From the stunning coastline to rolling hills, bustling seaside towns and tranquil woodlands, Ayrshire seems to have it all! And on top of that, it’s a region of Scotland that flies under the radar. With so much to discover, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are 10 things to do in Ayrshire to start exploring.
This guide was commissioned by Ayrshire & Arran as part of their Find Your Balance campaign.
This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.
Just 40 minutes south of Glasgow, there lies a little paradise that has everything you could ever wish for on a trip to Scotland….
Imagine beautiful coastlines, sandy beaches and bustling seaside towns. Rich literary heritage, gorgeous castles, and fascinating Viking history. Tranquil countryside, delicious local produce and the islands on the horizon.
Welcome to Ayrshire!
This region on the southwest coast of Scotland is often overlooked – yet it has so much to offer, especially if you’re looking for a great mix of activities and landscapes, and want to avoid spending hours and hours on the road.
This travel guide includes some of my favourite things to do in Ayrshire and lots of practical travel advice, such as how to get there, where to stay and where to find delicious vegan food.
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Find Your Balance in Ayrshire & Arran
I have visited Ayrshire on many occasions, but my most recent trip to the region was part of Ayrshire & Arran’s “Find Your Balance” campaign.
“Find Your Balance” is all about exploring different aspects of Ayrshire and the Isle of Arran, mixing adventure and nature with relaxation and indulgence.
My trip was about hitting the off-switch on my busy lifestyle back home, and doing things that we all so often make too little time for in our daily lives.
Whether you’re after a rural escape, a luxurious spa break, an action-packed adventure or a foodie experience, Ayrshire & Arran is the place to be.
Ayrshire and Arran are stops on my South Scotland itinerary. If you like what you read here, why not follow it on your next trip to Scotland?
10 Things to do in Ayrshire
Visit Coastal Castles
From scenic ruins that sit on towering cliff tops to fairytale palaces with sprawling gardens – the coastline of Ayrshire is dotted with castles. Here are three Ayrshire castles to visit on your next trip:
Greenan Castle: This dramatic ruined 16th-century tower house sits on top of a sea cliff on the outskirts of Ayr. An earlier castle was built here in the 15th century by the Lords of the Isles, and later owners – the Clan Kennedy – lived here until the mid-1700s. From the car park, follow the beach trail towards the castle ruin. At low tide, you can walk around the cliffs to reach Greenan Beach from where the views arguably just get better.
Dunure Castle: Another one of the Kennedy’s castles, the stunning ruin of Dunure Castle overlooks the small harbour of quaint Dunure village. There is a car park with picnic benches here, as well as a labyrinth that was created by local volunteers.
Culzean Castle: Perched on the cliffs near Maidens, Culzean Castle looks like a palace straight out of a fairytale movie. Built in the 18th century, the castle is well preserved and you can visit the interiors as well as the sprawling gardens and grounds.
Walk the Ayrshire Coastal Path
The Ayrshire Coastal Path runs 100 miles along the coastline from Glenapp to Skelmorlie.
The path can be walked in one go or in stages, as many villages and towns along the way are well connected by train or bus. Parts of the path coincide with national cycling routes which makes this a great multi-purpose path along the coastline of south-west Scotland.
Much of the route runs along sandy beaches or on top of dramatic sea cliffs. The path comes through all the major villages and towns on the coast, including Girvan, Ayr, Troon, Irvine and Largs. The outlines of Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran are always on the horizon.
If you’re looking for more rugged sections to walk, check out the sections from Glenapp to Girvan and from Dunure to Ayr.
You might also like: How to plan a walking holiday in Scotland
Explore Ayrshire’s Hills & Parks
Away from the coast, Ayrshire boasts tranquil woodlands and sprawling parks, remote hills and picturesque lochs. In between the busy towns and productive farmland, there is plenty of nature to be found.
Dean Castle Country Park is one of my recent discoveries. The park lies on the outskirts of Kilmarnock, but just after a short wander on the trails makes you feel like you’re miles away from the town. The castle itself was once the stronghold of the Clan Boyd who played a significant role throughout Scotland’s history, from the Battle of Bannockburn to Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Today it is home to a valuable collection of arms and armour as well as early musical instruments. The surrounding park is criss-crossed by trails such as the History Trail (1km), the Countryside Trail (3.2km) and the Farm Trail (2.1km).
The castle is currently being restored, but the park is still open to the public.
Other parks and natural areas in Ayrshire include:
- the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park,
- the Fairlie Glens walk near Largs,
- the RSPB nature reserve at Lochwinnoch & Castle Semple,
- and the northern parts of the Galloway Forest Park including Loch Doon.
Climb high at TreeTop Trials (Craufurdland Estate)
Looking for action? Head to Craufurdland Estate near Kilmarnock and try your hand at tree climbing!
TreeTop Trials is an obstacle course at soaring heights among the treetops of Craufurdland Estate. The course includes challenging crossings from tree to tree, like rope bridges, moving vines, ladders and swings. There are also three ziplines, a 12-metre tree climb with abseiling, a chimney climb and a free fall descent.
There are two difficulty levels for anyone over 9 years old and over 140 cm, as well as a kids course for smaller or younger children.
Built by the estate’s ingenious owners, Adity and Simon, the course is just one of several unique experiences at Craufurdland.
Other features include self-catering accommodation at the castle, a woodland burial ground for eco-friendly funerals, a dog hotel, a fishery and a fantastic cafe-restaurant serving up delicious fare made from local produce (more on that below).
Follow the footsteps of Robert Burns
Scotland’s National Bard Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, a village outside of Ayr. He lived in Ayrshire for most of his life and started writing poems here, about love, farm life and more.
Today Scots and people around the world of Scottish descent celebrate Burns Night on 25 January to honour his memory. Find out more about Burns Night here!
One of Burns’ most famous poems is “Tam o’Shanter”, which he wrote in 1790 when he lived in Dumfriesshire. It is a narrative poem about a farmer who gets drunk in town, rides past a haunted church and is chased home by witches, demons and the devil himself.
Scottish painter Alexander Goudie felt inspired by the poem and created over 50 paintings illustrating Burns’ words. The majority of the Tam o’Shanter Collection is exhibited at Rozelle House Museum and Galleries in Ayr.
The paintings are beautiful and haunting at the same time, capturing the different moods of the poem perfectly.
It’s free to visit Rozelle House, and there are several more galleries with changing exhibitions, a tea room and sprawling grounds for walks.
Intrigued by Scotland’s literary history? Check out my South Scotland itinerary to learn more about Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott!
Explore Ayrshire’s waters with Adventure Carrick
From the roaring sea to tumbling rivers and still lochs, Ayrshire’s bodies of water are ready for adventure.
Adventure Carrick is an outdoor company based in Girvan. They offer all sorts of land- and water-based activities on the coast and in the countryside of Ayrshire, including kayaking and canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, gorge walking and coasteering.
Additionally, owner Chris loves creating slow adventures. Mindful tea ceremonies, foraging in the woods, outdoor cookery, trying a few yoga postures – if you like, Chris can work elements of wellbeing into any of the activities you book.
I met Chris for a paddle boarding session near the mouth of the River Doon. We drank tea on the beach and paddled up the river. Then Chris tied our boards together and while he steered, I lay on my back, floating down the river and just listening to the sounds of nature. What a relaxing experience!
You might also like: Water wellness on Scotland’s west coast
Indulge in the local cuisine
Large parts of Ayrshire are used as productive farmland. In fact much of the local produce I can buy in Glasgow shops comes from Ayrshire.
Of course, the coast is also right there, so you can indulge in amazing fresh produce, whether it’s locally caught fish or fresh veg from a local farm.
Surprisingly though, Ayrshire is also great for vegans! Here are some of my favourite eateries that have a great vegan offering:
- The Urbanist in Kilmarnock has a separate vegan menu with comfort foods like mac & cheese, curry and fajitas, and five different vegan desserts.
- Laird’s Table at Craufurdland Estate has a fab menu mixing traditional Scottish with some Indian influences, especially for the vegan-friendly dishes. Provenance is important here and the menu tells you where all the ingredients are sourced from.
- Coast Restaurant & Bar is the seaside inspired restaurant at The Gailes spa hotel. They have several vegan options on the menu and a selection of delicious cocktails.
Find more options on the Veggie & Vegan Taste Trail for Ayrshire and Arran.
Are you a vegan traveller? Check out my vegan Scotland travel guide.
Relax at Si! Spa
Few things are better at the end of an adventure-filled day on the road, than checking into a spa, soaking in a hot tub, sweating it all out in a steam room or melting away during a relaxing massage.
The Si! Spa at the Gailes Hotel in Irvine has all that and more. A modern thermal suite with vitality pool, sauna, steam room and rain forest shower. An outdoor deck with a hot tub and views. An indulging menu of rejuvenating treatments. Tranquil spaces to just lounge and relax. You name it.
You can get a day spa pass or book a spa break that also includes accommodation and meals.
Go island hopping to the Isle of Arran
If you’ve spent time on the Ayrshire coast and looked out at sea, you will – without a doubt – have spotted the outline of the Isle of Arran on the horizon.
The Isle of Arran lies just off the coast of Ayrshire and is often considered “Scotland in Miniature”. Dramatic mountains, sandy beaches, whisky distilleries, castles, standing stones, seaside promenades – there is nothing the Isle of Arran can’t do.
As such, the island makes for a perfect day trip from Ayrshire. Jump on the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick and choose your adventure on the island:
- Hike to Glenashdale Falls and the Giant’s Graves from Whiting Bay. The Giant’s Graves are the remains of two chambered burial cairns that were built over 5,000 years ago. The hike takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Go for a gentle walk down Glen Rosa for stunning views of the Goatfell range. Or climb to the summit of Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran.
- Drive around the island and discover the standing stones of Machrie Moor.
- Tour a distillery or two – Lochranza Distillery in the north or Lagg Distillery in the south.
Getting around: Bring your car across on the ferry, take a local bus, or book transfers with local taxi company A.R.C. Private Hire.
Food on Arran: Pick up traditional pastries and pies from Wooleys of Arran, a family-run bakery in Brodick. Vegan options are also available.
Where to stay: Make it an overnight getaway and book a stay in Brodick. See my suggestion below.
Cycle around Great Cumbrae
Great Cumbrae is a small island off the Ayrshire coast. You can reach it by ferry from Largs – the crossing only takes a few minutes.
The best way to explore Great Cumbrae is by bike. You can bring your own for free on the ferry, or hire bikes in Millport, the biggest village on the island.
The coastal road around the island is only 10 miles, so it’s easy to cycle around in a couple of hours and stop to enjoy the scenery. Here are some highlights not to miss on Great Cumbrae:
- Millport is the bustling seaside “capital” of Great Cumbrae. Here, you’ll find a beach, shops and eateries along the promenade and stunning views of the Isle of Arran to the southwest.
- Crocodile Rock in Millport is a local icon. Over 100 years ago, a local noticed that the rock formation resembled a crocodile and set about painting it accordingly. It has been repainted ever since and is a popular photo spot on the island.
- Fintry Bay is a scenic spot for a picnic on the beach with views across to the Isle of Bute. There is also a cafe here that offers fresh baking, picnic boxes and ice cream.
- The HMS Shearwater Monument was erected by the Captain and crew of the HMS Shearwater after two young midshipmen capsized here with a small sailing boat and drowned. Despite the sad story behind the monument, this is a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the views of the Ayrshire coast, the Cowal peninsula and if you’re lucky, the peaks of the Arrochar Alps far in the distance.
Ayrshire Travel Guide
Where to stay
The Gailes Hotel: Centrally located in Irvine, The Gailes makes for a great home base to explore Ayrshire. The rooms are comfortable and offer lovely views of the grounds. There is a great restaurant and bar on site, and if you’re looking for a real treat, book a treatment at Si! Spa.
I recommend booking a spa break, so you get to experience the full range of everything The Gailes has to offer.
Auchrannie Resort: This iconic hotel and spa resort in Brodick is one of the best places to stay on the Isle of Arran. Choose from a variety of room categories at the resort or the house hotel, or go self-catering with a luxury lodge. There are three restaurants on site – Cruise, Brambles and eighteen69 – and the village is just a 10-minute stroll away.
For a real treat, book a Deluxe Retreat which comes with a private hot tub and uninterrupted views down the glen.
Travelling with your boo? Check out my favourite romantic getaways in Scotland.
Fancy something a little different? Book a rural self-catering escape at Creeside Escape, an off the grid shepherd’s hut in Southern Ayrshire.
Ayrshire is very well connected by public transport. The train line follows the coast, which makes it easy to reach towns like Largs, Troon, Ardrossan, Irvine, Kilmarnock and Girvan by train.
This also makes island hopping to Arran or Great Cumbrae very easy without a car.
But of course, travelling by car gives you the greatest flexibility to explore the region and reach more remote castles, beaches and villages.
And with this, I send you off to plan your own trip to Ayrshire. My trip was a great reminder of how much Ayrshire has to offer – and how close it really is to Glasgow.
I hope my list of things to do in Ayrshire has inspired your wanderlust too!
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