11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Dundee & Easy Day Trips
Dundee, the fourth largest city in Scotland, spreads along the north bank of the Firth of Tay at the foot of Balgary Hill. Once a major port, the city's waterfront is well worth visiting and has since become a commercial and cultural hub that includes an excellent maritime museum complete with preserved vessels and a science center. Dundee has also become a popular place for entertainment, and in the Old Town center you can enjoy the city's food scene, as well as shopping.
Dundee is also a wonderful place to explore on foot. A highlight of a self-guided walking tour is to head up to Dundee Law, an extinct volcano with a peak of 572 feet that offers tremendous views of the city and its surrounds. For more ideas on things to do, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Dundee.
See also: Where to Stay in Dundee
1. The Tay Rail Bridge
If you enter Dundee by train, you'll cross the famous iron bridge over the River Tay. The original two-mile span was built between 1872 and 1878 and carried the railroad from here to Edinburgh along what was at the time the longest bridge in the world. However, this bridge collapsed in 1879 after a storm, causing a major disaster that saw a train plunge into the frigid waters below, drowning 75 passengers in the process (stumps from this original bridge are still visible).
Completed in 1887 as a replacement for its predecessor, the present bridge took nine years to build (using recovered girders from the original) and remains one of the worlds' most spectacular railway journeys. Two viewing platforms are located on the bridge affording fine views over Dundee and the Firth of Tay. The nearby (and much newer, opening in 1964) Forth Road Bridge is great for those walking or cycling around the city and offers a number of viewing platforms with superb views over its older neighbor.
2. Discovery Point and the RRS Discovery
Located on the Dundee waterfront, Discovery Point documents the history of the royal research ship RRS Discovery and also vividly illustrates the natural wilderness and awe-inspiring beauty of the Polar Regions through state-of-the-art special effects and audio-visual presentations. Visitors can also climb over the vessel, built in Dundee to take Robert F. Scott on his expedition to the Antarctic between 1901 and 1904. The vessel is notable as the last wood-built, three-masted vessel to be constructed in Britain, and at the time boasted the strongest wooden hull of any ship in history. This top-rated Dundee tourist attraction also has a cafe and shop to enjoy.
Another lovingly restored ship is HMS Unicorn, a Royal Navy frigate equipped with 46 cannons and launched in 1824, now located on Victoria Quay. Although it's the oldest still-seaworthy warship in the British Isles, the ship was never fitted with masts, and the unusual roof that covers the vessel is original. Of particular note is the splendid white unicorn with the royal coat-of-arms carved from Canadian pine. A shop is also located onboard.
Address: Discovery Quay, Dundee
Official site: www.rrsdiscovery.com/index.php?pageID=129
3. V&A Dundee
One of the newest major attractions to open in Scotland, the V&A Dundee was unveiled in all its hi-tech glory in the fall of 2018. Boasting a stunning design meant to resemble the cliffs of east Scotland — though it definitely sports the profile of a galleon (or even a whale) from one angle — this splendid new museum is the first in the country to be dedicated solely to achievements and trends of Scottish design.
In addition to its revolving exhibits, highlights include the stunning Oak Room, erected originally in Glasgow in 1908 as a tea room and resurrected here after being carefully dismantled in the 1970s. The room now holds the Scottish Design Gallery, a permanent exhibition that pays homage to Scotland's leading innovators and innovations in design and industry. Numerous educational programs are also available. Museum admission is free (yeah!), which means you can spend the money saved at the on-site café and restaurant, or in the gift shop.
Address: 1 Riverside Esplanade, Dundee
Official site: www.vam.ac.uk/dundee/
4. Glamis Castle
Characteristically baronial in style, Glamis Castle is one of the finest tourist attractions in Scotland. Located 12 miles north of Dundee, this 17th-century fairy-tale castle is surrounded by parkland and lies at the end of a long avenue of oaks. A castle is said to have stood here 1,000 years ago and, according to Shakespeare, was where Macbeth murdered King Duncan. It's also said to be haunted, and a fun way to learn more about the many monster (and vampire) myths associated with the castle is to join one of their fascinating ghost tours.
Today, the castle contains a wealth of fine objets d'art including furniture, tapestries, Chinese porcelain, old weapons, and paintings, as well as portraits of Elizabeth I. Probably the most striking feature in the Victorian Dining Room is the magnificent fireplace, with its heraldic centerpiece in oak bearing the coat-of-arms of the 12th Earl of Strathmore, and the plasterwork ceiling decorated with Scottish thistles, English roses, and lions. Entry is via a 50-minute guided tour, but you can linger longer in the grounds and in the castle's café and restaurant. If visiting in winter, be sure to check out the castle's popular Christmas Market.
For those wanting to ensure they get the most out of a visit to this spectacular castle, consider joining an organized tour, such as a half-day private tour of Glamis Castle. This popular option also includes a visit to the RRS Discovery, plus the lovely scenic drive to the castle, plus hotel pickup and drop-off.
Official site: www.glamis-castle.co.uk
5. Verdant Works
Much of Dundee's growth over the centuries was due to its jute industry, a natural fiber used in the manufacture of ropes and products such as sacks. The excellent Verdant Works (also known as Scotland's Jute Museum) explores the impact of the industry on the area, including its effect upon the local populace, half of whom of working age were employed in the industry.
The museum, housed in a former mill, contains fully restored machinery (daily demonstrations included with admission), hands-on exhibits, and multimedia attractions of interest to all ages, which show how Dundee was once responsible for nearly all global jute production. Of particular interest is the restored High Mill, built in 1833 and the oldest part of the museum complex. A gift shop and cafe are also available to visit.
One of the last remaining relics of the city's jute industry, Cox's Stack is also worth a visit. This 282-foot-high chimney was constructed in 1866 as part of the once massive Camperdown Works.
Address: West Henderson's Wynd, Dundee
Official site: www.verdantworks.com
6. The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum
Located in a grand old Victorian building in the city center and definitely one of the top free things to do in Dundee, the McManus keeps a collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century European masters and well-known local artists, including James MacIntosh Patrick. Also of interest are local history exhibits from prehistoric times to the present day. The archaeological department contains some particularly interesting artifacts from ancient Egypt.
Dundee's natural history collection is also included here and concentrates on the wildlife of the Lowlands and Highlands, with exhibitions exploring environmental and nature themes. A cafe with a pleasant outdoor terrace is popular with locals and visitors alike.
Also worth a visit is Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA), a bustling art center featuring two contemporary art galleries, a movie theater, café, and shop.
Address: Albert Square, Meadowside, Dundee
Official site: www.mcmanus.co.uk
7. Dundee Old Town Highlights
One of the highlights of Dundee Old Town is St. Paul's Cathedral with its 213-foot-tall tower. This Neo-Gothic cathedral was completed in 1853 and is notable for the Venetian Salviati that adorns the altar. The pedestrianized City Square is the busy heart of the city and is overlooked by Caird Hall, which doubles as both the town hall and a concert and conference venue (it's also home to the city's tourist information office). This is a good place to start a walking tour of the old town, taking in along the way the many shops and galleries located on the High Street.
If time allows, be sure to also pay a visit to nearby Howff, Dundee's 300-year-old graveyard and the former garden of the Grayfriars monastery, considered by those in the know as something of a Dundee hidden gem.
8. The Mills Observatory
The Mills Observatory, built in 1935 and located on the heavily wooded summit of Balgary Hill, just two miles west of Dundee's city center, is Britain's only full-time public observatory. It's a unique opportunity to do some stargazing using a computerized telescope capable of spotting upwards of 30,000 objects in the sky.
Exhibits focus on space exploration and astronomy, and the planetarium shows our place in the universe. It's also a great place to simply admire superb views across the River Tay. An on-site shop sells related materials and souvenirs. If time allows, be sure to follow the educational Planet Trail through the observatory's extensive grounds.
Address: Glamis Rd, Balgay Park, Dundee
Official site: http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/mills-home
9. Camperdown Wildlife Centre
A visit to Camperdown Wildlife Centre, part of Camperdown Country Park, is one of the top things for families to do in Dundee. Set amid the 400 acres of the former country estate, the wildlife center presently houses some 300 or so animals representing 50 species, including the star attractions, a pair of European brown bears named Star and Comet. Other animal attractions include lemurs and marmosets, along with numerous birds, including golden eagles.
For a special treat, have the kids participate in one of the center's fun animal experiences, including zoo keeping and feeding adventures. There's also a great play area for the wee 'uns to blow off steam, as well as a café and shop.
Afterwards, be sure to spend time wandering the delightful grounds surrounding the old manor house. In addition to its well-maintained gardens, the grounds are home to over 190 tree species. If you're a golfer, rent a set of clubs and head out for a round of golf on the park's 18-hole course.
Address: Coupar Angus Road, Dundee
Official site: www.camperdownwildlifecentre.co.uk
10. Broughty Castle Museum
Located on the River Tay in the Dundee borough of Broughty Ferry, Broughty Castle was built in 1495 and played a major role in various wars between the Scots and the English. Now home to the Broughty Castle Museum, this impressive fortification houses interesting exhibits relating to the city's history and people, its art, as well as its wildlife and the environment. A highlight of this free attraction is climbing to its observation levels for stunning views over the city and coastline. A small café and a gift shop are located on-site.
Closer to Dundee (it's located in the city's West Ferry neighborhood), the medieval-era Claypotts Castle is worth visiting, too. Notable for its unique "z-plan" design, its towering presence makes a dramatic backdrop for a photo or selfie.
Address: Castle Approach, Dundee
11. Dundee Science Centre
One of the top things to do in Dundee for kids (but suitable for adults, too), the Dundee Science Centre is easy to spend a few hours at exploring its many fascinating exhibits. Popular for its interesting hands-on displays, the museum features interactive experiences focusing on things like the human senses, as well as robotics. The center also features regular screenings of films dealing with technologies such as keyhole surgery, as well as the search for alien life.
A fun planetarium is another highlight, which features a fascinating look at the solar system. Educational and learning programs are held here regularly, too, including the two-week-long Dundee Science Festival. There's also a gift shop plus a café on-site.
If science is your thing, you may want to also visit the D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum. Located at the University of Dundee and established in the late 19th century, this fascinating zoological collection includes species of mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles from a variety of locations worldwide, as well as the founder's original teaching tools (he was a professor here).
Address: Greenmarket, Dundee
Official site: www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk
Where to Stay in Dundee for Sightseeing
We recommend these unique hotels in Dundee, located near the best restaurants, shops, and attractions in the city:
- Luxury Hotels: For a truly memorable luxury getaway, book into the boutique-style Taypark House. Features of this beautiful 19th-century manor house include larger family suites with separate seating areas and a delightful garden, all just a short walk away from the University of Dundee's botanic gardens.
- Mid-Range Hotels: One of the best-rated mid-range accommodation options in Dundee, the four-star Apex City Quay Hotel & Spa is popular for its waterfront location, its floor-to-ceiling windows, family rooms, indoor pool, and steam room.
The historic Malmaison Dundee is another great choice, with dramatic décor and lighting in its bedrooms and cool claw-foot tubs in the bathrooms. Another great location set in an attractive older building, Shaftesbury Lodge comes with a variety of individually decorated rooms, as well as en-suite bathrooms, and a delicious complimentary full breakfast.
- Budget Hotels: At the higher-end of the budget hotel category, the Hampton by Hilton Dundee City Center is a three-star hotel with bright and airy rooms, complimentary breakfast, and a sizeable fitness center.
Other good quality places to stay include the Premier Inn Dundee West Hotel, popular for its modern room décor, comfortable beds, and handy free parking, and the Holiday Inn Express Dundee, a great choice for its cleanliness and proximity to attractions such as the RRS Discovery.
Day Trips from Dundee
House of Dun and Montrose Basin Nature Reserve
Built for Lord David Erskine between 1730 and 1742, the House of Dun is a gorgeous two-story Palladian building in the style of the Château d'Issy near Paris, located an easy 30-minute train ride northeast of Dundee. In the fabulous Great Drawing Room, the Scottish lion and Mars — a reference to the earls of Mar, the king's sword-bearers — guard the Scottish regalia, flanked by national emblems serving as symbols of the "Auld Alliance" with France and the "Grand Alliance," or "Union of Crowns," with England. Other notable features are an early clockwork roasting spit and the exquisite plasterwork seen in the saloon.
Demonstrations of traditional cloth weaving on old handlooms take place in the courtyard buildings. Admission is via guided tours only, but the superb walled garden and woodland walks can be explored at leisure (guidebooks are available for purchase), and there's a fun playground for kids, plus a picnic area. There's also a good cafe serving snacks and light meals.
Official site: www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/house-of-dun
Pretty Perth, just 20 minutes by rail west of Dundee, is the perfect place to spend a day shopping and exploring. Perth's Museum and Art Gallery focuses on local history and also serves as a venue for temporary art exhibitions, while the Fergusson Gallery — located in an old water tower — focuses on the work of watercolorist John Duncan Fergusson.
Other Perth attractions are the lovely 15th-century parish Church of St. John, and Branklyn Garden, one of the most beautiful public gardens in Scotland and notable for its many trees, alpine and ericaceous plants, herbaceous borders, and dwarf rhododendrons.
Scone Palace is situated just 2.5 miles north of Perth, close to where the Abbey of Scone once stood, and is famous as the place where Scottish monarchs were once crowned. In the 9th century, Kenneth MacAlpin chose Scone as the royal residence and brought the Scottish coronation stone (the Stone of Scone) here, but in 1297 Edward I took it to Westminster Abbey in London where it remained until 1996.
The major part of the palace was built at the beginning of the 19th century and is now the seat of the Earls of Mansfield, whose ancestors are shown in portraits lining the Long Gallery. Art treasures on display include porcelain from Meissen, Sèvres, and Derby, along with fine Chippendale furniture, and 17th- and 18th-century ivory carvings.
After exploring the palace and its expansive gardens and 100 acres of parklands, pop into the on-site coffee shop for a well-deserved treat (there's also a well-stocked gift shop). Guided tours are available.
For a truly memorable experience, check into the luxury apartment available to rent. Sleeping up to six guests, this chic getaway comes with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and the services of a private chef, if required.
Official site: www.scone-palace.co.uk
Blair Castle and Gardens
Another easy day trip, located an hour's drive west of Dundee, Blair Castle dominates the northern end of the village of Blair Atholl and occupies an important strategic spot on the road between Perth and Inverness. The castle has been the seat of the Duke of Atholl (Murray clan) since the 17th century, and in 1845, Queen Victoria granted the owner the unique privilege of maintaining a private army, the "Atholl Highlanders," who, on the last Sunday in May, stage a colorful parade.
A magnificent avenue of linden trees leads up to the gleaming white east front of the castle. Famous guests include Mary Stuart and Bonnie Prince Charlie, who stayed at the castle with his Highland army in 1745. The wood-paneled entrance hall is decorated with hunting trophies and a remarkable collection of arms.
After a tour of the interior, the castle grounds — in particular the stunning Hercules Garden — are ideal for a stroll before you head to the lovely village of Pitlochry, a popular stopover for visitors traveling around the area due to its outstanding natural beauty and numerous outdoors activities.
Address: Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire
Official site: www.blair-castle.co.uk
Loch Tay and Killin
Located 60 miles west of Dundee, the long, narrow Loch Tay — a haven for anglers and water sports enthusiasts — is considered one of Scotland's most beautiful lochs. Flanked on both sides by partly wooded hillsides, the full glory of Loch Tay can best be appreciated from the summit of Ben Lawers (3,981 feet) on the north bank, the highest peak in Perthshire.
Also of interest is the tiny village of Killin near the west end of Loch Tay. Here, you'll find the 19th-century Moirlanich Longhouse, an outstanding example of a traditional cruck frame cottage and byre that houses an exhibit of the building's history and restoration. Loch Tay is also where you'll find the Scottish Crannog Centre, an authentic Iron Age loch dwelling with an interesting display of ancient crafts.
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