Are you wondering what are the things to do in the Scottish Borders? Known for its rich medieval history and time-honoured traditions, the Scottish Borders offers one of the most mystical and poetic places in the world. With its picturesque countryside, rolling hills, hiking trails, and some local legends to tickle your fancy, it’s no wonder Scottish Borders is included in our Best Places to Visit in the UK.
This rural region is between northern England and southern Scotland on the Anglo-Scottish border. As part of the Southern Uplands, it is the least populous of the three main geographic areas of Scotland. Previously called Borders, it was renamed Scottish Borders in 1996.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Scottish Borders attracted an average of 2.7 million day visitors.
Best Things to do in the Scottish Borders
1. Melrose Abbey
Tucked away in Melrose, Roxburghshire is a magnificent ancient structure of Melrose Abbey, the first Cisterian abbey in Scotland. Built in 1136 upon the request of King David I of Scotland, the partly ruined abbey has seen its fair share of religious and local history.
The Old Melrose abbey was a monastic settlement since the 7th century; while the present monastery is built three miles away from the original monastery. The Cistercian Order used to be a very popular order in Scotland and was renowned for its farming techniques. The successful production and trading of Melrose wool by the Cisterian monks brought austerity to the abbey. It was said that during the 1148 famine, the abbey was able to feed 4,000 peasants for three months.
Now a partly ruined structure, the abbey was frequently attacked by English armies because of its proximity to the border. Its Gothic architecture and St. John’s Cross design form are still evident, and many of its carved decorations of saints, dragons, and gargoyles have survived.
Aside from the stunning building structure, the abbey is also known to hold the heart of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots from 1306 to 1329. Moreover, it is also believed the 13th-century wizard Michael Scott and his magic books were buried in the abbey.
2. Scott’s View
One of the most iconic views that can be seen on the Scottish Border is from the viewpoint called Scott’s View. Overlooking the valley of River Tweed, this viewpoint is about 3 miles east of Melrose, on the western side of the Bemersyde Hill. Named after 19th-century novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, the panoramic views from this overlook are said to be the favourite of the said author.
Atop Scott’s View, one can see the peaks of Eildon Hills on the west and the Newtown St Boswells to the south. The original site of the ancient Old Melrose Abbey can also be spotted from here, as well as one of the few remaining semi-natural woodlands. The views are so loved that benches are already placed on the viewpoint for visitors to just pause and take in the breathtaking scenery.
Scott’s View can be reached via car on the B6404 road from St. Boswells to Kelso, and then making a turn to Dryburgh. There are also bus stops nearby from Bus Lines 51, 52, and 61.
3. Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott
Described as “one of the most famous houses in the world,” the Abbotsford in the River Tweed is the estate house of writer Sir Walter Scott. So proud of his home that the famous Scottish novelist calls it “the Delilah of his imagination,” and his “Conundrum Castle.”
Originally the Cartley Home Farm, or Cartly Hole, Scott renamed it Abbotsford after he bought the place in 1811. Scott expanded the then-farmhouse under the supervision of English architects William Atkinson and Edward Blore. The full expansion and redesign of the estate were completed in 1824.
Abbotsford became a pioneer in Scottish Baronial architecture, making it one of the most important and influential structures in Scotland. A sort-of miniature castle, the house has mini towers, elaborate rooflines, tourelle, and battlements. Scott was also fond of collecting historical furniture, such as the doorway from Edinburgh’s Old Tolbooth.
Because of the popularity of the house, other buildings in the world have been named Abbotsford as well, such as those in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and America; and three London streets. The house is also a category A listed building and is included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, a list of important gardens in Scotland.
After Scot’s death, it was opened to the public in 1833. Visitors can also explore other parts of the estate such as the beautiful Regency garden and the woodlands. With the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott, the estate is also holding several events to celebrate one of Scotland’s iconic writers.
To know more about Abbotsford, check out their official website.
4. Floors Castle
As the largest inhabited castle in Scotland, Floors Castle is a striking structure in the heart of Roxburghe. This iconic castle was the former home for the family of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and remains to be one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Scottish Borders. The magnificent estate covers about 52,000 acres or 21 hectares and spans from the Cheviots to the Lammermuirs and parts of the Tweed valley.
Built in the 1720s for Duke John, the construction of the estate was supervised by architect William Adam. Designed as a Georgian house, the stately manor is famously recognized for its standout sandstone façade. Located on a natural terrace, it overlooks the River Tweed and the Cheviot Hills, and across the site of the former Roxburgh Castle. The castle was remodelled in the 1830s by Edinburgh architect William Playfair, incorporating the stunning tapestries and interior decorations that still stand today.
With eleven generations of Duke of Roxburghe previously residing, the castle has plenty of historical narratives and rare artefacts. It is a category A listed building and is also included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes.
Also, aside from exploring the different parts of the castle, visitors can also enjoy its famous Walled Garden filled with decorative plants and traditional glass houses, as well as a Tapestry Garden. One can also go on a leisure walk around the estate or bike on the Cycle Trail, and enjoy the magnificent and expansive outdoor landscape of the castle. The estate also hosts various tourist events.
For more information about Floors Castle, check here.
5. St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve
For the birdwatchers and anyone looking for a calm, quiet commune with nature and to breathe in the fresh air of the sea, the St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve is the perfect place for you. Nestled in the St. Abb’s Village in Berwickshire, the southern part of Scotland, this national nature reserve offers one of the most dramatic and rugged coastal scenery in the Scottish Borders.
This coastal haven is a rocky promontory with a clifftop vantage view of the crystal waters of the St. Abbs coastline. The St. Abbs Head is a hard volcanic rock that formed 400 million years ago from lava. Atop the cliffs is the St. Abbs Head Lighthouse which was built by brothers David Stevenson and Thomas Stevenson, and started operations in February 1862. Just a stone’s throw away from the lighthouse is the Mire Loch, a 600-meter-long man-made lake.
Deemed a “seabird city,” this nature reserve is a dream destination for birdwatchers. It is home to over 60,000 seabird colonies, such as guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags, herring gulls, puffins, and many more. The Mire Loch, on the other hand, has waterfowl birds such as swans and ducks. Wildflowers of different varieties also cover the grasslands of this natural reserve.
Because of the many natural habitats found in the area, as well as its geological landscape, St. Abbs is a designated national nature reserve since 1984 and is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It is also a popular destination for hikers and walkers of beautiful sceneries complimented by the calming sound of the waves of the sea and the chirping of the birds. This tourist destination has visitor facilities such as a visitor centre, an art gallery, coffee shop and retail shops. Visitors can learn about the St. Abbs’s Head history through an exhibit and historical artefacts, as well as participate in Ranger-led guided walks.
For more information about St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, click here.
6. New Asgard (St. Abb)
Ever want to visit the new home for the Asgardians on Earth after Asgard was destroyed by the Fire Demon Surtur? How about getting drunk at The Cormorant & Tun pub with no less than the god of thunder, Thor? Or spend your days with Valkyrie in a quaint fishing village, away from all the madness of the world?
Of course, what I’m describing is just imaginary, as the place I’m talking about is the fictional New Asgard town from the Hollywood blockbuster film Avengers: Endgame. The location where it was filmed, however, is very much real.
Tucked away in the southern part of Scotland on the Berwickshire coast, the remote harbour village of St. Abb was the filming location for the New Asgard. Although it was mentioned in the film that New Asgard is in Tønsberg in Norway, St. Abb in the Scottish Borders had the privilege of having the movie shot there. Marvel fans would immediately recognize the place as where Professor Hulk and Rocket go to see Thor convince him to join in their fight against Thanos.
In a movie filled with special effects, the non-CGI panoramic shot of Professor Hulk and Rocket riding in the back of a truck down to a quaint little town, as well as the dramatic drone shoot of the coastal village, is a true standout. It captured the serenity, calmness, and idyllic life that the scene demanded.
Because of the inclusion of St. Abb in the Avengers film, the small fishing village has seen its influx of tourists and Marvel fans wanting to get a glimpse of New Asgard. A sign that said “St. Abbs Twinned with New Asgard” will immediately greet visitors, marking the town’s Hollywood connections. Another popular attraction is the strikingly white house overlooking the harbour, which served as the building for Thor’s favourite pub, The Cormorant and Tun pub.
Aside from the Avengers movie, the coastal village was also used as a shooting location for the music video of British singer Harry Styles. It was used as the site for the fictional town of Eroda, which is the focal point of the music video for Styles’ single Adore You.
And even if you’re not a Marvel or a Harry Styles fan, visitors can still appreciate the raw beauty of the place. With only about a hundred people in its population, the place is the perfect place to just unwind and take in all the beautiful sceneries.
7. Hermitage Castle
Perhaps no other castle in Scotland is as intriguing as that Hermitage Castle. With its history intertwined with that of the de Soules, the Douglases, and Mary Queen of Scots, the ancient castle has seen its fair share of torture, treason, secret romantic trysts, and allegations of witchcraft.
The semi-ruined castle stands eerily as a lone structure on the deepest part of Liddesdale. Because of its strategic location and control of the Scottish Middle March, the castle had been fought over for centuries. It was described by George Macdonald Fraser in his book The Steel Bonnets as “the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain.”
Built mainly as a defence fortress, its architecture exhibits a Norman Motte and Bailey design pattern. It has four defence towers on each corner, and arches on the east and west facades.
Believed to have been built around 1240 by Nicholas de Soulis, it would later be forfeited away from his descendant William de Soulis because of accusations of witchcraft and treason. It was said that Sir William Douglas imprisoned and starved to death his rival Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie in one of the castle’s prison keep.
Another local legend associated with the castle is that of the supposed romantic trysts of Mary, Queen of Scots, and then owner of the castle James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who would later become the Queen’s third and last husband. According to the legend, Queen Mary travelled 25 miles from Jedburgh on a horseback to visit Hepburn, who was then sick and wounded from a fight. It is believed that the castle is haunted by the ghost of Mary.
To know more about the Hermitage castle, check here.
8. Neidpath Castle
Another popular attraction in the Scottish Borders is Neidpath Castle, a well-preserved 14th-century Keep. The L-plan rubble-built tower is a popular spot for wedding venues, romantic getaways, family trips, private tours, and filming locations.
Tucked away on a hillside overlooking the River Tweed, Neidpath Castle is located about a mile west of Pebbles. The castle has been home to several aristocratic families, such as the Fraser, Hay, Douglas, and Wemyss family. Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James VI is said to have also visited the castle.
Its well-preserved interior and exterior design are one of the allure of the castle. Visitors can get a glimpse of how the previous aristocratic residents lived through its ancient interior and exterior decorations. Its original structure, such as battlement, balustraded balcony, wooden floors and archways remains intact today. One can also enjoy its old dungeons, wells, and fireplaces.
Now open to the public, it is one of the most famous wedding venues in Scotland, and hosts various tea parties and tours.
For reservations and more information, visit their website.
9. Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre
Perhaps one of the most intriguing and popular royal personalities of Scotland is Mary Queen of Scot, and one of the best ways to get to know about her is by exploring the Mary Queen of Scots’ Visitor Centre. The 16th-century building serves as a museum dedicated to the life and death of the tragic monarch.
Surrounded by a pear tree garden, the three-storey building is located in the town of Jedburgh. It is said the Mary Queen of Scot rented the house in 1566 to hold her court and is from where she took the infamous 25-mile horseback ride to visit her supposed lover, James Hepburn at Hermitage Castle. Upon her return to the Jedburgh house, she fell ill and almost died.
Now a museum, the Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre houses art galleries of paintings and artefacts describing the many facets of Queen Mary’s life and execution, such as those displayed in the Rogues Gallery. There is also a Last Letter Room that describes what Queen Mary’s final thoughts before execution might have been.
10. Jedburgh Abbey
Another historic structure in the Scottish Borders is Jedburgh Abbey. This partly-ruined Augustinian Abbey has been witness to many religious and historical events. It is one of the four border abbeys in the Scottish Borders, the other being Kelso, Dryburgh and Melrose.
Ancient artefacts found in the area, such as crosses and sarcophagus dating back to the 700s and 1000s, suggest that even before the arrival of the Augustinians in 1138, the site had some religious importance. In 1138, David I established a priory in the area, and would later become Jedburgh abbey in 1154. As a border abbey, it became a target of attacks from raids and the war between Scotland and England.
The Abbey is fashioned in Romanesque design, with cylindrical pillars and round-arched windows; and Gothic architecture for its nave with pointed-arch arcades. Its great rose window from 1440 is one of its most stunning features. The Abbey is also home to the Jedburgh comb, an intricately designed beard comb made of walrus ivory dating from about the 1100s.
Aside from the church, visitors can also explore the visitor centre, as well as a herb garden.
To know more about Jedburgh Abbey, check here.
Map of the Best Things to Do in the Scottish Borders:
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