Scotland: Aberdeen, between oil, castles and whiskey

Scotland's third largest municipality, with around 200 inhabitants, is considered the european oil capital : half a century ago, deposits of black gold (and gas) were discovered in the North Sea. They have revitalized the “granite city”, whose architectural unity is striking: gray stones everywhere, often tone on tone with the color of the sky! But the atmosphere is not austere, on the contrary ...

The center is commercial and lively, with a first-rate university located in the old part of the city. And then it is an excellent base to shine in the North East Scotland. The Aberdeenshire region is riddled with superb castles and that of Speyside of whiskey distilleries. So many essential stages on the picturesque country roads ...

Old Aberdeen, a journey through time

Originally, the heart ofAberdeen developed around the Cathedral St Machar, 12th century building in painted wooden ceiling bearing the coats of arms of various Scottish clans. The district is crisscrossed with pretty cobbled streets, lined with stone houses of character, which lead to King’s College, the third oldest university from Scotland. Created in 1495, it still looks great with its chapel topped by an elegant granite crown and with its 13 students.

Some are lodged not far, towards the Don river spanned by the adorable Brig o 'Balgownie, one of the oldest Scottish bridges: its 12 m wide Gothic arch was erected at the end of the 13th century in this once strategic location, which has become a small nature reserve populated by herons, swans, ducks and otters.

Because Aberdeen, the city of granite, is not only gray, it is also a green city, with several vast gardens and even a golf course between the old town and the sea. Overlooking the Don is the '' one of the most recent parks in the municipality, the Seaton Park, opened to the public after World War II. Also located in Old Aberdeen, near the Cathedral, the Cruickshank Botanic Garden was inaugurated in 1898 and includes, in particular, an arboretum and a rose garden.

To the south of Aberdeen, on the banks of the River Dee, is the Duthies Park whose 17 hectares are home to several bodies of water, a bandstand and greenhouses with, in particular, an arid area which brings together the largest collection of cacti in Scotland. Rather incongruous in these latitudes!

Aberdeen, maritime city

Aberdeen means the "mouth" of the Dee ... logical since the city is wedged between the estuary of this river and that of the Don. Between the two, stuck in the long run 3 km beach, stretches out the city which was, almost 900 years ago, only a modest fishing village.

Its wealth has always come from the sea, over the centuries: catching fish and whaling, but also trade with Europe by boat, shipbuilding and finally, since the 1970s, exploitation of offshore oil and gas fields.

The exciting Maritime Museum retraces this history and these multiple activities with varied and fun multimedia exhibitions. Upon entering, the eye is drawn to the model reproducing the Murchison platform, one of the 273 off-shore installations in the North Sea: its size reaches 9 meters, but the real one is almost 30 times larger! On each floor, a theme: marine biodiversity, the exploration of the depths with diving suits from different eras, living conditions on a platform with a 3D video, old ships with scale models of clippers and schooners ... Once at the top, the bay windows reveal the infrastructure of the port neighbor, with its huge freighters, tanks and silos.

Impossible to guess that behind this industrial landscape hides a granite nugget: the tiny Footdee district - or Fittie for close friends. About fifty gray and pretty little houses huddle around small squares decorated with grass and flowers. They were built at the very beginning of the 19th century to house fishermen just at the mouth of the Dee, where you can sometimes see dolphins and seals… gray, of course, is the local color!

On the Scottish castles route

The Aberdeen area, theAberdeenshire, has more than 250 castles to discover, for some, over the Castle Trail, a road lined with manors and fortresses of very varied styles and eras. Among the most remarkable, obviously figure Balmoral, summer residence of the royal family since Queen Victoria and only the ballroom can be visited. Also to see: Castle Fraser, from the 15th century, protected by a fortified keep, Fyvie castle, with superb interiors, posted since the 13th century between river and lake, Craigievar castle, with its turrets hanging high up, or the ruins of Kildrummy et Huntly.

The most spectacular is undoubtedly Dunnottar Castle, perched on a rocky point jutting out into the North Sea, near the charming harbor of Stonehaven. Even if only ruins remain, the site is very evocative, with its impressive cliffs where cormorants, puffins, murres, gulls and peregrine falcons nest.

Within the walls of this 13th century stronghold, panels recount the history of the place (such as the eight-month siege by Cromwell's troops) and designate their past functions (forge, stables, kitchens, chapel and thief's hole , a dungeon on the edge of the precipice). Only one room has been completely restored, with furniture and paneling on which are drawn the crests of several clans.

About twenty kilometers northwest, inland, Crathes Castle is, for its part, richly furnished ... The same noble line lived there from its construction, in 1596, until 1966. One even has the impression that the Burnett family still live in this castle known for its painted ceilings, dating back to the end of the 16th century, and for… his ghost! That of the lady in green carrying a baby in her arms ...

Last must-see castle, 15 minutes by car from Crathes, Drum Castle presents a heterogeneous architecture. Its square and crenellated tower is the oldest building, from the end of the 13th century: from the top, one contemplates the immense park with centuries-old trees where a small 16th century chapel is hidden. All the rooms are decorated with period furniture, hangings and porcelain, even more than 3 books for the beautiful library from the 000s. As for the kitchens, they have been converted into a tea room.

Speyside, golden triangle of Scottish whiskey

Another must-see around Aberdeen: the Malt Whiskey Trail, a circuit that runs through Speyside, one of the four great Scottish whiskey terroirs. Its name comes from the Spey River which crosses this region of gentle relief, punctuated by some forty distilleries, the largest concentration in the country.

The Fiddich is one of its tributaries and flows through the village of Dufftown, founded in 1817 and proclaimed “capital world of malt whiskey », Because it has 9 distilleries. Including that of the famous and multi-awarded single malt Glenfiddich: it can be seen from afar, with its roofs similar to small pagodas.

We find these typical silhouettes, which allowed better ventilation, at the distillery Strathisla, to Keith. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful of all, with its paddle wheel, its old stone walls and its flowery setting. It is also the oldest in Scotland still in operation, having operated without interruption for over 200 years and producing the famous Chivas Regal. Other well-known brands are opening their doors to the public, from Glenlivet to Glen Grant to Aberlour.

Even though it's not a distillery, it would be a real shame not to stop at the Speyside cooperage, or Speyside Cooperage, founded in 1947. Each year 150 barrels are repaired or manufactured there and then used across Scotland or exported all over the world. We admire the work of the twenty or so craftsmen who spare no effort, because they are paid by the piece.

They hammer, with an infernal noise, metal and wood from 7 a.m. to 17 p.m., heating the slats with fire or steam to carbonize them (it gives them flavor) and bend them, in order to take the shape required. The barrels are then stacked in a pyramid, because it takes up less space: these mountains of 11 units would almost rival the surrounding hills!


Find all the good tips, addresses and practical information in Routard Scotland.

Consult our Scotland online guide

Aberdeen and Region Tourist Board website

Scotland Tourist Board website

Great Britain Tourist Board website

Read also our articles The Scottish Whiskey Route and Three Exceptional Routes in Scotland

How to get there ?

Air France and Flybe provide two direct round trips each day between Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle and Aberdeen.

Where to sleep ?

- Allan Guest House : 56 Polmuir Road, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 122 458 4484. Double room: from £ 70 (€ 78) with breakfast. The B&B, located in a pleasant residential area, a little out of the way, but close to Duthie Park, has 7 cozy rooms, all with bathrooms and toilets, spread over the three levels of the Victorian granite mansion, built in 1879.

- Mercure Caledonian Hotel : 10-14 Union Terrace, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 871 376 9003. Double room: from £ 50 (€ 56) without breakfast. Right in the city center, the beautiful 1892 building has 83 cozy classic-style rooms and suites, embellished with black-and-white photos of Scotland: its coastline, lighthouses, countryside, and more. It is better to avoid rooms facing the street and the park if you are sensitive to noise, because of the traffic and the railway below.

Where to eat ?

- Howies: 50 Chapel Street, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 122 463 9500. Daily except Sun, 12 noon-14 p.m. and 30 p.m.-18 p.m. Lunch menu: £ 21-30 (€ 12-16). Mains: £ 13,60-17 (€ 8-20). In an elegant and warm decor combining long Chesterfield benches, upright piano, dark parquet or patinated terracotta tiles, the restaurant serves seasonal cuisine based on local ingredients: fishcake, risotto with peas and beans, fish & chips, soup and peach of the day, Scottish beef steak and rib eye, haggis, etc.

- Café 52:52 The Green, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 122 459 0094. Daily except Sun evening, 12 noon to midnight (Sun 00 noon to 12 p.m.). Main courses: £ 16-7 (€ 13-7,80). Below Union Street, the long room, with rough walls and high vaulted ceiling, offers an original setting. Between bistro chairs and wicker armchairs, contemporary and old paintings, the decor is heterogeneous and friendly. At noon, the menu turns out to be quite simple (sandwich, burger, quiche, salad) and grows in the evening with, for example, the Scottish soup called cullen skink (smoked haddock, potatoes and leeks), hake in oven or braised beef with roasted root vegetables.

Where to have a drink?

- Prince of Wales: 7 St Nicholas Lane, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 122 464 0597. Daily 10 am-midnight. Tucked away in a small street in the city center, the pub, which dates back to 00, is in keeping with the purest tradition, with a long bar, dark woodwork and tartan patterns from the carpet to the banquettes. You can eat there all day a fish & chips, burger or sandwich.

- Six ° North : 6 Littlejohn Street, Aberdeen. Phone. : +44 122 437 9192. Daily from noon to midnight. The name refers to the geographical position: six degrees north of Brussels. Because 6 ° North is a Scottish brewer who follows the Belgian tradition… And therefore serves his beers, but also British foams, in his vast pub with mezzanine, exposed bricks, industrial lamps and street art on the walls.

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