15 Best Sights in Aberdeen, Aberdeen and the Northeast

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Fodor's choice

This excellent museum, which incorporates the 1593 Provost Ross's House, tells the story of the city's relationship with the sea, from early inshore fisheries to tea clippers and the North Sea oil boom. The information-rich exhibits include the bridge of a fishing boat and the cabins of a clipper, in addition to models, paintings, and equipment associated with the fishing, shipbuilding, and oil and gas industries. The Gateway to the North gallery on the top floor is a lively introduction to the archaeology of the region, with exhibits spanning the years 1136–1660.

St. Machar's Cathedral

Fodor's choice

It's said that St. Machar was sent by St. Columba to build a church on a grassy platform near the sea, where a river flowed in the shape of a shepherd's crook. This beautiful spot, now the still-beating heart of Old Aberdeen, fits the bill. Although the cathedral was founded in AD 580, most of the existing building dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. Built as a fortified kirk, its twin towers and thick walls give it a sturdy standing. The former can be seen up close by climbing the spiral staircases to the upper floors, which also affords an admirable view of the "body of the kirk" inside and graveyard outside. It lost its status as a cathedral during the Reformation and has since been part of the Church of Scotland. The stained-glass windows depicting the martyrdom of the saints and handsome heraldic ceiling are worth noting.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

Northeast Scotland's most important art gallery now has seven exhibition spaces where more than 1,000 of its treasures are displayed. There's also a penthouse gallery hosting three touring exhibitions each year. The collection contains excellent paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, porcelain, costumes, and more, from 18th-century art to major contemporary British works by Lucien Freud and Henry Moore. Scottish artists are well represented in the permanent collection and special exhibits. Local stone has been used in the interior walls, pillars, and the central fountain, all designed by the acclaimed British sculptor Barbara Hepworth.

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Brig o'Balgownie

Until 1827, the only northern route out of Aberdeen was over the River Don on this single-arch bridge. It dates from 1314 and is thought to have been built by Richard Cementarius, Aberdeen's first provost.

Seaton Park, Aberdeen, AB23, Scotland

Cruickshank Botanic Garden

Built on land bequeathed by Miss Anne Cruickshank in memory of her beloved brother, Alexander, the 11-acre Cruickshank Botanic Garden at the heart of Old Aberdeen has a peaceful water garden and lush greens ideal for lounging—when the weather allows—and beautifully tended subtropical and alpine collections. Botanical tours are available.

Duthie Park

These 44 acres were donated to the people of Aberdeen by a Miss Elizabeth Crombie Duthie in 1880. An excellent place to while away an afternoon, whether it be the sunniest or foulest day, it has a boating pond, a bandstand, playgrounds, and a popular conservatory café selling creamy ice cream. In the beautifully tended Winter Gardens (tropical and arid conservatories), you'll find fish ponds and free-flying birds among the luxuriant foliage and flowers. The park borders Aberdeen's other river, the Dee.

Polmuir Rd., Aberdeen, AB11 7TH, Scotland
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King's College

Founded in 1494, King's College is now part of the University of Aberdeen. Its chapel, built around 1500, has an unmistakable flying (or crown) spire. That it has survived at all was because of the zeal of the principal, who defended his church against the destructive fanaticism that swept through Scotland during the Reformation, when the building was less than a century old. Today the renovated chapel plays an important role in university life. Don't miss the tall oak screen that separates the nave from the choir, the ribbed wooden ceiling, and the stalls, as these constitute the finest medieval wood carvings found anywhere in Scotland.

King's Museum

Across from the archway leading to King's College Chapel, this plain but handsome Georgian building was the center of all trading activity in the city before it became a grammar school, a Masonic lodge, and then a library. Now housing the university's museum, it hosts constantly changing exhibitions. It presents some impressive and often strange curiosities from the university's collection, from prehistoric flints to a tiger's penis.

Marischal College

Founded in 1593 by the Earl Marischal (the keeper of the king's mares), Marischal College was a Protestant alternative to the Catholic King's College in Old Aberdeen. The two joined to form the University of Aberdeen in 1860. The spectacularly ornate work of the main university building is set off by the gilded flags, and this turn-of-the-20th-century creation is still one of the world's largest granite buildings.

Mercat Cross

Built in 1686 and restored in 1820, the Mercat Cross (the name stems from "marketplace"), always the symbolic center of a Scottish medieval burgh, stands just beyond King Street. Along its parapet are 12 portrait panels of the Stewart monarchs.

Provost Skene's House

Built in 1545, this dignified medieval building is the oldest of Aberdeen's historic townhouses. Home to wealthy merchant and Provost (mayor) of Aberdeen, Sir George Skene from 1676 to 1685, it reopened after a lengthy refurbishment in 2021 as the city's newest attraction. Inside, the Hall of Heroes celebrates the achievements of local figures including artists, musicians, writers, and sporting legends.

Rosemount Viaduct

Three silvery, handsome buildings on this bridge are collectively known by all Aberdonians as Education, Salvation, and Damnation. The Central Library and St. Mark's Church date from the last decade of the 19th century, and His Majesty's Theatre (1904–08) has been restored inside to its full Edwardian splendor. If you're taking photographs, you can choose an angle that includes the statue of Scotland's first freedom fighter, Sir William Wallace (1270–1305), in the foreground pointing majestically to Damnation.

St. Nicholas Kirk

The original burgh church, the Mither Kirk, as this edifice is known, is not within the bounds of the early town settlement; that was to the east, near the end of present-day Union Street. During the 12th century, the port of Aberdeen flourished, and there wasn't room for the church within the settlement. Its earliest features are its pillars—supporting a tower built much later—and its clerestory windows: both date from the 12th century. The East Kirk is closed for renovation work, which has been extended due to the discovery of numerous skeletons, mainly children, that date back to the 12th century; the post-excavation work can be viewed from a large window in the Drum's Aisle. In the chapel, look for Shona McInnes's stained-glass window commemorating the victims of the 1989 Piper Alpha oil-rig disaster and a glass case containing two books. One lists the names of all those who've lost their lives in the pursuit of oil exploration in the North Sea; the second is empty, a testament to the many "unknown" workers whose deaths were never officially recorded. The church's congregation was dissolved in 2021 and it is no longer regularly used as a place of worship.

Union St., Aberdeen, AB10 1JL, Scotland

Tolbooth Museum

The city was governed from this 17th-century building, which was also the burgh court and jail, for 200 years. Now a museum of crime and punishment, its highly entertaining tour guides take you around its cells and dungeons and bring life and death to the various instruments of torture---including the "Maiden," a decapitating machine---making it a must-see for older kids.

Union Terrace

In the 19th-century development of Union Terrace stands a statue of Robert Burns (1759–96) addressing a daisy. Behind Burns are the Union Terrace Gardens. A £25.7 million development that aims to improve access to the gardens and make it a more attractive space for performances and corporate events is expected to be completed in summer 2022.