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Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

Dumfries & Galloway is a beautiful region of Scotland that has plenty of options for easy walking activities and exploration. The region of Dumfries and Galloway is filled with history. There are many attractions such as the Caerlaverock Castle, Cardoness Castle, Corsewall Lighthouse, Glenlair, MacLellan’s Castle, Glenluce Abbey, Threave Castle, Sweetheart Abbey and more.

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 area. 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

How to plan your trip to the UK, Ireland and Scotland

Dumfries and Galloway History

Dumfries suffered during the wars of Scottish independence and also from frequent raids because of its location near the English border. In 1745 the rebellious national leader Prince Charles Stuart held the town for ransom to obtain funds. Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, lived in Dumfries from 1791 until his death in 1796.

The history of Dumfries and Galloway can be traced back to the era of the Romans, from then on the locality has been frequented by Picts, Vikings, Saxons, and Danes, before transforming into a conflict zone between the Scottish and English forces. 

Throughout the history of this region in Scotland, numerous well-known individuals have made appearances. In the 13th century, the English army was pursued by William Wallace in the Nith Valley, resulting in their retreat to the south. Wallace achieved victory and took respite at Caerlaverock Castle before heading north through Dumfries. Prior to becoming king, Robert the Bruce successfully attacked and seized Dumfries Castle from the English. He later emerged triumphant in the Battle of Bannockburn, ultimately securing Scotland’s independence. 

You can travel back more than 700 years and experience the story of Robert the Bruce by following a trail which visits ruins, caves and locations which played a pivotal role in his and Scotland’s history. Dumfries and Galloway continues to possess several castles where these and following conflicts occurred during a chaotic period. Caerlaverock Castle still possesses its moat, gatehouse, and fortifications, and its distinct triangular form cannot be confused with any other. Other fortresses worth exploring consist of Threave Castle, constructed by Archibald the Grim in the latter part of the 14th century and still standing remarkably tall. 

Places to visit in Dumfries and Galloway

Dumfries and Galloway, located in the southwest of Scotland, is a region bursting with natural beauty and historic attractions. One of the most famous landmarks in the area is Caerlaverock Castle, a stunning medieval fortress that sits on the shores of the Solway Firth. 

Another of the many attractions in Dumfries and Galloway is the Galloway Forest Park, the largest forest park in the UK. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in the stunning landscape, with miles of walking and cycling trails to explore. The park is also renowned for its dark skies, making it the perfect spot for stargazing.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
Cliffs on the Mull of Galloway

Nature enthusiasts will also enjoy a visit to the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s southernmost point. The rugged cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop to the lighthouse, and visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding area.

History buffs shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Threave Castle, a ruined fortress on an island in the River Dee.  For those seeking a coastal getaway, the picturesque village of Portpatrick is an ideal destination. With its charming harbor and sandy beaches, it’s the perfect spot for a relaxing day by the sea. With its diverse range of attractions, Dumfries and Galloway offers something for everyone, whether you’re a history lover, nature enthusiast, or simply looking to unwind in a stunning setting. 

26 Things to do in Dumfries

In Dumfries, there’s an abundance of activities to enjoy. Begin your day with a visit to the Robert Burns Centre, a museum dedicated to Scotland’s national poet. Explore the historic Dumfries town center, where you can stroll along the River Nith and admire the picturesque Devorgilla Bridge.

For a taste of the outdoors, Mabie Forest Park offers excellent walking and mountain biking trails. Don’t forget to savor local delicacies at the charming cafes and restaurants, and be sure to sample a traditional haggis dish. Dumfries provides a rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty, ensuring a delightful experience for visitors.

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 Museum

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. 

Stop by Moffat Town

Within the Scottish Borders of Dumfries, Moffat is a vibrant, bustling town less than a mile from the A74(M), it’s the ideal place to stop and it is the perfect hub for a stay in Dumfries & Galloway a beautiful and unspoiled part of Scotland.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

Moffat is an attractive town, a coaching stop and a Conservation Area with a rich heritage and history and a thriving cultural, creative and musical scene. While you’re here, you’ll probably want to call into the Moffat Museum. Moffat also lays claim to the smallest, narrowest hotel in the UK which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

Threve Castle

Located on an Island near Castle Douglas. For a span of 21 years, the castle served as the residence of Margaret, a powerful woman known as Lady of Galloway. Nowadays, it serves as an excellent location for exploration, picnics, and even painting. During summer, the island is abundant with vibrant wild flowers, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of ospreys and otters hunting in the river.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©Tenesca, CC BY-SA 3.0

Take pleasure in a brief boat journey across the River Dee to reach the fortified island. Be amazed by the immense tower house, standing at the same height as a contemporary 10-storey apartment building. Marvel at the artillery fortification that skillfully defended against James II’s forces – a revolutionary defense method well ahead of its time. 

Orcharton Tower

Orchardton Tower is an unusual free-standing round tower, the only one of its type in Scotland. It operated as a fortified residence for a nobleman named John Cairns, who may have acquired the land after James II’s overthrow of the Douglases in 1455. 

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©By Mike Palmer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Circular towers, or donjons, such as this were integral to 1200s strongholds like Bothwell Castle or Dirleton Castle, but they were replaced by square and rectangular tower houses. At Orchardton, Cairns built himself a round tower 200 years after they’d gone out of fashion. 

Sweetheart Abbey

Uncover the story of love and loyalty that lies behind the abbey’s poignant title. The monks chose the name Dulce Cor to honor Lady Dervorguilla, who established the abbey as a dedication to her cherished spouse, John Balliol.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

The impressively intact abbey church, continues to captivate and impress even after 700 years. Gaze up at the formidable boundary wall constructed with immense granite rocks

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 River 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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura

One of the must-see attractions in Dumfries is the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura. 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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

Logan Botanic Garden

Located near Port Logan on the Rhins of Galloway, on the south-western tip of Scotland, Logan enjoys an almost subtropical climate.  The Garden’s avenues and borders feature a spectacular and colourful array of half-hardy perennials.  The Garden is warmed by the Gulf Stream which enables plants from Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America and Southern Africa to thrive.  

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

The Gardens includes Palm Trees and Tree Ferns, Eucalyptus and Giant Gunnera and a Walled Garden. There is a beautiful Victorian style Conservatory and the Gardens hold garden walks from March until November.

Mabie

Mabie is one of the most beautiful spots in the region for outdoor recreation and provides various activities that cater to all individuals, from the 7stanes are seven mountain biking centres spanning the south of Scotland, to peaceful areas for picnics and breathtaking viewpoints.

The woodland also offers walks suitable for individuals of all skill levels. All of the paths originate from the primary parking area and traverse the Mabie Burn towards the Old Sawmill, where you can find picnic areas, barbecues, and restroom facilities. You can also take the kids to visit Mabie Farm Park where they can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities, petting farm animals, learning about rare animal breeds and much more.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©Bruntis Loch and the Kirroughtree Gem Stane by Ann Cook, CC BY-SA 2.0

The 7 Stanes

The word ‘stane’ is derived from Scots and refers to a stone. In each of the 7stanes locations, you will discover a distinct stone sculpture, also known as a stane, which depicts a local myth or legend.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

These sculptures can be found in prominent positions along the trails within the forests. They are easily accessible on foot, horseback, and of course, by bicycle. Furthermore, these sculptures range in height from one to three meters and weigh anywhere between two to six tons. 

Visit Whithorn the cradle of Christianity

Whithorn in located on the Machars Peninsula and is well known for its historical past, steeped with early Christian movements. These include strong historical connections with St Ninian, which game Whithorn the moniker Scotland’s Cradle of Christianity. There are many fascinating sites about this history, including the exhibition the Whithorn Roundhouse and Museum and St Ninians Priory.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©S. Rae from Scotland, UK, CC BY 2.0

Whithorn is also a recognised UNESCO Biosphere community and is also home to the smallest theatre in Scotland, The Swallow Theatre. Whithorn is popular with cyclists and walkers, as there are many great marked routes. There is also a selection of places to eat, drink and stay in Whithorn.

Fish for salmon and trout in Newton Stewart

For the fishing buffs you can’t get better than the fishing on the banks of the River Cree. This market town is a favourite for hill walkers and mountain bikers as it is near Galloway Forest Park, with internationally recognised biking trails amidst some of the most dramatic scenery in the south of Scotland.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©Rosser1954, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum

The Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum is a small, independent museum with an interest in the history of flight in the local area. The assortment of aircraft is truly remarkable, including the Loch Doon Spitfire, which served in the Battle of Britain, as well as the supersonic Lightning fighter and a collection of assault gliders from the war. They have dedicated exhibits on the Home Front, RAF Dumfries, the Bomber War, and the only collection in Scotland focused on Airborne Forces.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

The museum is situated in the former control tower of RAF Dumfries, where visitors can explore a vast array of memorabilia and admire one of the best displays of aero engines in the country. With both indoor and outdoor displays, ample outdoor space, and a small café and gift shop, our museum offers an excellent opportunity for the whole family to enjoy a few hours.

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.   

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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. 

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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!

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©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.

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland
©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. 

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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. 

Best things to do in Dumfries and Galloway Scotland

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.

Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and historical charm that makes it a must-visit destination. With its stunning landscapes, including the idyllic Solway Coast, rolling hills, and dense forests, it’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hiking, mountain biking, and water activities. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like or when is the best time to visit – anytime is the best time to visit this area of Scotland.

The region is steeped in history, with ancient castles, historic towns, and a rich cultural heritage waiting to be explored. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor the region’s locally sourced cuisine and experience the warm hospitality of its people. Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or simply seeking a tranquil escape, Dumfries and Galloway promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of Scotland.

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Author

  • Angela writes at readinginspiration.com 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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