Uncovering seafaring stories, messing around in coastal fortresses, tackling terrifyingly high rope courses and delighting in good old-fashioned seaside fun: Aberdeen is jam-packed with adventure for young travellers.
Science, history and play – rain or shine
Let’s be realistic, Aberdeen isn’t the tropics and sometimes you need to escape the elements. Inquisitive kids love exploring Satrosphere (The Tramsheds, 179 Constitution Street, 01224 640 340), a hands-on science centre crammed with interactive exhibits, live demonstrations and fun workshops. The café is a hassle-free lunch stop too, serving kids’ meal boxes, paninis, wraps and Starbucks coffee for frazzled parents.
Educational, entertaining and awarded a five-star rating by VisitScotland, Aberdeen Maritime Museum (Shiprow, 01224 337 700) celebrates the city’s close connection to the sea. Grab a quiz sheet on your way in and keep your eyes peeled for pictures of the museum’s pirate mascot, Granite Jack, to help you answer the questions. There’s a special Granite Jack badge to take home if your kids complete the trail.
At the beach, Codonas amusement park (Beach Boulevard, 01224 595 910) packs in 10-pin bowling, dodgems, a ceramic café and Smugglers Cove – a terrific soft play zone for younger kids complete with a mini street comprising a vets’ practice, supermarket, pizzeria and cinema. When the sun makes an appearance, take a spin on the Grampian Eye Big Wheel for cracking views of the city, challenge your teenagers to the nerve-wracking Vertigo Aerial Assault Course (the UK’s highest), and whip your stomach into a frenzy on the Looping Star Rollercoaster. Or maybe skip that one and leave the kids to it.
Across the road, drop off teenagers with energy to burn at Transition Extreme (Links Road, 01224 626 279), where they can test their mettle on the 15-metre climbing wall or practise the latest skateboard and BMX stunts in the indoor skatepark.
For a rainy day in the countryside, youngsters love messing around in the playbarn at Wynford Farm (Kingswells, 01224 745 411), around 12 kilometres west of the city. There’s a super soft playframe for children aged 12 and under, along with a tiny frame for tots. Mum and dad meanwhile can indulge in home-baked nibbles in the café (with windows overlooking the play area) and the kids can refuel later on home-cooked mini burgers.
Castles, fairytales and rock pools
Aberdeen is a gateway to an enchanting world of ancient castles, sweeping beaches and astonishingly beautiful countryside.
Let your youngsters’ imaginations (and legs) run wild among the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, dramatically perched on North Sea cliffs near Stonehaven, 30 kilometres south of Aberdeen (01569 762 173). Here they can uncover grizzly tales of battle, siege and imprisonment. Note the path to the castle isn’t suitable for buggies. Follow your visit with a dip in Stonehaven’s Olympic-size open-air pool (Queen Elizabeth Park, 01569 762 134; summer only and yes, it’s heated), then amble along Stonehaven Beach and make mini rock pool discoveries.
With its dreamy turrets, Crathes Castle near Banchory, 24 kilometres west of Aberdeen (0844 493 2166), is your typical fairytale castle. While your kids’ attention span may not stretch to examining the exquisite painted ceilings and oak-panelled long gallery, they are sure to revel in racing round the extraordinarily pretty gardens or hunting bugs on a woodland walk. Older children are likely to make a beeline for Go Ape, an adrenaline-packed treetop adventure featuring zip wires, Tarzan swings and high ropes. Younger kids may prefer to busy themselves with glitter and glue on Saturday afternoons at the on-site Arting Around craft centre.
One location with guaranteed fairytale sightings is Storybook Glen in Maryculter, 15 kilometres west of the city (01224 732 941). Over 100 favourite characters are dotted among the meadows and trees, from the Dish and the Spoon to the Three Little Pigs to Cinderella in all her finery.
Hit the road
You don’t have to be 17 to drive at the Grampian Transport Museum in Alford, 40 kilometres west of Aberdeen (01975 562 292). In 2013, the museum opened its very own Junior Driving School. Wannabe roadsters aged five to 11 can climb behind the wheel of a mini electric car and work their way round a route lined with mini road signs, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
Eat up and dress to impress
If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, pick up speciality sausages (Pitcaple pork for the kids, venison and cranberry for the grown-ups), chef-prepared meals (Peterhead fish pie and Aberdeen Angus steak pie), local berries, and hampers stuffed with mouth-watering goodies at The Store (Foveran, Newburgh, 01358 788 083), around 20 kilometres north of Aberdeen. Keep the kids going with the coffee shop’s wee pie of the day and let them run off steam among the mammoth sand dunes of nearby Balmedie Beach. The Store also runs a stall in town at the Aberdeen Country Fair market on Belmont Street, held on the last Saturday of each month.
A little further afield in the grounds of Haddo Estate, Formatine’s (Tarves, Ellon, 01651 851 123) is a lovely child-friendly eatery with kids’ cocktails, milkshakes, healthy snacks and a fantastic outdoor adventure playground in the woods. While the kids are tearing around outside, take time to nip into the shop and bag some award-winning sauces, gourmet biscuits and delicious cheeses.
Back in Aberdeen, dress your tots for dinner at kiddie clothing boutique Innocence (36A Thistle Street, 01224 636 865), which stocks a gorgeous range of designer gear for the under fives, including French label Catimini, British brand Lilly & Sid and US-based Kissy Kissy.
A good night’s sleep
Having offspring in tow needn’t mean sacrificing chic sleeps. Malmaison Aberdeen’s smart rooms are decorated with Scottish flair without being twee (49-53 Queen’s Road, 01224 327 370). You can request cots or extra beds for children under 14 and draw straws over who gets time off to rejuvenate in the spa.
If you’re not keen on reading your book in the bathroom while the kids go to sleep, try The Spires (505 Great Western Road, 01224 201 040), stylish one- and two-bedroom serviced apartments with full kitchens, cots and highchairs.