Read any guide to Aberdeen and you’ll soon find it called The Granite City – a reference to the shimmery local stone used to construct many of its buildings. Catch it on a sunny day and it’s an undeniably handsome place. But this city, an hour from Scotland’s dramatic Cairngorms National Park, has more than looks on its side. There’s a lively café scene, ace musuems and a sandy beach, complete with salty sea air and impressive wildlife.
Foodstory is a sustainable, fairy-light-strewn vegetarian restaurant filled with furniture made from recycled materials. There’s also Bonobo, a pocket-sized vegan café with a roof terrace – head here whenever the clouds clear.
A bookshop with a café is nothing new, but at Beans and Books the tables are right in among the shelves, so you can sit down with your coffee next to the second-hand military fiction section (for example). If you’re after something more fancyschmancy, drop into basement bar The Tippling House for a perfectly mixed cocktail or two.
Wander by the harbour to get up close to Aberdeen’s industrial side. Walk past towering ships and Victorian warehouses to reach the atmospheric former fishing village of Footdee. And to avoid any potential embarrassment: it’s pronounced Fittee.
Admire all that granite by exploring the medieval streets around the Kirk of St Nicholas. Then head north into Old Aberdeen and visit St Machar’s Cathedral. Nearby in Seaton Park find gothic, thirteenth-century bridge Brig O’Balgownie.
Aberdeen Beach stretches north of the harbour, perfect for an invigorating stroll. It’s sometimes possible to see dolphins here. Although you’re even more likely to spot them with the RSPB Dolphinwatch team at Torry Battery by the harbour mouth.
Recently reopened after a huge refurbishment, Aberdeen Art Gallery is a beaut. There’s a Tracey Emin neon in the sculpture courtyard, and upstairs you can check out Francis Bacon’s unsettling painting ‘Pope I’. Because nothing says ‘weekend break’ like staring into the abyss.
If TV show ‘Round the Twist’ was a feature of your childhood (good luck getting that theme tune out of your head), this place is for you. A 20-minute walk from the centre of Aberdeen is Girdle Ness Lighthouse, which has adjoining cottages you can stay in. Built in 1813, the lighthouse is still in operation today – but fully automated, so you won’t be required to climb the tower’s 182 steps to keep the flame burning. What you will get, though, is unobstructed North Sea views and – if you’re lucky – sightings of passing whales and dolphins.