a couple of nights there. This also completed my goal to this year visit both the Aberdeen in Scotland, and in Hong Kong. So without further ado, here’s what we got up to!
I arrived on the train, from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, around midday, and firstly we went to her flat to drop off my things, and plan our course of action for the weekend. When I asked her what there is to do in Aberdeen, her response was “not much”. And beyond the usual shopping, restaurants, and pubs in the city, she was largely correct, so I wouldn’t advise anyone need spend longer than a couple of days there if planning a visit – Edinburgh and Glasgow are probably the more popular cities for tourists anyway. I did some online research though, and managed to find a handful of things to see and do over the weekend, some of which my sister hadn’t done yet either. First, we walked through some of the shopping centres in and around Union Square – we passed in and out of these a lot just to get round the city – where I did stop to buy some shoes, making use of her student discount!
We also walked down past the harbour, filled with ships of all different shapes and sizes, many of them used for shipping goods I think. The port is the whole reasons Aberdeen came into existence and grew into a city of its size – more on that later though!
We continued through town until we reached Duthie Park, one of the more popular parks in the city, at least according to TripAdvisor! It’s fairly big, so we wandered past its playpark, ponds, and numerous trees for a while, keeping moving as much as possible because, guess what guys, the north of Scotland in November is damn cold! However, it did mean that it was highly appropriate for us to visit the Duthie Park Winter Gardens, it being practically winter and all. Despite not being all that big, the gardens take you on a bit of a world tour, with different greenhouses and outdoor gardens (the latter of which was somewhat less in bloom) themed around different climate zones. We went to a tropical rainforest, a cactus-filled desert, a temperate European sort of garden, and a Japanese styled garden. I also liked the Victorian corridor full of bright (what I think were) orchids, and the carnivorous plant garden. The first greenhouse was looking particularly festive too, with some Christmas trees placed amongst its plants, ponds, and small waterfall. We did have a somewhat awkward moment when a door got stuck and we thought we were trapped outside in an area enclosed by other greenhouses, but fortunately someone else was able to shove it open for us. It was a nice little afternoon outing, albeit a chilly one, and there were lots of families with children there too enjoying themselves. We walked back through town, and were intending to go to a pub called Ma Cameron’s to watch the rugby, as Scotland were playing New Zealand that night. However, when we got there it was packed and we weren’t going to be able to get a table to have dinner, as we’d intended, so we ended up watching the game back at her flat, with food she cooked and some snacks we picked up. She says it’s a great pub though, especially for the food there, and watching sports, though of course, I can’t testify myself!
The next day we set off on a sort of walking tour round a few of the most scenic parts of the city. We walked north up King Street to the area known as Old Aberdeen, to roam its narrow, cobbled streets, and get away from the modern shopping centres back in the city centre. We weren’t really following a specific route round the area, or looking for much in particular, but were just having a look around and snapping some photos of the buildings and streets there. This is also the area where the main University of Aberdeen campus can be found. This isn’t my sister’s campus, as she goes to RGU, a newer university in the city. The University of Aberdeen is one of the oldest in Scotland, founded in 1495, only predated by Glasgow and St Andrews, and as such, it has some very impressive ancient buildings around here. Notably, we saw King’s College, the first university building, with its central quad, coats of arms adorning the building, and the impressive chapel tower, topped with an imperial crown. Outside the College, there is a tomb with a statue carved into it, which is that of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, and founder of the University. On the other end of the scale, we also saw the University’s library, a huge square structure of glass and concrete, which dominates the skyline when visible. We roamed the campus for a while, then popped over the road to see St Machar’s Cathedral. We didn’t go inside, as it was Sunday and there was a service on, but we walked through the kirkyard and admired it from the outside – St Machar’s is not technically a cathedral anymore, it’s a Protestant high kirk of Scotland, but the name was never changed back after the Reformation – that’s a long-ish bit of history to explain here, so I’d suggest Googling it if you have more interest!
We followed the streets to the east then, in the direction of the beach, crossing past the golf course and playing fields to get there, and through a tunnel under the road. Yes, the beach in Aberdeen in November? Sounds mad I know, and yes it was pretty cold and windy, but wasn’t actually as freezing as I’d been anticipating. The tide was in, even more so than usual according to my sister, so there wasn’t much sand to walk on, so we stuck to the path above the beach. It was quite nice to wander along and just enjoy the views, and spot the many boats on the horizon. I took my photos along the way of course, and the beach eventually winds south to a promenade, where there’s a fairground behind it (we didn’t visit) and various shops and cafes. I insisted that we skip the large chain restaurants there – the city shopping centres are also full of them – and instead we went into one of the small, independent cafes to warm up with some coffee and lunch. I’m not sure how different each of the cafes in the line are, but I think it was the Promenade Cafe we picked, as it looked popular but not packed, and we could get seats inside. They had a huge ice cream selection too, but we decided that was best left for a warmer day!
We got to the end of the promenade after that, and turned into the small fishing village of Footdee. This was one of the places my sister had actually been to before and recommended. It’s a very small area, made up of a handful of streets around a couple of centra squares, and was traditionally the homes of fishermen. The houses sit around the outsides of the squares, many of them small stone bungalows, and each has a back shed inside the square, and it’s these sheds that are really the points of interest. Some have been converted into small shops or art studios, and those that haven’t have been heavily decorated with plants or ornaments or signs – whatever takes the owners fancy! It doesn’t take long to walk around the small village, but it’s a lot of fun to admire all these decorations, and take photos both of them, and the general cute, quaintness of the village as a whole. We wandered back to the flat after that, stopping at the shops along the way. We’d decided to eat out that evening as well, rather than face more student cooking. I still wanted to avoid the big chain restaurants, so I did some research online again, and decided we were going to a pub called The Illicit Still. The empty bottles installed in the ceiling were a big draw for us, as they just looked really cool, but the whole place had a nice vibe anyway. It was underground, and all wooden panels, and fairly dark but in a cosy way, and was quite a traditional sort of pub I’d say. The menu was typical pub fare, and I thoroughly enjoyed my macaroni cheese, accompanied by my pint!
My last full day in Aberdeen was a Monday (I left again on Tuesday morning), and my sister had university classes to actually attend, so I was left to explore on my own. We’d had good weather at the weekend, but Monday was even colder and pouring with rain, so I went out the flat for a few indoor activities, but then came back fairly early and just relaxed in the flat until she came home again. My activities though, consisted of a couple of the city’s museums, about aspects of local history. On my way there, I passed St Andrew’s Cathedral, notable for my family as that’s where my grandmother was christened, and the Mercat Cross, which I was curious to see in comparison to Edinburgh’s – both have a unicorn on top, Scotland’s national animal! The first was the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, which seems to be considered the best museum in the city, and one of the most popular tourist attractions there. Fittingly, it overlooks the port, so as you ascend its floors, you can get pretty good views of the ships there. The museum is largely devoted to the history of the port, and there’s a large section about the oil industry, which brought a lot of wealth and trade, resulting in the growth of the city. There’s an annex sort of area to the building too, which has many paintings and models of important ships from the port over the years. I particularly enjoyed one of the videos being shown, which was about the journey of two men who kayaked from Greenland to Scotland, to prove that Inuits could have done the same thing hundreds of years ago, to validate stories of an Inuit who was found on Scottish shores. Ships and maritime affairs aren’t generally areas of great interest for me, but it’s a well put together museum, and clearly a hugely important part of Aberdeen’s history and economy.
I then went around the corner to the the Tolbooth Museum, built inside the old Tolbooth prison, and next door to the current courthouse building. The building is actually one of the most interesting parts about this one, as you enter and have to climb a narrow, stone, spiral staircase, to explore the old cells which now have exhibitions installed in them. There were models showing what the city used to look like, and some rather creepy looking models of prisoners! The museum was about the history of crime and punishment in the city, including a general overview of the system, and specific stories about certain prisoners and their punishments. There were more stairs to higher cells, which is where the models are – one of them starts talking when you enter the room, which can be quite startling at first! The stairs will be a bit narrow and tricky for some, meaning this museum isn’t accessible to all unfortunately, but it is very atmospheric for those that can visit. I returned to the flat after that, stopping for some quick shopping along the way. Dinner that evening was a takeaway on route to The Garage, as this was the night of the aforementioned Deaf Havana show – my post for that is here!
The next morning, my sister was up and off to university again, and all that was left for me to do was pack up my bag and head off to the train station to make my way south to Edinburgh again. Aberdeen doesn’t have the wealth of attractions, events, and other tourist options as other locations I’ve been to, but there are these options I’ve mentioned for visitors. You don’t need more than a couple of days though, and I wouldn’t be rushing back – I don’t know when I would have ever gone at all, had my sister not moved there – but I enjoyed the weekend, and I can now say I’ve been to both Aberdeens!