10 reasons to holiday in Dumfries and Galloway year-round

by Robin McKelvie, 17th December 2021
Kippford | Dumfries and Galloway
10 reasons to holiday in Dumfries and Galloway year-round

For me one of the biggest lessons of the last few tumultuous years is to seize the moment; to savour and appreciate things in the here and now. As we’ve all become accustomed to fire pits and outdoor socialising it’s opened our eyes up to enjoying the world around us all year. And if you’re looking for a part of Scotland that is brilliant to visit year-round then look no further than Scotland’s balmiest corner, Dumfries and Galloway.

You’ll find hoards – literal and metaphorical – to see and do year-round; indoors and out. Scotland starts here and continues all year in a landscape up there with anything in the country. Here are my 10 great reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway, whether its spring or summer, autumn or winter. What are you waiting for? 

It’s Gorgeous

Dumfries and Galloway is a real stunner. It’s vast too. Did you know Dumfries is closer to both Edinburgh and Glasgow than it is to Stranraer? The Southern Uplands Fault forges through the region, sculpting dramatic hills and glens as it goes. Those emerald hills give way to the thick forests that once hid Robert the Bruce and his men. The coast is equally eye-catching, with sweeping sandy beaches, soaring cliffs and rugged rocky stretches too. So special is the region that Galloway and Southern Ayrshire has been recognised as a protected UNESCO Biosphere. And the glorious Galloway Forest Park was the first of its kind in the UK. This is an oasis that deserves our protection.

Loch Dee on Southern Upland Way
Loch Dee in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and on the Southern Upland Way.

Home of the Bard

Most people associate Robert Burns – Scotland’s national bard – with Ayrshire, but did you know that he spent a swathe of his life in Dumfries and Galloway? In fact he was inspired to write over a quarter of his work right here, including Tam o’Shanter. From 1788 Burns lived out his farmer fantasies on a farm at Ellisland north of Dumfries, before moving in to enjoy the urban charms of the town. You can visit the house where he lived and worked, and learn more at the Robert Burns Centre. You can also savour a Burns walking tour, taking in other sites like his hulking statue, and the Burns Mausoleum. A real highlight is the brilliantly revamped Globe Inn. Burns famously liked the revelry of an inn and this was his favourite Dumfries howff. His legacy is the verse he penned on its windows you can still see today. You’ll eat much, much better here today than you would have in his day too!

10 reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway: The Globe Inn, Dumfries
Eat where the Bard dined regularly and see his etchings on the glass windows at the Globe Inn.

Swathes of History

If you’re serious about history you seriously need to come to Dumfries and Galloway. Did you know it’s home to the UK’s only triangular castle? I love bringing my wee girls to Caerlaverock, putting on period costumes and checking out this proper castle with its still-filled moat. Threave Castle meanwhile is the sort of fairy-tale fortress you dreamt about as a kid, reclining on its own island in the River Dee. The trio of ruined abbeys are unmissable too: Sweetheart Abbey, fashioned by Lady Devorgilla as a testament to her love for her late husband; Dundrennan Abbey, a 12th century Romanesque gem; and Glenluce Abbey, where you can still feel the presence of the monastic order that thrived here for four centuries. And did you know Dumfries and Galloway is home to the site of Scotland’s earliest Christian community down Whithorn way? The region is awash with historical sights so dig in!

10 reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway: Sweetheart Abbey
Sweetheart Abbey was built by Lady Devorgilla in rememberance of her much loved late husband John Balliol.

Get your Boots on

Dumfries and Galloway is top notch walking country. Take it from me – I once spent an entire week hiking with my wife from Portpatrick east towards Sanquhar. That was on the 344km-long Southern Upland Way, which is designated one of Scotland’s Great Trails. And it truly is. I enjoyed everything from bashing along the Atlantic cliffs, through to hiking in the shadow of castles and on to discovering stone circles in forests and summiting hills to take in life-affirming views. There are myriad walking options dotted through the region and an ever-expanding network of trails in a place whose residents get the restorative powers of the Great Outdoors.

10 reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway; hiking
A week well spent – hiking the Southern Upland Way from Portpatrick to Sanquar.

Beaches and Water

Dumfries and Galloway boasts brilliant beaches – the sort of ones that will make you beam on sight, with the kids already having left the car as they fire down to the sands. One of my favourites is Luce Sands, an epic curl of beach that sweeps all around. But the good news is that there are plenty of beaches for everyone sprinkled around the extensive coastline. Wild swimming is getting very popular too. If you’re unsure the Galloway Activity Centre on Loch Ken now run wild swimming sessions that are a great introduction to this spirit-soaring pastime. Also on site here they offer stand up paddle boarding (SUP), windsurfing and kayaking. Afterwards there is a café for a hot drink and some fuel; you can stay over here too.

Dome Home at Galloway Activity Centre
Have a wild swim at the Galloway Activity Centre on Loch Ken – or try their sailing, kayaking or SUP activities.

Cycling Paradise

Dumfries and Galloway is home to five of the 7 Stanes sites at Glentrool, Mabie, Dalbeattie, Kirroughtree and Ae. This brilliant initiative has seen a network of world-class mountain biking trails forged through the Forest Commission lands in southern Scotland. There is a trail for all levels with easier green and blue routes for the less experienced and relaxed families. If you want something tougher there are red routes and then the seriously testing black runs. They now have more great biking at Drumlanrig Castle. I headed out recently with a bike from local outfit Rik’s Bike Shed and the ace guide Liz from TrailSkills MTB – the Drumlanrig trails were constructed with minimal use of trail machinery, so it all feels really natural as you sweep through the gorgeous forest.

10 reasons to go to dumfries and Galloway , cycling
Robin McElvie giving the trails at Drumlanrig a trial go.

Museum Magic

Dumfries and Galloway offers an array of spot-on museums and galleries. One of the more unusual is the Devil’s Porridge Museum. No, not a tribute to Satan’s breakfast, but an award-winning museum that delves into the massive ammunitions site – the largest the world has ever seen – that had such a pivotal role in helping Britain win World War One. The cordite the women produced here was essential as a propellant for both bullets and bombs. Kirkcudbright Galleries star too with the remarkable Galloway Hoard on show until at least July 2022. I’m hoping it stays for much longer as this unique collection of Viking and Anglo-Saxon pieces was found in the region. It’s real brain-popping stuff. I’d always associated the Vikings with silver, but there are intricate gold creations too. And some of the exhibits give weight to the idea that the Vikings may well have expanded southeast into Central Asia long before they even reached Scotland.

Exterior of The Devil's Porridge Museum., The Devil's Porridge Museum.
The Devil’s Porridge museum shows what a key role 12,000 women played in the production of cordite in WWI.

First Class Food – and Gin  

Dumfries and Galloway overflows with world-class food and drink. Belted Galloway beef is legendary, as is Solway Firth seafood, while Castle Douglas is one of Scotland’s finest foodie hubs, alive with artisan producers. It all comes together at Nick Morris’ acclaimed Station House Cookery School. You learn about the region’s fine produce here as Nick helps bring on your cookery skills, before you all dine together on your creations. Make sure to pop through to ace deli Brambles next door, and also across the road to the new Dark Art Distillery. They’ve already won awards for their gin – it’s easy to see why with one of the shining lights of Scotland’s booming gin scene – distiller Fiona Williamson – working her magic, with specially grown local botanicals spicing up their superb gin. It’s best enjoyed after a tour in their gorgeous tasting room.

10 reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway: Station cookery school
Nick Morris’ Station House Cookery School gives you the chance to combine the region’s excellent produce and eat your creation.

Whisky Galore

They’ve done a remarkable job in resurrecting the historic Annandale Distillery. You can feel its heritage oozing from its old sandstone pores. Take one of their tours and explore their world of gleaming copper stills, sturdy Oregon Pine washbacks and slowly maturing barrels. The highlight is, of course, a tasting, with real variety as they offer both peated and unpeated malts, as well as spiky new make spirit. The on-site café is excellent too with locally smoked salmon from Barony on the menu in a lovely space that chimes perfectly with the style of this old world gem.

10 reasons to visit Dumfries and Galloway: Annandale Distillery; Robin McKelvie
Annandale Distillery has been restored and offers excellent tours and tastings.

Reach for the Stars

It’s no surprise that the Galloway Forest Park was the first designated Dark Skies Park in the UK as Dumfries and Galloway is just brilliant for stargazing. With so little light pollution, swathes of the region allow you to gaze up at stars, satellites and shooting stars. When it’s cloudy just head for the sparkling new Dark Space Planetarium in Kirkcudbright. The exhibition room has loads of hands-on fun for kids and big kids alike, before it’s into the 32-seat planetarium to marvel at our world and the wider universe. The film about the moon landings is brilliant.

10 reasons to go to Dumfries and Galloway: Dark Space Planetarium
The Dark Space Planetarium is a great time for kids of all ages – don’t miss the film about the moon landings!