ABERDEEN, Scotland (Reuters) - The northern Scottish town of Aberdeen is much maligned for being as grey as its nickname of the Granite City suggests but its compact city centre can sparkle when the sun shines off its grey stone buildings.
The oil capital of Europe, a North Sea base for the likes of BP, Shell and Exxon and also home to a fledgling offshore renewables industry, is a useful starting point for exploring the whisky distilleries, castles, Highlands and golf links of the northeastern region of Scotland.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of a 48-hour stay in the Granite City.
5:00 p.m. - Kick off your trip by saying hello to one of the most famous Scots - William Wallace, immortalized in the film Braveheart, and famed for being hanged, drawn and quartered by the English after fighting in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
You’ll find the statue of Wallace across from Union Terrace Gardens, opposite His Majesty’s Theatre.
6 p.m. - For dinner, make your way to the Moonfish Cafe on Correction Wynd, a quiet street just off the main Union Street shopping drag. Chef Christian Recomio came to Scotland after working in Barcelona and France and these influences are reflected in the modern European menu, which of course includes Aberdeen Angus beef. (www.moonfishcafe.co.uk/)
7:30 p.m. - A short stroll away is His Majesty's Theatre. While small, it offers a good selection of plays and musicals, including some on tour from the theatre heartland of London. (www.boxofficeaberdeen.com)
10 p.m. - Meander back along Union Terrace Gardens and to the Monkey House for a post-theatre drink. This bar hit the local headlines last year after one of its signature monkey statues was stolen from above the pub’s front door.
If you’re drinking late in summer, you may get a shock when you leave to find it still light outside. Being so far north, the skies stay light until past midnight in the height of summer. In winter, it gets dark early and for longer.
10 A.M. - Line your stomach with a good fried breakfast of eggs, sausages and black pudding, hire a car and get out on the Malt Whisky Trail. Do ensure you have a designated driver who will not be partaking in the delights of Scotland’s most famous export though.
Just an hour or so north of Aberdeen you will hit the famous Speyside region, where you will find many distilleries, including Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, and Strathisla, home to Chivas Regal. (www.maltwhiskytrail.com/)
Strathisla lays claim to being the oldest operating distillery in the Highlands, although Glen Garioch (pronounced “Geary” in the local dialect) says it started producing first, albeit without an official license.
Most offer tours in groups from around 5 pounds ($7.91), including a ‘wee dram’ of whisky at the end. Opening hours can vary in the winter so check before you go.
2 p.m. - Many of the big distilleries have cafes to help you soak up the "water of life," but if you're still peckish, head for Huntly and the Dean's shortbread factory. The company began from the kitchen of Helen Dean in 1975 and her buttery shortbread is now exported all over the world. The factory today comprises a visitor centre, cafe and gift shop, where you can buy all the shortbread you can carry. (www.deans.co.uk)
4 p.m. - Back in Aberdeen, drop into the Aberdeen Maritime Museum on Shiprow to explore the city’s connections with the North Sea, including with the offshore oil & gas industry that has made this city rich. Visitors can see a mock-up of an oil rig and even the sleeping quarters on board. A memorial to the Piper Alpha platform disaster which killed 167 men in 1988 can be found in Aberdeen’s Hazlehead Park.
8 p.m. - Continuing with the maritime theme, enjoy a seafood dinner looking out onto Aberdeen's coast at the Silver Darling restaurant in Aberdeen harbour. The "silver darling" is what herring were called during the city's great fishing days in the 1900s. (www.silverdarling.co.uk)
10 a.m. - Work off all that food and whisky from the day before with a gentle stroll around 44-acre Duthie Park, home to the Winter Gardens and Britain’s largest collection of cacti.
If you’re feeling more active, why not get back in the car and head for Bennachie (“Ben-a-hee”), a popular Sunday morning hill-walking spot, just north of Aberdeen near Chapel of Garioch. Bennachie is known as the pap, or breast, of Aberdeen and you can’t fail to miss the resemblance as you approach from the city.
The Mither Tap is the most popular of its peaks and has the remains of an Iron Age fort on its summit. From the top you can enjoy sweeping views across the Scottish countryside and out to the North Sea. Take a jacket and maybe a small flask of warming whisky with you, though the winds at the top can be very cold.
1 p.m. - For lunch, pop into one of Aberdeen’s numerous chippies for a “fish supper” of haddock fried in batter with chips. If you’re extra hungry, go for a “high fish tea,” which comes with buttered bread and a cup of strong tea.
If it's a Sunday roast you're after, try the Cock & Bull restaurant out near the seaside village of Balmedie. This country inn serves up local produce at reasonable prices. (www.thecockandbull.co.uk/)
2:30 p.m. - Finish off your stay in Aberdeen with a round of golf, another famous Scottish export. Donald Trump's much opposed Championship golf course on the links just south of Balmedie is due to open in summer 2012. (www.trumpgolfscotland.com)
Until then you can practice your swing at Cruden Bay, a favorite of former Open champion Paul Lawrie. (www.crudenbay.com)
Non-golf fans should check out a castle before they leave. Dunnottar Castle sits right on the coast at Stonehaven, just south of Aberdeen, and can often be hidden from sight by the haar, or sea mist. This clifftop fortress has welcomed William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots and is famous for having saved the Scottish crown jewels from destruction in the 17th century, when a garrison of 70 men held out under siege against Cromwell's army for eight months. (www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk)
($1 = 0.632 British Pounds)
Reporting by Victoria Bryan, editing by Paul Casciato