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8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ayr and Dumfries and Nearby Day Trips

Occupying the southwestern corner of Scotland - an area often referred to as the Scottish Lowlands - the counties of Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire offer many excellent sightseeing opportunities. The town of Ayr is a popular shopping destination and boasts a racecourse, three golf courses and a long sandy beach overlooking the Firth of Clyde and the lovely Isle of Arran. Scotland's most famous poet, Robbie Burns, was born here and famously described the locals as "honest men and bonnie lasses". Memorials at the train station and the Tam o'Shanter Inn are examples of the Burns legacy, and devotees can even follow the Burns' Heritage Trail, a literary tour through southwest Scotland as far as Dumfries that takes in the many places connected with Burns.

Dumfries itself lies on the River Nith, which flows into the Solway Firth a little further south. The town obtained its charter as a Royal Burgh from Robert II in 1395, while its famous bridge, now reserved for pedestrians, dates to 1208.

1 The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

The Robert Burns Birthplace MuseumThe Robert Burns Birthplace Museum Richard Sz

The thatched house where Scotland's most famous poet was born is situated in Alloway, a suburb to the south of Ayr. Built by his father, it was where Robbie Burns spent the first seven years of his life and is now part of the excellent Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. The tourist attraction also incorporates many of the town's historic landmarks, including a monument and gardens created to commemorate his life and time in Ayr, and a collection of his most important writing. Another Burns related site is the former home of cobbler John Davidson, the real-life Souter Johnnie immortalized in the poem Tam o' Shanter. The nearby 16th century Auld Kirk contains the grave of Burns' father.

Hours: Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £8.50; Families, £21

Address: Murdoch's Lone, Alloway, Ayrshire

Official site:

2 The Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume

The Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and CostumeThe Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume John McIntyre

Located in the Kilwinning Dalgarven Mill, the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume is a treasure trove of facts and artifacts relating to the area's rich traditions and history. The centerpiece is the still-working water wheel and the Victorian machinery it powers, and the granaries with its displays of costumes and everyday tools and possessions. Afterwards, be sure to sample some of the bread baked on site and made from the flour produced here.

Hours: Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children, £3; Families, £12

Address: Dalgarven Mill, Kilwinning, Ayrshire

Official site:

3 The Burns an' a' that! Festival

A Belleisle Park robinA Belleisle Park robin

The centerpiece of a series of annual events and festivals celebrating the life, work and influences of Scotland's greatest poet - Robbie Burns - the Burns an' a' that Festival takes place over four days each May and features comedians, musicians and, of course, poets, in what has become the region's leading arts festival. A fringe program is also part of the fun and includes everything from culture to food and drink, as well as visual and performance arts.

Official site:

4 Culzean Castle and Country Park

Culzean Castle and Country ParkCulzean Castle and Country Park

Managed by the National Trust for Scotland, Culzean Castle lies in a picturesque spot on the cliff tops just 12 mi south of Ayr. A fortress had stood on this spot since the 14th century, with the present "picture-book" castle being a creation of the romantic 18th century. Highlights are the Armory with its extensive collection of pistols, and the old Dining Hall with its ceiling decorated with paintings by Antonio Zucchi and Chippendale-style furniture.

Visitors from the United States like to visit the apartments used by President Eisenhower, who was granted the right to stay in Culzean Castle whenever he wished (for a unique overnight stay, guests can rent out his rooms). The castle grounds cover more than 568 acres of countryside and gardens, their most striking features being the Fountain Court, the Walled Garden with its colorful flowerbeds, and Sir Herbert Maxwell's Scottish Garden.

Hours: Open Apr-Oct, daily, 10:30am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £15.50; Families, £38

Address: Maybole, Ayrshire and Arran

5 Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura

Dumfries Museum and Camera ObscuraDumfries Museum and Camera Obscura summonedbyfells

The Dumfries Museum houses an extensive collection of memorabilia and artifacts relating to local history from prehistoric times to the present day. It's also home to the worlds' oldest operational Camera Obscura, built in 1836 and in use ever since. Located on the top floor of a windmill tower, the camera provides a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding landscape. Other highlights of the museum include fossils, local wildlife, ancient weapons, and stone carvings made by Scotland's first Christians.

Hours: Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Free

Address: The Observatory, The Observatory, Rotchell Rd, Dumfries

Official site:

6 Robert Burns House, Museum and Mausoleum

Robert Burns House, Museum and MausoleumRobert Burns House, Museum and Mausoleum summonedbyfells

The house on Burns Street where the celebrated poet spent the last four years of his life, and where his wife Jean Armour lived until her death in 1834, is now a museum displaying Burns-related memorabilia. Burns died here in 1796, only 37 years old, and the home - a place of pilgrimage for his fans from around the world - paints a vivid portrait of his life.

His final resting place is to be found just a short distance away in St Michael's Churchyard in a Mausoleum erected in 1815. For an additional Burns fix, visit the Robert Burns Centre in an 18th century mill on the banks of the River Nith with its displays of original manuscripts and memorabilia, as well as an excellent audio-visual presentation.

Hours: Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Free

Address: Burns Street, Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway

7 The Ruthwell Kirk and Cross

The Ruthwell Kirk and CrossThe Ruthwell Kirk and Cross

Ruthwell Kirk (or church) and its early Christian cross are well worth a visit. A niche in the purpose-built church houses one of the two most famous Christian crosses of Anglo-Saxon times. Carved out of sandstone in the 8th century, the cross reaches a height of 17 ft, and it's still possible to make out some of the Latin inscriptions and biblical figures on it.

Address: Ruthwell, Dumfries and Galloway

8 Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock CastleCaerlaverock Castle

The imposing ruins of Caerlaverock Castle, just 8 mi from Dumfries, date from 1270 when the English established a bridgehead to mount an invasion of the rest of Scotland. This spectacular triangular fortress boasts a drawbridge, a water-filled moat and an impressive double-tower gatehouse. The first Earl of Nithsdale improved the appearance by adding heraldic symbols and round window and door pediments, and the castle was soon after abandoned. The nearby marshland is a haven for swans, ducks and wading birds, and in the winter thousands of Brent geese come here to breed.

Hours: Summer - Daily, 9:30am-5:30pm; Winter - Daily, 9:30am-4:30pm

Admission: Adults, £5.50; Child, £3.30

Address: Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

PRINT MAP EMBED < > Caerlaverock Castle - Floor plan map Caerlaverock Castle Map

The Best Day Trips from Ayr and Dumfries

Glenkiln Sculpture Park

Glenkiln Sculpture ParkGlenkiln Sculpture Park Steenbergs

Located near Moniave, Glenkiln Sculpture Park is a very special experience for art lovers. Just a mile or two south of the village on a lonely moor near the Glenkiln Estate, about halfway up the hillside, stand Henry Moore's life-size bronze sculptures entitled King and Queen, part of a unique outdoors collection that includes works by Rodin and Renoir and can be easily accessed through a series of well marked trails.

Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig CastleDrumlanrig Castle

An avenue of beech trees leads up to this picture-book castle of red sandstone crowned with numerous small towers. This four-winged Renaissance palace with its decorative facade contains a unique collection of French furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries. Carvings by Grinling Gibbons are highlights of the Lounge and Dining Room, and the collection of paintings with portraits by Kneller, van Dyck, Ramsay, Reynolds and Gainsborough deserve attention. However, it's the three masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Hans Holbein the Younger and Rembrandt that are the castle's most prized possessions. The castle is also home to a variety of unique outdoor adventures, including Land Rover tours, an adventure playground, mountain biking and fishing.

Hours: Open daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £10; Children (5-16), £6

Address: Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway

New Abbey: The Sweetheart Abbey

New Abbey: The Sweetheart AbbeyNew Abbey: The Sweetheart Abbey

Located just minutes away from the coast and with fine views over the Solway Firth, New Abbey is where you'll find the delightful ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1273 by Devorgilla, who also played a part in the creation of Balliol College, Oxford. Legend has it she carried the embalmed heart of her beloved husband John Balliol with her in an ivory box, and after her death it was buried alongside her. While in New Abbey, be sure to visit the pretty 18th century corn mill that still grinds corn the traditional way.

Hours: Open daily, 9:30am-5:30pm

Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children, £2.70

Address: New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Gretna Green's Anvil Marriages

Gretna Green's Anvil MarriagesGretna Green's Anvil Marriages

The border village of Gretna Green was once the world's most famous refuge for young lovers. Under Scottish law, only two witnesses to the wedding ceremony were required, and these "mock marriages" acquired notoriety throughout the world, especially as the village blacksmith's shop was usually the place where the knot was tied. In Scotland, once a youngster reached the age of 16, parents were not able to stand in their way if they wished to marry, whereas in England parental consent was needed for those under the age of 21. In 1846 the law was amended and it became necessary for one of the partners to the marriage to reside in Scotland for at least 21 days before the ceremony - a change that helped to boost the hotel trade in the vicinity, if nothing else.

The practice continued until these "Anvil Marriages" were declared illegal in 1940. The legend endures, however, and every year more than 1,000 marriages take place here. Visitors can get a taste of the tradition for themselves at the Old Blacksmiths Shop.

Address: Headless Cross, Gretna Green, Dumfries and Galloway

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