Scotland's northern gem, Aberdeen has become one of the richest cities in the UK thanks to a tide of North Sea Oil. The city exudes elegance and class, from the wine bars of its city center to the Royal Estate at Balmoral.
The "Granite City" was here well before the oil began to flow, and it has a gorgeous historical core, with boutiques housed in 18th-century premises on Union Street, superb museums, and fabulous food (and whisky).
You can escape to sublime golf courses on the coast, tour the castles and pubs of Royal Deeside, or confine yourself to one of the UK's most atmospheric, beguiling cities.
Aberdeen is serious about heritage and art, and it has the museums to back this up. The Aberdeen Maritime Museum is a standout attraction, showcasing the city's ocean-going past, but the excellent collection at Aberdeen Art Gallery is just as engaging.
Some of the finest malt whiskies in the world are produced on the River Spey, a short drive from Aberdeen. The city makes the perfect base for tasting tours to legendary distilleries like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich and is a must for scotch fans.
Aberdonians may be hard-working, but they love to unwind, and Aberdeen is not short of entertainment options. Far from it. There are massive outdoor festivals like Enjoy Music in Hazlehead Park, constant classical performances at Aberdeen Music Hall, and ballet and opera at His Majesty's Theatre.
Aberdeen is probably Scotland's gourmet dining capital. The wealth of the city means that there are more high-class eateries in the Granite City than anywhere else in the nation, including exceptional restaurants like Granite Park and the Braided Fig. Expect succulent Scotch beef, just the way you want it.
Aberdeen has long been favored by royalty. In fact, it's one of the British monarchy's homes away from home, with Balmoral Castle just a few miles outside the city. A driving tour of Royal Deeside is a must, with castles and enchanting small towns like Braemar, and some truly stunning scenery.
The highlight of Shiprow is this comprehensive maritime museum, halfway between Aberdeen's modern Union Street and the harbor. Delving into the city's long history with the North Sea, this institution features exhibitions on the shipbuilding, fishing, and oil extraction industries. Explore the detailed and original plans of record breaking ships from throughout history, and appreciate the building itself for its historical value and incomparable views over the water.
Aberdeen's official Church of Scotland, St. Machar's Cathedral, has stood north of the city center for centuries. Heavy rocks form the base of the immense towers, and the weight of the construction is palpable. Meanwhile, the interior celebrates the history of the region with important family crests lining the wooden ceiling. Just beyond the Cathedral, visitors will find leisurely Seaton Park and the Cruickshank Botanic Gardens.
Historic King's College was the first university in the city, now forming the centerpiece for the University of Aberdeen, its new affiliation. The campus is centuries-old and well-preserved, making for an atmospheric walk through a setting of days past. On your wanderings, you'll observe that King's College Chapel is the most notable building around. The tower is dedicated both to the Trinity and to monarchs of the UK, and the interior boasts more medieval art than any other church in Scotland.
Art in Aberdeen finds its home in this lovely gallery. Exhibitions highlight famous British artists the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Paul Nash and the Irish-born Francis Bacon, showcasing centuries worth of local talent from the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the performing arts are celebrated across the way at His Majesty's Theatre, grand inside and out. And the cultural center continues with architectural wonders like the nearby Kirk of St. Nicholas Uniting and Marischal College.
This destination for a day trip into the Scottish countryside takes tourists to the heart of Cairngorms National Park. Balmoral Castle's ancient ramparts look like they are straight out of a fairytale, right down to the flags, parapets, and ivy creeping up the exterior. Today the fortress is the Scottish home of the Royal Family, hosting grand events in the incomparable ballroom. Outside, the serene formal gardens can be explored for hours.
Aberdeen can be visited pretty much all year round. With sophisticated cultural attractions on offer, even winter can be a good time to explore the city (although brace yourself for some serious cold). The best time for general sightseeing, whisky tours, and golf is summer. From late June to mid-August, the weather is warm and ideally set up to get out and about.
Aberdeen International Airport (ABZ) provides flight connections to London and Paris, so it's easy to reach from North American cities. It's around seven miles from the center of town, and the best route into Aberdeen is the 727 airport bus (runs every 20 minutes, £2.90). Otherwise, you can rent a car or expect to pay £20 for a taxi.
Aberdeen has direct train connections to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London, and Guild Street Station is right at the heart of town. Companies operating on the London-Aberdeen route include Virgin and CrossCountry, and there is a Caledonian Sleeper service between the two cities as well.
If you are driving north from Edinburgh, take the M90 and then the A90 at Perth, which runs along some of Scotland's most beautiful coastline, all the way into Aberdeen.
Aberdeen has daily bus connections with other Scottish cities as well as London, with both Megabus and National Express running services into the city. The main bus station is on Union Square, also at the center of town.
In the Aberdeen area, you can choose from luxury city center hotels and quirky B&Bs in Old Aberdeen to coastal accommodation and rural castles. If you need to be near the beach, the DoubleTree by Hilton has great sea views. Brentwood Villa is a lovely B&B in Old Aberdeen, while leading 4-star city center options include the modern Rox and the Malmaison Hotel.
Central Aberdeen - Aberdeen's downtown is set back a few hundred yards from the docks and is home to the city's major attractions. Architectural delights like St Mary's Cathedral mingle with museums and galleries in a walkable, elegant urban core.
Aberdeen Beach - although it's not famous as a beach destination, Aberdeen does have a long, sandy beach and a resort atmosphere. The beach is a great place for a summer vacation, with adventure sports centers, amusement parks, and an excellent public golf course, all within a few minutes of the city center.
Old Aberdeen - surprisingly, the city center isn't the oldest part of the city. That's reserved for northern or Old Aberdeen, which is home to the city's university. Possessing a very distinct identity, Old Aberdeen has attractions like the Zoology Museum, medieval chapels, and brick-built ancient streets. It's a magical neighborhood to visit.
Buses are the main form of public transportation in Aberdeen and First Aberdeen and Stagecoach provide a reliable service. Buses run from 5:00 until midnight and cost £2.20 for a single fare (exact change will be needed). Day tickets are also available, and cost £4.
You'll find taxi ranks dotted across the city center, and they are the best place to pick up a ride, as Aberdeen's taxi fleet doesn't have any distinguishing branding. Fares are regulated at £2.40 for the first 950 yards (870 meters), and then there's a charge of £0.20 for every 180.5 yards (165 meters).
Having a car makes it much easier to explore Royal Deeside and the Malt Whisky Trail, and local rental outlets include Europcar, Avis, and Enterprise. Rates can be as low as £10 per day in some cases, making car rental an excellent transportation option.
Aberdeen has some elegant squares and shopping streets that equal anything in Edinburgh. The city's shopping hub has been Union Street for over a century, which is where you'll find international chains. However, shopping malls like the Trinity Shopping Centre and the Bon Accord & St Nicholas are great alternatives, with plenty of independent stores to check out.
If you need to shop for food or any other groceries, Aberdeen's supermarket selection includes Tesco, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Asda, and Sainsbury's. Prices will be fairly high by Scottish standards (it's a rich city), with a gallon of milk costing around £3.20 and 12 eggs £1.80.
Aberdeen has a huge range of gastropubs, brasseries, and international dining options. Some of the best gourmet restaurants include Granite Park, which focuses on seasonal British produce, Cafe Andaluz, which looks to southern Spain for inspiration, and Montmartre, a classy French brasserie. But there are plenty of Japanese, Indian, and Korean eateries around too. A sit down meal at an upmarket place like Granite Park will cost about £25 with two courses included.