Bonny Dundee, Scotland’s fourth-largest city, is famous for the ‘three Js’ (jute, jam and journalism) and having its two rival football club grounds within 350 metres of each other. Yet it is often overlooked as a destination in favour of what some would class as more picturesque locations. Never fear, as a Dundonian born and bred, I am here to tell you why Dundee should be firmly on your list of places to go when you visit Scotland. Join me as I run down the top 10 things to do in my fair hometown…
The RRS Discovery was a steam ship built for Antarctic research, and used for the famous Discovery expedition led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. It has been extensively restored and now stands as a visitor attraction in Dundee city centre. Climb aboard the vessel to find out what life was like for the intrepid explorers. Enjoy the interactive exhibits in the very well organised, interesting visitor centre, which detail the building of the ship as well as its adventures on the open sea. Insider info:- Dundee’s tagline of ‘One City, Many Discoveries’, seen on road signs as you enter the city limits, is in reference to one of our most famous exports!
Scotland’s first design museum, the V&A sits handsomely next to RRS Discovery at Dundee’s Waterfront development. As the first Victoria and Albert museum outside of London, it features the Scottish Design Galleries as a permanent showcase of Scottish design works. Within this, there is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s famous Oak Room, which was restored from over 700 original parts. Alongside the permanent galleries, there are a wealth of temporary exhibitions on show, as well as stunning views out across the River Tay. A must-see.
Known to Dundonians and those in the know as the Law. This former hill fort is the most prominent landmark in the city, and affords incredible views of Dundee and the surrounding countryside. A war memorial graces the top of the Law, and a variety of information boards provide details of the view and natural life that can be found on the hillside, which is also a conservation area. Because the Law has been in use for thousands of years, a number of fascinating artefacts have been found there, and the most famous finds are on show in the McManus galleries in the city centre. Paths and steps mark out trails around the hillside, and there is also a car park beside the war memorial, should you wish to enjoy the view in less than ideal weather!
Dundee’s art gallery and museum, The McManus, is situated in the city centre, and also houses a natural history collection. The McManus offers visitors the chance to glimpse over 400 million years of local history, and provides them with an idea of how times have changed for Dundee and its people. Permanent collections sit alongside changing exhibitions, and offer great insight in to Dundee institutions such as the Beano and the Dee’s two football clubs, Dundee FC and Dundee United FC. All are situated within a beautiful Gothic-Revivalist style building, in the heart of a city centre. With free entry and an adjoining café, it is a lovely way to spend a few hours in the city.
“Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay”, as noted in the famous verse by William McGonnagall, is one of the most iconic images of the city. The bridge is in its second incarnation, following the notorious Tay Bridge disaster of 1879, when the original bridge collapsed due to high winds. Seventy-five lives were lost, and it is remembered as one of the worst bridge disasters in British history. The current bridge is just over 2 miles (3290 metres) long and connects Dundee and Angus with Fife. It links the main East Coast rail network which extends from Aberdeen in the north to London in the south. Riverside Drive is a lovely spot to stop to take in the view of the bridge – and if you are lucky, spy some seals frolicking in the River Tay!
Dundee is famous for the “three J’s” of jute, jam and journalism. The first of those is remembered by this self-led museum housed in a former mill building which has been carefully restored. It is a category A listed building of national importance, and provides a very atmospheric setting to discover more about a key aspect of Dundee’s history. Wandering through its various exhibits, you are shown details of the textile industry that is now synonymous with Dundee, and at its peak employed more than half of the city’s working population. It is worth knowing that you can buy a joint ticket for here and Discovery Point, as both are run by Dundee Heritage Trust. It is also important to note that Verdant Works café serve Dundee cake – another authentic piece of the city!
The largest public park in the city, Camperdown Country Park lies 3 miles from the city centre, off the A90. Home to another category A listed building, the 19th century mansion Camperdown House, it spans over 400 acres and has a golf course, play complex, tennis courts, mini golf, and its own wildlife park (with brown bears)! There is a Camperdown Tree Trail, as the park has over 190 species of tree, and a variety of events are held at the park throughout the year, including Dundee Flower and Food festival on the first weekend in September. If you are there on a Saturday morning, why not take part in Dundee’s Park Run event? It is a free, timed 5k run, managed entirely by volunteers – what a healthy way to take in the sights and sounds of the park!
“The strong point on the Tay”, Broughty Castle was originally built to defend against a gathering English navy, and has been a strategic location since it was built in 1496. It now houses a free entry museum, showcasing exhibits on the life and times of Broughty Ferry, its people, the environment and wildlife. It has an interesting exhibit on whaling in Dundee, and how the castle was used in times of war. Close by, there is also the wonderful Broughty Ferry beach and a fantastic playpark for children, Castle Green. Why not stop by locally famous, Visocchi’s Café, for a delicious Italian-style gelato? You’ll be glad you did, whatever the weather!
The frigate Unicorn is one of the six oldest ships in the world! Although it was built at the end of the Napoleonic wars to boost a depleted, weary Royal Navy, she was never rigged as we entered a time of extended peace. Instead she was towed to Dundee and put to use as a training ship for more than a century. HMS Unicorn was also used as the headquarters of the Senior Naval Officer in Dundee during both World Wars. Due to her use as a training ship and base, she is thought to be the best preserved ship in the world from the age of sail. The ship offers visitors a remarkable insight into her build at a time when ship building was undergoing massive change due to lack of timber and the increasing use of iron.
Step aboard and find out about this beautiful ship, the Navy in Dundee and the ‘Golden Age of Sail’!
Situated on the summit of Balgay Hill, one mile west of the city centre, Mills Observatory was the first purpose-built astronomical observatory in the UK. It was built in 1935, following the bequest of John Mills, a Dundee businessman and keen amateur astronomer. It has a planetarium, two display areas showing historical equipment and information on space exploration, and four telescopes including one Victorian refracting telescope which was part of the original build (though, amazingly, it is some 60 years older than the building itself) and a fully computerised telescope which can detect up to 30,000 objects in the sky!
The planetary fun continues in the surrounding Balgay Park, where there is an outdoor planet trail in the form of a scale model of the solar system. It consists of standing stones and plaques, and starts on the eastern summit of the hill and ends on the pier in the observatory. Fun fact:- locals descend on the area around Mills Observatory on Easter weekend, as it is one of the city’s finest spots for rolling eggs and having picnics – a Dundee favourite!
And Many More…….
Honourable mentions must also go to the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre, Dundee Science Centre, the Botanic Gardens, Dundee Rep Theatre, St. Mary’s Church and the Howff Burial Ground – I feel I probably should have made it a Top 20 list! There are also a wealth of eateries and pubs worth visiting, but I’m afraid that would be a whole other blog post. So, let it never be said that there’s nothing to do in Dundee, and please let us know if you visit any of the sights on our list or what your favourite things are to do in this fair city!