Haste ye back to the Granite City on the North Sea coast - Scotland’s best kept secret

It’s a city that has it all. The finest whiskey, quality food and traditional Scottish pubs.

And that’s only on the first street.

Aberdeen may be Scotland’s third city but when it comes to charm and sophistication it’s top of the pops.

Aberdeen at Christmas.

Aberdeen at Christmas.

In fact the place is so charming you’d wonder that Scots didn’t vote Yes in the Scottish referendum and keep this little jewel all to themselves.

Just a 55 minute flight over the Irish Sea, Aberdeen is a lot closer than you might imagine. And once you’re there you can choose from a whole range of activities to make it a weekend to remember.

With the Christmas markets in full flow and plenty of festive cheer in the air, there’s no better time to visit Aberdeen than November and December.

The Park Inn (Radisson) in Justice Mill Lane is the perfect base for a stay in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen at Christmas

Aberdeen at Christmas

Just seconds from Union Street, virtually all the local hot spots are in walking distance from this modern and elegant hotel.

Breakfasts at the Park Inn deserve a special mention. The home-cooked breakfasts would give the Ulster fry a run for its money any day. Or if you’d like something lighter choose from continental breakfast or selection of home cooked bread and pastries.

Just a stone’s throw away from the hotel you’ll find the aptly named Soul restaurant.

A former church, Soul is the perfect place for an evening drink, dinner or if you fancy something a little more adventurous there’s even a casino upstairs.

The Royal Lochnagar.

The Royal Lochnagar.

With the opulent stained glass windows Soul is the perfect example of a modern conversion with a twist.

Their macaroni and cheese special isn’t half bad either.

Down some cobbled steps just off Union Street you’ll find the Merchant Bistro. The Merchant prides itself on delivering delicious, seasonal produce.

And the Merchant makes the dining experience that little bit more special with their unusual and sometimes mismatched crockery and white wine flutes.

Their peanut butter cheesecake is to die for.

Just over an hour from Aberdeen and you’ll find the

Balmoral estate of Queen Elizabeth II where we were told you’ll sometimes find Price Charles walking along the road.

Adjacent to the estate you’ll find the Royal Lochnagar Distillery where you can take a tour.

The distillery is famous for being the home to Scotland’s most expensive whiskey and is a fascinating place to visit.

For a lunch with a difference Buchanan’s Bistro has that extra little twist.

Buchanan’s use local and ethical ingredients, everything you eat is made inhouse from the freshly baked bread to the fermented yoghurt. It’s fully licensed too, so if you fancy a little tipple there’s no stopping you. However what I heartily recommend the home-made lemonade or homely hot chocolate.

It’s the ambience of Buchanan’s that makes it that little bit special. With rustic benches, second hand books and seats for the kids it really is a home from home.

But it’s the fantastic shopping experience that really gives Aberdeen the edge.

Check out the Christmas markets before you go and plan ahead. We visited the market at the beautiful Crathes Castle at Banchory where you’ll find a range of handcrafted and traditional pieces.

It’s a little pricey but you might find the perfect Christmas present if you’re fit enough for the steep and windy castle stairs.

For the more traditional shopper there’s the Union Square and Trinity Shopping Malls.

But the best place for shopping with a difference is Rosemount where you’ll find shops such as Pebble or PeaPod, a charming second hand store full of Camelot brooches and vintage tea sets. Or Humbug, a traditional sweet shop selling traditional sugared white mice and clove rock.

The obvious option for a weekend away in Scotland usually means Edinburgh or Glasgow. But for my money Aberdeen has that little something extra.

Known as the Granite City, there’s much to see and do, such as the charming village of Footdee locally pronounced as Fittie, and Old Aberdeen, the University District.

You might be surprised to learn that Aberdeen is also a seaside town. So it’s not unheard of to take a stroll by the coast and have an ice cream, even in October.

The last words that were said to me as I bade farewell to Aberdeen were ‘Hast ye back’ which translates as ‘Hurry up and come back’. Who knows, I might just do that.

A dram of the most expensive Scotch

No trip to Scotland would be complete without a trip to one of its fine distilleries.

The Royal Lochnagar is home to Scotland’s most expensive whiskey. It’s just a stone’s throw from Balmoral Castle giving it that all important Royal seal of approval.

Tours around the distillery last about 40 minutes. See the mashtun, gleaming copper stills and fill casks.

The tour around the distillery explains how the Royal Lochnagar make whiskey from barley to bottle, finishing with three drams, encompassing the Royal Lochnagar Family of Whisky; the Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old. Royal Lochnagar Distiller’s Edition and Selected Reserve.

The distillery is one of the more traditional in operation but as it only produces on certain days of the week so it’s best to try and book a tour when the machines are in operation.

However there’s plenty to see including a video explaining the history behind the whiskey.

At the end there’s an opportunity to sample a wee dram (even at 11.30am) of the Royal Lochnagar 12-year-old single malt whiskey. You don’t have to be a whiskey drinker to enjoy this little treat.

Afterwards you can nose a few whiskeys in the adjoining shop where you can pick up a bottle to take home. There are a variety of tours to choose from including the Royal Tour £30 (including £3 off the purchase of any 70cl bottle of single malt)

It begins with a cup of coffee and home-made shortbread in the distillery library where you will learn the history of the distillery, followed by an in-depth tour. After the tour there is a very special tasting of Royal Lochnagar as well as a specially selected rare whiskey. This exclusive Royal Tour takes place from Monday to Saturday at 11am for a minimum number of 2 people.

Santa special by rail

No trip to Scotland would be complete without a trip on the Royal Deeside Railway. The rail line closed in 1966 but was reopened in 2003 by the Royal Deeside Preservation Society. Every child gets to meet Santa, get a ride on the train and a special present.

Castle have the best tours in town

If you’re lucky you’ll get a tour guide like Martha Moar in Aberdeen.

What Martha doesn’t know about Aberdeen simply isn’t worth knowing. Martha runs one or two day tours looking at majestic scenery of the mountains. Visit world famous distilleries such as Glen Fiddich, Aberlour, Cardhu, The Glen Livet, Balvenie and many, many more. Or some of Scotland’s finest castles.

For more information log on to www.castle-tours.co.uk.

Useful information

www.parkinn.co.uk/hotel-aberdeen‎

www.merchantbistro.com

http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/royallochnagar

www.buchananfood.com

http://www.exclusivelyhighlands.co.uk/Exclusively_Highlands/Crathes_Castle_1.html

www.deeside-railway.co.uk

http://www.pbdevco.com/soul.html

www.castle-tours.co.uk

www.visitaberdeen.com

www.unionsquareaberdeen.com

www.trinityaberdeen.co.uk

humbugaberdeen.com

https://www.facebook.com/PeapodAberdeen

www.pebbleshop.co.uk

www.thistle.com/The-Caledonian‎

www.flybe.com

www.belfastcityairport.com

www.visitaberdeen.com/attractions-and-activities/view/fittie