Scotland’s south might just be the most overlooked region in the country. While most people head north as soon as they touch down, I recently spent a week exploring the Scottish Borders on the south-east and Dumfries and Galloway in the south-west. This itinerary will convince you to spend a week in south Scotland and contains everything you need to know about transport, attractions, food, accommodation and what to do.
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Most people who arrive at one of the international airports in Glasgow or Edinburgh can only think about one thing: going north. They have been dreaming of the Scottish Highlands, the mountains and the valleys that they have seen all over blogs, in TV shows and on billboards.
But Scotland does not only extend to the north – the southern regions between the Central belt incl Glasgow and Edinburgh and Northern England pack a punch that is far off the beaten track.
If the thought of crowded single-track roads in the Highlands, overflowing campsites and queues at attractions and restaurants puts you off, follow me on this adventure to the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway.
I spent one week exploring the hidden gems that are waiting for you in southern Scotland including historic abbeys and stunning coastlines, quirky small towns and rolling hills, ruined castles and exotic gardens. This is my best-of!
This self-drive itinerary is based on my personal experience of travelling around the south of Scotland with my family (all adults). It includes practical travel information about both regions – Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway – including where to stay and where to eat out.
We chose to stay in two central locations near Melrose and Newton Stewart and did day trips from there. It is also possible to travel around the south road trip-style, i.e. changing accommodation every night or two. Distances are so feasible though, that this is not necessary if you prefer a more relaxed travel style.
In this travel guide you will find:
- A Self-Drive Itinerary for southern Scotland in one week (7 nights/8days),
- Recommendations for Accommodation, Restaurants, Shops and Pubs,
- Things to do in the Scottish Borders,
- Things to do in Dumfries and Galloway,
- And an Interactive Map for your South Scotland holiday.
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Interactive South Scotland Map
This interactive map contains all the places I mentioned in this itinerary, including optional stops that I did not manage to visit myself. You can also find this interactive map here.
Why should you visit South Scotland?
Here are three top reasons to visit the southern regions of Scotland:
1. The South is Off The Beaten Track
Allow me to exaggerate: no one is going to Scotland’s southern regions. While many locals and domestic visitors consider them among their favourites, most international visitors will never set foot to areas south of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Those who are brave enough to throw their dreams of the Scottish Highlands overboard and follow my advice will be rewarded with all the benefits of off-beat travel: more affordable accommodation that can be booked more last-minute, more space at car parks and attractions, and less busy roads and traffic.
2. The South is Incredibly Diverse
I believe that many people think that southern Scotland is boring – it is too flat to be scenic and there is nothing to do. Fact is though, that the Borders and D & G are incredibly diverse.
From the bird colonies and nature reserves on the east coast to the coastal walks and lighthouses of the west, the remote hills and mountains of the Southern Uplands to the lush banks of the River Tweed. The landscapes in the south of Scotland are incredibly diverse and so are the activities you can do there. Which brings me to…
3. The South has Something for Everyone
History buffs will love the Abbey Trail in the Scottish Borders and the many castles in Dumfries and Galloway, outdoor lovers can go for challenging walks and multi-day treks, hit the mountain biking trails or fly down one of Europe’s longest zip wires.
There are standing stones, grand houses and exotic gardens, quirky towns dotted with book shops and independent businesses, you can even visit Scotland’s version of the Avenger‘s New Asgard! There are many kid-friendly activities, ideas for romantic getaways and outdoor adventures waiting for you.
The south of Scotland is anything but boring!
Visit the Scottish Borders (4 nights)
The Scottish Borders spread from the south of Edinburgh to the Scottish-English border and make up the east of southern Scotland. The region is a productive agricultural area covered in barley and wheat fields and lots of animal farming. It is hilly and mostly rural, but there are some noteworthy towns and villages including Peebles, Melrose, Kelso and Jedburgh.
The Borders are steeped in Scottish history and played a significant role in Scottish-English wars. There are many castles and abbeys in this region, but many are ruined and thus testimony to the conflicts.
From the picturesque coastline to the rolling hills inland, the Borders offer a variety of landscapes and activities and are a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the north.
Scottish Borders Travel Essentials
Where to Stay in the Scottish Borders | There are many traditional B&Bs and charming small hotels spread out across the Scottish Borders. You could move around from Melrose to Peebles, Jedburgh, Hawick and the coast, or choose one home base in a central location. We stayed at The Old Paper House near Melrose which was perfect for our group (7 adults). We had a fully equipped kitchen, a gorgeous garden, views of the Eildon Hills and could walk to shops, sights and eateries in Melrose (20 minutes).
AirBnB is also a great option if you prefer your own place. There are many quirky places available including shepherd’s huts, glamping pods and yurts!
Getting around the Scottish Borders | You can move around the Scottish Borders by train or bus, but I recommend hiring a car for full flexibility – here are my top tips for renting cars in Scotland.
The best restaurants in the Scottish Borders | If you eat meat and dairy, the Scottish Borders are a rich larder with loads of local produce to try. As vegans, eating out was a little bit tricky though. My favourite restaurant, which had a tasty vegan-friendly risotto on the menu, was Provender in Melrose (West End House, High Street).
I also really enjoyed the cafe at Abbotsford House and the famous Ebbcarrs Cafe in St Abbs (Harbour, St Abbs). It’s famous for its locally caught crab and other seafood but also had a few vegan options.
Day 1: Edinburgh to Melrose
Like most journeys, ours began at Edinburgh airport, where we picked up my family and our rental car. Since they had visited Edinburgh in the past, we headed straight out to the south of Scotland. We started exploring right away and added some stops to our route from Edinburgh to Melrose.
If you’d like to see Edinburgh on this trip, I recommend cutting one night in the Borders (down to three nights) and spend that one in Edinburgh at the beginning.
Stop 1: Rosslyn Chapel
You might have heard about Rosslyn Chapel before because you are a history buff – or because you’ve watched The Da Vinci Code. Either way, it is a must-see when visiting the south of Scotland.
The chapel in the village of Roslin (watch the different spellings when you type it into your GPS or Google Maps), dates back to the 15th century. Even though less than half of the originally planned structure was ever built, it is absolutely stunning.
Rosslyn Chapel is covered in decorative elements inside and out, from gargoyles and statues to columns and stained-glass windows. The stone is carved in the most intricate manner and some of the columns on the inside, in particular, have caused a lot of artistic jealousy. Apparently, the master stonemason even killed one of his apprentices for carving a more beautiful column than him!
The entrance to Rosslyn Chapel includes an exhibition at the visitor centre and entrance to the chapel. Inside the chapel, there are staff members to answer your questions and regular demonstrations to bring to life the time period in which the chapel was built.
Note, that photography is prohibited inside the chapel.
Rosslyn Chapel, Chapel Loan, Roslin EH25 9PU, website, £9 (Concession: £7)
Stop 2: Peebles
This lovely small town lies on the banks of the River Tweed and is perfect to stretch your legs or stop for lunch. There are quirky cafes and shops and many walks to into the surrounding landscape start right in the centre of Peebles.
We actually did not manage to stop in Peebles. Instead, we were headed to Galashiels for a big shop before the rain came crashing down.
Additional stop: The Pentland Hills
Another interesting place to visit on the way from Edinburgh airport to the Scottish Borders is the Pentlands. The Pentland Hills lie southwest of Edinburgh and are a popular recreational area for city-dwellers.
The Pentland Hills Regional Park is crisscrossed by trails, rivers and glens, making for fantastic hiking terrain. There are many paths to choose from, but great places for quick a wander into the hills are Balerno and Nine Mile Burn.
Overnight in Melrose (4 nights)
We based ourselves near the village of Melrose, which is a great hub to explore the Scottish Borders from. Melrose has plenty of accommodation options, ranging from self-catering holiday homes (like the one we rented) to traditional B&Bs and small independent hotels.
There are many restaurants in Melrose – some local favourites are Barts Hotel and the fairly newly opened Provender restaurant. There is also a Coop supermarket to stock up on necessities and a series of cafes and bars for before and after dinner.
We stayed at a large holiday home in Newstead, about a 5-minute drive from the centre of Melrose (25 minutes on foot). The Old Paper House is a converted farmhouse with beautiful exposed wooden beams, tasteful decoration and a massive garden. It has 4 bedrooms and space for up to 8 people. Perfect for a family trip like ours!
Browse accommodation in Melrose here.
Day 2: Of Abbeys and Grand Houses
The Scottish Borders are a paradise for history buffs and book lovers alike. The region has always played a significant role in Scottish history and culture, particularly during the Scottish War of Independence, and has also been significantly impacted by Reformation. It has inspired world-famous poets and authors, who have made their home in the Borders, such as Sir Walter Scott. Today is all about uncovering this history and learning more.
Stop 1: The Borders Abbeys
There are four ruined abbeys in the Scottish Borders that make up the Borders Abbeys. They are located in Melrose, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Kelso. Since they are all so close to each other, it is easy to visit all of them in a day – or you can choose one or two to include in your itinerary. We chose to visit Melrose Abbey, since we stayed nearby, and also popped into Kelso Abbey, which is free of charge.
Melrose Abbey: This abbey was founded in 1136, but the structure you can visit today, dates from the 16th century. Robert the Bruce felt so strongly about this monastery that he asked for his heart to be buried here, and after his death, it was brought there from his grave at Dunfermline Abbey. My highlight of this abbey is the roof viewpoint – it’s absolutely worth the climb! Website, £6 (Concession: £4.80)
Jedburgh Abbey: The abbey was established in the 12th century too and is a beautiful example of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture. Website, £6 (Concession: £4.80)
Dryburgh Abbey: This abbey features some of the best Gothic architecture in Scotland. It is also the final resting place of Sir Walter Scott. Website, £6 (Concession: £4.80)
Kelso Abbey: This is the only Borders Abbey that is free to visit, and even though very little remains of the original structure, it is a stunning example of monastic architecture. Website
Stop 2: Abbotsford House
Disclaimer: This was a gifted experience for me and my family.
There are many castles in the Scottish Borders – the most magnificent I have seen must be Floors Castle near Kelso – but also a number of grand houses and homes, which were owned by private individuals.
Abbotsford House, the former home of Sir Walter Scott – a significant figure of the historical fiction genre and best-selling author way beyond Scotland – might just be one of the most impressive homes in all of Scotland. It looks nothing like the farmhouse Scott bought here in 1812, but more like a fairy tale castle.
Even Queen Victoria loved it! When she stayed at Abbotsford during her first trip to Scotland, she took inspiration from the turrets and gabling and remodelled her own Scottish home, Balmoral Castle, in a similar way.
Today, you can visit Abbotsford House and wander the surrounding estate and gardens. There is an exhibition and a cafe at the visitor centre and an audio tour leads you through the ground floor of the house, including Scott’s impressive library and his intimate study.
I highly recommend a walk around the walled garden adjacent to the house and a wander along the woodland trails around the estate!
Abbotsford House, Melrose TD6 9BQ, website, £11.20 (Concession: £10.20) incl. audio guide
Day 3: Hills and Coasts
The Scottish Borders are not all about Scottish history and grand architecture. Nature-lovers and outdoorsy people will equally fall in love with this region. This day is all about quenching your thirst for nature, scenery and views.
Stop 1: Scott’s View
The landscape along the River Tweet is what made Sir Walter Scott buy the estate of Abbotsford House and make this area his home. One of his favourite viewpoints in the area is now known as Scott’s View and offers a magnificent vista of the River Tweed valley and the Eildon Hills near Melrose in the distance.
Standing here, it is not hard to see why Scott – and indeed so many others before and after him – fell in love with the Scottish Borders!
Stop 2: St Abb’s Head Nature Reserve
Next, make your way to the coast. From Melrose, it takes about one hour to drive to St Abbs on the east coast of Scotland.
I recommend going for a walk along the cliffs of the nature reserve, before returning to the village for a well-deserved lunch. Park your car at the Nature Reserve car park, signposted on the left before you reach the village – it is just a 10-minute walk to the village and it spares you navigating the narrow and steep roads in the small town. It is also cheaper to park there (£3 all-day), than by the harbour in St Abbs (£5 all-day).
From the car park, walk to the coast and choose from one of many trails available. You can do a loop all the way out to St Abbs Lighthouse and Pettico Wick Bay, or just wander along the coast for a bit and turn back whenever you feel like it. We did the latter and it took us forever because everywhere was so beautiful and we stopped for photos often.
Back in St Abbs, head to Ebbcarrs Cafe by the harbour. Their crab rolls and seafood is famous, but they also have some vegan options on the menu, such as a baked potato with beans.
Optional Hike: Eildon Hills
If you fancy a longer hike with some elevation, you could return to Melrose in time to climb the Eildon Hills. There are three summits, but you could easily also just focus on one if you have less time. The trail starts in the centre of Melrose, is straight forward and easy to follow but can be muddy at times. Sturdy hiking shoes with good grips are highly recommended, as is proper raingear and a map of the area.
Day 4: Day Trip to Northumberland
There are plenty of more things to do in the Scottish Borders, such as driving the Reivers Road trip, going mountain biking at the 7stanes trail centres or tasting whisky at The Borders Distillery. However, we decided to go further afield and spend a day across the border in Northumberland.
Stop 1: Holy Isle and Lindisfarne
From Melrose, it takes about one hour to drive to the Holy Island (also known as Lindisfarne), a tidal island off the coast of Northern England. Its name derives from the island’s significance for Christianity in this region. It is the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels and home to Lindisfarne Priory, which was attacked and raided by Vikings in the 8th century. Despite that, it remains a place of worship to this day.
Lindisfarne can only be reached via a causeway during low tide and is cut off from the mainland twice a day. It is essential to check tidal times in advance in order to know when it is safe to cross over to the island, and when you can leave again. You can find an up-to-date timetable here.
Once you are on Holy Island, there are plenty of things to do. Visit Lindisfarne Castle (website, £9) and the historic Lime Kilns beneath it. Wander along the shore and pay a visit to the walled flower garden near the castle. In the village, discover local produce at cafes and restaurants and taste locally produces Meade (honey wine) – they also have some vegan-friendly liqueurs to try!
You can visit the ruins of the Priory (website, £7.20) and walk up to a watchtower above it (free of charge) for views of the village and the sea. Below the watchtower at the old Lifeboat House, an exhibition illustrates the long history of lifeboats and their missions on the island.
There are several restaurants and cafes on the island, but you can also bring your own supplies and enjoy a picnic among the sand dunes to the west of the island.
Additional Stops: Northumberland Castles
For us, the tides worked out in a way, that we had to spend the whole day on the Holy Island. If you can cross over at the beginning of low tide and return before high tide comes back, you might have enough time to explore some of Northumberland’s beautiful castles.
This region of Northern England is covered in castles, some ruined others, very well preserved, and many are within easy driving distance of the Holy Island.
From the watchtower, you might have already spotted the ruins of Bamburgh Castle to the south. A bit further lie the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. One of the grandest castles in the area and one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK is Alnwick Castle.
Visit Dumfries & Galloway (3 nights)
Dumfries and Galloway is the southernmost region in Scotland and is located in the far southwest of the country. It has a short border with northern England and is adjacant to the Scottish Borders, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. Its coast is surrounded by the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. While inland is dominated by hills and forests – the Southern Uplands and Galloway Forest Park – the coastline is dotted with picturesque villages, stunning cliffs and towering lighthouses.
The region even has it’s own Route 66-style road trip route, the South West Coastal 300 which you could explore for days. We opted to spend three nights in this region, using a central home base in Newton Stewart.
Dumfries & Galloway Travel Essentials
Where to Stay in Dumfries & Galloway | Just like in the Borders, there is a plethora of B&Bs and hotels in Dumfries & Galloway. You could road trip around the region from Moffat to Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown, Stranraer and Girvan or choose a central location. We stayed at The Old School House in Newton Stewart, which offered us a lot of space, a hot tub in the garden, and a great location to explore the whole region.
AirBnB is a great option if you prefer your own place or a quirky getaway.
Getting around Dumfries & Galloway | Again, I highly recommend to bring your own hire car to the region in order to get the most out of the many coastal roads and hidden gems in Dumfries and Galloway.
The best restaurants in Dumfries & Galloway | We had no problem finding vegan food in Newton Stewart and surrounding areas. Among my favourites were Indian curries at Meena’s and the vegan menu at The Crown Hotel (both Newton Stewart). A real surprise was Shoots and Leaves, the region’s only fully vegan and vegetarian cafe in Wigtown. In Stranraer, we picked up delicious takeaway pizzas from Papa Rab’s Restaurant (they also have a dining area to sit-in) – they even had vegan cheese!
The best pubs in Dumfries & Galloway | A bar to highlight in Dumfries & Galloway is The Grapes in Stranraer, a popular pub and music venue. The owner is a huge country fan and often brings over acts from the American south and from all over Europe to play at the pub, and there are regular trad music sessions as well.
Day 5: Dumfries & Galloway
There are not many large roads going from east to west in the south of Scotland. We followed the winding A708 from Selkirk to Moffat. This road runs right through the Moffat Hills, a range within the Southern Uplands, and is a scenic experience that rivals that of a Highlands road trip.
Stop 1: Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve
The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall is more than a pleasant surprise. From the road and the car park you can only see layers of green hills, but when you walk closer, you see that they actually cover a narrow valley and a waterfall that drops 60 m from top to bottom.
There are two viewpoints near the waterfall. One that is further away, but easier to walk to; to the right, across a little footbridge. The other, slightly further and uphill, but closer to the actual waterfall; leading up a little trail to the left.
If you have a few more hours and prefer to hike instead of more cultural/history stops (see below), you can also follow the steep but rewarding trail up to Loch Skeen. It leads through the Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve, brings you even closer to the waterfall and into the wilderness of this remote hill range.
The parking fee is £3, but it’s free to park here for National Trust of Scotland members.
Optional Stops: Dumfries, Caerlaverock Castle & Sweetheart Abbey
Since we were a bit unlucky with the weather, we moved rather quickly from the Borders to Dumfries & Galloway. There are, however, many things to do along the way and places I have bookmarked for my next trip to the area:
Dumfries: Dumfries is the largest town in the region and a popular stop for my people visiting the south of Scotland. I would have loved to explore the blossoming vegan food scene – especially the vegan menus at Cavens Arms and Mrs Green’s. There are also many other things to do in Dumfries, including the Dumfries Art Trail, the Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura and the Crichton Gardens. If you visit, you are in good company: Bonnie Prince Charlie, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce have all spent time in Dumfries as well!
Caerlaverock Castle: This castle, approx. 9 miles south of Dumfries, was the coastal stronghold of the region in medieval times. Even though it is ruined, the triangular outer shape of the castle is pretty well preserved, so that it is easy to imagine what the English soldiers would have seen on their many sieges of the castle. Website, £6.
Sweetheart Abbey: This beautiful abbey was founded by Lady Dervorgilla as a tribute to her husband – thus the monks gave it its lovely name. Apart from the roof, it is remarkably complete and allows you to travel back to the time when it was built, over 700 years ago. Website, £6.
Stop 2: Kirkcudbright
For lunch, we stopped in the coastal town of Kirkcudbright which sits where the River Dee meets the Solway Firth. It is known as an artists’ town and has attracted many Scottish artists since the late 19th century. Today, the streets are lined with quirky and colourful houses, and there are lots of galleries and artist studios waiting to be explored.
We stopped for lunch at The Garret Hotel.
Overnight in Newton Stewart (3 nights)
Despite the rain, the drive from Kirkcudbright to Newton Stewart was glorious, especially the section of the SWC300 that leads right along the shore of the Solway Firth.
We arrived in Newton Stewart, a small town at the foot of the Galloway Hills, sprawling north to south along the River Cree. The town makes for a perfect central homebase to explore the rest of Dumfries and Galloway. It is just one hour to places like Sweetheart Abbey or Dumfries, 45 minutes to the west coast (Portpatrick, Stranraer), 15 minutes to Wigtown or the Wood of Cree, and one hour to the southernmost point of Scotland on the Rhins of Galloway. There are several restaurants, hotels and shops in Newton Stewart – everything you need is at your door step.
We stayed in a large holiday home, The Old School House, about 20 minutes walk from the High Street of Newton Stewart. It is located in a quiet residential area and has a whirlpool in the garden – luxury, especially after a rainy day on the road.
Browse other accommodation in Newton Stewart here.
Day 6: Wigtownshire – Machars Peninsula
The historic county of Wigtownshire spreads across two peninsulas – the hammer-shaped Rhins of Galloway in the west, and the triangle-shaped Machars peninsula in the east. We spent two days exploring these two areas, which gives you an idea for how much there is to see here!
Stop 1: Wigtown
No trip to the south-west of Scotland is complete without a stop in Wigtown, Scotland’s national book town. Bookworms, in particular, will love it here and could easily spend all day browsing the plethora of bookshops.
There are 16 book shops in Wigtown – that’s one for every 62 inhabitants of this small bustling town. Most of them are located on Main Street and sell second-hand books – although each has a range of new releases too. We went to almost all of them and among my favourites were the giant Old Bank Bookshop, Well-Read Books, Byre Books and ReadingLasses, which focuses on books by women.
We had the possibly best vegan meal of the holiday in Wigtown too, at Shoots and Leaves, the first fully vegetarian and vegan cafe in Dumfries & Galloway.
PS: Wigtown hosts the annual Wigtown Book Festival in late September/early October.
Optional Stops: Whithorn, Isle of Whithorn & St Ninian’s Cave
We were feeling lazy and the rain did not help to lift the spirits – the whirlpool at our house did, on the other hand, so you must excuse that the next suggestion for your itinerary has not been personally tried and tested (yet).
I would have loved to drive further south on the Machars peninsula, visited the Roman Christian sites in Whithorn, wandered the harbour of Isle of Whithorn and walked out to the beautiful St Ninian’s Cave.
Day 7: Wigtownshire – Rhins of Galloway
For our second day in Wigtownshire, we ventured out to the southernmost point of Scotland, the hammer-shaped peninsula called Rhins of Galloway. We began the day with a “long” drive to the Mull of Galloway (1-1.5 hours) and then slowly worked our way back to Newton Stewart.
Stop 1: Mull of Galloway
There is an RSPB visitor centre for information about local wildlife and flora. If you are lucky, you can spot guillemots, kittiwakes and peregrine falcons, and during May and June, even a small number of puffins is nesting here. If you visit – like me – in August, the flora display is breathtaking, as the purple heather covering the land is beginning to bloom. At low tide, you can witness the Nine Witches of Galloway, a spectacle of nine different ocean currents meeting and crashing into each other below the cliffs. According to legend, witches have created these currents to harm ships and boats crossing over to Scotland.
At the lighthouse, you can visit the exhibition (£3), climb to the top of the lighthouse to learn about how it works and get a 360-view of the area (£3) or do both (£5 combination ticket).
The Gallie Craig cafe near the car park was built into the steep cliffs of the mull (mull means “rounded hill”) and blends perfectly into the landscape. it offers a wide range of hot and cold drinks, cakes, ice cream and full meals, and stunning views, especially from the terrace.
Stop 2: Logan Botanic Garden
Many visitors are surprised to hear that the west coast of Scotland is blessed with fairly mild climate year-round – in fact, mild enough to allow palm trees to grow in people’s gardens!
The Rhins of Galloway are no exception and there is no place more beautifully displaying the benefits of this mild climate than Logan Botanic Garden. It is known to be Scotland’s most exotic garden, supporting plants from Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America and Southern Africa. You will wander among palm trees and tree ferns, or take shelter underneath Eucalyptus trees and giant Gunnera. There is a walled garden with a beautiful flower display and a Victorian glasshouse with exotic plants from South Africa.
The garden also offers a cafe, exhibition space, learning centre and a garden shop, where you can buy a souvenir (plant or seeds) for your own garden back home. [Check custom rules though!]
For all that – well the beautiful gardens at least – you can thank the Gulf Stream – if only, it came with the tropical temperatures too…
Logan Botanic Garden, Port Logan DG9 9ND, website, £7 (Concession: £6).
Optional Stop: Portpatrick & Killantringan Lighthouse
Portpatrick is a small, but picturesque coastal village with a colourful harbour. On a sunny day, you could almost believe you are at the French Riviera thanks to the alfresco restaurants along the seafront!
To get the most out of the stunning scenery of this area, follow an easy coastal trail out to Killantringan Lighthouse. The loop-trail takes around 3-4.5 hours to complete.
Stop 4: Live music in Stranraer
The final stop of the day is Stranraer, a coastal town on the shores of Loch Ryan. You can walk along the refurbished pier and glimpse views of Arran and Ailsa Craig. But in recent times, the town has become increasingly well-known for its focus on music.
The town is host to the annual Galloway Roots Country Music Festival which takes place in October, but even outside of the festival dates, the bars in Stranraer, led by the Grapes Bar, is bringing music from around the world to the southwest of Scotland.
We went to the Grapes for an evening of classic tunes and traditional music, the best Guinness this side of the Irish Sea, and lots of mingling with friendly locals. It’s the kind of pub, you enter as a stranger and leave with a bunch of new friends!
For dinner, we went around the corner to Papa Rab’s Italian restaurant which surprised us with vegan cheese on their pizzas (dairy cheese by default)!
Day 8: Departure
As the last day of our South Scotland itinerary has arrived, we must make our way back north to Edinburgh airport. There are multiple routes to take – inland, via Thornhill and Drumlanrig Castle, straight up through the Galloway Forest Park, or along the coast via Girvan and Culzean Castle. Depending on your flight time, you might have to drive straight to the airport or have time to stop off at some additional sites.
Stop 1: Galloway Forest Park
We had to make our way to the airport at a good pace and chose the most direct path north through the Galloway Forest Park. That way, the road was our sightseeing and we only stopped for a few photos of mountain and forest views in the area.
The Galloway Forest Park is a beautiful recreational area for hikers and cyclists and has many scenic picnic areas too. It is recognised as Dark Sky Park and if you are keen to learn more about the night skies above, I can highly recommend a detour to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington. They also host educational stargazing evenings which you can book online for any of the nights you spend in Dumfries & Galloway.
The park is making an effort to become Scotland’s third national park!
Optional stops: Culzean Castle, Drumlanrig Castle & New Lanark
If you have more time at your hands, either because you have a late evening or early morning flight the next day, or because you are continuing your journey to the north of Scotland, here are some suggestions for sites and attractions to visit in south Scotland.
Culzean Castle: Culzean is a stunning cliff-top castle near Maybole and lies just off the coastal route A77. The castle and surrounding gardens are beautiful and offer great views to the Isle of Arran. Nearby, you could also visit the ruins of Dunure Castle, which presents an impressive contrast to the fairytale palace of Culzean. Website, £17 (Concession: £14.25); Gardens only: £11.85 (Concession: £8.50)
Drumlanrig Castle: Taking the inland route towards Edinburgh (A76), Drumlanrig Castle is a great stop-off near Thornhill. Built from red sandstone, it is also known as “Pink Palace” and possibly one of the most romantic castles in Scotland. Website, £12 (Concession: £10); Gardens only: £6 (Concession: £4.50)
New Lanark: About one hour south-west of Edinburgh airport, you can visit one of Scotland’s cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Lanark. In the late 18th century, Scottish industrialist David Dale built cotton mills in this area, alongside several buildings to house the mill workers. Even though the mills are no longer in operation, the village has been preserved and restored, not only to illustrate this important industry in Scotland’s history but also as an early example of urban planning. Website, £13.95 (Concession: £11.50) incl. 2 daily guided tours which run at 11.30 am and 2 pm.
And just like that, your holiday in the south of Scotland has come to an end. If you are staying in Scotland a bit longer, check out my other itineraries here.
You could for example seamlessly continue with my West Coast of Scotland itinerary by taking the ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown!
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