Aberdeen is a city built on thousands of stories, adventures and discoveries with it serving as the perfect gateway for a road trip on the North East 250.
It’s a city you may think you know, but it is also a place ever evolving with something always new to see. A place with an ancient heart that has been molded by its long and deep relationship with the North Sea, it’s a city that has always looked out beyond the broadest of horizons.
Today, you’ll find a place earthed in its industrial past and present but with one eye on the future, where art and culture are helping to redefine its personality and where a great food and drink scene helps keep the streets beating.
A good place to get a sense of how this city lies is at Torry Battery, home to a former garrison built to protect Aberdeen from sea attack, which lies just to the south of the main harbor area.
Close to the headland, you’ll find the newly opened Greyhope Bay Center Cafe, which points to a fresh direction for this part of the city. An off-grid community-owned cafe, where you can sit and watch bottlenose dolphins play in the bay, it was built from old shipping containers with the business part of a broader plan to revitalize this important and historic area.
Look towards Aberdeen and you can see the city’s timeline emerge, from Aberdeen’s pumping heart of the harbour, which was established in the 12th Century and remains Britain’s oldest business, to the elegant granite spiers and pinnacles that speak of rapid growth and prosperity during the 19th Century as shipbuilding and fishing boomed.
In among it all lie the streets, the cobbles and the alleyways that speak of merchants, dealings, exploration and a city buoyant on connections with the wider world, links which were later deepened by the transformative advent of North Sea oil.
The city’s story is well brought together at Aberdeen Maritime Museum at Shiprow. Objects such as whaler harpoons, shipping records of barrels of salmon, barley and tobacco shipped to places such as Norway, Holland and Portugal from the early 1700s and the entire deck of a historic steamer bring the ebb and flow of the city’s seafaring history to life .
Divers’ boots from 1900, made from wood, leather and brass and weighing 16 pounds each, give way to more modern equipment shaped by oil exploration including the remote operated vehicles which over time have spared workers from entering the harsh marine environments. All tell of a city in evolution.
From the museum, a trip on foot to Footdee – known locally as Fittie – which sits tucked away just behind the southern end of the beach promenade, is a must.
The former 19th Century fishing community was designed by John Smith, the architect responsible for Balmoral Castle, with the cottages all facing inwards to shared squares, a design which allowed the homes to have their backs to the often cruel storms that would roll in off the toilet.
Today, Fittie has a cute and colorful charm about it, with the authentic streets holding their seafaring past dear.
Aberdeen Beach next door is well worth exploring, with its funfair, cafes, street food vans and restaurants adding a holiday feel. From here, you can easily keep on foot and head into the city centre, where the main landmark, Marischal College, impressively appears. The Gothic granite masterpiece was once home to the university but is now city council headquarters. Its stunning facade, that sparkles white and silver on a sunny day, is both startling in its boldness and humbling in its craftsmanship.
On the way through the city centre, you’ll find traces of Aberdeen’s popular street art festival, Nuart, which brings street artists from around the world to fire up empty spaces and bare walls with colour, talent and imagination every summer. In winter, the Spectra festival of light, art and sound illuminates the dark North East nights in the most welcome of fashion.
At the heart of the city’s creative offering is the newly refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery, where rooftop galleries now flood the original granite building with light. The city’s art collection is regarded as one of the finest regional collections in the country and features an ever expanding catalog of 20th Century pieces. New work is bought on a gift made to the city more than 130 years ago, when granite merchant Alexander Macdonald endowed a bequest for the purchase of art no more than 25 years old.
As a result, Aberdeen has been collecting contemporary art for more than a century. Today, the city continues to build its own modern expression on the back of a long and fascinating past.
Aberdeen is a recommended starting point for the North East 250, a driving route that takes in the best of land and sea across the North East of Scotland. It comes in six sections and stretches north from Aberdeen into Aberdeenshire, where tiny villages give way to the beating industrial centers of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, along the Sunshine Coast of Moray and into Speyside whiskey country, the Cairngorms and Royal Deeside.
You can choose to follow the route clockwise or anti-clockwise, or plan your own adventure and Go Your Own Way. Where will you go?