Why should I go now?
In a nutshell: culture. Never mind oil – if the city could harness its art and ambition, it'd have enough oomph to power the north. Later this year sees the reopening of the Aberdeen Art Gallery, following a £30m aesthetic expansion that will add to its impressive roster. Among the highlights of the collection – which sketches a line from Pre-Raphaelite art and Impressionism to the 20th-century Brit school – are works from Boudin, Courbet, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. Before then, feel the weight of the city’s cultural welly during a visit to the tantalising Maritime Museum, a combo of a modern gallery and the warren-like corridors of Provost Ross’s House, the second oldest building in the city.
Aberdeen © Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock
What if I've only got a day?
All roads lead to 17th-century Mercat Cross, the city’s gargoyle-covered ground zero at the heart of Castlegate square, and this is where you should start your whistle-stop tour. From here, looking up at silvery granite that flickers in all weathers, follow gently ascending Union Street to ambitious Marischal College, ribbon-cut by King Edward VII in 1906 and one of the planet’s largest granite buildings. At nearly every turn, now in sight of St Andrew’s Cathedral, you’ll encounter a higgledy-piggledy tangle of granular spires, Baroque towers and imposing, slate-grey edifices.
Notwithstanding this devotion to time-worn tradition, Aberdeen also offers up some genuine guidebook surprises: its quarried granite was used to build London’s Houses of Parliament, while it’s also the sunniest city in Britain. Bet you didn’t expect that from a place plotted at a latitude north of Moscow.
Marischal College, Aberdeen © VisitScotland
What’s all this about sunshine?
We’re not making it up. The city has an easily accessible 3km ribbon of golden curving sand where you can sunbathe, swim and surf. When the often tempestuous seas are calm – and particularly in summer – a real Aberdeen highlight is to take a dolphin-watching tour from the salt-lashed working harbour with Clyde Cruises; you might also see minke whale, basking shark and rainbow-nosed puffin.
Farther along the coast, those same sands give rise to some of the world’s best links golf courses, undulating 18-holers shorn and sculpted out of 4000-year-old machair-topped dunes. Aberdeen has a golf course for every week of the year, with two big-hitters to try – namely Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, the world’s sixth oldest, and – politics aside – the $1.5 billion Trump International Golf Links on Menie Estate.
Aberdeen Beach © OTHMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock
What if I want to get out of town?
Edinburgh and Stirling both have banner-waving castles that sing on postcards, but so too does Aberdeenshire. For the melancholic whimsy of northeast Scotland, savour toothy Dunnottar Castle, a medieval fortress perched on a rocky headland south of Stonehaven on the coast. Bloodstained stories spill from its stones – not least one from 1297, when Scottish folk hero William Wallace burned an English garrison inside alive. Come around dusk, and it’s also not hard to imagine a witches’ sabbath taking place in the keep.
In the opposite direction, towards the Cairngorms National Park and Braemar, stop by the royal Balmoral Estate, where Her Majesty the Queen – most definitely not a witch – decamps to Scotland every summer.
Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire © aiaikawa/Shutterstock