Its rolling hills are a paradise for walking, cycling and horseriding, there are charming towns rich in history and heritage, and its rivers and lochs are a paddler’s dream – is there anything the Scottish Borders can’t do? Plan your active holiday to the South of Scotland with his jam-packed list of things to do in the Scottish Borders.

This post was commissioned by the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. Find their travel guides for South Scotland here.

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For many visitors, who travel to Scotland from the south, the Borders are their first port of call. But far too many rush right past the south of Scotland on their way to the Highlands and islands. Big mistake!

The Scottish Borders are a fantastic region to explore. With rolling hills, a great network of cycle paths, charming towns and rich heritage, there is a lot to discover.

I first visited the Scottish Borders on a trip with my parents and have been back multiple times to see more of different parts of the region.

This guide for things to do in the Scottish Borders contains some of my favourite activities, historic sites and scenic places to visit.

I’ve also included a practical travel section with information about transport options, accommodation – all tried and tested by me – and some great restaurants to try.

My Scottish Borders Map

Things to do in the Scottish Borders

The Tweed Valley

The Tweed Valley along the River Tweed stretches roughly from Peebles to Tweedbank, along with some of the surrounding villages and tributary rivers to the Tweed.

Mountain biking in Innerleithen

The Tweed Valley is one of Scotland’s best-known cycling and mountain biking destinations. There are miles and miles of mountain biking trails, a bike path between the villages, countless bike hire and guiding businesses and lots of bike-friendly accommodation. It’s the ultimate place to leave your car behind and give active travel a go.

Hire a mountain bike from The Bike Shop in Innerleithen and explore the trails at Innerleithen Forest south of the Tweed or Caberston Forest in the north. There are forestry tracks for simpler riding and mountain bike trails for those seeking more speed.

If the uphill struggle puts you off, get a day pass for Adrenalin Uplift. They transport you and your bike to the top of the trails so that you can focus on the downhill journey.

Two Mountainbikers in Innerleithen

Horseriding at Kailzie Stables

If riding a bike isn’t your thing – maybe riding a horse is? The rolling hills, lush green glens and vast forests of the Tweed Valley make it the perfect place for horse riding. As you drive through the area, you’ll see horses in countless fields.

Kailzie Equestrian Centre near Peebles offers lessons and hacks in the surrounding countryside. I joined them for a 2-hour hack through Cardrona Forest, a wonderful way to take in the sweeping scenery of the Tweed Valley. This is one of my favourite things to do in the Scottish Borders!

The stable also hires out horses to participate in local Common Ridings – you’ll read more about these annual events below.

Dawyck Botanic Garden

Dawyck Botanic Garden is a playful woodland garden surrounding Dawyck House. With trees dating back as far as 1680, it is a historic garden with a significant collection of trees and plants from all over the world.

One of the most special trees at Dawyck is the Dawyck beech tree. It grows like a column, rather than producing a wide-branching crown. All Dawyck beech trees in the world can be related back to the original Dawyck Beech here in the Tweed Valley – it was most likely the result of a random genetic irregularity.

Visitors can wander freely to explore the 65-acre garden, follow one of the described trails or join a garden tour (2 pm on Sundays).

Tweed Valley Canoe Trail

The Tweed Valley Canoe trail takes in 30 miles of the majestic River Tweed. The trail starts in Stobo near Dawyck Botanic Garden and finishes in Abbotsford near Galashiels. The entire stretch can be paddled in 2-3 days – although it’s worth using the trail as a jumping-off point to explore the wider region.

The trail is split into 6 sections, so you can also just pick one for a shorter excursion.

Unless you have your own canoe and are familiar with The Paddlers’ Code, it’s best to hire a guide to accompany you on the trail. Local company Biggar Adventure offers guiding and a hire-only service for experienced paddlers.

For a shorter taster session on the trail in Peebles, hire sit-on-top kayaks from Kayak & SUP Hire Scottish Borders.

The Canoe Trail is on my list of things to do in the Scottish Borders in the future.

Paddlers on the Tweed Valley Canoe Trail at Ashiestiel Bridge
(c) Marc Marshall

Go Ape in Glentress

Go Ape Peebles is a treetop course in the beautiful Glentress Forest. The obstacles traverse high above the ground among giant Douglas fir trees. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted – but once you learn to trust the harness and safety measures in place, it’s a hoot!

The highlight of the course is a 325m long, 160ft high zip wire across a valley.

Make your own gin at Peebles Hydro

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make your own gin? The 1881 Gin Distillery and Gin School at Peebles Hydro offers classes to create your own bespoke gin with botanicals of your choice. You’ll also get to try the official 1881 Distillery expressions while you wait for your own creation.

1881 Gin Distillery and Gin School at Peebles Hydro

Shopping in Peebles

Peebles has one of the best high street shopping experiences I’ve come across in Scotland. The main street through the town is lined with independent businesses selling beautiful homewares, fashion from small labels, gifts, chocolate and more.

It’s the perfect place for a little shopping spree.

High street in Peebles

Selkirk and the Yarrow Valley

Paddleboarding at St Mary’s Loch

St Mary’s Loch is the largest natural loch in the Scottish Borders. It is framed by the rolling hills of the scenic Yarrow Valley and you’ll find that the 30-minute drive from Selkirk alone would be worth the journey.

You can hire stand-up paddleboards and kayakers from Kayak and SUP Hire Scottish Borders, who are based on the Loch of the Lowes, a smaller loch connected to St Mary’s Loch by a narrow channel. Hire boards are available for 1 or 2 hours – enough time to explore these gorgeous lochs.

Paddleboarding on St Mary's Loch

Hike to the Three Brethren

Leaving from just outside Selkirk, the Three Brethren hiking trail leads to a viewpoint at the edge of the Philiphaugh Estate. It takes about 2.5-3 hours to get to the top and back down again.

The Three Brethren are three huge stone cairns dating back to the 16th century. They mark the meeting of three estate boundaries atop a hill with stunning views of the area. On your way, down, follow parts of the Southern Uplands Way, before returning to the main track back to the car park.

You can find this and other walks around Selkirk in this free hiking guide.

Three Brethren hike, Selkirk

Around Melrose, Kelso & Jedburgh

Visit the Borders Abbeys

Visiting at least one of the Border Abbeys is among the crucial things to do in the Scottish Borders.

The magnificent Border Abbeys in Melrose, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Kelso are a symbol of Scottish prosperity during the 12th century. Back in those days, the church held a lot of power, and the towns around these abbeys flourished.

Jedburgh Abbey was established by King David I. The building was designed to show off his wealth and power. The area had already been an important religious site before the abbey was built, but the creation of the Augustinian order in 1138 sealed the deal.

Today, the abbey – just like the other Border Abbeys – lies in ruins, but you can still get a great sense of the grandeur of the nave and other architectural features of these ancient abbeys.

Jedburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders

Visit Abbotsford – The Home of Sir Walter Scott

No author has shaped the image of Scottish identity like Sir Walter Scott. With his historical novels like Ivanhoe and Waverley, he contributed to the romanticised re-emergence of Highland culture and the use of tartan. All that at a time when clan culture was outlawed as a consequence of the failed Jacobite Rising in 1945.

Born in Edinburgh, Scott spent much of his time in the Scottish Borders. He bought a modest farmhouse on the banks of the River Tweed and turned it into the magnificent Abbotsford House, a fairy-tale mansion with turrets, a walled flower garden and uninterrupted views of the river.

Even Queen Victoria was well impressed – she stayed at Abbotsford House and took inspiration from its architectural style when she built Balmoral Castle.

You can tour the restored lower floor of Abbotsford House, explore the walled garden and go for a walk on the sprawling grounds. There’s a great cafe on site as well.

Abbotsford House The Home of Sir Walter Scott in the Scottish Borders

Stop at Scott’s View

Scott’s View is a viewpoint near Melrose and offers one of the best views in the Scottish Borders. It is said that this is where Sir Walter Scott fell in love with this region – and decided to buy land here.

The viewpoint lies at the top of a narrow and winding road, but the view of the Eildon Hills in the distance and the River Tweed below are well worth the effort.

Jackson’s at Jedburgh

Jackson’s is a working farm at the edge of Jedburgh with sheep, Highland coos and other animals like goats, pigs and chickens. Visitors have two options to visit the farm: 1) Pick up a few animal feed bags and roam freely on the farm’s circular field track to meet the animals. Bring wellies, it’s muddy! 2) Or join one of the guided tours and experiences to learn more about Jackson’s farm.

Visit during spring to feed one of the newly born lambs in the pop-up shed. This is a great activity for families in the Scottish Borders.

Climb the Eildon Hills

The three peaks of the Eildon Hills tower above the charming town of Melrose. Climbing all three summits takes around 5 hours (6 miles) – the trail starts right in the village. Find the trail description here.

Trimontium Museum in Melrose

When the Romans invaded Great Britain, they built vast forts for their forces. They pushed north into southern Scotland around 79 AD and travelled north along Dere Street, a Roman road that ran from York to the Antonine Wall in modern-day central Scotland.

In the shadow of the Eildon Hills, the Romans built Trimontium Fort, a huge settlement that was used for hundreds of years.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, archaeologists uncovered Roman artefacts from the site, which led to a series of excavations and much research. Today, you can learn about the fort and this Roman period in Scottish history at the Trimontium Museum.

Learn more about archaeology in the Scottish Borders and join me on a tour of Trimontium Fort on the Wild for Scotland podcast!

Smailholm Tower

For centuries, the Scottish Borders were a widely contested land – Scottish and English forces endlessly battled for control of the region, besieging castles and threatening towns. The result is that people who could afford to do so built fortified tower houses to keep their families and belongings safe. You can see these slim tower houses all over the Scottish Borders landscape.

One of these tower houses is Smailholm Tower near Kelso. It is said to have inspired Sir Walter Scott. It’s ruined today, but you can still climb the battlements for fantastic views of the surrounding area.

See the Galashiels Town Murals

Galashiels is one of the largest towns in the Scottish Borders and is renowned for its flourishing textile industry. The town also has connections to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott who lived at nearby Abbotsford.

The Town Murals pay tribute to Galashiels’ colourful history. They capture scenes of textile production, a portrait of Sir Walter Scott, images from Burns’ poems and famous names from the local community.

Galashiels mural

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

A modern visitor centre houses one of the world’s largest community arts projects, The Great Tapestry of Scotland. The tapestry was hand-stitched by over 1,000 people from all over Scotland and depicts scenes from Scottish history, heritage and culture.

The visitor centre also has other galleries with changing exhibitions.

Hawick

Do a tour at Borders Distillery

The Borders Distillery in Hawick (pronounced Ho-ick) is the first whisky distillery in the Scottish Borders since 1837. Located in an old engineering factory on the River Teviot, the distillery and visitor centre has won awards for its design and architecture. And surely, the whisky won’t be far behind!

The tour walks you through the process of whisky making and ends with the tasting of a few of its excellent drams. The tours are led by the team of distillers, ensuring expert guidance throughout the experience.

Borders Distillery in Hawick

A tour at Johnstons of Elgin

Hawick has a long-standing history of textile production. In 1797 Alexander Johnston established a weaving mill in Elgin (Moray) and later a sister-business in the Borders town of Hawick. While the mill in Elgin focuses on weaving tweeds, the mill in Hawick produces high-end knitwear. It’s still a family-owned business today and is an important employer in the town.

On a guided mill tour you get a glimpse behind the scenes of the production process, as well as real-life demonstrations of the unique skills of the workers here, many of whom have been with Johnstons for decades.

Tour groups are small (max. 6 people) allowing an intimate experience with lots of opportunities for questions.

There are other textile manufacturers in Hawick too: Hawico has a luxury cashmere shop and large windows to open up the view into its production facilities, William Lockie sells more knitwear and Lovat Mill manufactures beautiful woven tweeds.

Together with the distillery, they celebrate the craftsmanship of the town – learn more about these businesses and recommended walking trails at Famously Hawick.

Common Ridings

Common Ridings are traditional events in the Scottish Borders during which the townspeople ride along the perimeter of their town boundaries. The tradition goes back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the prosperous Border towns were under constant threat from reivers, plunderers and cattle thieves.

Common Ridings are held every year in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Hawick, Selkirk, Langholm, Lockerbie, Jedburgh, Coldstream, Penicuik, West Linton, Lanark, Lauder, Edinburgh, Melrose, Musselburgh, Galashiels, Duns, Sanquhar and Peebles – so you have plenty of chance to experience one.

Each town has its own traditions around the main event. In Hawick, they celebrate the capture of an English Flag in 1514 by the youth of Hawick by tying ribbons of blue and gold to the head of the staff of the flag.

Find out more about Common Ridings and upcoming events here.

Berwickshire Coast

St Abbs

St Abbs is a charming seaside village on the Berwickshire coast, the eastern coast of South Scotland. It’s centred around a picturesque fishing harbour and cottages sitting on tops of jagged cliffs.

The St Abbs Nature Reserve covers a grassy headland immediately to the north of the village. Follow the coastal trail for fantastic views and a glimpse of St Abbs lighthouse. During the summer months, thousands of seabirds come to the reserve and nest in the steep cliffs.

St Abbs and cliffs in the Scottish Borders.

Berwickshire Snorkel Trail

The Berwickshire Snorkel Trail highlights five sites along this stretch of coastline to dive into the dazzling underwater world of the Scottish sea.

Starney Bay within the St Abbs Nature Reserve is one of the sites on the trail. Local company Snorkel Wild offers guided snorkel experiences in the area.

Scottish Borders Travel Guide

Getting to the Scottish Borders

The Scottish Borders are well-served by public transport, especially coming from Edinburgh.

The direct train from Edinburgh to Galashiels takes about one hour. Coming from Glasgow, you would have to go via Edinburgh first.

Potentially easier is the journey by car – just over an hour from Edinburgh to Galashiels, or about 1.5-2 from Glasgow.

Getting around the Scottish Borders

If you travelled to the Scottish Borders by train, continue your journey aboard Borders Buses, which serve many of the towns and villages in the region.

If you are short on time and hope to move around a lot, it is easier to explore the Scottish Borders by car. Note that the roads are often narrow and winding, so it’s best to be extra generous when estimating travel times between destinations.

To explore the Berwickshire coast, make your way first to Berwick-upon-Tweed just across the border in England and continue from there by bus.

Of course, the Borders are also a great place to explore by bike, especially the Tweed Valley.

Mountainbiking in the Tweed Valley

Where to stay in the Borders

Tweed Valley Pods, Innerleithen

Nestled in the hills above Innerleithen, Tweed Valley Pods offers four stunning glamping pods with stunning views and a dose of serenity. The pods sleep 2 or 4 people and have everything you need for a comfortable stay – a cosy bed, a fully-equipped kitchenette, a BBQ zone, a lounge area and lush greenery all around.

Additionally, there is a secure bike shed with all sorts of bike-friendly facilities, including bike wash, laundry facilities and drying lockers.

The owners live nearby and are passionate mountain bikers themselves, so they are full of tips and recommendations for the local area.

Stouslie Snugs, Hawick

Stouslie Snugs are luxurious glamping pods on the grounds of Stouslie Farm on the outskirts of Hawick. Each of the three pods has underfloor heating, a fully equipped kitchenette, a comfortable lounge and sleeping area. Outside you can enjoy a private wood-fired hot tub, a covered BBQ area and a large deck with sweeping views of the Teviotdale valley.

The farm is just a stone’s throw away and during the spring, you may be able to join one of the lamb-feeding experiences.

Tontine Hotel, Peebles

Tontine Hotel sits right on the bustling high street of Peebles, but many of its rooms face out back, overlooking the hills of the Tweed Valley and the River Tweed. There is a fantastic restaurant and bar on-site, which makes the hotel a great home base to explore the area.

Peebles Hydro Hotel

If you’re looking for a special treat, spend a few nights at the historic Peebles Hydro Hotel & Spa. The hotel is a great place to stay in the Tweed Valley and many of its rooms offer stunning views of the surrounding hills.

There is a restaurant on-site, as well as several bars. You can book indulging afternoon tea or learn the art of gin botanicals at 1881 Distillery, the in-house distillery at the hotel.

Burts Hotel, Melrose

For a cosy, traditional feel, look no further than Burts Hotel. This historic inn at the centre of Melrose has comfortable rooms and an outstanding restaurant on-site.

Great restaurants in the Borders

It’s hard to miss: the Scottish Borders offer much productive farmland. As such, there is a lot of great local produce to go around – and plenty of tasty eateries to try. Here are just some of my favourites, many of which offer great vegan options.

  • No 1 Peebles Road, Innerleithen – a small coffee shop with excellent coffee and a varied menu of breakfast and lunch items
  • Loulabelle’s, Innerleithen – a fab lunch spot on the bustling high street of Innerleithen, especially known for its cakes and homebakes
  • The Traquair Arms, Innerleithen – an excellent pub and restaurant with a great menu, the beer garden is a popular meeting place for mountain bikers after a challenging day on the trails
  • Gordon Arms Restaurant, Yarrow Valley – a cosy inn in the beautiful surroundings of the Yarrow Valley; Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are said to have enjoyed a meal or a dram here
  • Adam’s Kitchen, Hawick – a Scottish restaurant in the town centre of Hawick
  • The Damascus Drum, Hawick – a cafe and bookshop down a historic lane in Hawick with a Mediterranean-inspired menu
  • Provender, Melrose – a higher-end contemporary restaurant in Melrose, blending Scottish, British and French cuisine
  • Eden Coffee House, Melrose – a lovely lunch and coffee spot across the road from Melrose Abbey

Well done, for making it this far. You’re clearly serious about planning a trip to the Scottish Borders!

I hope my list of things to do in the Scottish Borders has inspired you to visit soon and gives you tons of inspiration for making your trip extra special.


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