So you’re planning a trip to the Scottish Borders, are you? Well even if you’re not, you will be by the end of this post! (And then you’ll want to take a look at our Scottish Borders Destination Guide.)We’ll share with you many incredible things to do in the Scottish Borders, including small towns to visit, ruins to explore, scenic views to check out, and fun finds along the way. With the recent opening of the Borders Railway (September 2015), running from Edinburgh to Tweedbank (1-hour journey), getting to the Borders is now easier than ever! While many travelers to Scotland may have never even heard of this region, it’s now our duty to not only tell you about the Borders, but to also convince you to visit! So, let’s start with the beautiful scenery, which is reason alone for you to pack your bags!
The Scottish Borders is a region comprised of 1,827 sq miles (4,732 sq km) just south of the capital city of Edinburgh. Its clever name comes from the fact that this region ‘borders’ the country of England. Many of its town and villages have less than 5,000 residents, making it the perfect place to go if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s larger cities.
Ruins and historical monuments left behind from fierce battles centuries ago dot the breathtaking landscape. In a region where the history runs deep, there is certainly no shortage of things to do in the Scottish Borders!
Take in Scenic Views
This lookout point along the B6356 overlooks the valley of the River Tweed. It is reputed to be one of the favorite views of Sir Walter Scott, hence the name!
This coastal point is a must-visit destination for nature and bird-watching enthusiasts. Look out for migrating birds as you gaze upon the dramatic coastline. Follow the marked path out to the viewpoint and lighthouse. Near the small visitor’s center is a somber memorial commemorating those sailors who lost their lives to drowning in the massive 1881 wind storm. The sculpture depicts the horror and grief the wives and children of the fishermen experienced upon realizing that their loved ones wouldn’t be returning home.
This viewpoint, just outside the Kelso town centre, offers great views over the town. Follow the walking path down into the park for a closer look at the 5-arched bridge over the River Tweed, the inspiration for London’s Waterloo Bridge.
If you’re like us when you travel, you enjoy discovering smaller, lesser known towns. While big cities have their perks, smaller towns allow visitors to really experience the day-to-day life of the locals.
This picturesque market town is a Royal and Ancient Burgh with a rich history. The 12th-century abbey and Jedburgh Castle Jail are both worth a visit. While in Jedburgh, be sure to sample one of the local delicacies- Jethart Snails (small peppermint boiled sweets), named after a French sailor who brought the recipe to town in the 18th-century. Walk along a designated trail that runs through the quaint town centre, taking you past several historical points of interest.
Surrounded by the Eildon Hills, this charming town where Sir Walter Scott used to live contains one of the most spectacular ruined abbeys in the Borders. Here you can also visit the Abbotsford House (former home of Sir Walter Scott) and an ancient apple orchid in Priorwood Gardens.
Wander cobblestone streets, explore the ruined abbey, discover the magnificent Floors Castle, and enjoy a marvelous view over the city at the Kelso Millennium Viewpoint. All of this and more as you discover the town described by Sir Walter Scott as ‘the prettiest, if not the most romantic town in Scotland‘.
Smailholm is a tiny village 6 miles northwest of Kelso. Its name derives from the Old English Smael Ham, meaning narrow village. There isn’t much to see here other than the church, a few cute houses, and the 15th-century Smailholm Tower.
Eyemouth, along the Berwickshire coast, has been a fishing port since the 13th century. Its harbor remains in use even today. Sadly, this is where Scotland’s most devastating maritime disaster happened on October 14, 1881. A severe windstorm came through, drowning 189 fishermen who were offshore during the storm.
Also along the Berwickshire coast, and only 3 miles from Eyemouth, is the historic conservation village of Coldingham. Not only does this tiny town boast a fascinating priory, but it also contains an award-winning beach that surfers frequent throughout the year.
Having spent an entire month in Scotland, we can say without a doubt that the Scottish Borders has the highest concentration of fascinating ruined abbeys. They are all beautifully preserved and are reason alone to visit this region.
Jedburgh Abbey is an intriguing example of Gothic and Romanesque architecture from the 12th century. Make sure to climb the narrow spiral staircase to get an excellent view down the center corridor.
The Dryburgh Abbey is peacefully situated near the River Tweed. It has been brilliantly restored, and despite having been set on fire three times, the chapter house features paintwork dating back to its construction.
Though they were all incredible, we both agree that the Kelso Abbey was our favorite. The west end of the great abbey church is all that remains, despite being a frequent target for English armies during the Rough Wooing.
In 1933, a memorial cloister to the 8th Duke of Roxburghe was built in the original style of the cloisters from when the abbey was first constructed. If you position yourself just right, you might see a smiling face in the abbey ruins.
Though not abbey ruins per se, we wanted to mention the abandoned North Trinity Church in Kelso, as we found it to be rather fascinating! With trees sprouting from cracks in the roof, gothic gargoyles, and broken stained glass windows, this church has certainly seen better days! There have been community talks of restoring the church, but there isn’t a definitive timeline as to when that might happen. For now, it’s just a neat place to check out. (A side door was ajar when we were walking by, so out of curiosity we took a peek inside. We do not recommend going inside, as we cannot guarantee the integrity of the structure.) It’s still neat to admire from the outside!
The Melrose Abbey is probably one of the most popular in the Borders, as it is still fairly well intact. It was one of Scotland’s richest medieval abbeys. It is suspected that the heart of King Robert the Bruce is buried here.
TIP: Discover over 5,000 years of history with the Borders Explorer Pass, which allows you to explore 5 Historic Scotland sites within the Scottish Borders including: Jedburgh Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey, Hermitage Castle, and Smailholm Tower (please note: Smailholm Tower was closed during our visit). The pass is good for 30 (consecutive) days. Prices as of April 2016: Adult (16-59 of age) £16.00, Concession (60+ and students) £12.80, Children (5-15) £9.60, Family Pass (2 adults and up to 6 children) £32.00 For more information on all Historic Scotland’s Regional Passes, please visit their website.
This is the largest still-inhabited castle in all of Scotland. With an impressive art collection including European paintings and tapestries, and impressive gardens, you will definitely want to visit if you’re into all things royal!
Experience what life was like behind bars in the 19th-century at the Jedburgh Castle Jail. This 1820s reform prison shares the stories of the building and its inmates.
The traditional home of the Scottish Laird was the tower-house. This particular example was probably built for James Seton and his wife Jane Edmonstone in 1581, as the Lintel over the entrance bears their coat of arms.
A steep, narrow spiral staircase takes you to the very top, so you can look down inside the house. The walls, now bare stone, of the upper rooms would have been paneled or plastered and adorned with woven hangings.
This 15th-century towerhouse sits 65 ft high near the town of Kelso. It is said to have captured the imagination of Sir Walter Scott as a boy and features in his poem Marmion.
We were greeted upon arrival with a sign that read ‘Due to unforeseen circumstances Smailholm Tower is currently closed until further notice.’ Though, this didn’t stop us from exploring it from the outside. The view over the surrounding landscape was worth a visit by itself.
Unique Things to Do in the Scottish Borders
We simply can’t write about everything there is to do in the Scottish Borders, as we were only there for a few days. Hopefully you’re already booking your train or plane ticket to Scotland, so we’ll share with you a few more things you might want to check out in the Borders.
Born in the Borders
This unique visitor’s center offers locally-made products, including produce grown in the area and hand-crafted beer at the Born in the Borders Brewery. Check out the gift shop for other local products and hand-made goods.
Even though this honey farm is technically in England, it sits just over the border and definitely deserves a mention. Where else can you eat lunch in a vintage bus?
Just a quick walk (or drive) from the Honey Farm is the Union Chain Bridge over the River Tweed. When it opened in 1820 it was the first vehicular bridge of its type in the UK and the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world with a span of 449 ft (137 m).
One side is in England, the other side in Scotland. Today it is the oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic. Please note, the archway leading onto the bridge is extremely narrow and should only be navigated with extreme caution. There were quite a few scratch marks on the posts, meaning there are a few cars driving around Scotland and England with a little less paint on their sides.
In addition to the landmark border crossing just mentioned, we rather enjoyed stopping off at the border crossing along the coastal A1. Here you can see the stone wall separating the two countries. You can also take your picture with the iconic Welcome to Scotland sign(s)!
So, what’s the weather like in the Scottish Borders? Let’s just say, we came up with a new slogan for Scotland while we were there – Scotland: All Seasons, All the Time! In a matter of a few hours, we experienced abundant sunshine, torrential downpours, hazy conditions, and snow. Our visit was toward the end of April and we couldn’t believe the snowstorms we encountered. Though, being from Florida, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t love every single minute of seeing the snow fall!
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t a comprehensive list of everything there is to do in the Scottish Borders, as we didn’t have the opportunity to do it all! We simply ran out of time to visit the town of Galasheils, where you can explore 19th-century architecture in this once-important textile producing town. We missed out on visiting Peebles, a town providing a unique shopping experience due to its many handcrafted and fairtrade product stores. Because of the colder temperatures and soggy ground conditions, we admittedly didn’t do much trekking, though there are 1,500 miles of dedicated walking routes in the Scottish Borders. It’s also an area very well known for its mountain biking paths. So, although this isn’t everything there is to do in the Borders… it’s a start! We hope if nothing else this post ignites your desire to visit this beautiful region in Scotland!
Check out our Scottish Borders Destination Guide for a printable version of this post including: Towns in the Borders | Things To Do & See in the Borders | Transportation | Best Time to Visit | Sample 3-Day Itinerary | Scottish Borders Facts | 3-page Photo Guide