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 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.
As I discovered on my latest visit, there are even 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 did on my last visit. However, this blog concentrates on some of the best places to hide out if the weather turns driech, which it often does in Scotland!
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.
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.
When the rain is relentless, it forces you to find things to do indoors and sometimes this can result in you striking gold. When I heard about the free lunchtime concerts taking place every Thursday, I reckoned I had nothing to lose apart from 45 minutes of my time and at least I would be warm and dry.
I love live music so the offer of attending a free concert will always get my attention. The events are arranged by Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums and cover a range of musical genres. While the Aberdeen Art Gallery is being redeveloped the concerts are taking place at the Aberdeen Citadel which is one of the most impressive buildings next to the Mercat Cross.
On the day I attended, Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society performed a St Andrew's Day inspired set with plenty of traditional Scottish music which had the audience toe-tapping along.
If I'm back in Aberdeen on a Thursday in the future, I'll definitely be checking out the latest concert.
Another one of my favourite paces to shelter from the rain is a cosy local cafe and if it does great food then even better. Thanks to some local recommendations, I tried out a few different places around the city centre and they all met with my approval so I had to share them with you too.
Foodstory was heaven for me as just about all their cakes were gluten free and the chocolate one I eventually decided on was delicious. Their food choices are made from simple, healthy and organic ingredients where possible, with a good choice for all dietary requirements, including a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
The space has a laid back vibe and the decor is stylish with a little bit of rustic quirk. The sink in the toilet made out of a bucket is now on my future house goals!
However, Foodstory is much more than a cafe, it also nurtures its own community, with weekly events and regular workshops. The shop upstairs from the cafe specialises in plastic-free and organic goods along with freshly baked wholemeal bread.
From caring about the environment, to the community and healthy eating - it is all part of this cafe's story.
Books and Beans
This has become my go-to cafe in Aberdeen, simply because it is really centrally located and I love being surrounded by books! In fact books and tea (okay, and cake) are some of my favourite things in life so this might be why I keep gravitating here.
Food wise, there is a good choice of fresh sandwiches (French Brie, apple, spinach and honey was my latest indulgence) and gluten free bread is available. Soups, salads, cakes and stacks of fresh breakfast pancakes are some of the other options on the menu.
And then there are the books, thousands of them! If you're not a literary fan then take a seat downstairs and just enjoy the good food and coffee. If you're a bibliophile like me, head upstairs and grab a table among the quirky decor and lots and lots of books.
Bonobo Cafe is the first 100% vegan cafe in Aberdeen and going by my visit an extremely popular place - if you visit at lunchtime you may have to wait for a table as I did.
I'm not vegan but good food is good food so don't be put off if you're not a vegan either. The menu is compact, varied and changes frequently. When I visited dishes included soups, Thai green curry, spicy bhaji and paneer sandwich and mushroom pesto melt, along with some daily and seasonal specials. Oh yes and they also have some amazing cakes, I ordered the gluten free acai, lavender and blueberry blondie just for research purposes of course!
The cafe is also run as a workers' co-operative and like Foodstory, they run regular events for the local community.
These are the Aberdeen cafes that I have personally tried and can recommend, however another two cafes that I was told to visit by more than one local were The Long Dog Cafe and Cafe Cognito which are on my list for next time.
The Kirk of St Nicholas
I was passing by The Kirk of St Nicholas, which dominates part of Aberdeen city centre, when I noticed a sign saying 'visitors welcome' which I took as an invitation and immediately ventured inside. I love exploring old churches as the architecture and history are both fascinating to me.
Also known as the 'Mither Kirk' (Mother Church) in Aberdeen, it was once one of the biggest churches in Scotland. The present structure mainly dates to the 18th and 19th century although it incorporates portions of the original 12th century church.
I found it an incredibly atmospheric place and the volunteers were extremely friendly and welcoming. They were only too happy to take the time to explain a bit about the history of the building and its importance in Aberdeen. Surprisingly I was the only tourist there as I think this place should be included on any visit to the city.
Another reason I loved my visit here was a chance to look at the East Kirk which has been subject to archaeological excavations and research since 2006. A window provides a view over the work in progress where many interesting finds have been made dating back to earlier phases of the church including 2000 skeletons which is one of the largest collections of medieval skeletons in Europe.
MORE INDOOR ACTIVITIES IN ABERDEEN
These are the indoor activities that I enjoyed on the rainy days I spent in the city, however there are loads of places to shelter if the weather is not on your side. Here are a few more ideas -
Check out the Visit Aberdeenshire website for more trip planning ideas
Where to stay
The Sandman Hotel
I've stayed in a few hotels in Aberdeen but my latest find has been my favourite so far. The recently opened Sandman Signature Hotel is not only very Instagrammable, the service, standards and food during my stay were all excellent. It also has a great central location and is reasonably priced. This is definitely a hotel designed with the modern tourist in mind and I loved it so much I wrote a full review on my stay there.
Disclaimer - this post is in partnership with Visit Aberdeenshire who supported my most recent trip to the city. However, most of the suggestions listed are based on places I chose to visit independently and that I personally feel are worth recommending
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