Scotland, 1857. David Dunbar, a local Dumfries poet, coins Dumfries the Queen of the South.
To this day, the nickname has stuck: Dumfries, the Queen of the South, surrounded by coast and forests, a land of castles and culture. A union of the Dumfriesshire, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire counties, the wider Dumfries region exists as the crossing point for travellers looking to enter into Southwest Scotland from Northern England.
From art to adrenaline, feasts to forest parks, Dumfries offers an astounding selection of activities and attractions for all travellers and adventurers.
Here is the list of things to do in and around Dumfries, Scotland.
Explore Galloway Forest Park
The Highlands of the Lowlands, where better to begin a journey to the Queen of the South?
Galloway Forest Park, the largest of its type in the whole of Britain, sits at the very heart of the Dumfries and Galloway region. Spanning over 300 square miles of wilderness, the park unifies acres of ancient woodland, rolling glens and roaming wildlife.
Set out on foot from the Gentrool visitor centre to trek woodland trails. Journey from the Clatteringshaws centre for views over the surrounding lochs and hillsides. Or head to the Kirroughtree centre for a gateway to the park’s adventure activities.
Regardless of base, the park hosts the absolute best of Scottish nature. While buzzards and other birds of prey marshal the skies, Red and Roe deer graze the land below.
Take the near-million annual visitors to the Galloway Forest Park as a sign to plan your visit.
Visit Caerlaverock Castle
Less than 20 minutes south of Dumfries lies a relic of times past and battles fought – the medieval stronghold that is Caerlaverock Castle. Complete with moat, towering battlements and red sandstone walls, Caerlaverock Castle stands as one of the most dramatic, and frankly beautiful, fortresses in the entirety of Britain – even whilst now in the midst of ruin.
Much of the castle’s chaotic history is owed to its proximity to the English border. By way of siege, the castle passed from Scottish to English hands and back a number of times, before hosting its last battle in 1640. A replica catapult can be seen outside the castle walls in homage to the bloodied siege history of the fort.
Seek refuelling and refreshment at the castle’s tearoom after having sufficiently walked in the footsteps of history.
Learn more at Drumlanrig Castle
If one castle simply isn’t enough, journey 30 minutes in the other direction from Dumfries to find one of the most important Renaissance buildings in all of Scotland – Drumlanrig Castle.
Whilst not entertaining the same blood-stained past as Caerlaverock Castle, Drumlanrig instead plays host to exceptional collections of silver, porcelain, French furniture, and artwork – including the world-famous Rembrandt, An Old Woman Reading.
The 120,000-acre Queensberry Estate upon which the 17th-century castle sits provides far more than interior viewing for its visitors. With park trails that extend as far as 7km, wildlife present in abundance and an adventure park for children, the Drumlanrig Castle has something for just about everyone.
Shred the Mountain Bike Trails
To inject some pace into your Dumfries adventure.
The name 7stanes holds much weight amongst the world’s mountain biking community. It refers to a collection of mountain biking centres that span the south of Scotland – the homes to a number of award-winning biking trails and courses.
20 minutes north of Dumfries is Ae Forest, the heralded home to one of the 7stanes.
The 15,000-acre spruce forest features a variety of trails, from green, to blue, to red – accommodating for bikers of all ages and proficiencies. Ae Forest even houses an extreme downhill section for those that feel more comfortable on two wheels than two legs.
Indulge around Castle Douglas
If extreme sports are on your agenda, then some serious refuelling is going to be needed. Enter, Castle Douglas.
Between Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, you can find the 18th-century town of Castle Douglas.
Castle Douglas sits eternally in the history books as Scotland’s first designated Food Town. Let it be known that the designation is no idle boast. In and around the town, over 50 independent, local businesses produce and sell food and drink. Call into Ballards Butchers for award-winning pies. Or visit Mr. Pook’s Kitchen to dine on Dumfries’ very own local produce.
Whether it be indoor dining, grazing delicatessens, or shopping for a picnic, Castle Douglas caters to every appetite.
Sample Whiskey at the Annandale Distillery
A local tipple for dessert?
Many would attest that no trip to Scotland would be complete without a taste of the local liquor. There are certainly some legs to that argument.
For those interested in single malts and matured oak casks, or for those simply wanting to tick a Scottish sample off their list, Annandale Distillery is a stop to make.
Annandale is a distillery on a mission; a mission to disprove the aged notion that Southern Scotland cannot produce a successful single malt. Well, it seems their award-winning Man O’ Words and Man O’ Swords malts exist as signs of a mission accomplished.
Tours at the distillery include an access-all-areas exploration of the facility, and a three-piece sampling of the Annandale produce – Man O’ Words and Man O’ Swords included.
Journey Southwards to the Mull of Galloway
Scotland’s most southerly point. Scotland’s very own Lands’ End. Not a bad spot to stand and watch the sunset.
At the southernmost tip of the hammer-head peninsula that is the Rhins of Galloway, the Mull miraculously provides views of four different countries – Scotland’s Galloway, England’s Cumbria, Northern Island, and the Isle of Man.
Climb the 115 steps of the Mull’s resident lighthouse and watch local gannet colonies dive into the Irish Sea. If luck is on your side, dolphins and porpoises can even be seen cruising through the water below.
As a consistent nominee for a plethora of Scottish nature awards, the Mull of Galloway offers a real experience of the natural beauty of Scottish coastlines. It’s no wonder that a dense variety of wildlife species call the Mull home – many of which can be seen at the RSPB Nature Reserve that neighbours the lighthouse area. The Mull of Galloway truly earns its name as a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Sunset at Scotland’s most southerly point is a sight to behold – panoramic views of a sky and ocean ablaze with the colours of last light.
Stargaze at Galloway International Dark Sky Park
Dumfries’ display of beauty does not stop once the sunsets.
From the Mull of Galloway, head back inland for an hour and find yourself back at Galloway Forest Park, the very first of its kind in the UK.
Gaze up at over 7000 planets and stars as our planet continues its journey through the cosmos. Identify the signs of the zodiac. Align the other constellations that decorate our night sky. Or, for the photographers out there, bring a camera and tripod to capture a special moment in time.
Adventure at the Galloway Activity Centre
Sailing, windsurfing, archery, laser tag, paddleboarding, kayaking, climbing, mountain biking. Galloway Activity Centre certainly lives up to its name.
What once was just a shed on the shores of Loch Ken, is now an established hub for all things adrenaline. Families and individuals can visit to dive into a day of water sports or stay on dry land and summit the centre’s climbing tower. The centre even hosts an inflatable waterpark on the waters of the Loch itself.
Galloway Activity Centre’s ethos: experience and interact with the natural Scottish environment – and have fun doing it.
Admire the Logan Botanic Gardens
As well as the Mull of Galloway, the hammerhead Rhin Peninsula is also home to Scotland’s most exotic garden.
Existing as a celebration of the world of plants, Logan Botanic Garden hosts groves of eucalyptus and palm trees, giant growths of gunnera, and other species rarely seen on UK soil. The garden, warmed by the Gulf Stream, allows flora from Australia, the South Americas and Africa to exist and thrive.
Locally sourced food and drink are also on offer at the award-winning onsite Potting Shed Bistro.
Feast on Award-Winning Fish and Chips
It’s no secret that the waters around the Scottish mainland produce some of the world’s best ocean produce.
Polarbites of Kirkcudbright take that produce and cook it to perfection. They hoist the mantle of makers of award-winning fish and chips.
A number of their products – king and queen scallops, lobster, and crabs – are even sourced less than half a mile down the road at Kirkcudbright harbour.
Enjoy Dumfries Art Festival
The final entry of the list comes with some good news and some bad news.
The bad – an art festival is only a seasonal event that takes place once a year. July 16th-25th 2021, for example. The good – if you are indeed in Dumfries and Galloway for its famous art festival, you will not be disappointed.
Amassing a world-class roster of art and talent – musicians, playwrights, comedians, artists – the festival exists as an incredibly special celebration “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
It really is no wonder that the Dumfries garners the interest of travellers worldwide. It holds natural beauty, beams with history, and grants immediate access to outdoor adventures.
Lose yourself in the cosmos above at Galloway Forest Park, dive headfirst into inflatable adventures at the resident activity centre or wander the grounds of any one of the local castles and historical landmarks.
Dumfries, and its surrounding territories, have it all. The Queen of the South is worthy of its name.
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