I think that if only more people knew about all the things the Scottish Borders have to offer, the vast majority would decide to spend part of their holiday in this region of southern Scotland. This post is a guide to things you can do in Melrose – a great hub to explore the Scottish Borders from – as well as ideas for day trips to the surrounding areas.
This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.
Melrose is a small town approximately one hour south of Edinburgh, right in the middle of the Scottish Borders. It is quick and easy to get to from Edinburgh airport and only a short drive away from some of the region’s most interesting and beautiful places to see and visit. That makes it a perfect home base for a few days in the Borders!
This guide will prove to you that it is worth adding a few days in Melrose to your Scotland itinerary – or even spending more time in this area! Read on to find out:
- what to do in Melrose,
- where to visit nearby and
- where to visit on day trips.
Explore the Scottish Borders and other highlights of southern Scotland with my detailed South Scotland itinerary!
Melrose & The Scottish Borders Map
Things to do in Melrose
Discover Melrose Abbey
Melrose is home to one of four majestic abbeys in the Scottish Borders. All four – Melrose, Dryburgh, Jedburgh and Kelso – were founded in the 12th century and are symbols of medieval Christian monasticism in Scotland. They were built, attacked and re-built over the centuries, but today, they lie in ruins.
Melrose Abbey is not only the best-known abbey in the Borders but also the best-preserved one. It is a fine example of Scottish architecture and features well-preserved figure sculptures in particular. The abbey was badly damaged multiple times in history, but after a raid by the English armies in 1544, it was never fully repaired.
The abbey is probably best known for being the final resting place of the embalmed heart of Rober the Bruce. The burial site is marked by a round stone with a carving of a heart and the Scottish saltire. The inscription reads “A noble hart may have nane ease, gif freedom failye” (= a noble heart can know no ease without freedom).
Visitors can roam the abbey grounds, wander among the remaining walls and arches and even climb to a viewpoint up on the roof. Signs around the site explain which parts of the historic abbey you are standing on and what parts of monastic life would have taken place there centuries ago.
Melrose Abbey is managed by Historic Scotland and is open year-round.
Entrance fee: £6 / £4.80 Concession / £3.60 Child (5-15); website
Entrance to Melrose, Dryburgh and Jedburgh Abbey is included in a Historic Scotland membership pass – as well as over 70 other heritage sites in Scotland!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Money-Saving Budget Tips for Scotland
Visit Priorwood & Harmony Gardens
Regardless of what you might think about Scottish flora and landscapes, the country features a plethora of beautiful gardens – and Melrose is no exception.
Priorwood Garden is a rustic walled garden located next to the abbey. You can find over 90 kinds of apple trees in the garden’s orchard, a woodland area and a herb garden.
Free entrance; website
Harmony Garden lies just a stone’s throw away from Priorwood and offers panoramic views of the Abbey and the Eildon Hills. The garden is filled with beautiful flowers as well as fruit and vegetable beds. The Georgian manor house on the grounds is available as self-catering holiday accommodation – just in case a quick visit to the garden is not enough!
Free entrance; website
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 14 Romantic Getaways in Scotland
Marvel at Abbotsford
If you are into historic Scottish literature, you simply cannot leave Scotland without visiting Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. Scott was a novelist, historian and historical novelist who contributes significantly to the genre of historical fiction. As such his novels Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818) and Ivanhoe (1820) are partly responsible for the romanticised image of Scottish identity popular since the 19th century.
After spending a few years near Selkirk, Scott eventually bought a property on the banks of the River Tweed near Melrose. He turned an old farmhouse into a family cottage – known as Abbotsford. Over the years, the cottage took on a Baronial style and was expanded several times to offer more space to Scott and his family.
The ground floor has been beautifully restored and is open to the public as a museum. You can tour the stately rooms as well as Scott’s library and writing room with an interactive audio guide, and wander the many trails crisscrossing the grounds of Abbotsford at your own pace. My favourite place was the walled flower garden which is breathtaking in full bloom!
Entrance fee: £11.20 / £10.20 Concession / £5 Child (5-17); Gardens only: £5.60 / £5.10 Concession / £3 Child (5-17); website
Getting to Abbotsford
It is easy to reach Abbotsford by car and there is plenty of parking available at the house.
Bus 964 runs from Melrose to Abbotsford House. It takes about half an hour and runs every two hours until 2 pm or so. Make sure you check time tables online – I use Google Maps or Traveline Scotland!
Alternatively, there is a bus stop not too far at Galafoot Bridge; buses 67, 314 and X62 run more frequently throughout the day. It takes about 5-10 minutes to walk to Abbotsford from that bus stop.
If you visit Abbotsford on a day trip from Edinburgh, take the train to Tweedbank and then a bus on to Abbotsford or Galafoot Bridge (same bus lines as above).
Hike the Eildon Hills
If you thought the south of Scotland is flat, think again! The Highlands are not the only destination for outdoor lovers in Scotland. The Eildon Hills near Melrose also make for a pleasant day out in the hills and offer fantastic 360-degree views of the Scottish Borders. They are the highest point in the area and rise to 422 m (1,385 ft).
The hike starts at the abbey car park across from Melrose Abbey and leads up all three peaks of the Eildon Hills. It takes 3-4 hours in total. The trail is easy to follow but can be steep and muddy at times. You can find the full hike description here.
Drive up to Scott’s View
The reason why Sir Walter Scott chose Abbotsford as his home, is that he was deeply in love with the landscape of the Scottish Borders.
This viewpoint, just outside Melrose, is named Scott’s View and overlooks not only the lush green fields of the region but also the dark water of the River Tweed down below and the prominent peaks of the Eildon Hills in the distance. It is said to be one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourite viewpoint in the area – and who could blame him!
Getting to Scott’s View
Bad news for non-driving travellers: you will need a car to drive up the winding road to reach Scott’s View!
If you want to visit this area without a car, join Rabbie’s 1-day tour to Rosslyn and the Scottish Borders from Edinburgh which includes stops at Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey, Scott’s View and the William Wallace Statue!
Visit the Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre (“Trimontium”)
Did you know that the south of Scotland is rich in Roman history? If you have ever heard of the Antonine and Hadrian’s Wall, or learnt about Scotland’s nickname Caledonia, you probably already knew that the Roman’s have had a lasting impact on Scotland in many ways.
Trimontium, named after the three peaks of the Eildon Hills, is a Roman fort at Newstead, the village next to Melrose. The museum features artefacts from the original excavation as well as displays offering a glimpse into Roman life in southern Scotland in 79 AD.
Mon to Sat, April to Oct; website
Indulge in dinner at Provender
There are several lovely eateries in Melrose, including the restaurants at Burts Hotel and The Townhouse, Marmions Brasserie and Greenhouse Cafe. However, finding vegan options is not quite as easy.
In our search, we happened upon Provender, an upmarket lunch and dining option in Melrose that uses locally sourced ingredients to serve contemporary Scottish, British and French cuisine.
Even though there was only one vegan option on the menu – I highly recommend checking out this restaurant during your stay! And if you are not vegan, you’ll love the choice! I had the vegan-friendly risotto with chantarelle mushrooms, peas, kale and pumpkin seeds – DELICIOUS!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Travelling Scotland as a Vegan
Day trips from Melrose
Tour the Border Abbeys
As mentioned above, there are three more abbeys waiting for you in the Scottish Borders. They are located in Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh; all within half an hour drive or less from Melrose.
Dryburgh Abbey is known as the final resting place of Sir Walter Scott – yep, the writer who is responsible for Abbotsford House. He certainly chose a great location to be buried in! The Cloister and Chapter House are extremely well preserved and you can climb to the top for dramatic views of the Sacristy.
Entrance fee: £6 / £4.80 Concession / £3.60 Child (5-15); website
Jedburgh Abbey is a breathtaking example of monastic architecture. Like at the other abbeys you can roam the remains of the abbey and climb up for a bird’s eye view. A highlight in Jedburgh though is the recreated cloister garden full of herbs that the monks would have used in medieval times.
Entrance fee: £6 / £4.80 Concession / £3.60 Child (5-15); website
Kelso Abbey was once one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in Scotland, but today barely any of it is left.
Entry is FREE; website
Hike the Borders Abbeys Way
If driving from one abbey to the next is not enough for you, you will be happy to hear that you can combine your love for historic sites and monastic architecture with hiking in the rolling hills of southern Scotland.
The Borders Abbeys Way is a 64.5-mile circular long-distance trail (103 km) connecting Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick and Selkirk.
It can be started in any of these towns and takes 4-5 days to complete on average. Of course, you can also just hike one day section at a time! Find out more here.
Hike at Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve
When you crave more mountain scenery than the Eildon Hills can offer you, make your way down the A708 that runs through a narrow valley between Tweedbank and Moffat. Soon after passing St Mary’s Loch, you will reach the car park at Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve.
Sheep and wild goats roam the slopes at each side of this beautiful waterfall. The scenery will remind you of the Scottish Highlands! To make the most of your visit, pack your backpack, strap on your hiking boots and follow the trail leading up along the right side of the gully. The trail eventually ends at Loch Skeen, a beautiful loch surrounded by tall hills.
Allow 2-3 hours for this 5-mile hike to the top of Grey Mare’s Tail and Loch Skeen. Check out my hiking guide below for more details!
Visit Floors Castle & Gardens
No visit to Scotland would be complete without visiting a castle! Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland was built in 1721 for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. It is absolutely gigantic and has more turrets than any castle I’ve seen before.
You can visit the castle inside and out – see the grand rooms and fine art collection, get lost in the Victorian walled garden and wander along the woodland and riverside walks.
The castle is located on the outskirts of Kelso, just a half-hour drive from Melrose. There is also a bus to Kelso (number 67) and from there it’s a 20-minute walk to the castle.
Entrance fee: £11.50 / £6 Child, £6.50 Gardens only / £3.50 Child; April to September (Gardens open year-round); website
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 20 Must-Have Experiences for Scotland First-Timers
St Abbs Head Nature Reserve
The coastline of the Scottish Borders stretches from Cove to Marshall Meadows on the Scottish-English border. Just over halfway down, about an hour east of Melrose lies the coastal village of St Abbs and nearby St Abbs Head Nature Reserve. The village is the perfect seaside getaway and the nature reserve a great place for a relaxed walk along the cliffs or a longer hike to St Abbs Lighthouse or Pettico Wick Bay.
I recommend you park your car at the car park near The Old Smiddy, less than half a mile outside the village. You can then walk towards the harbour, which is much easier than navigating the narrow roads of the village. Go for a walk in the nature reserve first: enjoy the coastal views and watch seabirds soar through the air.
Looking back towards the village, you might recognise the view from the latest Avengers movie, Endgame! St Abbs stood in for New Asgard – there is even a sign to welcome you to it!
After you’ve tired yourself out hiking along the coast, return to St Abbs village and treat yourself to a meal at Ebbcarrs Cafe – either their famous crab rolls, other kinds of seafood or a vegan-friendly baked potato!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 20 Beautiful Towns to Visit in Scotland
As you can see, there is tons of stuff to do in Melrose and nearby in the Scottish Borders – you just need to make some time in your Scotland itinerary to explore off the beaten track!
Are you convinced to visit Melrose yet?
Pin this post for later:
8 thoughts on “12 Things to do in Melrose + Day Trips in the Scottish Borders”
If i am in Melrose for just one day, apart from the Abbey, what else of historicsl relvance can i visit. Is Sir Walters home within walking distance and … Whats the best wee pub in Melrose? Lol
Hi Edward, as you can hopefully see on the map I made, Abbotsford is in the next village over and not in easy walking distance from Melrose. The post contains instructions for getting there by bus. Have you looked at the other places I mentioned? The Trimontium museum probably fits your criteria best. I don’t know the pubs of Melrose super well – the hotels have bars/pubs, I’d start there. Have fun exploring!
Your wonderful photo of the Eildon Hills above, with Scottish spear thistle in the foreground brings back fond memories. In 2017 I walked from Melrose town to the Eildon Hills to Thomas Rhymer’s Stone, to the site of Trimontium and back to Melrose Abbey.
Trimontium was excavated starting in 1905. So there are no Roman ruins to see above ground. Some of the Roman artifacts are in Melrose’s Trimontium Trust Roman Museum which was redeveloped and reopened August 2021. Most of the findings are displayed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
According to folklore and Child Ballad 37, Sir Thomas de Ercildoun, better known as Thomas the Rhymer (fl. c. 1220 – 1298) met with the Queen of Elfland, whom he kissed, and served without speaking a word, in the Land of the Elves for 7 years. For his service, the Queen of Elfland gave him the gift of prophecy, as well as the inability to tell a lie. Hence he is also called “True Thomas”. His prophetic verses were collected with others, in books such as “The Whole Prophecie of Scotland, England, etc.” (1603). The Rhymer’s Stone (erected in 1929) marks the location where the fabled Eildon Tree once grew, and Thomas met the Queen of Elfland. Nearby is a marker of a viewpoint where one can see the fulfillment of one prophesy, a bridge over the River Tweed.
Pingback: Amazing Day Trips from Edinburgh | The Silver Nomad
Melrose Abbey is outrageousky expensive….its ruins in a field! You can see all that there is to see from the path running alongside it on the non-riverside and not spend a penny doing so.
BTW. Harmony gardens are just braw!
I think that’s a bit unfair – there are a lot of sites (ruined and otherwise) that can be seen from the outside, but that’s not the same as walking among those walls – or in the case of Melrose Abbey, climb to the top of the roof and see it from above. It takes a lot of resources (money, knowledge, skills, people) to preserve and maintain sites like this and keep them open to the public in an educational and safe manner. I highly recommend a visit to the Scottish Building Conservation Centre (The Engine Shed) in Stirling to learn more about the archaeological and conservationist work of organisations like Historic Scotland. Historic sites can become nothing more than ruins in a field, but with preservation and maintenance they can be so much more!
I really enjoyed Melrose, very cute town! I didn’t go to Abbotsford house though, so I need to head back there. That photo at the top is beautiful!
I was really surprised by Abbotsford House – it is breathtaking!! Definitely go back for it 🙂