Pros: History, friendly people, cosmopolitan
Cons: Expensive, gray weather
I arrived in Aberdeen on February 15th 2007. It is now October 2007 as I write this review and probably I will be in Aberdeen through the end of the year. This is an American expatriate perspective on Aberdeen. However, I have lived overseas several other places.
Aberdeen is in the United Kingdom in Scotland on the northeast coast, south of the Moray Firth. The city lies between the Dee and Don rivers from which it gets its name. This is north of Edinburgh and south of Inverness. Its major industry is the oil business and it has a bustling port filled currently with ships servicing oil platforms and rigs in the North Sea. Aberdeen itself has around 200,000 residents. However, many suburban villages and outlying areas make the effective population closer to 400,000 people. Several sites offer information about the city. See site http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ACCI/web/site/home/home.asp from the city council or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberdeen for a very good Wikipedia account on many topics concerning the city.
The city is often referred to as the Granite City or the Gray City due to many buildings of granite stone construction. Virtually any building constructed before about 1930 will be of gray granite stone blocks. Roofs are usually dark gray slate especially close to the heart of the city giving it an even darker complexion. I find the stone esthetically pleasing, being a geologist. However, I can see how it might leave the visitor wanting a bit of color now and again. There is a huge abandoned quarry in town from which this stone was taken that I am told is still the deepest quarry in the world. To add to the gray stone the city is often shrouded in gray clouds and rains quite a bit. The annual rainfall amount is not that great but is quite frequent. Visitors should be prepared for wet weather as it seems to rain several times a week.
While it may be damp, Aberdeen is not particularly cold. It rarely snows especially near the coast as the temperature is moderated by the North Sea. On the other hand it never gets very warm either. My wife could see the steam from her breath the morning of August 29th on her walk I dont believe it has gotten over 80 degrees Fahrenheit since I have been here. Farther inland temperatures swing a bit more as the sea does not have as great an influence. Skiing is possible most years in the Cairngorm Mountains for instance.
Most people go via airplane through a London airport from the USA. However, there is a less used route that is probably more pleasant and may be cheaper depending on your carrier. That is to go through Glasgow rather than London and take the train from Glasgow to Aberdeen. This has the added benefit that you get to see a lot of countryside from the train on the way to Aberdeen. The train ride is about two and a half hours. For rail tickets see http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ web site. If you have transportation it may be easier to stop at Stonehaven just south of Aberdeen rather than actually go into the Aberdeen station. However, Aberdeen station has better onward transport options including city buses and of course it is near downtown. If you arrive by air to Aberdeen you will arrive in Dyce airport which is on the northwest side of town. It has all the standard options one would expect of a large city airport. However, with the recent bombing of Glasgow airport some of the driving lanes have been blocked off. Taxi service is probably the best bet.
A USA driving license is valid for the first year you are in the UK. Then you are required to get a UK license. Make sure your license is up to date before you leave. Getting a US license to the UK by mail is a real pain. If your US license expires while in the UK and you do not have a UK license you will not be able to rent a car and are obviously not legal to drive.
Driving is on the left in the UK. The mantra is keep left, give way, keep left, give way repeat this continuously the first 30 minutes you drive especially when turning right onto a dual carriageway (divided road with median). Outside lanes are the slow lanes so stay in them to start.
For US drivers the first roundabout is tricky. Here are the general rules. All roundabouts are driven in a clockwise fashion so turn left going into the roundabout. Single lane roundabouts are easiest to start. If no cars are in the roundabout simply enter turning to the left going around the center circle clockwise until you get to your exit then turn off the roundabout to the left into your exit. If cars are in the roundabout approaching your car while you are waiting to enter the roundabout you must yield until there is enough room to get into the roundabout. Dont worry if you are going around a little slow the first few times. Once in the roundabout everyone else on the outside must yield to you. Double lane and triple lane roundabouts are a bit trickier. For triple lane roundabouts watch for the painted signs on the pavement at the entrance to the roundabout to figure out what lane goes where. Unfortunately this is not consistent and there is no general rule. You must know what your lane is supposed to do or you may get hit. For double lane roundabouts the inside lane goes either across the roundabout to the inside lane of the second exit straight across the roundabout or continues right around another quarter turn to the third exit. This is a right turn. The outside lane either goes straight through to the outside lane on the other side of the roundabout or turns left at the first exit. This is obviously a left turn. Do not turn right from the outside roundabout lane as the person on the inside lane can go straight through and hit your right side as you pass in front of them.
I have been told some rules are inconsistent across the UK. However, I have traveled a bit in London and they seem to apply there as well. My driving experience is obviously only from Aberdeen and surrounding areas.
The bus system in Aberdeen is excellent and inexpensive. Downtown is the hub, so depending on where you want to go you may have to go downtown then transfer to another bus. See bus schedules at:
Trains run through Aberdeen with a stop at Dyce north of town and Stonehaven south of town. The main stop in town is within walking distance of many buss routes. An all day pass for an adult is #3.50 and a family is #6. See the following for train information:
Note that you should check the day you plan to travel by train in the UK to see if there has been a delay. It is no fun waiting on an uncovered platform with suitcases in the rain for a train that is twenty minutes late. When you get to the stations check the TV monitors to check for your train as well. You can buy tickets at automated machines at the stations seen. However, they tend to have problems with credit cards from the USA which do no contain a chip. If in doubt go during business ours to the ticket office.
The currency in Scotland is the pound, although they may eventually switch to the Euro. There are Scottish and English pound notes. People will sometimes grumble in England if you give them a Scottish note, but it is legal tender in England so they should accept it. However, I have heard of rare problems in England with merchants. However, I have never had a problem using English pound notes in Scotland.
I have tried several ways to avoid fees and charges getting money to the UK. I have opened a bank account here in Aberdeen. You will need two forms of proof of identification and a recent bill from you local Aberdeen residence to open an account. This can be problematic for expatriates as companies often pay rent and bills for you. I needed a letter from my company on letterhead stating that they were renting for me and paying my bills. Apparently this policy is to prevent money laundering. In any case I then transferred money into my Aberdeen bank with a wire transfer. You will need to give the sending bank the IBAND number and SWIFT code. I had to pay a fee to transfer money and then an exchange rate. In the end this cost me about 3 percent of the money I moved. I checked with my credit cards and they had similar 3-4% rates. However, my debit card through my credit union had a 1% foreign transaction fee and no other fees. Tesco and Asda stores both have free ATMs and I shop there frequently. So in the end this has become my primary and cheapest way of getting UK cash. Do not change money at the airport money exchange booth as this is almost certainly the most expensive option. You will need to inform your credit card company you will be in the UK and for how long. Otherwise they may halt transactions on your account until you call them to tell them you are really in the UK.
Housing and utilities:
Housing in Aberdeen is expensive. Expatriates should expect to live in a smaller house with smaller appliances. Depending on where you end up living in Aberdeen, a small duplex could rent for #2000 pounds a month. That was pounds not dollars. We have friends who live 20 minutes from town with a house that is almost American that rents for #2500 pounds a month. There are many nice things about Aberdeen; rental price is not one of them.
Utilities are more expensive in Aberdeen than in the USA. Our company set it all up so I cannot comment on phone gas and electric except to say it is not cheap. We do pay for cable and we chose SKY TV, http://www.sky.com/ . They are a dish based system and are cheap and reliable. We use British Telecom for internet.
While this is not really meant to be a tourist guide, there is a lot to see in Aberdeen. If you travel to northeast Scotland I suggest stay at least one day in Aberdeen. Most of the obvious parts of Aberdeen, like buildings near Union Street are not that old by UK standards. This means the buildings are in pretty good repair. However, there are much older parts of town. Downtown, the Kirk of Saint Nicholas, Provost Skenes House and Marischal College (founded 1593) are all within walking distance of each other. Provost Skenes House has a nice little cafe in the basement that is good for lunch. Downtown has some beautiful buildings and just walking around is a treat on a nice day. Also Union Street is a shopping Mecca for the area so you will find more than just pretty buildings.
I suggest you stay at Skene House apartments near downtown (see http://www.skene-house.co.uk/ ). This is where our companys employees stay when they visit town and it is cheaper and better than some of the better known hotels. You must make reservations for hotel rooms in Aberdeen. It books up weeks in advance, sometimes even months in advance. Dropping in is not an option.
For a nice place to eat try Poldinos Italian restaurant near Saint Nicholas. It is very nice and not too expensive (see http://www.poldinos.co.uk/).
Aberdeen has been an interesting experience and we would return given the right expatriate package. Aberdonians are cosmopolitan, friendly and helpful. If you get the chance to visit, especially as an expatriate, I highly recommend it.