Dundee ‘The City of Discovery’ is one of my favourite Scottish cities. It is Scotlands 4th largest city with a population of around 150,000 and with that, come a lot of hidden gems to explore!
So much so, we were even considering moving there because not only is it a city that has a huge amount to offer it is really on the rise thanks to the regeneration that is currently ongoing.
The Dundee £1 billion regeneration is focussing on a showcase of the design and culture available in the city. And there is no doubt that it’s working as Dundee has recently been rated number 5 in The Wall Street Journal 2018 ‘Worldwide Hot Destinations’ list and recognised by the United Nations and awarded the United Kingdoms first UNESCO city of design for its contributions to video games, comics and medical research.
Along with the new £80 million V&A ‘International Centre of Design’ museum on the Dundee waterfront, Dundee has a great academic reputation thanks to Dundee and Abertay Universities and has great rail access to the nearby cities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but with much lower living costs.
I’m sure there will be many posts to follow on the City of Discovery but as an introduction, I thought we could explore a few Dundee attractions along with some of our favourite day trips and things to do in Dundee city.
When looking for places to visit in Dundee, I think you will be quite surprised at how much the city has to offer for the whole family.
Located in the centre of Dundee and the site of an extinct volcano, Dundee Law sits over 500 feet above sea level and is home to a war memorial for all those lost in the First World War.
Dundee Law offers great panoramic views of the city and River Tay but don’t forget it’s still in Scotland and it’s very windy, so wrap up warm, drive to the top if you can (and are cold like me) otherwise you can walk up from a lower level, and enjoy the views.
On a nice and sunny day, I hear you can see around a 45-mile radius but I can neither confirm nor deny! What I can say is that you can see pretty far though.
My favourite building in Dundee would be the McManus Galleries.
Nestled in the city centre lies this beautiful gothic Victorian building with sweeping staircases that are undeniably aesthetically pleasing but also look like something straight out of Harry Potter. On the other hand, I think it’s a perfect location for wedding photos. So I guess you could say it’s versatile?
I love Victorian-era buildings so the galleries please me hugely but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea so here are a few reasons why you should visit the McManus Galleries.
Firstly, and I mention this first because the Scottish are (unfairly) considered to be quite tight on the purse strings, entry to the McManus Galleries is free, so even if you pop your head in and decide it’s not for you, then nothing lost.
But the McManus Galleries are not just an art gallery, so if you just aren’t that into art then fear not as I think this is a Dundee museum for the whole family.
Spread over 2 floors, there are 8 galleries in the McManus that span over a timeline of 400 million years. From fine art to the 90s gaming classic ‘Lemmings’ there is an exhibition and something for everyone.
I think the McManus Galleries could also be considered a bit of a natural history museum as it showcases artefacts through the ages. From the newspaper press’ to guillotines (you can see the blade cuts in the wood, yikes), taxidermy birds, a whale skeleton, old military uniforms and outfits.
And one of my favourite things in the McManus Galleries, the gift shop. Filled with The Broons and Oor Wullie prints, cards and memorabilia. Like many Scots, I grew up a big, big fan of The Broons, and Peter of Oor Wullie.
Speaking of The Broons and Oor Wullie, directly across the road from the McManus Galleries are the DC Thomson headquarters. A publishing company which is home to The Broons, Oor Wullie, The Beano and The Dandy. Huge names from my childhood and I’m sure many others. Comic strips and magazines that have stood the test of time and annuals that most Scottish adults still receive at Christmas to this day.
There isn’t a huge amount to say about this building other than it looks impressive, it’s a piece of history and I love the brickwork as it is quite unlike a lot of other Scottish buildings.
Caird Hall in Dundee is the place to be and to be honest, I’m a little taken back after reading up on the history of it.
In short, Caird Hall is an auditorium concert venue but also hosts many other events such as graduations for the University of Dundee and the University of Abertay, exhibitions, comedians and the like.
There are very often markets and food stalls or live music playing in the city square in front of the building over a weekend and I find that there is generally a hive of activity around Caird Hall.
What has taken me aback is the list of artists who have played here!
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Queen and Fleetwood Mac to name a few.
While it may not pull in such big acts now, it’s still an incredible building with a lot of history.
Broughty Ferry is a suburb just east of Dundee which reminds me of Stonehaven, only much bigger. There are a lot of really, really beautiful houses in Broughty Ferry and it’s worth taking some time to drive around and admire them. Is that weird? I hope not. Please let me know if you do this too!
I think the best-known attraction in Broughty Ferry would have to be Broughty Castle which sits at the mouth of the River Tay and near Broughty Ferry beach.
Built in the 15th century it holds a lot of history but is now a museum (also with free entry) with displays on the people, the life and environment and how they have shaped the area through time.
The main shopping street, Brook Street, has a lot of your familiar high street stores but also lots of smaller independent shops.
Broughty Ferry is also well known for its selection of good restaurants and eateries, which are in no short supply. Especially during the summer months when Visocchi’s ice cream is in high demand.
If you find yourself in the area of Broughty Ferry, make sure to take a trip to nearby West Ferry which sits high above the coastline overlooking the River Tay to see Claypotts Castle.
This is a unique castle for Scotland, maintaining many of its original features. A 16th-century Z-plan tower house, it looks a bit mismatched with two turrets and the main block structure in-between along with a couple of other quirky additions.
The RRS Discovery is synonymous with Dundee and when I was younger, the sight of this big three-masted ship is what indicated to me that we had arrived at in Dundee.
An important part of history, Captain Scott and his crew aboard the RRS Discovery set sail to the Antarctic in 1901 in what was a successful research journey but it got frozen in the ice for 2 years during their voyage, so you can imagine the stories the museum have to offer. I think this is a great family attraction and you also get to go aboard the ship and they have items on show from the original crew.
Docked next to the V&A at Discovery Point, you get a great view of the ship from the V&A Tatha bar and kitchen.
And that takes us back to the V&A Dundee, the first V&A museum outside of London and the focal point of the Dundee £1 billion regeneration. The V&A has been the most hyped of all the works happening in Dundee and it cost just a cool £80 million.
I think the Dundee V&A is a love or hate building, concrete walls designed to look like a Scottish cliff face.
There are no straight edges to this building, inside or out and the interior feels very open.
I love it but I equally understand why you wouldn’t.
It is free to enter the Dundee V&A which has a cafe, Tatha bar and kitchen, gift shop (along with a temporary gift shop on the first floor which supports current exhibits) and the majority of exhibitions are free with exception to some changing exhibitions which may have a fee.
Tay Rail Bridge
The Tay Rail Bridge is probably one of the most recognised sights in Dundee.
This is the second bridge to have been made after the initial Tay Bridge disaster in 1879, when the bridge collapsed during a violent storm as a train passed over, killing all on board.
The new Tay Bridge spans nearly 3 miles across the Firth of Tay water, safely carrying trains from the city of Dundee to Wormit, Fife.
Dundee Contemporary Arts
Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) is an art centre with two contemporary art galleries, a two-screen cinema, gift shop, Jute cafe bar and the DCA print studio.
The DCA gift shop is one of my favourites to visit while shopping in Dundee. Selling a variety of prints, cards, homeware, children’s gifts, books and magazines from independent and well-known brands.
The Verdant Works is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dundee, and quite rightly so.
Telling the story of industrial textile heritage in a refurbished mill, you will have the opportunity to hear the mill workers stories, hear and see machines at work and take a step back in time to see how the people lived and worked in this profession.
The Verdant Works tells the story of how up to 50,000 employees in traditional gender roles were working as part of Dundee’s close connection with the selling much of the world Jute.
This is a self-led museum.
There are fees for admission.
Verdant Works Opening Hours
April – October
Monday to Saturday – 10 am – 6 pm
Sunday – 11 am
November – March
Wednesday to Saturday – 10.30 am – 4.30 pm
Sunday – 11 am
Take a trip to Mills Observatory, Britains first purpose-built public observatory and gaze at the stars.
Set in the woodland, at the top of Balgay Hill, you can view the stars and planets through their telescopes. There are also exhibits, displays, talks and workshops.
There is no fee for admission to Mills Observatory or the displays but there may be a small charge to access the planetarium.
Mills Observatory Opening Times
Monday to Friday – 5.00pm – 10.00pm
Saturday – 12.30pm – 4.00pm
Sundays – Closed
Piperdam Leisure Resort
A luxury resort with the option of holiday lodges sleeping 2-12 people in Dundee.
Piperdam Leisure Resort is perfect for those looking for a stay or day visit. With options of spa, pool, sauna and steam room to a golf course, soft play for younger children and the more adventurous karting, zorbing, archery, fencing and much much more, Piperdam is perfect for the whole family.
Piperdam can also be booked for weddings and events.
Dundee Science Centre – Best thing to do in Dundee with kids
The Dundee Science Centre has many interactive and sensory exhibits, making it a great option for family entertainment.
Their main focuses are of the 5 senses, life sciences and robotics.
You will have the opportunity to climb through the nose of a giant head and travel down a slide, to performing medical marvels such as heart surgery and ultrasound scans or attending one of the animal handling workshops.
Dundee Science Centre Opening Times
Open daily – 10 am – 5 pm
There are costs for entry
St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee
Often when travelling, we find ourselves visiting beautiful churches and cathedrals and the city of Dundee is no different.
St Paul’s Cathedral lies in the heart of the city and is a Scottish Episcopal Church and designed by well-known Victorian architect, Gilbert Scott.
This is one of the most prominent and grand buildings within the city centre and you will no doubt see the spire above much of the architecture while walking around.
St Paul’s Cathedral Opening Hours
Tuesday to Saturday – 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday – 11 am to 4 pm
Sunday – 9 am to 1 pm, 5 pm to 7 pm
OpenClose Dundee Street Art
As we mentioned in our Oslo and Stockholm posts, we love street art. When done well, and professionally, it brings such a pop of colour and intrigue to an area.
It draws in visitors, both locals and tourists and is a great way to generate a buzz along with showcasing some local talent.
We have something similar here with Nuart Aberdeen so we were thrilled to find the art of Open/Close Dundee.
There are trail tours available, where much like Stockholm you pay what you believe it’s worth and they take approximately 1.5 hours.
Otherwise, you may find the trail maps online here if you wish to discover the art yourself.
Monikie Country Park
Just outside of Dundee, Monikie Country Park in Angus has been developed around two former reservoirs and boasts of beautiful woodland and parkland with a variety of attractions, water activities and self-led trails.
Some activities available include rafting, rowboats, high ropes course, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, 160-metre zip line and mountain biking.
The facilities include equipment hire, changing rooms, showers and storage.
HM Frigate Unicorn
The HMS Unicorn is one of the oldest warships left in the world and is now preserved as one of Dundee’s historic museums and another popular visitor attraction.
The HM Frigate Unicorn is almost 200 years old, having launched in 1824 and it is the last surviving wooden warship in Scotland.
There are only 5 ships left in the world older than HMS Unicorn so plan a visit to learn more about the sea, the Navy in Dundee and ‘the Golden Age of Sail’.
The HMS Unicorn is available for private hires such as weddings, ceilidhs and corporate events.
There are fees for admission.
HM Frigate Unicorn Opening Hours
Summer Hours (April – October):
Open Monday to Sunday: 10 am until 5 pm (last entry 4:30 pm)
Winter Hours (November – March)
Wednesday to Saturday – 10 am – 4 pm (last entry 3:30 pm)
Sunday – 12 pm – 4 pm (last entry 3:30 pm)
Dark Dundee Tours – The Vaults
Dark Dundee Ticket Cost
Not suitable for children under 10
And those are some of my top things to do in Dundee. This felt like a mammoth post but I really enjoyed writing it so I hope it was as enjoyable to read!
If visiting Dundee, make sure to visit nearby Glamis Castle and Kirriemuir which is the birthplace of JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan.