Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Dumfries & Galloway is a beautiful region of Scotland that has plenty of options for easy walking activities and exploration.

The region is rich in history, heritage, natural beauty, art and culture. The town of Dumfries is a great place to use as a base to explore the region. It also has a lot to offer itself. Dumfries has earned fame for its literary associations with Robert Burns and J. M. Barrie. These associations have helped to create a cultural character and atmosphere in the old market town. Dumfries is a great base for exploring the Scottish Borders and enjoying Scotland that many don’t take a moment to discover.

The fountain in Dumfries Town Centre

While you are in Dumfries you have to check out the cafes offering tea and scones and you absolutely have to try some traditional Scottish tablet when in town. If you don’t know what that is you are in for a treat it’s simply the best kind of butter-based fudge there is. 

Want to travel to both Ireland and Scotland? This itinerary could be helpful

Where is Dumfries and Galloway?

A stunningly beautiful area of Scotland Dumfries and Galloway stretches from just south of Glasgow in the northern part to Gretna Green in the south and Stranraer to Langholm in the southwest of Scotland. Covering miles of rolling countryside and coast this area is a walkers’ paradise.

map of Dumfries and Galloway

16 things to do in Dumfries and Galloway

Moat Brae – J.M Barrie’s childhood home

You can visit Moat Brae – the house where J. M. Barrie spent time as a child. The house and gardens were the inspiration for Barrie’s Neverland when writing Peter Pan. When the house faced recent demolition the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust fundraised to save the building. 

window view at Moat Brae house in Dumfries and Galloway

It is now open as a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling. It is a wonderful place for a relaxing and inspiring afternoon for all ages! The riverside gardens are stunning and can be explored along gentle pathways. The exhibitions include displays about J. M. Barrie’s life and work. There are also immersive spaces celebrating children’s books and reading. All areas are fully accessible by lifts or ramps.

Robert Burns House

Sites associated with Scotland’s National Bard are also prevalent in Dumfries. You can visit the Robert Burns House where Burns lived during the last years of his life. Be aware that there are steps into the house and stairs to the upper floor. In nearby St Michael’s churchyard, you can see the Mausoleum constructed in his honour. You will need to navigate some steps on your way into the churchyard.  

Robert Burns house in Dumfries and Galloway

According to history Robert Burns first came to Dumfries & Galloway as an exciseman to catch the smugglers that plagued the coastline of the area and used the many caves along the shoreline. 

Dock Park

A pleasant way to take in much of the town’s beauty and history is by exploring around the river. You can take a gentle walk through the tree-lined Dock Park which sits alongside the River Nith. If you are up for it there is a fun Peter Pan themed crazy golf course in the park! You will also find monuments to two of the town’s locals who died on the Titanic. And there is a whale-shaped sculpture. This celebrates the Norwegian soldiers stationed in Dumfries during the Second World War.

Robert Burns house in Dumfries and Galloway

Nith Suspension Bridge

From the park, you can cross the Nith via the ramped Suspension Bridge. The Suspension Bridge was originally constructed to enable workers to get to the now derelict Rosefield Mills. From the bridge, it’s a gentle walk across Mill Green. You can pop into the Robert Burns Centre to see a fascinating display about Burns and Dumfries. You might also be able to catch a movie at the renovated mill’s independent cinema.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura

On this side of the river, Dumfries also has a museum. It is packed with fascinating displays about local history. The museum also has an impressive Camera Obscura similar to Oxford’s. However, be aware that if you are walking, the streets running up to the museum are steep. There are also several spiral staircases to reach the Camera Obscura room. If you can manage them it is worth it to see the Camera Obscura in action.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

The Mill Green & Sweetheart Abbey

The Mill Green is a lovely spot to take in views of the River Nith’s bridges and the river itself. You can occasionally see herons in this area, along with other wildlife. Devorgilla Bridge is a stunning structure that dates back to the 15th Century. Its name comes from the influential Lady Devorgilla. If you are able to take a day trip out of Dumfries you can visit Sweetheart Abbey. Devorgilla established the Abbey in the 13th century in memory of her husband. After his death, she carried his embalmed heart with her in an Ivory box. They were both buried at Sweetheart Abbey.   

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Old Bridge House Museum

At the end of Devorgilla Bridge, you can find a tiny museum in the smallest house in Dumfries. The 17th century Old Bridge House consists of a few small rooms. It has been the home of a barrel-maker, an inn, and was divided into two flats in the 1950s. It now features several intricate displays including a historic kitchen, bedroom, and even a dentist’s surgery! There are a few steps to get around the house. 

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

If you are not a fan of steps avoid crossing the river at Devorgilla Bridge. It has steep steps on the Whitesands side of the river. Instead, you can walk further along to Buccleuch Street Bridge which is step-free.

Crichton Gardens

Other beautiful areas of Dumfries to explore include the Crichton Gardens and the grounds of the University campus. The former mental hospital has impressive buildings and tranquil gardens. These are great for a gentle walk to take in stunning views of the rolling countryside around Dumfries. Take a bus or taxi up to the grounds. The walk up to the campus from town is steep and lengthy!

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Gracefield Arts Centre

If you would like to take in some art, the Gracefield Arts Centre on Edinburgh Road features changing exhibitions. The gallery often showcases the work of local artists and hosts workshops and activities.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

The Globe Inn

For those who enjoy a relaxing drink after exploring, pop into the Globe Inn, just off the High Street. This was Robert Burns’s favourite watering hole. At the other end of High Street, you can see an imposing statue of Burns.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Dumfries is well-placed for day trips in the region. Some of the areas which are well worth a visit include Kirkcudbright. “The Artists Town” is a centre for arts in the region. As well as checking out the numerous galleries you can also take a gentle walk by the River Dee.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle is tucked away in the heart of beautiful, rural Dumfriesshire, the Castle has 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers and from your very first glance, you’ll know you’re entering a special place. Special enough, in fact, that the producers of Outlander used the Castle for filming their second series!  And if a day isn’t enough you can now stay in their holiday lettings, including apartments and holiday cottages.

You will discover Rembrandt’s Old Woman Reading and family portraits by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, landscapes by Paul Sandby and the Dutch masters, and cartoons by Rowlandson amid the finest furnishing and antiques.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage
©courtesy of Drumlanrig Castle

This 90,000-acre Scottish Estate boasts miles of beautiful walks and acres of gardens. There are championship mountain biking trails, a salmon, fishing river. Activities for kids include everything from the adventure playground to ranger-led wildlife walks and a host of events.

The Castle is the stunning Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, and they hope you find it as inspiring as they do.

Visit the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse

The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most Southerly Point and one of the best-kept secrets in the UK. The Rhins of Galloway peninsula remains an unspoiled paradise for visitors on the lookout for peace and tranquillity. At the award-winning Mull of Galloway Experience, you can climb the 115 steps to the top of Scotland’s most southerly Lighthouse, with its spectacular view from the balcony and lightroom. For more stunning views over the cliffs, take a walk to the Foghorn and viewing platform.

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage
©Colin Baird

Caerlaverock Castle

I’d also recommend Caerlaverock Castle which is a stunning historic site of conflict. Caerlaverock is a moated triangular-shaped castle that was built in the 13th century. It is around 11 km south of Dumfries and was abandoned in 1640. Today it stands as a tourist attraction and is protected by the Historic Environment Scotland. 

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Gretna Green

Gretna Green is worth a visit to see the famous blacksmith shop associated with runaway lovers. You can also see The Big Dance sculpture and get lost (and find yourself again) in the Courtship Maze!

Old Blacksmith shop in Gretna Green in a beautiful summer day, Scotland, United Kingdom

Spring Fling

Dumfries and the wider region hosts a number of great cultural festivals across the year. If you are an art fan, plan your visit to coincide with the Spring Fling. Every spring there is a region-wide art festival of open studios. Kirkcudbright hosts Summer Festivities which include the Floodlit Tatoo. Late summer sees the exciting Nith Raid in Dumfries. The festival celebrates the river and includes a race on the last high tide of summer. 

Things to do in Dumfries Scotland exploring a literary heritage

Wigtown Book Festival

The regions highlight for book lovers is the Wigtown Book Festival in Autumn. In late January Dumfries focuses its festivities on celebrating Burns. The Big Burns Supper festival is growing every year. It features a wide variety of music and performance throughout the town.

Where to stay in Drumfries

Trigony House: A fabulous dog-friendly country estate with a relaxed atmosphere and an award-winning restaurant. 

Cavens House: Winner of the hotel of the year this beautiful hotel is set in 6 acres of land with views of the Solway Coast a perfect location for a romantic stay.


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Angela writes at about all things bookish and fun for families. After exploring Scotland as a tourist for many years Angela gave up the London life to move to Scotland. The literary culture and history of Dumfries in North West Scotland drew her in. In this article, she shares the charms of Dumfries and its surrounding area.

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