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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen, "The Flower of Scotland", lies in a picturesque spot on the North Sea coast between the Dee and the Don. The capital of the Grampian Region is Scotland's biggest fishing port and has, since the end of the 1960s when oil was first discovered in the North Sea, developed into an important center for Europe's offshore oil industry. Even in the early days of the oil boom Aberdeen was an obvious choice as offshore capital of Europe, not just because of its proximity to the oil fields in the North Sea, but also for its central position on the eastern coastal plain, its infrastructure with good road and rail links and also its plentiful supply of labor.

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St Machar's Cathedral

Exterior of St Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen.
St. Machar's Cathedral is believed to occupy the site of a small Celtic chapel erected by St Machar in 581. The cathedral which succeeded it was founded in 1136, although the earliest work in the present building dates only from the 14th century. The present building was begun in 1378 and completed in 1552. Note especially the striking towers on the West front, with sandstone spires dating from 1518-30; also the 16th century wooden ceiling painted with coats of arms.
Address: The Chanonry, Aberdeen AB24 1RQA, Scotland

King's College

Entrance to King's College in Aberdeen.
The Catholic King's College in the High Street received its charter from King James IV. This seat of learning was founded in 1495 by Bishop William Elphinstone. Union with the Protestant Marischal College followed in 1860. The latter was a center for the natural sciences, while the former was an arts stronghold. One of the college's identifying features is its huge tower (1633) and an elegant stone dome. Apart from St Giles, it is the only remaining dome of its kind in Scotland. A stone replica of the imperial crown of Charlemagne sits on top of the dome. The oak choir stalls and the wooden ceiling in the chapel (ca. 1505) are preserved in their original form. Portraits of the Stuart monarchs, similar to those around the Mercat Cross, can be seen here, but they are carved out of wood.
Address: University of Aberdeen, Regent Walk, Aberdeen AB24 3FX, Scotland

University

The University, founded in 1494, is located in the area north of King's College, known as Old Aberdeen.

Old Town House

At the end of High Street stands the Georgian Old Town House (1788). It now houses a branch library.
Address: High Street, Aberdeen AB24 3HE, Scotland

Cruickshank Botanic Gardens

Follow the Chanonry to the botanical gardens on the left. Among the plants on display are some interesting alpine and sub-tropical collections. There is also an arboretum and a delightful water garden.
Address: University of Aberdeen, St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, Scotland

Seaton Park Brig o'Balgownie

A walk through Seaton Park down to Brig o'Balgownie is well worth the effort. This bridge, the oldest in Scotland, was built on the orders of Robert Bruce and was restored in 1607. From 1329 and for the next 500 years, it served as the Don's main crossing point. Lord Byron, who went to school in Aberdeen for a short time, referred affectionately to the single span bridge in the 10th chapter of his "Don Juan".

Castle Street

Given the shortage of parking lots, it is fortunate that central Aberdeen can easily be visited on foot. Start the tour north of the harbor at the east end of the Union Street, which, as Castlegate, was the center of Aberdeen in the olden days and is today still the focal point of the town.

Castlegate Tolbooth

The castle itself no longer exists, but the tower of the Tolbooth (14th century), formerly the town hall and prison, is the Aberdeen's oldest building.
Address: Castle Street, Scotland

Mercat Cross

Diagonally opposite the Tolbooth and adorned with a white unicorn stands the Mercat Cross, a medieval symbol of the Aberdeen's right to hold a market. On the town cross which was built in 1686 by Aberdeen's guild of merchants, the portrait medallions show the heads of the 10 Stuart monarchs from James I through to James VII, Charles I, Charles II and Mary Stuart.
Only a few yards away stood the town residence of the Earl Marischal from whose window in 1562 Mary Stuart is said to have watched the execution of her cousin and admirer Sir John Gordon of Findlater. He had threatened Mary with a forced marriage but later found himself a victim of the "Aberdeen Maiden", a Scottish variation of the guillotine.

St Andrew's Cathedral

In King Street stands the sandstone episcopal church of St Andrew which was first consecrated in 1816. Built in Perpendicular style, it was one of the first creations of city architect Archibald Simpson.

Union Street Town House

Some notable granite edifices by the civic architects Archibald Simpson, William Smith and James Matthew line Union Street, Aberdeen's busy main street. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1994. As well as all the modern shops, pubs and shopping arcades along the "Silver Mile", the corner with Broad Street is overlooked by the Victorian-style Town House, which was built between 1868 and 1874.

Provost Skene's House

Follow Aberdeen's Broad Street northwards and then fork left along the short Guest Row to Provost Skene's House, just past the modern Tourist Information Center. Sir George Skene of Rubislaw was a prosperous merchant whose wealth was derived from trade with what is now the Baltic port of Gdansk. He was provost from 1676 to 1685. His home, the oldest standing residence in Aberdeen, now houses the Municipal Museum. Several floors contain locally-excavated artifacts and these help to document the town's history from the Cromwell era to Victorian times. The plasterwork in the old bedroom (1676) and the painted wooden ceilings (17th century) in the picture gallery are of note. The "Maiden" Guillotine on the upper floor is a reminder of Aberdeen's darker side.
Address: 5 Guest Row, Aberdeen AB10 1AS, Scotland

Marischal College

Exterior of Marischal College in Aberdeen.
On one side of Aberdeen's Broad Street stands the Marischal College. Founded in 1593 by George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal of Dunnottar, it is the second-largest granite building in the world after Spain's El Escorial. Keith sought a Protestant counterbalance to the Catholic King's College in Old Aberdeen. Work started on the present college in 1837 with the 235ft/72m Mitchell Tower. Archibald Simpson supplied the plans for the huge four-winged edifice but the Neo-gothic west front was designed by A. Marshall MacKenzie and was built between 1890 and 1906. The Marischal Museum in the college possesses a superb anthropological collection, including exhibits from Egypt, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and Tibet. However, the main emphasis in the museum is on the northeast of Scotland.

Provost Ross's House (Maritime Museum)

South of Aberdeen's Union Street, Shiprow leads off to Provost Ross's House (1593). Since 1984 it has housed the Maritime Museum. Models, photographs and paintings document the development of the Dee estuary's port, the tough life of the whale-hunters, herring fishermen and North Sea trade. Also on display are the legendary Aberdeen clippers that American ship owners used to secure their monopoly over the trade in China tea, including the "Stornaway", a prototype produced for Jardine Matheson in 1850. Another exhibition sheds light on the work of the North Sea drilling rigs
Address: Shiprow, Aberdeen AB1 2BY, Scotland

St Nicholas Church

St Nicholas Church in Aberdeen.
The biggest parish church in Scotland is St Nicholas in Back Wynd, but it is better known as East and West Churches as during the Reformation it was divided into two separate chapels.
The West Church, which was built between 1741 and 1755 in Renaissance style under the direction of the church architect James Gribbs, contains four wall tapestries and some fine wooden carvings dating from the 17th century, while, beneath the East Church, badly damaged by fire in the 19th century, lies an old crypt, St Mary's Chapel (ca. 1420). During the 17th century it was used as a prison for women thought to be witches. St John's Chapel, part of which originated in the 12th century, is now dedicated to the oil industry.
Address: Union Street, Scotland

James Dun's House

James Dun's House, a Georgian-style building, lies to the west of Aberdeen town center on Schoolhill and is used for touring art exhibitions.
Address: 61 Schoolhill, Aberdeen AB10 1JT, Scotland

Art Gallery

On the north side of Schoolhill stands the Neo-classical Art Gallery which was built in 1884 to a design by A. Marshall MacKenzie. It houses a comprehensive collection of 17th-20th century paintings.
Among the most famous are portraits by Raeburn and works by William Turner ("Ely Cathedral", 1796), William Daniell ("Dunnottar Castle", ca. 1800), Dante Gabriel Rossetti ("Mariana", 1870), Ford Madox Brown ("The Romans Build Manchester", ca. 1879), Ben Nicholson ("Still Life, March 14-47", 1947) and David Hockney ("Blue Guitar No. 1", 1976). Impressionists such as Monet, Sisley, Bonnard, Pissaro and Renoir are also represented. Scottish artists with work displayed here include William Dyce ("Titian's First Essay in Color", 1857), Thomas Faed ("Highland Mary", 1857), John Philip ("A Scottish Fair", 1848), Allan Ramsay ("Miss Janet Shairp", 1750), Charles Rennie MacKintosh ("Berberis", 1915) and other representatives of the Glasgow School. George Jameson (1589-1644) also has works exhibited here. Jameson was Scotland's first portrait painter and his studio was situated nearby. Sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Epstein are on display in the well-lit entrance hall. The museum possesses interesting collections of British silver, glass and ceramics.
Address: 61 Schoolhill, Aberdeen AB10 1JT, Scotland

Port

Market Street leads down to the harbor which provides sufficient depth for large ocean-going vessels up to Victoria and Upper Dock. At the eastern end of the harbor complex, the huge tanks serve to demonstrate the economic significance of North Sea oil.
Images of times past still remain at the eastern end of Aberdeen's harbor. The Footdee (pronounced 'Fittie') cottages near Pocra Quay were built at the beginning of the 19th century by local fishermen.
The fish market, between Commercial Quay and Albert Basin, opens on weekdays at 4am. Allow plenty of time for a visit as the fish auction lasts until 7.30am.

Satrosphere

The "Hands-On" Science & Technology Center is where visitors can test for themselves some of the laws of science and nature.
Address: The Tramsheds, 179 Constitution Street, Aberdeen AB24 5TU, Scotland

Duthie Park and Winter Gardens

Riverside Drive leads south of the harbor by the banks of the Dee to Duthie Park. Duthie Park is famous for one of the largest Winter Gardens in the world and also for much-acclaimed flower beds. One hill is devoted entirely to roses.

Brig o'Dee

Follow the Dee upstream as far as the seven-arched Brig o'Dee. Commissioned by Bishop Dunbar it was built between 1520 and 1527. It is decorated with coats-of-arms and inscriptions.

International Festival of Youth

This annual 10-day festival features daily performances by amateur groups from around the world. Although all the artists are under the age of 23, the performances are always of the highest quality. Events include operas, orchestral, choral and chamber concerts, dance and theatrical performances, art exhibitions and fringe events. The repertoire is quite varied and includes classical and modern performing and visual arts.
The events take place in His Majesty's Theatre, the Aberdeen Arts Centre, the Music Hall and other prominent buildings across Aberdeen.
Address: Town House, Aberdeen AB9 1AQ, Scotland

Surroundings

Newburgh, Scotland

About 13mi/20.8km north of the River Ythan estuary lies the fishing village of Newburgh. A pearl found in one of the local mussels was incorporated into the Scottish crown.

Stonehaven, Scotland

Boast in the harbor at Stonehaven.
The fishing port of Stonehaven (pop. 9,300) some 15mi/24km south of Aberdeen on the border between the Highlands and Lowlands is a popular holiday resort that can offer some fine cliff walks. Sea angling is another popular pastime among locals and holiday makers alike.

Dunnottar Castle

The Dunnottar Castle at Stonehaven.
Just under 1.5mi/2.4km south of Stonehaven stands Dunnottar Castle. The dramatic ruins were chosen by Franco Zeffirelli for his film of "Hamlet". The imposing castle is surrounded on three sides by water and sheltered on the land side by a gap in the cliffs. The L-shaped belfry dating from the 14th century is well preserved. The prefix "dun" indicates that the site was used by the Picts. The massive gatehouse and the four-winged palace with a completely restored drawing room and chapel give at least an idea of the original size of the fortress, which was for many years reckoned to be impregnable. During 1685 the infamous Whig's Vault was used to incarcerate 167 Covenanters, including 45 women, for two months. The bakery, the stables and the vaulting in the kitchen are also of interest. One of the most important events in Scottish history took place here in 1652. While the castle was under siege by Cromwell's army, the royal regalia of Scotland were smuggled out by the wife of the priest of Kinneff (6.5mi/10.4km to the south). A monument records her part in this heroic event.
Address: Stonehaven, Aberdeen AB39 2TL, Scotland
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Fasque House

In 1829 Sir John Gladstone acquired Fasque House, a splendid mansion (1809) that lies half a mile (1km) north of Fettercairn (B974). It thus became the Gladstone family home with William Gladstone, who was four times British prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria, the most famous resident. Little has changed "below stairs" in the servants' quarters and much can be gleaned about life in Victorian times from a tour around the kitchen, wash-room and bakery. A self-supporting staircase leads "upstairs" to the elegant chambers that were used by the prime minister.

Newtonmore - Highland Folk Museum

Exhibits at this open-air museum include a Victorian salmon smokehouse, an old mill and a thatch-covered Black House typical of the Western Isles. It also illustrates traditional life in the Scottish Highlands.
Address: High Street, Newtonmore PH20 1AY, Scotland

Hayfield Equestrian Centre

The center offers numerous unique rides along local forest trails and nearby beaches. Hayfield also offers lessons in Western riding, polo, show jumping, dressage and eventing. The center is approved by the Trekking and Riding Society of Scotland, the Association of British Riding Schools and the British Horse Society.

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