When God was handing out nicknames to the world’s cities, Aberdeen was surely still fast asleep. Paris, the city of love, had risen earliest of all, while Istanbul, the city of wonders, and New York, the city that never sleeps, had also been keen enough to snap up one of the cooler epithets. Imagine Aberdeen’s dismay as it rose, rubbed its tired eyes and staggered up to God’s front door to be handed the label, the granite city. Now, don’t get me wrong, granite is a fine rock – solid, with great longevity. It’s just that a city named after a medium-to-coarse quartz mica compound simply doesn’t get the goosebumps going, does it?

Flicking through my 1967 Blue Guide To Scotland on the way, I discovered such factual gems as: Aberdeen has a bathing beach – presumably for polar bears and penguins. That Aberdonians enjoy the reputation of carrying Scottish thrift to its uppermost limits – not the greatest claim to fame. And that Union Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, is a fine main street”. I was literally giddy with excitement.

As it turns out, Aberdeen is a city of remarkable charm with a wealth of history behind it. Founded by David I as New Aberdeen in 1136, it grew quickly in size and importance. It gained a castle before the end of the 1100s, a leper house in 1197, a market in 1222, a friary by 1240, a grammar school by 1250, a second religious community by 1270, a hospital by 1300 and, as I soon discovered, several hundred bars by 2005.

Despite seeing off the Black Death in the late 14th century, there is still something decidedly dark and mysterious about Aberdeen. Reminiscent of something from a Tim Burton movie, it should be a Goth’s destination of pilgrimage. Ancient churches and castles – both of which seem to stand side by side on every street – tower skywards into the low hanging clouds, while the unchanging granite facade gives the city a foreboding edge. The only thing Aberdeen has more of than churches and castles are bars and clubs, many of them seemingly converted from churches and castles. God knows what God would make of it all.

On Belmont Street alone, the epicentre for most socialising, there are at least six stylish bars, while Union Street holds some of the real gems of the nightlife scene, with bars that would stand up against any of London’s top establishments – only with booze at half the price.

I soon found out two further things about Aberdonians. Firstly, they love their whisky – and why not when you have the world famous distilleries of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan and Glenfarclas all within stumbling distance of your town centre? And secondly, they love nothing more than proving that they can drink any Englishman under the table. Not one to shirk a challenge, I later regretted having ever left my hotel room.

I also discovered that there is nothing better than hopping in your car and exploring the surrounding countryside – some of the most stunning in this part of the world. Within minutes of leaving town I found myself winding along seemingly deserted highland roads, the bleak North Sea to one side and the ever rising mountain ranges on the other. Travel just a few miles south along the rugged coastline and you will stumble across the imperious Dunnottar Castle. I half expected to see Mel Gibson stroll past in a kilt. A place brimming with historical significance, it evokes the very essence of Scotland – as haunting as it is beautiful.

After spending the afternoon recovering from my hangover by sucking in the ‘fresh air’, I headed north into the Scottish Highlands, towards the high plateau of Cairngorms which, at 3800km2, is Britain’s largest national park. When the pure beauty of a landscape can leave you speechless, you know you’ve found something special and this was one of those places. Unfortunately, I had to head back to town before I had a chance to go monster-spotting on Loch Ness, just a few miles away to the west.

The true beauty of Aberdeen is in its contrasts. For a relatively small city with a population of less than 250,000, it has a remarkably thriving and trendy nightlife, as well as a buzzing music and sports scene – there are more than 70 golf courses in and around the town. And yet just a few miles from the hectic partying in Belmont Street you can find yourself standing on the brink of some of the most remote and awe-inspiring countryside in the world. So it was of no great surprise that on leaving Aberdeen I found out that although to many it is known as the granite city to others it is called the silver city on golden sands – perhaps it rose earlier than I thought.

The Wild Boar, 19 Belmont St
This restaurant’s decor features paintings by artists from the local art school, and the menu covers everything from beefsteaks to some mouth-watering desserts. Although the Wild Boar boasts a bistro feel, it is also a bar, restaurant, gallery and disco. This is one of the city’s most popular hangouts, so book early if you plan to eat.

Soul Bar, 333 Union St
The Soul Bar is located at the Junction of Union Street and Bon Accord Street and is set inside a stunning old church. The blending of the ecclesiastical architecture complete with its original stained glass windows surrounding the sophisticated bar area make it an ultra-cool place to chill out with your mates.

Café Drummonds, 1 Belmont St
Particularly good for all those seeking a bit of live entertainment. Anything from open mic sessions, battle of the bands contests, fundraising events to comedy evenings and spoken word nights can be found here. Bring down a box and a megaphone and shout stuff at strangers.

Triple Kirks, Schoolhill
Triple Kirks is, in many ways, similar to Café Drummonds, offering live music on a year round basis – and we’re not talking the landlord’s kids on recorders here but serious talent from across the UK. Packed full of tax dodgers always keen to sniff out a bargain, the real genius of Triple Kirks lies in the price of its booze – it being filthy cheap.

Slains Castle, Belmont St
Slains Castle is set on several stories of an old church and is decked out in Gothic architecture with demon heads and gargoyles at every turn. Despite its obvious appeal to Goths and other creatures of the night, Slains normally maintains a mixed (both in scene and age) crowd. Check out the Seven Deadly Sins Cocktails – seven liver-destroying alcoholic concoctions guaranteed to make you cry yourself to sleep. Conquer all seven in one night and you get a free T-shirt, presumably to replace the one you just barfed on.