by tom johnson
It’s probably fair to say that Aberdeen has a reputation that precedes itself. Its nickname – The Granite City – doesn’t conjure the prettiest of images, but there’s far more to the country’s most northerly city than meets the eye. Our recent trip to Scotland’s third city found a generation of people and businesses embracing a new era for a city; a bustling hive of cultural inputs and outputs.
We spent a long weekend in Aberdeen towards the end of September, finding plenty of things to do and see, as well as a whole lot of sunshine amid those northern winds. Here are a few recommendations based upon our time there…
Things To Do
While there are plenty of treasures to be found in the surrounding countryside, Aberdeen itself has a host of great cultural activities within its city limits. There’s a been a big push for more contemporary arts over the past couple of years, culminating in the opening of Nuart in 2011 – a gallery space with showcases eleven international street artists showcasing their work through murals, installations, interventions and temporary exhibitions. There’s also a walking tour of the city to coincide, but spend any time on your feet in the city centre and you’re bound to see a variety of street-art displays on most corners. Also recently revealed, the new Poised Statue in Marischal Square really is a sight to behold – a 15m high leopard designed by Scottish sculpture Andy Scott, who also created the infamous Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk.
There’s plenty of more traditional museums and galleries too, however, including the main Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, Tolbooth Museum, and more – visit http://www.aagm.co.uk/ for a full list of What’s On.
Being one of the only UK cities to have a beach just a short walk from its centre, no trip to Aberdeen is complete without a wander down to the huge stretch of golden sands which is just as attractive to casual strollers as it is varying water sports competitors. Check out Codonas Amusement Park, which has been run by the Codonan family since the 1960s, and be sure to wander a little further to ‘Fittie’ – a mid-19th century former fishing community of small stone cottages, braced against the sea, and designed by the same architect responsible for Balmoral Castle.
For those lucky enough to have a vehicle on-hand, there are a number of not-to-missed spectacles lying outside of the city’s perimeter. Check out ‘Old Aberdeen’ – with all of its cobbled streets – on your way north through the city to the beautiful dunes of Balmedie and its country park. Alternatively take a short trip south to the stunning ruins of Dunnottar Castle, which jut out in to the sea at Stonehaven.
Food & Coffee
The central hub of Aberdeen, like most UK cities, is peppered with the standard chain restaurants and cafes, you don’t have to dig too deep, however, to find a plethora of brilliant independent food and drink spots. Covering many a base, Foodstory sits as one of Aberdeen’s true success stories, a beautiful open space of chunky wooden benches and tables which manages to feel both spacious and intimate, offering the city’s best coffee alongside various vegetarian treats and pancake-only Sundays that shouldn’t be missed.
Coffee enthusiasts should also head to Belmont Street – and its various lanes – where Books & Beans, The Coffee House, Cup, and more, all offer good artisan coffee and snacks to get you through the day, while Bonobo Cafe bridges both of these worlds, Aberdeen’s first vegan cafe offering an inspired menu that will have you well covered for breakfast, brunch, and lunch.
Music & Art
Aberdeen has always had a significant musical heritage but it seems it’s no longer holding on to past glories.
Now home to a small handful of festivals that shine a light both on new acts from the north, as well more interesting artists from further afield, the city also has a number of interesting venues of varying shapes and sizes to support such things.
Earlier this year GFP visited Spectra Festival, a progressive roster of artists that was tied in with the city’s Festival of Light, which was every bit as spectacular as you might imagine, while our recent trip to True North also found a city ready and able to celebrate both the big (Mogwai at His Majesty’s Theatre) and the much smaller – a ‘fringe’ event which shone a spotlight on a number of bands and artists who are making the most of the city’s progressive support for grassroots music and art.