Top ten things to do in south-west Scotland
Looking for things to do and places to see in south-west Scotland? Check out our top ten highlights.
1 Isle of Whithorn
The Isle of Whithorn's is incredibly picturesque, designated an outstanding conservation area, with a graceful shoreline and charming properties making up the harbour. The Isle was pivotal in the spreading of Christianity as it was where Scotland's first saint, Ninian, came ashore and the ruins of a nearby chapel celebrate her works. The sea has always been important here and another of the area's most noticeable landmarks is the Isle of Whithorn Tower, a navigational aid above the village. The harbour is still a vital part of island life with crabs, lobsters and scallops all caught locally and the views of Burrow Head are amazing.
2 Caerlaverock Castle
Standing right on the border, Caerlaverock Castle has long been one of Scotland’s greatest strongolds, when it was used to protect the West March from the English. Situated seven miles south of Dumfries, it's quite a drive but is undoubtedly a spectacular sight, with imposing battlements, a water-filled moat and a pair of majestic gatehouses at the entrance. Walk around the grounds and, thanks to a battle in the seventeenth century when parts of the wall were destroyed, you can see most of the interior. The visitor centre boasts a cafe, shop and several castle-related exhibits. Nearby, there are several enjoyable walks through the Caervelock National Nature Reserve, where the wetlands attract a range of birds.
3 Culzean Castle
Nestling on the South Ayrshire coast, Culzean is one of Scotland's best-loved castles (pictured, above). It was first recorded in the fifteenth century but may have existed even earlier. Sir Thomas Kennedy began enlarging it in the 1590s and it became more of a family home with the addition of terraced gardens in the 17th century. The National Trust for Scotland has spent years restoring the property. There's plenty to enjoy both inside the castle, within the walled garden and in the surrounding estate, which boasts an adventure playground, deer park and a series of caves beneath the property. Join a ranger on a guided walk, go birdwatching or explore the extensive coastline.
4 Threave Castle
Standing majestically on an island in the River Dee, Threave Castle, was built by Archibald the Grim, Lord of Galloway in 1369. It was one of the country's first tall tower houses, with private suites above and service accommodation below. The best way of enjoying the castle and the surrounding countryside is by parking at Kelton Mains Farm and walking through the fields until you reach a small jetty. Ring the bell and a boatman will take you across the river. One of the country's most popular sites, Threave Estate, is just a short drive away. It boasts a baronial-style house, landscaped borders and a wonderful sculpture garden.
5 Galloway Forest
Galloway's varied wildlife attracts many holiday-makers eager to see red squirrels, otter, pine marten, black grouse, golden eagles and deer and there's nowhere better to see it than in the 300 square miles of its forest. There are three visitor centres, at Clatteringshaws, Kirroughtree and Glentrool and around 30 marked pathways, so there's a route to suit all abilities. Those feeling adventurous can even climb southern Scotland's highest peak, Merrick. With very little light pollution, the region has some of the darkest skies in Europe so, on clear nights, it's worth looking up and enjoying the stars.
Kirkcudbright enjoys a sheltered position on the mouth of the River Dee where it emerges on the north Solway shore. An attractive settlement, surrounded by picturesque countryside, it has a strong artistic heritage which started when a colony of artists including the Glasgow Boys arrived in the 1880s. The sixteenth century Tolbooth has become an art centre and there are displays of paintings by Kirkcudbright painters past and present. The ruins of MacLellan's Castle are of interest as are those of Dundrennan Abbey where Mary, Queen of Scots, spent a night before fleeing south in May 1568.
7 Drumlanrig Castle
Drumlanrig Castle is set on a spectacular 90,000 acre estate. The pink sandstone castle is a wonderful example of 17th century Renaissance architecture. It's home to part of the internationally renowned Buccleuch Art Collection which includes such treasures as Rembrandt’s The Old Woman Reading as well as many other fine paintings, tapestries and antiques. Alongside the castle's grand reception rooms, magnificent staircases and ornate period features, you can investigate art in the Stableyard Studios and enjoy a warming drink in the Stables Cafe. Outside, there are extensive gardens, championship moutain bike trails and acres of marked pathways you can explore.
8 Burns Heritage Trail
You can't visit Scotland without learning more about Robert Burns. The Burns Heritage Trail takes you through some of Scotland's most amazing landscape, especially through the counties of Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire, where he lived most of his life. It was these places that inspired him, the country's most famous poet. The trail includes the cottage where he was born in Alloa (at the Burns National Heritage Park), Burns House Museum in Mauchline, Ellisland Farm (where he wrote Auld lang Syne), Dean Castle (home of the Burns Collection) and several of the pubs he visited regularly. You can find details of the trail here.
9 New Lanark
The New Lanark World Heritage Site is a beautifully restored 18th Century cotton mill village, close to the Falls of Clyde and only around an hour's drive from Edinburgh. The village of New Lanark was created as a model industrial community by David Dale in 1785, under the enlightened management of his son-in-law, Robert Owen, whose ideas on child labour, corporal punishment, housing, education, and health care were a hundred years ahead of their time. You can learn more about what life was like during its hey day at the visitor centre, relax in the spectacular roof garden and enjoy a warming drink at the on-site cafe, the Mill Pantry.
10 Scotland's largest city
Glasgow may not seem an obvious attraction but it's centrally located and well-served by roads. After declining in the 1970s, it has regenerated and is now an exciting place to visit with galleries, museums, parks, houses, cafes and gardens. The centre is a neat grid of streets so exploring is simple and there are several car parks. The High Street Car Park near the train station admits large vehicles (G4 0UW).
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