We moved to Aberdeen in the middle of 2013, just after Sofia was born. By this time we’d lived and worked all over Scotland already, but never before in Aberdeen, and it’s an understatement to say we were more than a little shocked when we eventually moved house from Poland.
It’s not that it’s different to other Scottish Cities – think Edinburgh, but flatter, or that it was a Cultural thing – there’s a lot of foreigners living here, yes (Especially Poles), but that’s common everywhere these days. It was the Cost of everything. Aberdeen was, until recently at least, the oil capital of Europe, and everything in the city was priced accordingly. Second only to London for the price of accommodation, moving to Aberdeen almost broke us, financially. And we were only renting to begin with!
Anyway, we survived the first few months, and eventually managed to purchase a Terraced House (Ex-Council) at a rate about 20% higher than you’d pay in the Country’s capital, Edinburgh. Since then though, a lot of things have changed around here. The Oil has, to a large extent, gone, and with it a lot of the large companies that decided that rates in town were too high to remain here, and they either closed down, or moved on to cheaper pastures.
With that, there was a pretty large exodus of suddenly unemployed Oil workers, and a sudden spike in the supply of property – prices dropped pretty quickly, and are only just recovering now (as of the beginning of 2018). Where before you’d be surprised NOT to see a Super car or two every week, it’s become a rare sight now.
So, short recent history lesson aside, Aberdeen actually has quite a lot to offer, whether you’re planning on living here, or just wanting to visit. There are plenty of large parks, a lovely stretch of beach going North (and wonderful rocky coastline going South!), enough to do in the City proper to keep everyone satisfied, and a decent Club scene if you’re into that sort of thing.
It’s also very well located if you want to explore the East Coast – not far from the Cairngorms National park, only an hour away from Dundee, and only a stone’s throw from attractions such as Dunnottar Castle and Brewdog’s Brewery in Ellon.
If I’m honest, of all the places I’ve lived and worked in Scotland, Aberdeen is the least beautiful, the least charming, and the most demanding. But after living here for 6+ years now, there is something that it has become, that nowhere else has managed to achieve; It’s Home.
Duthie Park can be found to the South of the City centre, on the banks of the river Dee. It’s not the biggest park in Aberdeen , but it is quite possibly the most popular. This is likely due to a combination of the excellent Kids playground, wide open Grass areas, the Boat pond, recently renovated Cafe, and the Winter Gardens. Quite a bit to keep you entertained, then.
The Children’s play area consists of two areas, one being a hillside environment with 2 super-long slides, swings, and a jungle gym. The other is in an enclosed area with a wide variety of Jungle gyms, sand pits and a zip-wire. Probably one of the best Playgrounds in Aberdeen, if I’m honest. There is also a smaller play area close to the Cafe.
Although the Park itself isn’t huge, the lawn dominates the majority of it, and is perfect for Ball games, Frisbee throwing, or just sitting on your butt enjoying the sunshine.
The Boat Pond is located in the bottom section of the park, and is basically a large, very shallow swimming pool 😛 It’s pretty popular with Model boat enthusiasts over the summer months, and is free to use for anyone.
The Cafe was completely renovated in 2017, and now boasts a large indoor seating area, a great selection of home-bakes, and you can even pay by card these days! There’s also an Ice-Cream outlet attached to the Cafe, and you can now use it as a way in to the Winter Gardens as well.
The David Welch Winter Gardens are always one of the highlights of our visits to the Park. There are 7 or 8 different rooms, each with their own climate, from the Arid wastes of Africa (Succulents & Cacti), to Japanese Gardens, to Tropical regions (Luscious, but Humid!), the Winter Gardens have a wonderful collection of plants from around the world. As an added bonus, if you go there in the winter, it’s lovely and toasty inside.
The Old Deeside Railway path also leaves from the Northern edge of the Park, heading out towards Banchory and beyond to Ballater.
Codonas Amusement Park
Codonas Amusement Park is one of Aberdeen's oldest and most popular attractions. It caters for all ages, and is a great way to spend a day with family or friends. We tend to make an annual trip around Sofia's birthday, and we have yet to be disappointed with the overall experience
First, there's the entertainment centre inside, which includes
- Play & Win machines
- 10-pin bowling
- adventure golf
- bumper cars
Here you'll also find Smugglers Cove, a kids playground that includes 2 separate climbing frames, and a toddlers area with Shops, Vets, a Disco, Bouncy castle, etc. It can get pretty busy on a rainy day though, so I'd suggest being there early to avoid the rush and get a table!
Outside is the Theme Park (though it's not really themed on anything specific). The rides are fun, though some of them are beginning to look and feel pretty rickety...
- Rollercoaster - I've done this once, and will not do it again, until they replace ALL the steel structure!
- Log Flume
- Teacups - Brilliant!
- Drop Ride - At 60-feet, not the smallest, but not that exciting, if i'm honest
- Pirate boat - great for a queasy stomach afterwards...
- Vertigo Aerial Assault Course
- Adventure Golf
- Several Children's rides
Located on the beachfront, there is plenty of parking available at Queen's Links boulevard. There are also plenty of places to eat inside the centre, or just outside at Queen's links itself.
Donmouth Nature Reserve
So, you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the City, but don’t feel like driving anywhere? Or you’re out of ideas on somewhere new to cycle, and the beach just ain’t doing it for you any more? Well, why not head on slightly further North than the City Centre, and take in the Donmouth Nature Reserve. Close enough to town to be accessible by foot or bike, it’s a refreshing break from the clamour of City life.
The Donmouth area is one of the oldest parts of Aberdeen – originally built up around St Machar’s Cathedral, it encompasses Seaton Park, and runs from the Brig o’ Balgownie to King Street. Not the largest area, but big enough to enjoy yourself for a few hours, and remind you that not everything needs to be rushed!
You can enter the Reserve from King Street, where the bridge crosses the River Don. Head along the dirt trail that runs along the river to the Brig o’ Balgownie, and from the quaint village setting you have a couple of options: Either cross the bridge and follow the path back to the main road on the other side of the river, or head a bit back up the road to the entrance to Seaton Park. This path takes you all along the inside bend of the river, back to the main area of the park, where you could easily spend another few hours watching the world go by 🙂
Obviously, you could also start in Seaton Park and do it in reverse 😛 Highly recommended for a few hours of peace in quiet in the midst of the City’s chaos
The Home of Brewdog, and where the journey of one of my favourite beers begins; Tap Dog in Ellon is THE Original Brewdog pub, and it 100% worth the effort getting out there from Aberdeen to visit.
Walk in, and you see immediately where the inspiration for the interior design of the chain has come from - steel ducts, wood, and metal dominate the environment, making it seem very industrial. Which in this case, it is, being connected to a working brewery and all.
They serve the same collection of Beers and Food as any of the other outlets, but being in the Original BrewDog bar makes it seem that much more special :) They also have a merchandise shop, which is cool, though the merch does seem a bit expensive.
If there's one thing that stands out for me above all else though, it's the staff. Quite happy to provide tasters of their beers for the unknowing, and oh so friendly. That's not really a surprise though - A company that takes care of its staff will normally have staff that take care of their customers!
It's quite busy pub (considering it's out in Ellon), with a large part of it's custom being foreign tour groups. It is possible to do a tour of the brewery, but we didn't do it, so can't write much about it I'm afraid.
Newburgh Beach, about 15 minutes drive North of Aberdeen, is home to one of the largest Grey Seal Colonies in Aberdeenshire - up to 400 seals! Even without the seals as an attraction, this is a beautiful beach and is well worth visiting!
The colony is situated at the mouth of the Ythan River, and as such your experience will be influenced quite strongly by the tides; At low tide the river is only about 15-20 meters wide, while at high tide it nears 100 meters across. Needless to say, at high tide, you don't see the seals too well, as the colony is on the opposite bank...
Accessing the beach from the car park is easy enough - it's a 5 minute walk along a sandy path to the beach next to the river - follow it along to the right and you'll end up at the river mouth, which is where we saw the colony (and plenty of seals in the river itself).
Old Pier Coffee House
Situated on the Harbour Pier in Stonehaven, squeezed in next to, and almost hidden by, the Lifeboat shed, The Old Pier Coffee House is a gem of a Coffee Shop, and a pleasant move away from the traditional pubs and restaurants that are available on the Harbour front in Stonehaven.
While externally the building looks pretty traditional, the interior decor is a lovely combination of wood, metal and glass - a mix of modern and traditional, and it works wonderfully. There is seating available downstairs and upstairs, as well as a small table on the upstairs balcony.
They serve a selection of Sit-in or Take Away standard Coffees, and a basic snacks selection, including sandwiches & soups. There is also an ice cream parlour.
Outside of the ambience and the nice coffee's, the staff are also incredibly friendly. Highly recommended!
Other Aberdeenshire Attractions
I have a confession. I'd never gone up to the North coast of Aberdeenshire before my trip to Whitesands. The reason for this is that it's always struck me as being the Arse-end of Aberdeenshire (like Peterhead, for instance). Happily, I don't mind admitting that in this case, I was very wrong.
Whitesands is an hour and 20 minutes North of Aberdeen by car; the route takes you through through picturesque villages, including Turriff (which is also prettier than I'd suspected), fields of Rape, tree lined avenues, and over rolling hills.
The town (village, even?) itself is small and peaceful, but has great play facilities on the beach, right next to the Caravan Park. We spent most of an afternoon here, enjoying a braai while Sofia ran around with her friends making full use of the playground.
There is also a small cafe serving Ice-cream - perfect to end the day!
The whole Northern coastline is rocky, with only a few sandy beaches on offer. As a result it's very dramatic, and in the right light, quite spectacular. From Whitesands you can see Banff and Macduff to the East, and the high cliffs that serve as a backdrop to these towns. Looking West is less dramatic, but there you can find the wonderful village of Portsoy.
To Northern Aberdeenshire - my sincerest apologies, you are great! :)
Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve
About 10 minutes drive to the west of Aboyne lies arguably one of Aberdeenshires best kept secrets, the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve.
The Burn o' Vat car park can be found just at the border of the Cairngorms, off the main road, and nowhere near anything else. Though it can sometimes be full, finding a parking spot here is generally much less of a hassle than at other Aberdeenshire trails.
From the car park there are 4 trails to choose from - the easiset, and probably the most rewarding, is the Burn o' Vat trail. This leads along a short path (maybe 10 minutes walk) to a rocky canyon, with a waterfall at the far end.
It;s properly beautiful, and you can clamber up the side of the waterfall as well, allowing you a lovely view into the canyon from the top. We didn't notice the trail going further up the stream, so this is where we turned around. You can cross a footbridge just before the Burn o' Vat, which takes you up to the top of the ridge and a lovely viewpoint just above the car park. Great place to stop for a snack!
The second path we wandered down took us towards Loch Kinord. It's a fairly rambling path through the forest, and eventually leads you to the banks of the loch.
The path does go further than what we walked, but with several kids in tow, reaching the banks was in itself enough of an acheivement - We stayed a while and had great fun splashing in the shallows on the edge. Warning - there are leeches in the loch waters. While not harmful, always worth checking for the blood-sucking monsters when leaving for home!