Things to do in Aberdeen on a rainy day
Until this year I hadn't really spent any proper time in Aberdeen, my bad!
However, after visiting twice this year, I finally feel like I'm getting to know the place. I'm also going to make a bold statement - Aberdeen is on the rise as a Scottish city tourist destination and I predict over the next few years it will be competing with Edinburgh, Glasgow and now Dundee. I actually made the same prediction about Dundee well before it was on the radar of the glossy magazines and before the V&A took any shape - I'd say I got that one right...
Until recently Aberdeen didn't have to think too much about tourism, it was a city that thrived thanks to the money from the oil and gas industry. After a downturn in the sector, it is having to reinvent itself and gaining a slice of the increasing Scottish tourism pie seems to be on the agenda.
On my latest visit, the weather was typically Scottish but as I discovered there are plenty of things to do on a rainy day in Aberdeen. I should add that there are even more things to do if the sun is shining which it often does! However, this blog concentrates on some of the best places to hide out in the wet weather.
My recommended things to do in Aberdeen on a rainy day
DAVID WELCH WINTER GARDENS
I actually can't think of a better place to visit on a dreich day in Aberdeen than the winter gardens in Duthie Park. The minute you enter the giant glasshouse you are transported to a tropical climate thanks to a wave of warm air and a vision of exotic greenness.
I was really surprised at the size of the glasshouse, it is way bigger than anything in Glasgow or Edinburgh. In fact it is one of Europe’s largest indoor gardens and Scotland’s third most visited gardens which makes me ashamed to say I had never heard of it before my latest visit to the city. It is now on my list of favourite things to do in Aberdeen.
The glasshouse complex is divided up in to different areas including the Fern House, Perfume Corridor, Victorian Corridor and Tropical House among others. It also has one of the largest collections of cacti in Britain where you will also find 'Spike' the taking cactus!
There are plenty of benches dotted around the gardens along with a coffee shop which makes this the perfect place to sit and while away the hours sheltered from the weather.
ABERDEEN MARITIME MUSEUM
Museums are always a great wet weather option and the Aberdeen Maritime Museum will keep family members of all ages entertained. There are loads of interesting exhibits to see and during my visit I learned a lot about the various periods of local maritime history that have helped shape the city.
A cleverly designed glass window overlooking the busy Aberdeen working harbour, makes the ever moving boats and machinery a part of the museum's story. However, what really makes the museum unique, is the display on the North Sea oil and gas industry, the only one in the UK.
The building sits on the historic Shiprow which was once one of the most important streets in Aberdeen and was first mentioned in documents in 1281. The museum also incorporates Provost Ross's House which was built in 1593.
I really enjoyed my visit here and definitely recommend it to anyone touring Aberdeen.
You might also enjoy my guide to the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
THE TOLBOOTH MUSEUM
The Tolbooth Museum is a short walk from the Maritime Museum so it is easy to combine a visit to both. Situated in one of the oldest buildings in Aberdeen, this is also one of the best preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland with original cells, doors and barred windows. It served as the prison of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for over 200 years.
Built between 1616 and 1629, it is an atmospheric building and I found the historical displays and stories of some of the people locked up here particularly fascinating . For those interested in Jacobite history, this place will be of special interest as almost 100 known or suspected Jacobites were held here to be questioned after Culloden.
However, over the years the gaol housed a wide range of prisoners from debtors to witches and even Quakers. Poor old farm hand Charles Duff was charged with wearing tartan, contrary to the Dress Act of 1746, introduced after Culloden. The punishment was 6 months imprisonment and repeat offenders could be transported overseas to work on a plantation for 7 years.
If you do visit, try not to go alone as the Tolbooth is also said to be haunted!
ST MACHAR'S CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral Church of St Machar can be found in Old Aberdeen, an area which is well worth walking around on a pleasant day. The church is thought to be situated on or near to the site of a previous place of worship which was founded around 580 AD by Machar, a companion of St Columba.
The first cathedral was built here around 1165, although a succession of events saw it being partially demolished, destroyed and rebuilt over the following centuries. The present building mainly dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, although damage, restoration and additional work has occurred since.
It is the oldest building still active in Aberdeen today and I found the unique heraldic ceiling dating from 1520 particularly impressive. It is also said that after William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered in 1305, his left arm was sent to Aberdeen and is now interred within the cathedral walls.
5 reasons to visit the Aberdeen Christmas Village & Market + more festive activities in the city
I've just returned from a winter city break in Aberdeen which has left me feeling all festive. I'm still getting to know the city, so it was great to have a few days to explore some of the sites, discover cute cafes and I even started my present shopping which is making me feel all smug as I'm usually a last minute person.
Being a city means that Aberdeen doesn't shut down for the winter and I found countless ways to spend my time including a free lunchtime concert, a visit to the Botanic Gardens and museum trips among many other activities. In fact, I've written a blog post all about the indoor activities that I discovered during my latest trip to Aberdeen.
However, one of the main reasons for this trip was to embrace the seasonal spirit at the Aberdeen Christmas Village and Market. The Village has an extended footprint this year and boasts the stunningly dramatic backdrop of Marischal College. With regional businesses and community groups at the heart of the event, it was nice to visit a Scottish Christmas market that supports and champions local talent.
Here are a few of my reasons to visit the Aberdeen Christmas Village this year...
1. SHOP FOR LOCAL GOODS AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKET
No Christmas Village would be complete without a festive market and Aberdeen is no exception. However, I was delighted to find out that a new market supporting local makers had been introduced for 2018 which is the kind of shopping I enjoy.
I don't know about you, but I'm more than a bit weary of seasonal events in other parts of the country that feature numerous stalls selling the same mass-produced items year after year. It is refreshing to see a Scottish city embrace local talent as their main shopping focal point.
Christmas in the Quad takes place within the impressive courtyard of Marischal College and the cute little cabins are all home to businesses from the North East of Scotland, with a small stage also providing a platform for local musical talent. It is the perfect chance to pick up a unique gift while supporting local enterprises. The market runs from Thursday to Sunday until Sunday 23rd December and the line-up changes every week so there are new opportunities to buy a varied range of regional arts. crafts, food and drink each weekend.
I combined a shopping excursion to the Christmas Village with a trip to the Aberdeen Etsy pop up market and managed to find some really unusual locally made presents. Although the Etsy market is finished for now, it is worth keeping an eye out for other makers events in the city.
Footdee - A hidden gem in Aberdeen
Footdee or 'Fittie' as it is pronounced locally is one of Aberdeen's hidden gems although it actually sits in plain sight. Having read about the quaint former fishing village just before my last trip to the 'Granite City', it sounded like the kind of place I definitely had to explore.
As I drove by the modern leisure complex that runs along the beachfront I kept my eyes peeled for my destination, but even when my Google Map indicated I was right next to the historic quarter, I still couldn't make out anything obvious.
Footdee really is tucked away off the main tourist route and is easy to miss if you didn't know it was there despite its proximity to the busy promenade, which is why it is still very much considered a hidden gem.
'Today it is a vibrant little area with an eccentric mix of orderly cottages and quirky ramshackle outbuildings with little evidence of its previous life as 'Fish Town' - obviously I loved it!'
With some more investigation, I discovered one of the narrow entrances that led me to rows of almost uniform mid-19th century cottages, organised in neat little squares. The planned community was originally built to re-home the city's fishermen who were living in poor quality housing around the harbour area. The design dates back to 1809 and was the concept of renowned local architect John Smith who is more famously known for his alterations to Balmoral Castle.
Today it is a vibrant little area with an eccentric mix of orderly cottages and quirky ramshackle outbuildings with little evidence of its previous life as 'Fish Town' - obviously I loved it!
I entered through North Square, which was one of the original areas to be built along with South Square. Footdee started out with 56 small 'but and ben' style homes, however due to an expanding population and overcrowding issues, further buildings were added increasing the total to 80 homes. Middle Row was added in 1837 and Pilot's Square in 1855. which contained better quality 2 storey high housing for the pilots of the ships entering and leaving the harbour.
The first thing that struck me was how similar all the cottages were which I later found out was due to them all being built to the same width, height and breadth, with matching windows and doors. It was only after the council sold off the housing in the 1870s that homeowners were allowed to make any changes to their property. Many expanded upwards but due to the limited local building materials available, the original character of the village has been preserved.
For a long time Aberdeenshire was a part of Scotland that I didn't know very well despite it being easily accessible in less than a few hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, over the last couple of years I've been spending more and more time in the region either on weekend breaks or longer holidays. I've gotten a good flavour of the variety of scenery and attractions on offer by basing myself in diverse locations from Royal Deeside to the Banffshire Coast and the heart of Aberdeen City itself. Every time I visit, I make new discoveries and wonder why it took me so long to get acquainted with the place.
I thought it was time to share some of my favourite things to do in Aberdeenshire either during a day, a weekend or on a longer visit. This is a list that will no doubt grow after every trip as there is so much more of Aberdeenshire I've still to explore and hopefully these ideas will inspire you to embark on your own north-east adventure.
1. GO ON A ROAD-TRIP
Weekends are perfect for road-trips and the 165 mile long Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail can easily be completed in 2 days although you will have to be selective of your stops as there is so much to see. I've completed the route twice now and particularly like visiting the cute wee fishing villages and sweeping beaches. The journey also covers nature reserves, castles, lighthouses, historical towns and even passes by the Peterhead Prison Museum mentioned below, meaning there is plenty to do for all interests. It is an easy route to navigate with a variety of accommodation choices along the way. If you want to experience the diversity of the Aberdeenshire coast, this is the way to do it.
I've written a guide to the route with some of my top recommended places to stop along the way. Since I wrote that blog post I've been back again to visit Bullers of Buchan which I had somehow managed to miss out on previous trips and it will definitely be getting added to my recommended stops. The collapsed sea cave is easily reached by a short walk from the car park and the surrounding coastal scenery is dramatic and stunning. It's also apparently a great place to see puffins although I didn't come across any. However, I was greeted by the noisy spectacle (and smell!) of thousands of other nesting seabirds.
While everyone else is off doing the NC500, the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail offers a quieter and shorter alternative in an often overlooked part of Scotland and is an ideal length for those short on time.
The new NE250 road-trip route also takes in part of the region and although I've not yet done it myself, it's one I'll keep in mind for the future and one you might consider researching if you want to see more of this part of Scotland.
2. DISCOVER SOME STREET ART
Over recent years Glasgow has become famed for its street art which has really helped to brighten up the city and boost tourism. However, it now has a northern city competitor hot on its heels looking to claim the Scottish street art crown. Aberdeen has long been known as the 'Grey City' thanks to the abundance of locally quarried granite used in the architecture. Currently the city is trying to change that perception by undergoing a colourful face-lift, with bright murals now adorning numerous walls and buildings. The street art has been created as part of the Nuart Aberdeen festival which has been running for 2 years, providing a platform for local, national and international artists to showcase their work. There are free street art walking tours every Saturday until 30th September or you can do what I did and download the map of mural locations and explore the awesome artwork at your leisure.
It's not just the walls that have received a makeover, the Painted Doors project has also seen 24 doorways transformed in to works of art and I'm personally loving all the vibrant creativity in the city at the moment.
3. EXPERIENCE LIFE IN A NOTORIOUS SCOTTISH PRISON
Just to be clear, I'm not recommending you commit a crime and get locked up for the weekend! My suggestion involves staying on the right side of the law and taking a tour of Peterhead Prison to get a feel for life behind bars. The infamous Victorian built HMP Peterhead was closed in 2013 and has now been turned in to an unlikely but highly popular visitor attraction.
HMP Peterhead was originally opened in 1888 and at that time was Scotland's only convict prison, with the intention that inmates would be used as labour to help build Peterhead's harbour defences. Up until the point it closed in 2013, it had housed some of the hardest and most heinous criminals in the country including serial killers and notorious gangsters.
I found the audio tour fascinating and a chance to meet and speak to some of the prison guards that worked in this grim institution really helps to bring the prison history to life. If you're curious about the stories, inmates and punishment that made this jail in Peterhead so notorious, a visit here is a must. It's actually one of the most interesting places I've been to in Scotland and one of my top recommendations for things to do in Aberdeenshire.
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