Aberdeen is known for oil, whether it’s booming or crashing, when it’s actually a great city to be a child or to bring (up) a child. It’s ideal city break material and cheap weekend accommodation too – I’ll explain why later on.
For example it’s a great place to explore as over a quarter of the land in Aberdeen consists of open space, including parks and gardens, and it’s just won the Britain in Bloom City Category AGAIN! So here’s my top things to do with kids in the Granite City.
1 Hit the Parks. In my mind Duthie Park next to the River Don is the best park in Scotland for children, beating anything in terms of facilities I’ve seen in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Brave talk I know! With a bandstand, lots of green space to kick a ball, boating ponds with pedaloes, paths for little scooters and bikes, three playgrounds (the one with little houses is fantastic for toddlers upwards), a spiralling walk up to a viewpoint and a cafe there’s a on offer for free. But the cherry on the cake is the David Welch Winter Gardens – these indoor botanicals, brilliant for any age to explore, include a Arid House, a Japanese Garden and Corridor of Perfumes. Colour, scents, new temperatures and texture at every turn. Kids enjoy looking out for the giant goldfish, the terrapins, the mechanised frog, Nessie and the talking cactus. One idea is to park up near the Bridge of Dee, walk along the river harassing the ducks as you go, then visit the Park.
Hazelhead Park in the west of the city is also a great option for children. Again, lot of opportunities for bike-riding, running and stretching little legs but there’s also a big play park, lots of sculptures dotted around the grounds, a cafe, a Petting Zoo and the Hayfield Riding Centre is just outside the park. From an adult point of view the Queen Mother Rose Garden is stunning in bloom and you’ll also find the Piper Alpha memorial here highlighting the city’s extremely close ties to the oil industry.
Anther popular park for children is Westburn Park (across the road from Victoria Park so you get two for the price of one) in the west end of the city.
2 Hit the Beach – Aberdeen Beach is epic, it may not be warm, but it’s epic. We’re talking miles of golden sand, it’s buggy heaven as well as popular with surfers, runners and pirates (OK, I’m kidding about the pirates). You’ll undoubtedly spot huge oil vessels just offshore waiting to access the city harbour so it’s a little bit different from your average beach. The park run currently sets off every Saturday at 0930 so a great way to exercise with your family in great scenery.
The beach is also home to Codona’s Amusement Arcade – we’re talking roller coasters, arcades, ten pin bowling and traditional seaside attractions – you can just see the big wheel in this photo. Smugglers Cove soft play and street market is especially good for little ones. Most of the cafes along the beach front are child friendly, Sand Dollar Cafe serves notably good food and is welcoming to the small people.
If you like a flume, wave machines, currents and water guns then Aberdeen’s Beach Leisure Centre is calling your name. Its four flumes range from Wipeout (the clue is in the title) to exhilarating tube rides where you feel like you’re flying but you can still have your baby on your lap. The wave machine is also more dramatic than it sounds! My toddlers LOVE the Beach Leisure Centre. There’s also the Linx ice arena and various pitches/courts for all manner of sports.
Transition Extreme is at the beach too. Here you can BMX and skateboard on the indoor ramps freestyle or book a class. There’s also indoor and outdoor climbing walls.
If you like history the traditional fishing village of Footdee is located at the end of the beach. The idiosyncratic outhouses are colourful and quirky, great for a stroll. There’s also a playpark at the Footdee end of Aberdeen beach.
3 Watch Dolphins – it’s relatively easy to spot a dolphin in Aberdeen. They swim down from the Moray Firth and gallivant in the north sea. Take part in the free, daily Dolphin Watch which is run by the RSPB in the summer months at the Torry Battery. Or, alternatively, go on a Dolphin Adventure Cruise run by Clyde Cruises from Easter onwards.
4 Hit Up Old Aberdeen – the site of Scotland’s third university Old Aberdeen is excellent for a historic stroll. Take in King’s College, the cobbled streets, the scheduled ancient monument Brig O Balgownie and St Machar Cathedral. From a kid’s point of view I’d recommend Seaton Park, again good for a play park and a run around, but a hidden rainy day gem is the University of Aberdeen’s Zoological Museum. Mr Toddler loved coming face to face with a huge elephant skeleton, a crocodile, a whale and a turtle to name a few numerous beasts in skeleton form. He also loved the Biodiversity Room where he could handle snake skins, shells, feathers, spiders and all sorts of weird and wonderful bits of nature.
Next to the museum is the Cruickshank Botanical Gardens. Used for student research and home to over 2000 plant varieties it’s a lovely walk on a bright day.
5 Get Nautical – the city’s modern Maritime Museum tells the story of Aberdeen’s links with the sea. From whaling, to the fastest clipper on earth, to fishing and the cutting edge oil industry this museum, over four floors, covers it all.
6 Get sketchy – Storybook Glen – I don’t think how to put this but if you want to see cartoon characters gone slightly wrong, like I’ve personally been let lose with papier mache, then this is the place to go. The characters are so utterly odd (Lisa from The Simpsons is my ultimate favourite – what on earth happened to her? – Please does anyone have any photos they’d be willing to share?) but kids love it. Youngsters charge around looking for the next cartoon and are happy in the nappy. I love the imperfection of it. The farm animals are a huge draw and a genuinely worthwhile attraction – a real Highland Cow, pigs, sheep and fowl. And the soft play area (Den in the Glen) is also a great hang out for little ones with food and drink available.
7 Get Historical – Little history buffs can visit the Gordon Highlanders Museum to uncover the history of one of the nation’s finest regiments. Or the Tolbooth Museum tells the story of crime and punishment – from witch persecution to the kidnap and export of children in the 18th century. There’s harrowing stories behind these cell walls.
8 Get Rural – Doonie’s Farm on the outskirts of the city offers a muddy, mucky, animal friendly farming experience that children love.
Where to Stay – the most family friendly city centre accommodation I’ve found is at the Skene House Hotel Apartments – serviced self-catering apartments with the benefits of a hotel and breakfast served in the morning. A real home from home when travelling with children. Get the tots to sleep then chill out in your own living room.
Due to the oil industry accommodation can be expensive throughout the week due to the ebb and flow of rig workers and business travellers therefore many a bargain can be picked up at the weekend. During an oil crash, prices drop so whether it’s boom times or bust a weekend break in Aberdeen is always a great option for visitors.
Notes – If you don’t know the area then when I cover what’s available for kids in Aberdeenshire you may have to pick your jaw off the floor. Wonderful experience, can’t wait to post about it.
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