This month our Aberdeen Youth Hostel turns 60. To celebrate we asked travel blogger, Kay Gillespie - The Chaotic Scot, to explore the Granite City and give us her top tips for a city break in Aberdeen - find out more below...
A weekend in Aberdeen? Sure, why not. The most I had seen prior to my recent visit was the inside of the exhibition centre and the train station. Safe to say my knowledge about the city would have comfortably fit on the back of a postage stamp. As far as Scottish destinations go, it’s not blatantly beautiful like Edinburgh or wildly alluring like the Highlands, but it was time to take a chance on Aberdeen.
Granite, shipyards and endearing accents were guaranteed, but there were plenty wee surprises served up as I went speed dating with the city’s attractions. The visit exceeded my expectations, so will you too take a chance on this overlooked city?
Let me help with that decision. Here are ten reasons to take a city break in Aberdeen.
1. The Adelphi Kitchen
Ladies & gentleman, I would like to welcome you to the defining dining moment of the trip. It was a perfectly unassuming location; off the main street, under an archway and down a littered lane. Inside the lights were low, the staff were full of friendly banter, and the choices on the specials menu were overwhelmingly good.
Following much deliberation, I opted for the IRN-BRU glazed pig cheek & crispy squid with chilli & ginger hummus to start, followed by the maple & mustard glazed pork rib, black pudding rosti & house jalapenos. So many flavours and textures had been invited to the party on my plate. Fireworks of the food world!
Image: Main Course at The Adelphi Kitchen - The Chaotic Scot
2. Scot Free Walking Tour
My mind has a healthy appetite for history and facts, therefore a walking tour is always on the agenda when I’m visiting somewhere new. Scot Free Tours are hassle free; there’s no charge or advanced booking required. Simply turn up, tag along, and tip your guide as you see fit at the end.
Our guide Connor – a local Law student – balanced his vast knowledge with sarcastic, witty humour as we strolled the streets. I loved the 15th century gothic-style Marischal College, which is the second largest granite building in the world. The city’s granite came from just ten miles away, and has earned Aberdeen the nickname of The Silver City. “This largely depends on whether the sun is shining” joked Connor.
Image: Marischal College - The Chaotic Scot
3. A day trip to Stonehaven
Just because you’re on a city break, doesn’t mean you can’t venture out on a little coastal adventure. Cue Stonehaven; a super-cute seaside town with a picturesque harbour, cosy pubs, and famous fish ‘n’ chip. The best part? It’s just fifteen minutes away on the train from Aberdeen.
As well as the town itself, Stonehaven is also home to one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. Dunnottar Castle looks like a location in Game of Thrones, and the coastal walk to reach the impressive fortress is a pleasure itself with its plummeting cliffs and a panorama of blue. The castle is often closed due to high winds, however the dramatic view from outside is reason alone to visit.
Image: Dunnottar - The Chaotic Scot
4. Aberdeen Rowies from Aitken’s Bakery
If a destination has a signature dish or food item, I want to try it. I quickly discovered that when in Aberdeen, a traditional rowie or buttery was one of those ‘you can’t visit without trying…’ recommendations. Aitken’s Bakery was repeatedly namedropped when doing my research ahead of the trip, so I set aside time to wander there from the centre and sample the buttery pastry myself.
Eating cold rowies won’t exactly set your world alight, but slightly toasted or baked with some cheese/butter/jam to compliment is where you’ll hit the jackpot. If you don’t know how rowies or butteries are made, don’t ask. In this instance ignorance is bliss.
Image: Aberdeen Rowies - The Chaotic Scot
5. Hostelling at Aberdeen SYHA
Aberdeen Youth Hostel provides clean and comfortable lodgings in a grand granite house for a price that won’t pulverise your purse. Thanks to the recent refurbishment, the interior is looking fresh and polished, complete with contemporary bed covers and modern bathrooms.
Image: Aberdeen Youth Hostel Bedroom - The Chaotic Scot
The lounge and dining room are flooded with natural light through the large windows, and as with all SYHA hostels, the kitchen is abundant in space and kitted out with all the required utensils. Continental breakfast is available for £4.95, allowing you to fill up on toast, cheese, ham, yogurt and fruit, before boosting your daily steps on the twenty-five-minute walk into the city centre. Those feeling less energetic can jump on the bus at the stop directly outside the youth hostel.
Image: Aberdeen Youth Hostel Lounge - SYHA Hostelling Scotland
6. Dolphin Adventure Cruise
If ever there’s an opportunity for a boat ride – count me in! This particular trip with Clyde Cruises boasts a high probability of spotting Aberdeen’s wild dolphins. I didn’t raise my hopes however, and instead agreed with myself that the trip alone would a great way to spend a Sunday morning. Any dolphins would be a bonus.
The trip begins with an introductory video in the ‘Dolphin Education Centre’, before boarding the small vessel. Much to my delight, we soon saw rows of fins rising from the water, and even witnessed a couple of close-up jumps. On the fringes of a busy city and harbour, this is a wildlife encounter not to be missed.
Image: Aberdeen Dolphins - The Chaotic Scot
7. Live music at Café Drummond
Even in the middle of summer, it’s always wise to plan evening entertainment of the indoor variety, given the temperamental weather. The pub is often a sensible choice, and live music is always welcome. A quick Google search told me that Café Drummond would be the place to go for exactly that.
The venue is cool and intimate, with cinema style seats for lounging at the back, and ample floor space by the stage for busting moves when the feeling takes you. The drinks are fairly-priced, and there’s a decent calendar of bands, DJs and comedy throughout the year.
8. Seafood at The Silver Darling
When visiting a seaside destination, at some point I will want to see a fish on my dish. The Silver Darling was recommended both online and by a friend, not that I needed much encouragement. Perched on Aberdeen Harbour, the building was once the Customs House for Porca Key, but has been under its current guise since 1986.
Seasonal produce and local seafood are the stars of the show on the simple, classy menu. I enjoyed fresh mussels in a curry broth, followed by swordfish with a mango & red onion salsa. Take advantage of the excellent value lunch menu and ask for a table by the window for views of the harbour or the beach.
Image: Main Course at The Silver Darling - The Chaotic Scot
9. Footdee & Aberdeen Beach
Close to The Silver Darling sits a wee settlement called Footdee; pronounced ‘Fittie’ by the locals. The old fishing village exudes nautical charm, from the enviably adorable cottages with colourful doors to the classic streetlights outside. Even the garden sheds are pretty! The contained community is a far cry from the bustle of Union Street and the industry nearby.
Image: Footdee - The Chaotic Scot
Further on from Footdee is the award winning Aberdeen Beach, where visitors can take a walk along the coastal stretch for some sea-air therapy. The photo-worthy sunrise from the beach is a great option for early birds.
Image: Aberdeen Beach - The Chaotic Scot
10. The Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Culture vultures ahoy! Step inside the multi-storey museum for an interesting and interactive insight into Aberdeen’s maritime history and unbreakable bond with the sea. The visual centrepiece is the model oil rig which scales all three floors of the museum.
Join one of the guided tours, or simply self-navigate the variety of exhibits. You can operate your own underwater camera, and check out the vintage photographs of fisherman with cheeky smiles on their weather-worn faces. A perfect rainy-day activity and it’s free.
Image: Aberdeen Maritime History - The Chaotic Scot
If this has whet your appetite for a trip to the Granite City, you can book your stay at Aberdeen Youth Hostel here: syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/aberdeen
Biography for Kay Gillespie - The Chaotic Scot
My mission is to inspire fellow Scots (and anyone else who wants to join the party) to put Scotland at the top of your travel wish-list, and to experience the very best of what our country has to offer. Find out more here: thechaoticscot.com