Sparkling under endless summer days and shimmering beneath the Northern Lights in winter...
... Aberdeen’s silvery granite heart merges centuries of history and a modern vibe. The oil capital of the UK, its rocking city nightlife is just a stone’s throw from bottlenose dolphins in the harbour. As the locals say, it’s braw.
Arriving at Aberdeen Airport
Step off your flight, collect your bags and you could be strolling down Union Street and chatting with the locals in Doric faster than you can say ‘fit like’.
The best way to reach the town is by bus. Services are regular, cheap and you’ll be in town in around 30 minutes.
Stagecoach Bluebird’s Jet Service 727 stops outside the terminal building, bound for Aberdeen Union Square bus station. There’s one every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes at weekends. Buy a single ticket on board, or a dayrider ticket for unlimited all-day travel.
First Bus runs a regular service to central Aberdeen and accepts contactless payment.
Taxis are a good option if you’re in a hurry. They’re right outside the front of the terminal and can get you to town in around 25 minutes. Expect to pay around £15 for your trip – all depends on the traffic, of course.
Want to let the train take the strain? The closest railway station is at Dyce, around two miles (3km) from the terminal. Aberdeen's main station is a 10-minute journey, while Inverness is two hours away. Beware, there can be a gap between services and they’re even less frequent at weekends.
If you’re planning to get behind the wheel, book your car hire in advance.
Aberdeen was built on the rich harvest of the sea, so get to know the city at Aberdeen Maritime Museum.
From the boom of the city’s fishing industry in the early 20th century to its oil industry today; all is told using interactive displays – great for young ones.
Nip into any local café and grab a buttery, also known as a rowrie. Flaky, a bit like a croissant, it's traditionally eaten toasted with butter and jam. Congratulations, you can now claim to be a true Aberdonian.
It’s just a short stroll from the museum to the cobbled streets of Old Aberdeen and St Machar's Cathedral. Filled with history – the site dates to 580CE – the highlight is the unique Renaissance heraldic ceiling depicting notable sovereigns of Europe.
You could just carry on exploring Old Aberdeen and filling your social media with images of the curious Powis Gate Towers, a cross between a Disney castle and a pair of Turkish minarets.
Take Cathedral Walk to Seaton Park, 27 hectares of open space, flower beds, a delightful walled garden, and a children's play park.
Rest by the banks of the River Don, then follow the riverside walk to the historic Brig o’ Balgownie, said to have its foundations in the late 13th century and built in part by Robert the Bruce.
Head back in time to the grim conditions of a 17th-century jail at the Tolbooth Museum.
Well-preserved cells feature original barred windows and doors, plus the blade from the city’s 17th-century guillotine. Gulp.
The city’s beating heart, Union Street, is just around the corner, so work off those guilty feelings with a shopping spree. Take a good look at the glittering granite stonework and stunning architecture before popping into the Grill, one of Aberdeen’s oldest pubs with a famed whisky collection.
Aberdeen Harbour is nearby; head over to take in the big ships, which seem to almost park in the city streets. You might even spot a bottlenose dolphin or seal splashing in the water.
Keep the water theme going with a trip to the beach. It might not be Bondi, but Aberdeen City Beach has sweeping sands and the kind of surf that makes wetsuits suddenly seem appealing. Slip into one, hire a board and catch a few waves.
Warm up afterwards at the Pier, a cosy bistro on the Esplanade, and contemplate whether your stomach can handle a spin on the waltzers at nearby Codona's amusement park.
Keep it gentle with a stroll around Duthie Park Winter Gardens, an oasis of calm in a busy city. The winter gardens are stunning.
Then grab a bus to Aberdeen Science Centre. This fun attraction will put you in touch with your inner scientist, with lots of hands-on experiments and an inspirational exhibition programme.
Get in some action at nearby Transition Extreme Sports. Conquer the climbing wall, dodge scooters at the skate park and try not to scream too loudly on the high ropes.
Fill your boots at one of the cool bistros of the Merchant Quarter – Bistro Verde specialises in fresh seafood, which is delivered daily – before polishing off your day with a stroll around Union Terrace Gardens.
Just across the road is Belmont Filmhouse. Built in 1896 as a trades hall, it screened its first film, starring Queen Victoria at Balmoral, two years later.
Finish up at Poldino’s, an Italian family restaurant that’s kept the pasta and pizza flowing for more than 40 years.
Aberdeen has a style and character of its own. You might get a feel for it in a day, but spend a week and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t visit sooner.
The city centre attractions – its museums and harbour, the traditional pubs and the funky bars – will keep you busy for a couple of days. You could even lose an afternoon beside the water’s edge at the 19th century Torry Battery near the harbour, keeping eyes peeled for bottlenose dolphins performing in the waves.
Get even closer to nature by taking to the water. Dolphin adventure cruises set off from the harbour and take you to the dolphins' favourite spots.
Or wait until teatime and take a Fish and Ships cruise with Clyde Cruises. Watch the sun set as you enjoy super-fresh fish and chips alongside giant ships in the harbour.
Out and about
Take the high road out of the city to explore the rolling heather-clad hills and the rugged mountain scenery.
Catch the train from Aberdeen to Aviemore, a little town at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park and the outdoor capital of the north. The journey takes around an hour – plenty of time to plan your adventure.
Hire mountain bikes and hit the trails around Rothiemurchus estate, go kayaking, hillwalking or fishing. In the winter you could even grab a snowboard and set your sights on CairnGorm Mountain Range’s funicular railway and take the train to the top of the slopes. Then it’s downhill all the way.
Aberdeenshire has more than 300 castles. You can visit many and even stay in some, and more than a few that will leave you wondering how anyone managed to build them.
Explore Dunnottar Castle, easily reached by bus from Aberdeen’s Guild Street station, south to Stonehaven. The ruins are perched on a red rock outcrop that juts over the crashing waves below. It's been attacked by Vikings, captured by William Wallace and visited by Mary Queen of Scots, and is now the star of a million Instagram snaps, and counting.
Feeling brave? Take your swimsuit. Stonehaven boasts one of Scotland’s few remaining outdoor pools. Don’t worry, it’s heated.
Rock ‘n’ royal
Head west out of Aberdeen and lose yourself in the miles of nature at its wildest in Royal Deeside. Explore Highland estates with still, eerie lochs, clamber over rocky mountain trails and chill beneath the remains of the ancient pine forest.
Salmon spawn in the pure waters of the local rivers before making their arduous journey back to sea, and you can often sea golden eagles soaring overhead. Watch for red squirrels in the trees and rare capercaillie on the forest floor.
Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish private home, is open to the public. Nose around – you might even spot a royal or two.
Aberdeenshire has all the ingredients for a good whisky, and its distilleries make a fascinating day out.
Take a day to explore a few – Glen Garioch is Scotland’s most eastern distillery, around 18 miles from Aberdeen. Its grey stone walls, huge copper still and time-served traditions will have you thirsting for more.