graduate Susie Henderson explores Scotland’s northeastern boomtown, discovering surfing, seafood and football, along with astounding architecture, funky boutiques and cracking nightlife.
0700-0900. Shake off sleep and brush away your hangover (you’ll have one if you were out last night) at the beach. Zip up your jacket, face the Aberdeen breeze and take a brisk stroll along the Esplanade. A few sniffs of North Sea air and one glance at that incredible expanse of golden sand and you’ll be raring to go. If you’re feeling extra brave, don a wetsuit (essential) and hit the waves; Granite Reef (45 The Green, 01224 252 752) hires surfboards and runs lessons later in the day if you’re spending more time hanging on for dear life than hanging ten.
0900-1100. Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, warm up in the Sanddollar Café (2 Beach Esplanade, 01224 572 288) with a hot bacon roll or go the whole hog with the full Scottish breakfast or American-style heaped pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup. Between Easter and October, whirl into the sky aboard a colourful car on the Grampian Eye big wheel at Codona’s (Beach Boulevard, 01224 595 910) for panoramic views of the city, beach and harbour.
1100-1300. Wander back into the city centre and gaze up at the magnificent facade of Marischal College on Broad Street. Owned by and formerly part of the University of Aberdeen, this immense granite neo-Gothic building was painstakingly cleaned and restored back to its former glittering glory in 2011 and is now on long-term lease to the city council. Check out the latest exhibition at Peacock Visual Arts (21 Castle Street, 01224 639 539), an innovative contemporary arts centre with its own printmaking facilities; you can also pick up original prints, artists’ books and magazines in the shop.
1300-1500. Head to Moonfish Café (9 Correction Wynd, 01224 644 166) for a lunch of baked hake and spicy pepperonata or salmon with creamed leeks and mustard mash. Then walk or catch bus 20 to Old Aberdeen. The picturesque cobbled streets are dominated by Aberdeen University’s 500-year-old King’s College; take time to peer into the lovely chapel with its intricate Crown Tower. At the King’s Museum (17 High Street, 01224 274 330), regularly changing exhibitions display artefacts from the university’s vast collection, ranging from natural history to scientific instruments to contemporary art. A striking 21st-century architectural addition to the campus is the state-of-the-art Sir Duncan Rice Library (Bedford Road, 01224 273 330), designed by Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassend; be wowed by the swirling atrium, visit the public gallery, and grab a coffee to go at the Hardback Café. Find a perch and sip your drink behind the sheltered Long Wall at the Cruickshank Botanic Garden (The Chanonry), where you can soak up the scent of roses and admire a kaleidoscopic herbaceous border.
1500-1700. Football fans should watch Aberdeen FC in action at Pittodrie Stadium (Pittodrie Street, 01224 631 903). While the Dons are no longer the force in Europe they were under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1980s, they still hold their own in Scotland’s Premier League. Shopaholics may prefer to browse the 70 stores of the smart Union Square shopping centre (Guild Square, 01224 254 300) or potter round the historic Merchant Quarter. R&B Music (67 The Green, 01224 210 121) is a wonderful musical instrument emporium lined wall to wall with guitars, drums and keyboards. Try on trainers at Hanon (154 Market Street, 01224 213 452), a local sneaker and clothing specialist, which in 2013 launched a granite-inspired shoe in collaboration with Adidas. On the other side of Union Street, pop into The Academy shopping centre (Schoolhill, 01224 633 009) and pick up high-end brands at Attic or menswear boutique Concept.
1700-1900. Time for a cup of tea. But it’s also cocktail hour, so why not combine the two? Order Carmelite’s ‘Intoxicating Afternoon Tea’ (Stirling Street, 01224 589 101) for a traditional selection of sandwiches, cakes and scones accompanied by a china teapot filled with cocktails for two, named after famous jazz pianists. Knock back a couple more tipples at Orchid (14 Bon Accord Square, entrance on Langstane Place), including the cheeky ‘Porn-star Martini’ or savoury combinations like the ‘Avocado and Black Pepper Daiquiri’.
1900-2100. All that oil wealth sloshing around the city means there are plenty of excellent restaurants. Café 52 (52 The Green, 01224 590 094) cooks up creative combinations such as purple carrot and parsley hummus on toast or polenta cakes with goat’s cheese and plum chutney. The Courtyard (1 Alford Lane, 01224 589 109) serves fabulous fish dishes (think sea bass with curried haddock risotto or halibut poached in saffron and Prosecco) in a relaxed setting. For curries, try Cinnamon (476 Union Street, 01224 633 328), whose ‘Nouvelle Indian cuisine’ fuses Bangladeshi and Indian flavours with fresh Scottish produce.
After 2100. Aberdeen has pubs galore. Ma Cameron’s (Little Belmont Street, 01224 644 487) has a 300-year-old snug bar and a small roof terrace. On Thursday nights, hear top jazz musicians at The Blue Lamp (121 Gallowgate, 01224 647 472). Of aesthetic interest is grandiose, colonnade-fronted The Archibald Simpson (5 Castle Street, 01224 621 365), named after the architect who designed this former North of Scotland Bank as well as Marischal College’s quad and St Andrew’s Cathedral. Soak up your beers with a late-night visit to Hass’s Fish and Chips (203 Holburn Street, 01224 593 911), one of the best chippies in town. If you’re wearing your dancing shoes, take your pick from three rooms at The Institute (5 Bridge Place, 01224 595 239), which opened in late 2012 following a £1.2 million makeover and boasts Aberdeen’s largest dancefloor along with plush booths and a VIP area. In summer, the long evenings seem to go on forever and it barely gets dark before it’s time to hit the beach again for your morning walk.