What to See

Key things to see in Old Aberdeen.

If you have only a short time in Old Aberdeen, the ‘must see’ places for you to visit are: King’s College, the Town House and St Machar’s Cathedral. These are shown on the Old Aberdeen ‘way-finder’ map which you can download <here> and the route of about 0.4 miles (640m) will take you from one end to the other of the town core. As you walk along the street, do look around you at the property and the lanes and ‘closes’ on each side; little has changed in the last 100 years and many buildings date from the 18th century.

‘Must see’ places:
King’s College and Chapel
King’s College is the historic heart of the University of Aberdeen. When founded in 1495 it was Scotland’s third University. Although altered King’s chapel retains the best preserved pre-reformation chapel interior in Scotland. Its symbolic crown tower is a replacement from 1633 when the original was destroyed in a storm. Other original buildings include the Round Tower from 1525 and the Cromwell Tower from 1661. Otherwise the college retains the feel and courtyard nature of its medieval predecessors, making for a charming walk.
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Further info: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/events/documents/old_aberdeen_trail.pdf
Old Aberdeen Town House
Built in 1788-89 and situated in the heart of Old Aberdeen, the Old Town House was the hub of the Burgh and the focal point for a busy trading community. The Old Town House features the best of Scottish architecture and is used as the logo of The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland.
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St Machar’s Cathedral
The land the building rests on has Celtic and Pictish origins and Christian heritage from Saint Machar himself since 580 AD. The cathedral was built between 1380 and 1520 and has massive twin spires, a 6th century Celtic Cross, a world-famous heraldic ceiling and glorious 19th and 20th century stained glass windows. The oldest building in active use in Aberdeen, it is regularly used for formal worship, outreach and education activities and anyone wishing to do historical research.
The cathedral is open 365 days a year to welcome visitors, including those seeking a place of quiet contemplation.
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Further info: www.stmachar.com

Further information regarding many of the places of interest in Old Aberdeen can be found in a useful leaflet call ‘Old Aberdeen Trails’. This can be obtained from the tourist office in Aberdeen City at 23 Union Street or may be downloaded from this address:

We do hope you can stay long enough to take time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the town:

Powis Gateway College Bounds
This imposing gateway was an addition to the entrance to Powis Estate. Powis House was built in 1802 by Hugh Leslie of Powis (and survives today as a community centre between Powis Crescent and Powis Circle). The gateway was added by Hugh’s son, John Leslie in 1833-4, John intended the gateway to be something of a match to the splendour of King’s College across the High Street.
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Further info: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/events/documents/old_aberdeen_trail.pdf
Crombie Halls College Bounds
New student halls were first mooted in 1953 when architect Robert Matthew prepared a report for the University on student accommodation. He drew up initial sketches for new halls on this site, but building work was deferred until 1957, and followed plans by architect Margaret Brown. The halls are built in a Scandinavian style and feature lots of glass and natural light.  
A coffee shop open to the public is available here.
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MacRobert Memorial Garden Accessed via Grant’s Place or Wright and Coopers Close.
Wrights’ and Coopers’ Place is named after one of the six incorporated trades of Old Aberdeen – woodworkers and barrel-makers. The Wrights and Coopers owned land here, which was feued (or leased out) and led to the building of this row of houses in the 19th century. The houses in Grant’s Place date from the 18th century and are completed with curved, overlapping roof tiles known as pantiles. The area was restored in 1965 for the University and financed by the MacRobert Trust.
The MacRobert Memorial Garden commemorates Lady MacRobert, who had three sons. The first, Sir Alasdair, was accidentally killed flying his own aeroplane in 1938. His brothers, Flight Lieutenant Sir Roderick MacRobert RAF and Pilot Officer Sir Iain MacRobert RAF both died in 1941.
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Sir Duncan Rice Library
The iconic Duncan Rice Gallery was designed by Danish architectural firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen. Building commenced in 2009 and was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. Two sculptures populate the Academic Square to the east of the Library.
Hardback Cafe, on the ground floor, is open to the public.
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Cruickshank Botanic Garden, The Chanonry
The Cruickshank Botanic Garden exists to promote an appreciation of the beauty, diversity and importance of plants, and an understanding of their role in the natural world. The Garden offers year round interest to visitors. It has shrub borders, a rock and water garden, sunken garden, rose garden, herbaceous border and an arboretum, and houses a nationally important collection of over 2500 labelled plants. The oldest part of the buildings incorporate the Gymnasium Chanonry House School. The school saw many famous alumni including Patrick Manson, the father of tropical medicine and first person to prove insects transmit diseases and Thomas Blake Glover, the Scottish Samurai.
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Further info: www.abdn.ac.uk/botanic-garden

Zoology Museum, Tillydrone Avenue
The museum’s displays are worldwide in scope, from protozoa to the great whales, including taxidermy, skeletal material, study skins, fluid-reserved specimens and models. Visitors welcome, free admission, children should be accompanied by responsible adult.
Access from Tillydrone Avenue and enter the Univeristy Zoology building through the main door.
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Further info: www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/exhibitions

The Chanonry
The Chanonry acquires its name from the medieval Canons who used to live in manses which once stood here. Although now consisting of more recent buildings, mainly 18th & 19th century, the street still provides the sense of elegant living in the time before cars and commotion.
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Benholm’s Lodging, Tillydrone Avenue
Benholm’s Lodging, locally known as the Wallace Tower, was built between 1593 and 1616 for Sir Robert Keith of Benholm and is unique in being a Z-plan tower house used as a town ‘lodging’. Originally located in the centre of Aberdeen, it was dismantled to make way for a new Marks & Spencer and re-assembled at this location in 1965.
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Seaton Park
There are many fine areas in the park from the flowerbeds, to rose beds and up to the walled garden beside the old stables. The Cathedral Walk is always a resplendent sight in midsummer and one of the most popular with visitors to the city. There is also a popular children’s play area and large grassy areas popular with sporting groups.
The park can be accessed at the east gate from Don Street (parking available), or the south gate is to the immediate west of St Machar’s Cathedral.
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Further info: www.friendsofseatonpark.org.uk

The Snow Kirk, College Bounds
Properly called St Mary Ad Nives (of the Snows), this was founded as the parish church when Old Aberdeen became a Burgh of Barony. The parish boundaries for this church date from 1498 and specifically excluded the canons of St Machar’s who were to continue to attend service in St Machar’s Cathedral. The church went out of use at the time of the Protestant Reformation in 1560, although the building survived for the next hundred years or so. Burials continued however; this was a problem for the Protestant authorities at the time as the burials here were of those who had a strong adherence to the old Catholic faith. One of the flat grave markers is of Gilbert Menzies, a 17th century member of a very powerful local Catholic family.
The site is a little tricky to find: From College Bounds take the University entrance towards Johnstone Halls then look for a narrow path on the left just a few meters inside the grounds.
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As it was in 17th C.

As it is today
No.20 Chanonry; Chaplains Court
No.20 Chanonry incorporates elements older than the house itself. It sits on the site of what was the Chaplain’s Court. Built in the 16th century, this provided lodging and schooling space for around 20 of the Chaplains of St Machar’s Cathedral. The current 18th-century building incorporates elements of the old Court: part of an archway and a coat of arms of Bishop Dunbar are still painted to this day.
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(Private property, please do not enter the grounds).
Mitchel Hospital No. 8 Chanonry
Built in 1801, the founder and endower was David Mitchell LLD of Halloway Downe in the county of Essex, England. It was used for lodging, clothing, and maintaining five widows and five unmarried daughters of the Burgesses of Old Aberdeen.
The south west wing of the building was a later addition and in 1924 the building was converted into individual cottages.
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(Private property, please do not enter the grounds).

And a little further out from the centre:

St Margaret’s convent chapel 17 Spital
When Dr John Mason Neale (the founder of The Society of St Margaret at East Grinstead in Sussex) became Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, he and the Episcopalian Reverend John Comper felt there was a need in Aberdeen for a community like that in East Grinstead that would tend to the poor and sick. Through their efforts a convent was established and property on Spital purchased.
The chapel of the convent (consecrated in 1892) was designed by Sir John Ninian Comper, son of the Reverend Comper. Sir Ninian Comper’s original plan for the buildings was only realised as far as one bay to the north of the chapel. Other buildings on this site are a mixture of preexisting buildings and some built for the convent.
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(Private property, please do not enter the grounds).
The Gibberie Wallie
The Firhill Well once sprang iron rich water from the base of the Little Firhill (removed by sand quarrying in 1860s – now the location of the University’s heating plant), to the west of College Bounds. In 1798, thanks to public donations, a stone fountain was built to collect the springwater, and the Firhill Road was laid for easier access. The spring’s popularity greatly increased both from pilgrims for its healing powers, and as a meeting place for the young. Wooden seats supplemented the semi-circular stone benching on either side of the wellhead, and the consumption of the water had to be rationed. Between 1815 and 1830 Baubie Courage (infamous for the methods used to enforce her monopoly, and for breaking the Sabbath) sold gingerbread at the springs, which consequently became known as the Gibberie Wallie.
(In Doric, the local dialect, Gibberie Wallie means Gingerbread Wall)
The Gibberie Wallie is not too easy for a visitor to locate, It is on the north side Sunnybank Park, which may most easily be accessed from Sunnyside Road
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Brig o’ Balgownie and Cottown o’ Balgownie
Local legend suggests that this bridge was started by Bishop Henry Cheyne in the late 13th or early 14th century and completed by Robert the Bruce. The bridge was entirely rebuilt in the early 17th century.  This was the main crossing on the Don leading to the north from Aberdeen, and Old Aberdeen was therefore well located to make the most of passing trade. After the construction of the adjacent Bridge of Don in 1831, most of the traffic favoured the new bridge and Old Aberdeen’s importance declined and in 1891 Old Aberdeen was absorbed into Aberdeen City.
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(In Doric a Brig is a bridge and a cottown is a cluster of cottages).