The best things in life are free

It got us thinking that, particularly with the school holidays coming up, it’d be the ideaL time to explore what’s available in the city and shire that doesn’t cost anything. 

There can be very few of us who aren’t aware of the escalating costs of, well, pretty much everything. Filling up with petrol or filling your trolley at the supermarket gets more expensive every week. There are many families and people on fixed incomes who are faced with difficult choices about whether to eat of heat. Even those with comfortable lifestyles are starting to feel the pinch, looking to save in some areas, so they can splash out a little elsewhere. So it makes sense to explore days out that don’t leave you out of pocket. 

Libraries

Libraries may not seem the most exciting places, but there’s an entire universe of possibilities beyond the doors. There are 17 branches in the city and most of the bigger shire towns and villages have libraries too. Membership is free and available from birth, though under sixteens need permission from a parent or carer. You can even join online. As well as browsing the shelves, you can reserve the latest titles or download e-books and audiobooks to your devices. You can also borrow music CDs and DVDs, but there may be a charge for these. They even offer free access to databases, journals and magazines online or you could build some coding skills. You can borrow a micro:bit from city libraries. This is a small programmable computer, and work on all sorts of coding creations, from robots to musical instruments!  

Central Library also has a great local history section if you’re keen to explore your family tree. You can book a research appointment or use the library’s edition of Ancestry.com to search from home. Lots of libraries across the city and shire also have talks, philosophy cafes, Lego clubs, craft clubs and BookBug sessions for babies and toddlers.

Museums and the Art Gallery

The Art Gallery and several museums across the city and shire are free, though not all museums have reopened yet. The Maritime Museum on Ship Row is great for kids, exploring the city’s long relationship with the sea, from the medieval port through fishing fleets, shipbuilding and oil and gas. 

Provost Skene’s House has recently reopened at Marischal Square and now showcases the lives and achievements of over a hundred people who made the city what it is. There’s a wealth of interactive activities for children and the house itself is fascinating, given that it dates back to 1545. 

The Art Gallery, which has also been refurbished in the past few years, is a wonderful space for children. It’s not at all stuffy and acts as a great introduction to the visual arts. You can take a sketchbook and see what inspires you, or check out their programme of workshops and current exhibitions. You can check what’s on at aberdeencity.gov.uk/AAGM. 

Next door, Cowdray Hall is another great city centre source of free entertainment. The venue hosts a series of free lunchtime classical music concerts and other events that feature some incredibly talented musicians. If it’s quiet outside, you can probably pat William Macmillan’s recumbent lion sculpture, though sitting astride it is frowned upon. The lion forms the centrepiece of the city’s War Memorial and is also featured on the Sculpture Trail, which is a great way of spending a sunny afternoon and getting in some exercise. NUART is another option for a free art-based day out and there will be new works gracing the some of the city’s wall this June. 

The great outdoors

If you’re more the outdoors type, then the city’s parks offer plenty ways of keeping the family amused. Duthie Park and Hazelhead are particularly good choices, or you could go for a walk or bike ride along the old Deeside railway line which runs from Duthie Park all the way to Peterculter and Drumoak. It’s part of the Deeside way which stretches from the city to Braemar, if you’re up for a challenge.  

Of course there are plenty of other countryside options that are free to explore. You could head into the Cairngorm range, climb Bennachie or head south to the Angus Glens for a day’s hillwalking, while Loch Muick is always a popular walk on a sunny day. How about a dawn picnic watching the sunrise over Slains Castle, or a bit of beachcombing? 

Staying in the countryside, the National Trust for Scotland properties generally involve a considerable entry fee if you’re not a member, but you can generally explore the estate grounds for free. Some venues, like Crathes Castle and Drum Castle have good free playgrounds and picnic areas, if you want to take your own snacks. Similarly, Historic Environment Scotland look after 55 properties in the North and Grampian region and it’s free to explore some of these. They range from castle ruins to Pictish stones, kirks, brochs, Neolithic cairns and earth-houses. You can also find some free charity or community events, like beach cleans at Greyhope Bay where you might also spot a dolphin or two if you’re lucky.  

Sometimes, you can have a lot of fun without it costing the earth!

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