Why Aberdeen is a great holiday destination for children

For many adults from Orkney and Shetland, the attractions of Aberdeen are those that islanders are less familiar with, such as high street shops, stage shows and pop concerts. None of these may appeal to younger islanders for very long.

Johnston Gardens is a great place to visit with children because they’ll love feeding the mallard and muscovy ducks on the pond.

However, on closer inspection there’s a wide range of other activities for the whole family and other places to go in Aberdeen than just Union Street. Aberdeen is a great place to find things to do for children!

Hazlehead Park Pets Corner in Aberdeen
Hazlehead Park Pets Corner in Aberdeen photo © Copyright VisitAberdeenshire

Explore Aberdeen’s superb Parks!

Aberdeen has superb parks that are free to visit and ideal for children.

Duthie Park is just 1 mile from the ferry, by the banks of the River Dee. Here you’ll find the David Welch winter gardens – glass houses with exotic plants including a massive collection of cacti and the world’s only talking cactus! In Duthie Park there’s also a Japanese garden to commemorate the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, play areas and lawns and a boating pond with paddle boats for hire! Duthie Park has a wonderful old fashioned feel – much of the original Victorian design features have been retained.

Hazlehead Park is a wooded park on the outskirts of Aberdeen, 4 miles from the ferry. It’s popular with horse riders and walkers and is a lovely park for a picnic. Hazelhead Park has rose gardens, flower borders, a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Piper Alpha disaster, Scotland’s oldest maze, a children’s play area, football pitches and a golf course. The main attraction of Hazelhead Park for children will be the Pets’ Corner (pictured), which has rabbits, alpacas, miniature donkeys, tortoises, ducks and peacocks.

Johnston Gardens is a peaceful park in the middle of the city, 3 miles from the ferry. There are streams and waterfalls, a rustic bridge and many plants – the garden has won the Britain in Bloom competition. This makes the park popular for Wedding Photos but unsuitable for football! Johnston Gardens is a great place to visit with children because they’ll love feeding the mallard and muscovy ducks on the pond, and there’s a lovely little playpark there with a wooden climbing frame, a basket swing, regular swings, hammock and slide!

Bottlenose dolphins outside Aberdeen harbour
Bottlenose dolphins outside Aberdeen harbourphoto © Copyright Ian Hay Wildlife Photography

Spot a Dolphin in Aberdeen harbour

There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing a dolphin in the wild, and Aberdeen Harbour is one of the best places to Europe to see them! Bottlenose dolphins really enjoy the cold waters of the North Sea and can often be seen playing and feeding near the harbour entrance. Torry Battery offers a high vantage point and is a recommended panoramic spot for viewing dolphins and taking photographs. It’s quite something to have such amazing wildlife so close to the city centre! There are also marine wildlife cruises available from Aberdeen habour with savings for family groups.

Codonas fun fair in Aberdeen
Codonas fun fair in Aberdeen photo © Copyright Codona’s Amusement Park

Experience thrilling rides at Codona’s funfair

You’ll see the Ferris wheel of Codona’s along the Esplanade as you sail into Aberdeen habour, and a trip here will also be the highlight of your child’s trip to Aberdeen! There’s an outdoor amusement park with rollercoasters, outdoor Go Karting, a swinging pirate ship, carousel and outdoor adventure golf. There’s also an indoor complex called Sunset Boulevard, which has a bowling alley, Smugglers Cove – a children’s playground and soft play area – dodgems, laser tag, indoor adventure golf, a dino safari 4D motion ride as well as a bar and diner.

Aberdeen Science Centre
Aberdeen Science Centre photo © Copyright Aberdeen Science Centre

Bring Science to life at Aberdeen Science Centre

Aberdeen Science Centre (previously known as Satrosphere) is located by Beach Boulevard at 179 Constitution Street and is a brilliant place to get children into science. Here you’ll meet an enthusiastic and dynamic team displaying fascinating, hands-on exhibitions which are ideal for children and deal with the most interesting aspects of science. Exhibitions explore life sciences, electricity and space – want to find out how a rocket takes flight or view all the planets in our solar system? Head to Aberdeen Science Centre for the chance to experience what it is like to be an Astronaut!

Linx ice arena Aberdeen
Linx ice arena Aberdeen photo © Copyright Linx Ice Arena

Slip into some ice skates

At The Linx Ice Arena on Beach Promenade you’ll find one of Scotland’s premier ice rinks. The Ice Arena is very large (measuring 56 x 26 metres) and there’s skate hire, tuition and Penguin skate aids available for youngsters. Children will have a great time trying something new, and there are also discos for older children. There are other winter sports to try out in Aberdeen – Aberdeen Snowsports Centre on Garthdee Road has artificial ski slopes open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing (whizzing down a slope in an inflatable ring). Tuition is available for beginners too!

Grampian Transport Museum at Alford, outside Aberdeen
Grampian Transport Museum at Alford, outside Aberdeen photo © Copyright Grampian Transport Museum

Drive a car enthusiast to heaven at the Grampian Transport Museum

An hour drive from NorthLink’s ferry terminal in Alford, the Grampian Transport Museum is a fantastic place to take children. Here you’ll find classic automobiles, motorcycles, tractors, buses, trams and trains to see (and climb aboard) including the Jaguar XKR used in the James Bond film, Die Another Day! There’s a Junior Driving School available where children aged 4-8 can ride an electric car and earn their ‘first drivers’ license’ – and it’s free of charge!

Newt Suit at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Newt Suit at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum photo © Copyright Shona Lawrance

Set a course for the Aberdeen Maritime Museum

If your child loves boats then Aberdeen Maritime Museum is the place to go. It’s a fascinating place, free to visit, and is on Shiprow, just ½ mile from the NorthLink Terminal. Aberdeen Harbour is one of the UK’s busiest ports and has a fascinating history which is detailed here. Fishing through the ages, ferries and oil rigs are explored in a series of hands-on exhibits, models and paintings. There’s an excellent cafe and shop which offers a wide range of keepsakes and gifts.

Tappie tower, in Kirkhill, Aberdeen
Tappie tower, in Kirkhill, Aberdeen photo © Copyright Forestry and Land Scotland

Go down to the woods

There are some brilliant forests to explore with children on the outskirts of Aberdeen. Foggieton Forest near Countesswells has some majestic beech trees that are nearly 150 years old! Dunnottar Woods near Stonehaven is full of history and nature, with trails leading you to discover Lady Kennedy’s Bath and the Shell House – which has stood for 200 years! The Den of Maidencraig in Hazelhead is interesting for its birdwatching and its routes are suitable for all the family.

Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven
Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven photo © Copyright VisitAberdeenshire

Visit a castle and let your imagination run riot!

There are some brilliant castles around about Aberdeen, including Balmoral Castle, Castle Fraser, Craigievar Castle, Crathes Castle, Delgatie Castle, Drum Castle, Duff House, Fyvie Castle, Haddo House, Huntly Castle, Kildrummy Castle, Leith Hall, and Tolqhoun Castle. Our favorite is Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, which is located on a dramatic headland and surrounded by cliffs. The castle sits on top of a 160-foot rock and is joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land and there is a tower house to explore. Although the steep climb makes Dunnottar unsuitable for younger children, older children will enjoy imagining what it would be like to defend the castle from invaders!

Aberdeen Union Square Cineworld Cinema
Aberdeen Union Square Cineworld Cinema photo © Copyright Shona Lawrance

Go see the latest movie

There are some great cinemas dotted around Aberdeen showing the very latest blockbusters, and there will always be a feature ideally suited to younger viewers. The closest cinema is located in Union Square, just 1/3 mile and 6 minutes walk from the NorthLink Ferries terminal at Jamieson’s Quay! Going here may the ideal way to round off a busy day in the city before boarding the ferry. There are oher cinemas too, located off Union Street and Beach Boulevard – and you can check what films and showing online!

Huntly Falconry Centre, Aberdeenshire
Huntly Falconry Centre, Aberdeenshire photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon

Other great ideas for things to do with children around Aberdeen

There are plenty of other places to go with children in Aberdeen. There are many excellent play parks throughout the city and on rainy days soft play areas with ball pits for younger children and adventure areas with scramble net rope ladders for older children.

There are Laser Tag and Nerf arenas, motorsport karting circuits, climbing walls, trampoline parks, skateparks and many super golf courses around Aberdeen for sporty and adventurous children.

At the Royal Deeside Railway there’s a chance to ride on a steam train over a short line of track.

If your children love animals, then a trip to Doonies Rare Breeds Farm to see rare and endangered native farm animals is worth doing. There’s also Strathorn Farm Stables and Clydesdale Horse Centre which offer Carriage Driving, Clydesdale Horse Dray Rides, and Riding Lessons.

Slightly further afield (but well worth the trips) are the MacDuff Aquarium, which has an amazing array of sealife to view, and Huntly Falconry Centre (pictured above), where you can hold an owl, falcon and other beautiful birds of prey!

Magnus DixonBy Magnus Dixon
Orkney and Shetland enthusiast, family man, loves walks, likes animals, terrible at sports, dire taste in music, adores audiobooks and films, eats a little too much for his own good.

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Header image: Playing at the Aberdeen Science Centre photo © Copyright VisitAberdeenshire