36 hours in the Granite City | Exploring Aberdeen & Footdee on foot

Last week I had a couple of nights in Aberdeen – the main purpose was to catch up with a graduating friend but I also took the opportunity to explore the Granite city centre and Footdee, which is within walking distance.

On my first day, I had some great weather to see the stunning Marischal College building which is the second largest granite building in the world (if you didn’t know the largest, it’s ‘El Escorial’ near Madrid in Spain). I remember visiting Aberdeen for the first time in 2008 and remember it being very grey – recently it’s undergone a deep clean so it looks great now! You can get an idea of what it used to look like as the neighbouring Greyfriars Kirk didn’t get the deep-clean treatment!

Built in the 16th century, Marischal College was the second largest university in Scotland, and while the building is still owned by the university of Aberdeen, it’s primarily the council headquarters. A pretty sweet spot for an office!

Marischal College overlooks Marischal Square, a modern mixed-use development which houses office space, cafes and restaurants – including the excellent Mackie’s ice cream parlour. Right in the centre is this stunning sculpture of a leopard which was worked on by Andy Scott who you might recognise as the creator of the Kelpies in Falkirk. Over 2 tonnes of steel is cleverly positioned on a single steel platform.

But how are leopards linked to this Scottish city? The story goes that King James I gave the city two of these cats as a gift after a period of captivity, after which the city underwrote the expenses he had incurred. There’s no other evidence that these were actually gifted, apart from the inclusion of a leopard on the city’s coat of arms. Whether or not you believe the story, the sculpture is impressive and worth a look!

Marischal Square also overlooks the house of Provost Skene, which is now a museum. It’s currently closed to the public due to refurbishment and will open in 2020.

On the following morning I took myself off to join a city centre walking tour.

I joined Scot Free Tours, and their free city centre 90-minute tour, which starts from the historic Mercat Cross on Castle Street. You get a great view of Union Street which is the main thoroughfare for the shops.

The tour was excellent, taking in such sights as Marischal College and Provost Skene’s house, as well as Aberdeen harbour and St Nicholas Graveyard, which is where Lia’s storytelling skills were tested to the max, thanks to a group of steel drummers outside the Bon Accord Centre! Her last tale in the graveyard revealed a surprising link to Harry Houdini, which I’m sure is not widely known. The tour was well pitched for people who had no knowledge of the city’s history and was peppered with interesting facts and characters of the past.

Something completely different is these newly painted rainbow stairs which lead to the Bon Accord shopping centre. As lovely as granite is (particularly on a sunny day when it positively sparkles!) these are a lovely pop of colour to brighten the city up.

Street art has also completely revamped Aberdeen, and next week’s post will focus on NUART Aberdeen. However, before NUART came along, there was the Painted Doors Aberdeen project, and these doors are all painted by artists and makers who live and work in Aberdeen.

On my only full day in Aberdeen, I walked from the city centre to Fittee (or Footdee as it is spelt) to explore this former traditional fishing village.

From one side of the waterfront were views back to the harbour, and then out to sea with Torry on the other side of the water. On the sea-facing front there are amazing views along Aberdeen beach.

Suzanne from Adventures around Scotland has written an informative guide to the history area and I’d recommend reading that before you visit to get an idea of what you might see.

I loved seeing all of the different houses and sheds which sit next to each other. It reminded me a little of Balnakeil Craft Village near Durness which has art studios decorated in different ways.

As this area is a conservation area, I would recommend arriving earlier in the day, if you want to get good photos without other tourists. Be respectful as it is still very much a residential area!

As I was just about to leave, an incoming ship’s horn sounded – it was quite something to get a glimpse of a huge boat passing by from the narrow street in the heart of the village.

So, there’s a whistle-stop guide to my recent Aberdeen explorations! I hope to return in the not-too-distant future to find some more historical and cultural gems in the Granite City.