Most people probably would not think of Aberdeen as a city break destination. It is, of course, a 7 hour train ride from London so that might be enough to put people off but my sister and I are working our way through cities in the UK and we realised that neither of us had ever been there. So, as her Xmas gift, I booked train tickets and 3 nights in the Station Hotel.
The train ride was not as bad as we had expected, it was quite crowded but the trains (LNER) are comfortable and the trolley trundles past regularly to offer snacks or drinks and there is a buffet car. We had a couple sitting opposite who were railway enthusiasts and it would make this review very long (and maybe a tad tedious) if I recounted everything they told us about railways! However, it made the 7 hours fly past and the scenery once we left Newcastle was amazing. Bridges, coastlines, sheep, more sheep and even a couple of deer flashed past as we headed up to Scotland.
On arrival it wasn’t difficult to find The Station Hotel. Just outside the station this Hotel is far bigger than I expected and the staff were friendly but it is immediately obvious that this hotel is in dire need of renovation. Mismatched wallpapers and carpets in various dull shades of green and brown make for a rather depressing decor. Our room was an odd shape with five windows! We had to ask them to come and put the radiator on (they probably thought we were very weak lilly livered southerners but with all those windows the room was freezing. ). We dumped our bags and headed off to get dinner.
The Hotel location is ideal as it is right in the heart of the City. I was amazed at the lovely Gothic architecture and it was nice that they have opened new companies (like McDonalds etc) in the original old buildings. We found a very unusual bar/restaurant called Slains Castle that looks like a Vampires Castle from the outside and inside they have decorated it in the same theme. Throne like seats, busts of Dracula and Vlad The Impaler and when you need the ladies it is hidden behind a book cased wall! We had a drink here but then found another pub round the corner called Ma Camerons where we had a vegetarian fried Halloumi and chips. (The portion sizes are so large in Scotland that we could probably have shared one plate!) Food and wine is very cheap, a bottle of Prosecco was just £16!
The next day it was raining so the City looked very grey. (Obviously as it is known as the Granite City it has a grey look about it anyway but the rain didn’t help). Today we had a look round some of the shopping centres (mainly to keep out of the rain) The actual City looks quite prosperous (maybe from the oil trade?) and it has some nice shopping malls. We also visited the Maritime Museum which is quite interesting and features quite a lot about the oil rigs, it seemed an especially good place to take children as there were numerous inter active displays. As the rain cleared we started walking to the old part of the City. We passed the Art Gallery and the University and this is in Old Aberdeen with cobbled streets and little houses. We had a quick look at the Botanic Gardens and ended up at St Machas’ Cathedral which actually is quite small for a Cathedral but has some nice stained glass windows and a balcony you can climb. Aberdeen seems to have a good regular bus service so we were able to get a bus back to our Hotel later in the day. We returned to Slains Castle for dinner that evening, a veggie sausage and mash. (We were very surprised at how easy it was to find vegetarian food in Aberdeen, somehow you think the Scottish would be eating lots of meat based dishes but it turned out to be one of the best cities we have visited for the number of veggie dishes on the menu).
Before going to Aberdeen I had not realised that it had a beach but on our third day we headed off to find it! It started with a walk through Footdee (pronounced Fitty). This is an old fishing village which is very pretty and has a light house and sits at the end of the Esplanade.
We then walked all the way up the Esplanade. The North Sea was ferociously crashing onto the beach and seagulls and smaller sea birds were flying around in the strong winds. It was certainly bracing! We passed a fun fair and even had a ride on The Big Wheel then we walked on to The Bridge of Don. The banks of the river here were festooned with an array of daffodils. It looked quite beautiful.
Another bus ride back to the hotel and that evening we returned to Ma Camerons for a veggie haggis pie! Who would have known such a thing existed? It was delicious, especially when washed down with another £16 bottle of Prosecco!
We left the next morning on the 9.52 train back to London. This was a Friday and we noticed lots of groups of girls/ladies who were obviously on their hen nights or celebrating special birthdays. We then saw something that I have never heard of or seen before. The rail staff came through the carriage and took away from these groups any alcohol they might have! They also didn’t sell any alcohol on the train. What was so strange was that it was only between Aberdeen to Newcastle that you couldn’t have alcohol. After Newcastle it was all given back to the people and you could almost hear an explosion of corks popping as we left Newcastle station. Very strange! I would be interested to know if any other Silver Travellers were aware of this “rule” (it seems it only occurs on this one train!)?
So, was Aberdeen a good place for a City break? It was nice and we are glad we went but I would not be tempted to go back. Two days is probably all you need and the City does not seem to be geared up for tourists (I struggled to find postcards to buy). Most of the pubs and restaurants seem to cater for the students but we cannot fault the meals we bought and maybe it is because of the resident students that everything seemed so cheap. There are a few theatres and cinemas so it does have everything you might want for a few days. We liked it!