Aberdeen has for decades been associated purely with the North Sea oil industry and offshore rigs. This, combined with its remote location in Scotland has caused the city to have been unfortunately overlooked in terms of tourism within the United Kingdom.
Aberdeen though is one of the liveliest and most successful cities in Scotland – in no small part of course, because of the oil industry – and although it may not have the world-renowned historic sights of Edinburgh or other Scottish destinations that are popular with tourists, Aberdeen can offer a truer look at contemporary Scottish life.
There are many great things to do in Aberdeen Scotland, from traveling out onto the frigid waters of the North Sea in search of dolphins to exploring the rugged, windswept coastline.
There are great bars, great restaurants and an international flair that might just take you pleasantly by surprise. To inspire you to visit this Scottish city here’s our guide to the best things to do in Aberdeen.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Scotland (Travel Guide)
20 Best Things to do in Aberdeen, Scotland
1. Take a Walking Tour
While modern Aberdeen has grown exponentially and sprawls away from the coast, the historic center of Old Aberdeen and much of the coast is still compact enough to be best enjoyed at a leisurely walking pace.
Stroll through the streets leading away from Aberdeen Harbour towards the historic buildings of the University. Take in medieval cathedrals, the intriguing museums, the green parks and finally, enjoy a long walk along the Esplanade.
Much of the city’s architecture is constructed from granite, a building material that was prevalent in the surrounding area and you will soon see why Aberdeen has the nickname ‘Granite City’ while on your walking tour. Scot Free Tours offers free walking tours of both the downtown and Old Town.
2. Aberdeen Maritime Museum
The Aberdeen Maritime Museum offers visitors the chance to learn even more about the long history of Aberdeen and the city’s association with the sea. Found by the harbor, this museum shows visitors not only the history of traditional shipping but the newer history of the oil industry in the North Sea.
There are a great many exhibits, but most impressive of all is the setting itself, as part of the museum incorporates an old Provost’s House which can trace its construction back to the late 16th century.
3. Visit Aberdeen Harbour
Without its harbor, Aberdeen would never have become the center of trade in the region and would never have grown to become the third-largest city in Scotland.
The harbor has been in use for centuries and today it is bigger and busier than ever before. You can see the ships and ferries out to sea and docking in port, and if you don’t fancy walking, you can actually take a boat cruise around the harbor to learn more about the history of the city from the local captain.
4. Dolphin Watching
If you can brave the cold waters and crashing waves of the windswept North Sea, then you may be interested in taking a tour out to sea in search of dolphins. A pod of Bottlenose Dolphins call the coastline home and make regular appearances alongside boats traveling out on the open ocean.
5. Aberdeen Beach
Despite the cold weather, Aberdeen has actually long been visited for its beautiful, golden sanded beach. It might be a bit windy, but Aberdeen Beach is one of the nicest stretches of coastline in Scotland.
The beach extends from Aberdeen harbor, north along the coast for several miles. The Esplanade follows the route of the beach, and along the length of this, there are many great places to stop for excellent views over the coastline or for a hot drink and a quick refreshment.
6. Johnston Gardens
Aberdeen has several beautiful green spaces that make for great escapes from the granite streets, but the real pick of the bunch is Johnston Gardens.
These leafy green gardens have won many national awards through the years for their beauty, and it’s a wonderfully peaceful place to stroll around. You should also check out the Pitmedden Gardens while you’re in Aberdeen.
7. Fettercairn Distillery
Located outside of Aberdeen, but just a short drive to the south of the city, Fettercairn Distillery is a great place to visit to learn more about the production of a world-renowned Scotch Whisky.
Whiskey is just about as Scottish as it gets, and no visit to Aberdeen can be complete without calling in for a tasting or to enjoy a small piece of Whisky history. Fettercairn Distillery has been producing high-quality whiskey since 1824 and they offer an intriguing tour of the facilities that are full of heritage.
8. Bullers of Buchan
The Bullers of Buchan is an unusual rock formation that’s found north of Aberdeen, along the coastline. The scenic shores and hills of this rugged landscape make for excellent hillwalking, and it’s possible to enjoy breezy hikes along the cliffs and beaches.
That is until you reach the huge arch of the Bullers of Buchan, an arch that has slowly been eroded into the shape it is by the powerful waves and fierce wind of the North Sea.
9. Gordon Highlanders Museum
Close to the Johnston Gardens can be found in the interesting Gordon Highlanders Museum. This a museum for military history buffs, as it’s dedicated completely to the Gordon Highlanders Regiment of the British Army.
The museum is found in a historic house that is a grand affair on its own accord, but the real interest, of course, lies in the story of these fearsome Scottish Warriors who fought across the world for two centuries.
10. New Slains Castle
Also found to the north of Aberdeen along the dramatic coastline, are the crumbling ruins of Slains Castle. Perched on a cliff overlooking the North Sea, the castle has been here guarding Aberdeenshire for centuries.
In the 19th century, the castle’s striking location and distinctive architecture are thought to have inspired Bram Stoker the author of Dracula – although many castles the world also make this claim to fame.
Best Day Trips from Aberdeen
11. Cairngorms National Park
Cairngorms National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United Kingdom, and it covers a vast area that encompasses everything from historic castles to wild, mountain peaks.
The western edges can easily be visited on a day trip from Aberdeen, and there are many great opportunities for hiking, hill walking and simply enjoying the Scottish outdoors.
12. Braemar Castle
Braemar Castle is found inland to the east of Aberdeen and is situated within the beautiful confines of the Cairngorms National Park. This historic fortification has long been held by a powerful local Clan and has played an important role in Scottish history through the years.
You can tour the castle, the stately rooms and learn more about its legacy.
13 – 20. Other Recommended Day Trips
- Taste of Scotland Tour
- Speyside Delight – Scottish Whisky Tour – Private Full Day
- Loch Ness and the Highlands Small-Group Day Tour from Aberdeen
- Dunnottar Castle and Royal Deeside Small-Group Tour from Aberdeen
- Aberdeen & Shire Castle & Distillery Private Group one Day Tour / Photo Workshop
- Speyside Whisky Experience by Whisky Trails: Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet
- Whisky Tour: Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Small Group Private Whisky Tour
- Inverness & Highlands Tour
Plan your trip to Aberdeen, Scotland
Where is Aberdeen Scotland?
Aberdeen is located in the far northeast of Scotland on the coastline overlooking the North Sea.
Geographically, it is isolated from much of the rest of the United Kingdom, but a busy airport catering to budget flights domestically and from across Europe have made it increasingly accessible to visitors.
From Edinburgh to the south, it’s just a three-hour car drive, while there are frequent bus and train connections too from across Scotland.
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Getting to Aberdeen
Access to the city is easy from both international and domestic locations.
- By Plane: As the third-largest city in Scotland, Aberdeen sees multiple flights a day servicing the Aberdeen Airport from destinations across the UK and Europe. With the presence of budget airlines, flying to Aberdeen can be one of the most affordable ways to arrive. Once at the airport, downtown Aberdeen is a 30-minute drive, bus ride or taxi ride.
- If you are not flying directly into Aberdeen, you’ll likely arrive into one of the other major Scotland hubs at Inverness or Edinburgh. From these access points it is easy to visit Aberdeen in one of the following ways:
- By Car: If you’re up for a classic Scottish road trip, Aberdeen can be reached by car from just about anywhere. Drive times from other popular places are: Edinburgh – 125 miles from (about 2 hours, 45 minutes), Glasgow – 150 miles (2 hours, 45 minutes), Inverness – 105 miles (about 2 hours, 45 minutes), Manchester – 350 miles (about 6 hours) and London – 545 miles (9 hours, 20 minutes).
- By Train: It is possible to travel to Aberdeen on one of many trains that run from locations throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. Schedules, routes and the purchase of train tickets can be done online at ScotRail and London North Eastern Railway.
- By Bus: The slowest option in connecting to Aberdeen from other places is by bus, although the service is frequent and can be considerably cheaper than taking the train or renting a car. National Express provides coaches around the UK and their website provides schedules and prices.
Getting Around Aberdeen
If you’re spending multiple days in Aberdeen, which you should because there is a ton of things to do in Aberdeen then you’ll likely find yourself using multiple ways to get around the city and surrounding area.
- Walking: if you have booked yourself into a hotel that is downtown, you’ll be able to access a lot of the city sites on foot. If you’re anything like us, we like to hit the pavement when we travel so we don’t have to hold back on things like Fish N’ Chips! Grab yourself a map of the city, available at the airport, hotel or any tourist information booth and uncover the magic of the city.
- Taxi: to access places outside of walking distance, or in the event of rain that may make walking unpleasant, it is easy to hail a taxi that will take you anywhere in the city and surrounding area. This is straightforward and you can expect a metered cab fare.
- Bus: regular bus service frequents the city and even as far afield as the whole of Aberdeenshire. If your savvy at reading bus schedules, don’t mind waiting at bus stops and are looking to save a buck, this can be a great option. It is possible to get a bus pass that covers single day use and multiple days uses both in the city and surrounding countryside.
- Car: if you have your own rental car, it is possible to explore the city by car. Although it can be a bit of a nightmare for parking and particularly stressful if you are not used to driving on the right side of the car on the right side of the road, fellow Americans, I’m looking at you! With turn lanes, traffic and being unfamiliar with the city, I would avoid this until you’ve put some drive time in.
Where to Stay in Aberdeen
Aberdeen has a great array of accommodation, from charming bed and breakfasts run by local families to international chain hotels. Here are a few top picks for your stay in Aberdeen.
Our top recommendation: We used Aberdeen as our start and endpoint for our road trip on the new North East 250 route. Since we had a car, we needed a place that was not only well located but also had secure, onsite parking. We got all of that at the lovely Skene House. Not only do they have large, comfortable rooms but we were able to park our car in their private lot and walk to the best sites and restaurants downtown.
Other options to consider:
- Cove Bay Hotel – Found south of Aberdeen in Cove Bay, this beautifully rustic hotel offers not only a unique location along the coast but a great price and charming facilities. It’s perfect for those who don’t want the bustle of the city center.
- Ibis Aberdeen Centre Quayside – This fantastic mid-range hotel offers great value for guests alongside excellent amenities and one of the most central locations in the city. It’s just a short walk to the beach, to the harbor and to Old Aberdeen.
- Aberdeen Altens Hotel – This four-star hotel on the edge of the city is one of the most popular in Aberdeen. It offers guests not only an unbeatable price but huge rooms, a swimming pool, lavish restaurant and more.
Best Restaurants in Aberdeen
Contemporary Aberdeen is about much more than deep-fried mars bars and greasy fish and chips, although it’s easy enough to find these local ‘delicacies’ in the city. There are a great many restaurants offering everything from classic Scottish fare to international dining opportunities.
- Moon Fish Cafe – The Moon Fish Cafe is a local favorite that serves up an ever-interesting array of both casual lunch and brunch options, and more sophisticated evening dishes. Found in the historic center of the city, this is a must-visit during your stay in Aberdeen.
- No. 10 Bar & Restaurant – If you have ever had a picture in your mind of what an intimate, pub-like place with amazing Scottish food would be like, this place delivers that. Fantastic food and lots of options for Scottish beer and cider on offer here.
- Rendezvous at Nargile – This Turkish restaurant represents the high standards that the international culinary scene in Aberdeen has achieved recently. With an extensive menu of Turkish and Middle Eastern inspired dishes, the Rendezvous at Nargile makes for an excellent dining experience.
- Granite Park – Named for the eponymous granite that was used to construct much of Old Aberdeen and that gave the city its distinctive character, Granite Park tries to keep true to local heritage not only through its name but through its excellent Scottish cuisine, that takes the culinary heritage of the region and infuses it with international influences to create a fine dining experience like no other.
More on Scotland:
- Scotland Road Trip Guide – North East 250
- Ultimate Guide to Eurail Pass Train Travel in Europe
- When is the Best Time to Visit Europe?
- Best Places to Fly a Drone in Europe