A city of contradictions and charm.

A quick glance at Aberdeen can paint a bleak picture. Stuart MacBride, an Aberdonian author, once called Aberdeen schizophrenic. The mood of the people, he said, reflects the weather, and both can change dramatically in an instant. True, he is famous for his morbid murder stories, but the observation holds some veracity. When the sun is out, Aberdeen is a gem in the North-east of Scotland, living up to its name as the Silver City; but when it rains, it resembles its less appealing nickname, the Granite City.

The granite is one thing that sets Aberdeen apart from other Scottish cities, casting it its two contrasting personalities. The second is the oil industry. It is the Oil Capital of Europe and as a result a lot of the city mirrors this; visiting Aberdeen you’ll find a surprising juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. Being a relatively small city at 227,000 inhabitants, areas where you shouldn’t walk at night are a stone’s throw from Michelin restaurants.

Taking a step closer, however, reveals Aberdeen’s beauty. The University of Aberdeen’s campus is handsome, situated in Old Aberdeen. Busy streets become cobblestone roads, tiny paths and courtyards sit between buildings. Being one of the four Scottish ancient universities, it dates back to 1495. King’s College and the King’s lawns are particularly beautiful, reminiscent of Hogwarts from Harry Potter. A small graveyard which was once the location of a Medieval Church called Snow Kirk rests unnoticed by most students almost in the centre of campus. There is also a new library, having opened a couple of years ago, which is architecturally appealing and modern, creating an unusual contradiction of old and new in the heart of Old Aberdeen.

The botanical gardens are at the edge of Old Aberdeen. They are the secret gardens of Aberdeen, beautiful and rarely busy, so you’ll certainly find a quiet spot for lunch. Hidden behind the Cruickshank buildings, they sport vivid flowers and plants from around the world. Down the road is Seaton Park, perfect for BBQs and fishing by the river - just don’t go there at night!

Another must-see is the beach boulevard. Aberdeen borders the North Sea, and has a long stretch of beach just minutes away from the centre of town. It’s perfect for jogs throughout the seasons (as long as you can brave the wind), and in the summer is bustling with people crowding the cafes that line the South end; you might even spot a seal if you’re lucky. This is the place to grab a coffee or ice cream on a sunny day!

It’s also easy to leave the city for a day trip. Balmedie beach is close by, where you’ll find miles of dunes bordering the sea. Aberdeen is also a bus ride away from Stonehaven, an idyllic small fishing town. In Stonehaven you’ll find a shop which claims to be the birthplace of the deep friend mars bar, and are also plenty of great fish and chips shops. Following a path up a hill and across fields will lead you to the remarkable Dunottar Castle, a cliff top fortress surrounded by crashing waves and faint tunes from a lone bagpiper.

You haven’t truly experienced Scotland until you’ve had a whisky and a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) at the local pub. Although haggis may sound less than appealing, I would recommend trying it – it’s actually delicious! If whisky in particular interests you, a distillery can be found in Oldmeldrum, a bus ride away. Because Aberdeen is a student town with two universities on either side, there is also a huge selection of pubs, bars and other nightlife. From oysters to burgers, there is also plenty of variety in dining out.

Although a city of contradictions, Aberdeen certainly has its own subtle charm

Alicia Jensen
Image: Ewa Czerwinska