50 Things to Do and See in Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Scotland. Nestled in the hills by Thornhill, our country hotel is surrounded by rolling hills, dramatic coastlines and iconic castles.
Here at The Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel, we feel extremely privileged to call this magical county ‘home’. We’re very proud of our local area, not only for its unrivalled natural beauty but for the sheer variety of places to see and things to do our guests can choose from – right on the doorstep. The only problem you might have is deciding where to begin!
Whether you’re visiting as a family, with friends or with your four legged friend, our staff are always on hand with expert local knowledge to help you plan your stay. But in the meantime, we’ve put together a bucket list of 50 things we think you should see, do and visit in Dumfries and Galloway.
The Striding Arches
Built in collaboration with the Cairn Community Trust, The Striding Arches utilise the fantastic landscape to demonstrate examples of Andy Goldsworthy’s work and attract visitors to the area. The more adventurous travellers can follow the arches around D&G with the three arches sitting on hilltops ‘striding’ across Cairnhead, near Moniaive.
Fondly known as the ‘Pink Palace’ for the distinctive pink hue of its sandstone walls, Drumlanrig is one of our most spectacular surviving examples of 17th century architecture. A visit to this imposing hilltop castle could easily stretch over several days.
Boasting everything from riverside salmon fishing to an awe-inspiring fine art collection, all tastes and age groups are catered for. With a staggering 120 rooms (plus 17 turrets and 4 towers) it’s easy to lose yourself inside the castle’s imposing sandstone walls. Tour the castle guided by an expert, hire a mountain bike, get lost in the adventure playground or walk the beautiful gardens at your leisure.
Founded by Lady Dervorgilla in 1268 following the death of her beloved husband, John Balliol, the sandstone walls of this beautifully preserved abbey hold the final chapters of a 700 year old love story. After the death of her husband, Lady Dervorgilla carried with her his embalmed heart encased in an ivory box, until the day she died. She was laid to rest in a tomb in front of the altar, with John’s heart buried alongside her. The monks named the Abbey ‘Dulce Cor’ – Latin for ‘sweetheart’ – in memory of the lovers’ tale.
This medieval stronghold is an excellent example of its kind and although ruined, you can still explore much of the unique triangle shaped structure. Caerlaverock Castle was instrumental in many a battle between the Scots and their southern neighbours. You can immerse yourself in tales of siege warfare in their permanent exhibition or walk through the Castle Wood and the Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.
The castle, in its present incarnation, is thought to have been built in the mid-1400s by the Earl of Morton. There was an original castle built in 1307, however, this was dismantled as part of the 13 castles of Nithsdale under the 1357 Treaty of Berwick. The remains that now stand against the dramatic backdrop of unspoilt countryside, provide a haven for history buffs, keen hikers and wildlife lovers alike.
Wanlockhead sits in the Lowther Hills of Nithsdale and is officially Scotland’s highest village. It stands at an average altitude of 1531 feet! Historically an industrious mining community, visitors can discover how the 18th century miners lived and worked, in the Wanlockhead Museum of Lead Mining.
Galloway Activity Centre
Dive straight in and spend a day at the Galloway Activity Centre. Situated on the banks of Loch Ken, Galloway Activity Centre has an endless list of water and land based outdoor activities to get your adrenaline rushing. Flying through the air on the zip wire, or kayaking across the Loch, you will definitely have a fun filled day here!
Logan Botanic Garden
The unusually mild climate of Scotland’s south-westerly coastline is home to one of the country’s most exotic botanical gardens. The environment allows an array of plants to flourish all year round, but the gardens are best visited between June and September, when they are ablaze with vibrant colours. Located in Port Logan, Stranraer, a walk to the garden’s highest point reveals spectacular views over Luce Bay and the Rhins of Galloway.
The Globe Inn
The favourite haunt of Robert Burns, Scotland’s best loved poet became a regular at the inn after moving to Dumfries in 1791. Today, a trip to the county would not be complete without a visit to The Globe Inn, the gathering place for the very first ‘Burns Supper’.
Whether you want to immerse yourself in The Globe’s rich history, sit down to a hearty dinner or enjoy a whisky tasting with friends, the team can devise a tailored tour to help you make the most of your visit.
Not content in the cycle lane? When it comes to getting on your bike, the hills of Dumfries and Galloway are world class. Outdoor enthusiasts can find five of the legendary 7stanes mountain bike trails within the county. These varied forest tracks and tranquil woodland trails are set against a vibrant backdrop of breathtaking scenery.
The famous trails offer something for all abilities, with varied routes suitable for beginners and families right through to seasoned pros. Each trail is characterised by an individual stone, placed somewhere along each trail by Carlisle sculptor, George Young.
The Big Burns Supper
Dubbed the ‘World’s Biggest Burns Night Celebration’ the Big Burns Supper is a contemporary arts festival that celebrates the works of Scots poet, Robert Burns. Held over the Burns Night weekend, the festival hosts live events and performances in 50 different venues in Dumfries over 9 days. Want to bring the kids along? There are plenty of family friendly events to choose from and kids go free!
Far from the quiet, sleepy region we’re sometimes mistaken for, Dumfries and Galloway plays host to an eclectic mix of music festivals throughout the year. Every summer, the historic grounds of Drumlanrig Castle play host to a line-up of international superstars and home-grown talent.
With a special ‘family’ campsite area, just a 5-minute walk from the main arena and great discounts for kids under 17 (under 5s go free), Electric Fields is a great pick for your summer holiday. In recent years, organisers have introduced even more to entertain your pint-sized party-goers with interactive play areas, crafts, games and entertainment including their own disco! If that’s not enough for you, why not check out Drumlanrig’s famous adventure playground.
Set in the stunning Raehills Meadows near Moffat, Scotland’s most famous boutique festival welcomes just 5000 lucky ticket holders each year. It has become one of the top festivals in the UK due to the organiser’s commitment to involving young people and bringing communities together whilst supporting local and national artists.
Famous for its food and drink, Eden Festival is just the place to sample some of Scotland’s delicious ales and ciders, tuck into a spicy Mexican burrito or enjoy a gourmet burger. Aside from music and munch, their range of activities on offer is astounding. Little ones should prepare to be dazzled with fire shows and puppetry on display, or turn their hands to learning forest skills in a tipi or get creative in the art yurt. To top it off, the festival is completely free for under 12s!
Known affectionately as ‘The World Ceilidh’ this vivacious festival is a true melting pot of arts, culture and musical talent. Organisers have dubbed this family friendly a ‘global hoedown in the hills’ celebrating cultural fusion and creative diversity, whilst supporting the regeneration of the Scottish Uplands. It makes our list of the top festivals in Dumfries and Galloway because it’s run by families, for families, with a line-up featuring traditional Celtic sounds right through to Jamaica’s premier reggae artists. Oh, and they even have unicorns.
Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival
Established as the county’s biggest arts event in 1979, the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival is Scotland’s largest rural multi-artform festival. Each year, more than 170 artists descend on the region to perform across more than 40 venues. Performances range from opera and classical to jazz, traditional and contemporary music.
Following the festival’s increasing popularity, the organisers now bring a stream of world-class touring productions to venues in Dumfries and Galloway, throughout the year.
Wigtown Book Festival
Set in ‘Scotland’s National Book Town’, Wigtown plays host to over 200 events spanning live music, theatre, food and visual arts, during this 10-day festival. Now well established as one of the UK’s best-loved literary events, the autumn festival draws writers from far and wide along with visitors of all ages to this historic market town, every year. Previous speakers have included Joanna Lumley and Jeremy Bowen.
Traditionally a busy shipping port, this vibrant village is now one of Scotland’s most lively destinations and hosts an array of festivals and events year-round.
Kirkcudbright became known as the Artist’s Town, after the generations of artists and craftspeople who settled here in the late 19th century. The town is known for its colourful array of dwellings dating from the Medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras and its wide streets are littered with small, family owned shops, with ample free parking all over town.
Nestled in amongst rolling hills and scenic coastline, the burgh is perfect for walkers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts in search of serenity and breathtaking views.
Known as the ‘Food Town of Scotland’, this 18th century market town is a haven for foodies and the perfect place to sample a delicious selection of local food and drink. Castle Douglas has also become a vibrant shopping destination boasting an impressive selection of high street favourites and independent shops.
The town is home to The National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden and the 14th century fortress, Threave Castle, which stands alone on an island on the River Dee and can be reached by a short boat trip.
Luce Bay Beach
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the picturesque sands of Luce Bay encompass several miles of unspoilt coastline. The vastness of the beach and the warm, tranquility of its waters make it a faultless destination for couples, families and sporting enthusiasts, alike. The village of Sandhead is well served with amenities (including a friendly local pub) and currents from the Gulf Stream mean the water is pleasantly warm, all year round. Standing on this southerly Galloway beach on a good day, you can see as far as Ireland and Cumbria.
Fishing & Shooting at Westlands
Visit Westlands Country Park and spend a day fly fishing or clay pigeon shooting surrounded by some of Scotland’s most breathtaking scenery.
Lowther Hills Ski Club
Founded in 1986, this community owned and volunteer-run club hails from the two highest villages in Scotland – Leadhills and Wanlockhead. Visitors wishing to ski at the club must be kitted out with their own equipment but families are well catered for with a nursery area located by the village of Leadhills and intermediate slopes which can be accessed from Wanlockhead.
Museum of Lead Mining
Located in Scotland’s highest village, this 4-star Visit Scotland attraction offers explorers a real taste of what life was like as an 18th century miner. Try your luck at gold panning and walk through a real 18th century lead mine. Enjoy the thrill of going underground and visiting the miner’s cottages that stood through the periods of 1750, 1850 & 1910.
Wanlockhead Beam Engine
Now the only surviving example of a water bucket pumping engine, the Wanlockhead Beam Engine was used to pump water out of the mines. Its design originated from an attempt to create a ‘perpetual motion’ machine. The Beam Engine has been preserved by the village of Wanlockhead and the Museum of Lead Mining.
Once inhabited by a community of Cistercian Monks, Dundrennan Abbey sheltered Mary Queen of Scots during her final hours on Scottish soil. The remote location of the Abbey simply amplifies the beauty of the still standing remains.
Dark Sky Park
Immerse yourself in some of Europe’s darkest skies, in the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. The inky black skies of the Galloway Forest Park make it the perfect place to spend a night under the stars. There is very little light pollution because so few people live in the 75,000-hectare park, making it the perfect place to see the stars. You’re also likely to spot some of our beautiful Red Deer.
Commissioned by the Duke of Buccleuch, this cosmic landscape was designed by the renowned artist Charles Jencks. A spellbinding attraction, the exhibit uses landscape art to express theories of both astrology and cosmology. It must be seen, to be believed!
Pay a visit to the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum and immerse yourself in the history of the Royal Air Force. Between 1947 and 1957 Dumfries was a training centre for new RAF recruits and the museum now houses a fascinating collection of aircraft memorabilia.
Dino Park at Hetland Garden Centre
Set in the grounds of the family run Hetland Garden Centre in Dumfries, Dino Park has become one of Scotland’s favourite family days out. Fill the boots of a Jurassic explorer as you navigate between the favourite grazing spot of the Triceratops and where the T-Rex roams the dark forest.
Let imaginations run wild as you meet the beasts that once roamed the earth. Children can discover the secrets of the Dino Mine, unearth ancient fossils and listen to tales of times gone by retold by our Park Rangers in the Dino Den.
The park is open to little explorers from April to October but you can visit Garden Centre and Dino Soft Play all year round.
The Famous Blacksmiths Shop
The Blacksmiths Shop is the reason Gretna Green is so well known today. The Blacksmiths Shop has stood in Gretna Green since 1712 and is one of the very first locations couples could elope to get married.
Bellymack Hill Farm: Red Kite Feeding Station
A rare opportunity to see these fantastic birds at close quarters and in unrivalled numbers. Spend an afternoon at Bellymack Hill Farm and watch the spectacular display as these birds of prey swoop down for their daily feed and soar above your head.
Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve
A superb example of a hanging valley, the reserve takes its name from the imposing 60m waterfall that plunges from Loch Skeen. The area is a haven for upland wildlife with walking trails for all abilities, ranging from the highest hill in Dumfriesshire or to a short stroll below the falls.
Fancy a ‘wee dram’? You won’t want to miss a tour of this historic distillery. The Annandale Distillery was established in 1836, making it Scotland’s oldest distillery predating Glenfiddich by 50 years. The former Johnnie Walker distillery ceased production in 1918 after which it lay dormant until it’s dramatic revival in 2014. The distillery is now well known for its friendly staff and informative whisky tours which are popular both with whisky loving locals and curious travellers.
Laggan Outdoor Activity Centre
Home to one of Europe’s longest zip wires, adventurous visitors can enjoy an adrenaline-inducing 820m plunge. The family run centre also hosts a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities, including archery, segway riding, clay pigeon shooting, water balling and grass sledging.
Twelve Apostles Stone Circle
Ancient standing stones continue puzzled modern archaeologists. Some believe them to have been the sites of ancient rituals or religious ceremonies. The Twelve Apostles stone circle, which sits between Holywood and Newbridge, is the largest of its kind on mainland Scotland and the seventh largest in Britain. Only eleven of the original stones remain and local folklore associates the stones with the Twelves Apostles of Jesus Christ – the absent stone said to represent Judas Iscariot.
The Devil’s Porridge Museum
Fondly described by visitors as a ‘hidden gem’ offering a ‘fascinating journey through time’, this interactive museum tells the story of the HM Factory Gretna and its predominantly female workforce during WWI. The museum’s name was coined by the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when he likened the guncotton – handmixed in the Dumfriesshire factory – to ‘a sort of Devil’s Porridge’.
Mull of Galloway Lighthouse
Climb Scotland’s most southerly lighthouse and you will be rewarded by distant views of Ireland and the Isle of Man, on a clear day. Enjoy hilltop walks boasting breathtaking views or roam along two miles of sandy beaches when you discover this tranquil paradise.
Creetown Gem Rock Museum
The award-winning Creetown museum is home to one of the finest private collections of precious gemstones, crystals, minerals and fossils. Containing everything from exquisite replicas of the world’s largest diamonds to some of the rarest crystals and rocks found in Britain, the museum promises an interactive experience to be enjoyed by the whole the family.
The museum is also known for the delicious home baking and warm hospitality served up to visitors tearoom. Open to visitors all year round, they even have a fossilised dinosaur egg!
St Ninian’s Cave
Believed to have been a retreat of Scotland’s first saint, this small sea cave lies tucked away on the coast of the Machars of Galloway and remains an important destination for Christian pilgrims. As a natural cleft in the sea cliff, the cave is now 7m long and 3m wide, reduced over time due to rock fall.
The quiet walk down to the pebbly beach offers a peaceful route for pilgrims, families and dog walkers to enjoy the views and soak up the atmosphere.
Rockliffe is a sandy beach located on Dumfries and Galloway’s southerly coastline. Surrounded by a vast network of walking routes, there are plenty of paths in the area to explore, as well as the beach itself.
The beach is a National Scenic Area and indeed known for being one of the most beautiful coastal areas in Scotland. Rockcliffe is popular with dog walkers all year round and the village has a small car park and a cafe. You can also visit the nature reserve on Rough Island, although it’s only accessible by a tidal causeway – so do check the tide times before you go.
Rockliffe to Sandyhills Coastal Walk
This linear coastal route stretches from Rockcliffe beach to the sandier shores of Sandyhills. With spectacular views from atop of the cliffs across the Solway Firth, this is a definite must for keen walkers.
Cream O’ Galloway
A true family day out, discover how local artisans make their luxurious ice cream and get to know your favourite flavours with special tasting sessions. Cream O’ Galloway offer a range of farm tours and have a cafe on-site where their own beef and cheese are the stars of the show.
The menu embodies their strong commitment to using organic, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients with a range of vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Garden of Cosmic Speculation
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack House, near Dumfries, is the home of Charles Jencks, the landscape artist responsible for Crawick Multiverse. Following the same themes of cosmology, science and mathematics the garden is designed to depict a range of theories based on these subjects. The 30-acre garden is only open to the public for one day each year, in May, so be sure not to miss out!
The calm waters of this expansive sea loch acts as a natural harbour for shipping and ferries travelling between Scotland and Ireland. Stranraer is the largest settlement on Loch Ryan’s shores and from here walkers can embark on the scenic 12-mile coastal route to Cairnryan. And while you’re here, don’t forget to sample the sea salty freshness of Scotland’s only wild native Oysters!
Mabie Farm Park
Suitable for all ages from tiny tots to 12-year-olds, Mabie Farm offers a great day out for the whole family. There are lots of animals to meet and outdoor play areas with trampolines, paddle boats and bouncy castles. Rainy day? No problem – they have an indoor soft play too and an onsite restaurant.
Robert Burns’ House
No trip to Dumfries and Galloway would be complete, without a visit to the birthplace of Scotland’s most famous and best loved poet. The cottage where Burns was born in 1759 was also known as the “auld cley biggin” and is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. Discover the story of a talented wordsmith and a complex man, who died at the age of 37 but is still celebrated in Scotland, today.
Savings Banks Museum
In 1810, the world’s first Savings Bank was opened by Dr Henry Duncan. The original Ruthwell Parish Bank now holds a collection of coins and banknotes from around the world, as well as some of the earliest at home savings boxes.
Set deep into the rock of the shore, this truly unique, natural aquarium, was originally used as a fish larder and stocked with salmon for the local Laird from as far back as 1800. Feed the fish by hand and see other marine life at the UK’s (possibly the world’s) largest natural marine aquarium.
Discover your inner lost boy as you adventure to the birthplace of Peter Pan. Visit the place where author, J.M. Barrie, found his inspiration for the enchanted Neverland as he played in the house and gardens as a child. The house now is now a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling and a Neverland Discovery Garden for children to enjoy and discover.
Scotland’s Most Haunted Road
If you’re spellbound by the supernatural, a twilight trip along Scotland’s most haunted stretch of road promises an unsettling experience. From ghoulish gatherings to UFO sightings, the road’s eerie history makes for spine-chilling reading. The spooky section of the A75 runs from Annan to Gretna Green and has been the subject of strange goings on for over 50 years. Travellers in search of myth and mystery are sure to find what they’re looking for on Scotland’s Most Haunted Road, but be warned – this attraction is not for the faint of heart!
Of course, no list of our county’s best loved attractions would be complete without a nod to our own little pocket of Southwest Scotland. Our cosy country hotel offers a classic country pub restaurant and beautifully finished boutique hotel rooms. Nestled among some of Scotland’s most scenic countryside, we are three miles from the fantastic Drumlanrig Castle and still only 90 minutes from Edinburgh or Glasgow.
The surrounding region is bursting with stunning coastlines, unexplored forests, beautiful rivers and rugged hills. Our luxury hotel is the perfect base for those who enjoy long walks and for the amazing range of outdoor activities we have on the doorstep, including cycling, riding, canoeing and fishing on the Nith.
So, there you have it – 50 things to get you started in Dumfries and Galloway. We hope this has given you a glimpse of what’s on offer in our beautiful county. And once you arrive, you’ll find there’s plenty more activities to discover!