Scotland’s third largest city is both a thriving, youthful university town and a prosperous, grown-up city thanks to the North Sea oil industry. The people here are by nature industrious, proud and uncompromising. Inevitably, their conversation centres around the weather, which is as changeable as the rest of Scotland. When it rains, the city can seem grim and bleak. But when the sun shines – and it does at times – the granite buildings glisten, making the city seem jewel-encrusted. Whatever the weather though, Aberdeen is a striking place with plenty to distract the visitor in the city and surrounding countryside.
Aberdeen Art Gallery
It doesn’t have to be a rainy afternoon for Aberdeen’s impressive art gallery to be worth a visit. Opened in 1885, the marble-lined building is a soothing, elegant place, housing a good collection of work by Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro. It also has enough modern art and works by the Scottish Colourists to keep you captivated for hours.The local collection is also very strong, giving the visitor a good idea of Aberdeen’s history. In addition, there is a collection of items saved from the city’s last shipyard, examples of Aberdeen’s silver and many historical and modern photographs of the city.
Schoolhill (B3), 01224 523 700, www.aagm.co.uk, Mon-Sat 10am5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm, free entry.
A swift 15 miles south of Aberdeen, and a walkable two miles from Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle perches on a stunning cliff overlooking the North Sea. It’s easy to see why this impressive ancient edifice was chosen by director Franco Zeffirelli as a location for Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.The ninth century fortress was once virtually impregnable, strong enough to hold off Cromwell’s army and preserve the Scottish crown jewels. Today the castle can only be reached by climbing a steep, twisting path. Great for historians, film buffs, the hopelessly romantic and mountain goats.
By Stonehaven, 01569 762 173, www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk, daily 9am–6pm (weather permitting), £4.
The Lemon Tree
The Lemon Tree is the epicentre of Aberdeen’s arts scene. Hosting top bands, comedy, dance and theatre, its reputation attracts those edgy and award-winning performers who dare to venture north of the capital.The café is a popular daytime meeting place where local bands knock out free blues, traditional Scottish music and jazz on a Sunday afternoon.
5 West North Street (C2), 01224 642 230, www.boxofficeaberdeen.com, opening times vary.
One Up Records
A record shop of the old school, One Up is run by music lovers for music lovers.The only independent record store in Aberdeen is stacked
with CDs, posters and signed memorabilia, with box-sets a speciality. Downstairs, there is a treasure trove of vinyl and secondhand CDs. Local musicians and bigger bands visiting the city often drop by to play a free set in the afternoons. One Up is a store for music enthusiasts, but not music snobs.The funky but friendly staff will cheerfully help you find what you’re looking for, whatever your tastes.
17 Belmont Street (B3), 01224 642 662, Mon-Wed & Fri & Sat 9am-6pm, Thu 9am-8pm, Sun 11am-5pm.
BARS AND CLUBS
Snafu is an intimate, boutique music venue that regularly plays host to live bands, global DJs and local talent. There are regular comedy nights, and the friendly, unpretentious bar staff serve up a good variety of cocktails. Recently voted the Best Late Night Bar In Scotland, Snafu goes to show that there is quality entertainment to be found away from the central belt towns of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
1 Union Street (C3), 01224 596 111, www.clubsnafu.com, opening times vary.
Folk from the north east of Scotland are discerning when it comes to fish, so the legendary status of the Ashvale is worth heeding.A multiaward-winning chippy, its takeaway and 200-seat restaurant are regularly filled with local families and both have the kind of authenticity Harry Ramsden’s could only dream of. Freshly caught North Sea fish is fried in homemade batter, with the jumbo haddock a particularly good catch. In the restaurant you can try the famous Ashvale Whale. Any customer able to finish the one lb cod fillet can have another for free.
42-48 Great Western Road, 01224 596 981, www.theashvale.co.uk, open daily 11.45am-1am (takeaway), 11.45am-11pm (restaurant).
Calling itself the oldest pub in Scotland, Ma's, an Aberdeen institution, is an old-school watering hole with a fine selection of real ales. Loyal punters crowd around the long bar in the centre at lunchtimes for the freshly cooked haggis and 'Bad Boy Burgers', but with good music on the stereo and a convivial atmosphere inside, Ma's is a great place to hang out.
6-8 Little Belmont Street (B3), 01224 644 487, open daily 11am-late.
Kingscliff Sporting Lodge
An outdoor centre with a cosy country pub attached, Kingscliff offers an array of fun activities like clay-pigeon shooting, quad biking, golf, offroading, paintball and archery. Public transport links aren't great, but the nice folk at Kingscliff will come and collect you if you give them a call.
Methlick, Ellon,Aberdeenshire,AB41 7HQ, 01651 806 375, www.kingscliff.co.uk, opening times vary.