With so many people choosing to travel north when in Scotland to the, admittedly wonderful, Highlands, can I tempt you in to staying in the south? Think rolling hills, pretty towns, amazing history and a coastline that’s just as pretty as the west. Oh, and no midges either!
I guess, since you’re reading this that you’re almost tempted and perhaps just needing a quick overview of things to do in the Scottish Borders. Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
I’ve taken a number of almost yearly trips in the Scottish Borders, most recently in 2019 (and due to visit again this year) and it’s really one of my favourite most underrated destinations in Scotland.
There’s actually a wealth of things to see and do in the Borders so read on if you’re interested in specifics and perhaps I can encourage you to stick to the south!
Things to do in the Scottish Borders
Rather than list everything out individually I’ve grouped this article into different headings of the types of things that can be done. Enjoy!
If you’re visiting in the winter months be aware that some attractions close for the season and open again in the Spring – best to check before setting out.
Visit some of the Scottish Border Towns
The Scottish Borders are wonderfully lacking in big cities although Edinburgh is, of course, just to the north. What it does mean is that what is around are lovely old market towns with rich history.
My favourite town has to be Melrose which lies at the foot of 3 hills and is dominated by the old Melrose Abbey (I’ve been countless times now – it’s so pretty, gentle and wonderfully Scottish).
Another absolute gem in the borders is Jedburgh which is fairly south and heading toward the actual border itself – another abbey to see but also some interested Mary, Queen of Scots history too.
Kelso is a nice place to head to for some pretty shops (and a racecourse), Peebles has a gorgeous river flowing through it (the Tweed), Hawick (pronounced Hoick) is the largest town and has a distillery there too!
Heading towards the coast don’t miss Eyemouth which is a popular holiday destination with a beach and harbour where you might also see seals!
Almost all of the towns have a town trail that you can download from the council website and can help to explore a bit more of the history of the area.
There are some wonderful and small museums in the Borders that could be worth keeping on your list of attractions should the weather not be on your side (likely!). They are intimate places and will expand your view of the history of the area.
One favourite of ours is the Jim Clark museum which has just undergone a refurbishment. We’re big fans of motorsport in this house and so it was a must see for us – he’s a big name in formula one from the 60s and he comes from the surrounding areas.
The Coldstream Guards museum is a small place in the town of Coldstream just by the border and will be of interest to military enthusiasts or anyone who wants to know more about the soldiers with the big black hats outside Buckingham Palace!
Jedburgh Castle Jail is also set up as a museum and was a fun day out for my kids when they were younger! Melrose has a lot of Roman history and there’s a new Trimontium museum in the town for those wanting to learn more.
Discover the Scottish Borders Abbeys
Open year round and also allowing dogs these were fun days out for us when we visited with our dog one February. Great winter attractions!
There are four ruins of Scottish Abbeys that are situated in the Borders; Melrose, Drybrurgh, Jedburgh and Kelso. Each one is slightly different, having been built by different orders of monks, and as such the history and what you can still see if you visit.
My favourite is Dryburgh Abbey because it’s hidden away in the countryside and has a different feel to the others that are situated in the towns – it’s also where Sir Walter Scott was buried.
If you have time and a car you could probably visit them all in a day although in the winter months you might need to be quick before the sun sets!
Walks some of the long distance paths
There are plenty of walking trails to enjoy in the Borders but if you fancy something a little more strenuous and long distance there’s also 2 different paths that might be of interest to you. Of course you don’t have to do all of it, but doing a little might scratch an itch or two!
The first is the Borders Abbeys Way which connects the four borders abbeys and is 107km in length overall. Alternatively you could do part of St Cuthbert’s Way which is an old pilgrim trail heading towards the Holy Island in Lindisfarne (North England) and starting in Melrose.
Another option is the Southern Upland Way which is a cross country path stretching from Portpatrick on the west coast of Galloway and finishing in Cockburnspath on the East.
Climb a hill
While the Borders is lacking in the very dramatic scenery of the Highlands it does have some wonderful rolling hills that are worth a walk up if you have the energy.
Near Melrose you have the Eildon hills which are fairly easily climbed and will give you amazing views all around the surrounding area. You’ll also be able to recover in one of the towns quaint cafe’s afterwards which is always a treat.
If walking is part of your intended things to do when in the borders then you might like a book like this one which has over 40 walks to enjoy!
Mary, Queen of Scots history
For those interested in Mary, Queen of Scots history then you have to visit Jedburgh as there’s an old building there linked to the Scottish Queen.
The Mary Queen of Scots Visitor centre is set in an old 16th century tower that was frequented by her. It now houses a number of items that were owned or used by Mary and also tells the story of her involvement with the town and the border area.
For more why not visit Hermitage Castle as well which is where Mary is said to have visited one time (on a secret lovers meeting perhaps) and had an accident on returning to Jedburgh. She was thrown from her horse and caught a fever after landing in a bog – some say she was lucky to recover from this.
Visit the fishing village of St Abbs
The coastline of the Scottish Borders isn’t a huge one but there’s a couple of really nice fishing villages around that we’ve enjoyed visiting over the years.
St Abbs is one of the most popular villages to visit and is popular with divers too with many coastal trips offered. Take a walk to St Abbs Head as well if you have time for spectacular cliffs and a chance to spot lots of sea birds.
See the birthplace of geology
While you’re exploring the villages and coastline of the Borders head towards Siccar Point which is thought to be one of the birthplaces of the science of geology.
It’s where the geologist James Hutton confirmed his theory of unconformity and changed the understanding of how old the earth was. You might like to read this BBC article before visiting if you’re new to geology!
Enjoy Scott’s View
You’ll see Sir Walter Scott’s name mentioned in many places as although he was born in Edinburgh he spent his later years in the Borders and has his final resting place at Dryburgh Abbey. He was a writer and novelist and wrote Ivanhoe and Rob Roy amongst many others.
Scott’s View is a viewpoint that is said to have been one of the favourites of the writer and it overlooks the town of Melrose, the Eildon Hills and beyond. On a beautiful summer’s day it will be stunning but when we visited on a rainy February it was still a gorgeous sight!
Explore ancient sites
Although normally confined to the north there’s an example of a broch (roundhouse) in the borders of Scotland. It’s near Abbey St Bathans and is called Edin’s Broch. It’s example of an Iron Age roundhouse and there’s a good deal left to see.
Other possibilities to explore if this is your thing is Knowe Fort near Tweeddale and the Hownam Rings prehistoric hill fort.
See some stately homes and gardens
There’s a real wealth of stately homes and gardens in Scotland’s borders and if you enjoy seeing how the other half live or just love exploring gardens and seeing all the different plants growing you’ll be spoilt for choice. Here’s just a few to whet your appetite:
Floors Castle near Kelso is a huge stately home that has the look of a more modern castle too. Abbotsford near Tweedbank was the home of Sir Walter Scott. Thirlestane castle has extensive grounds to explore and a museum too. Mellerstain House & Gardens features terraced gardens and a lake as well as the 18th century house. And Paxton House is a stunning Georgian building with tearooms.
Visit the actual border and step into England
Now you might have crossed the border on your way to the area from England already but if you’ve started your trip from Edinburgh or elsewhere in Scotland it’s really worth heading south on the A68 to the actual border.
Of course you can cross into England at many points but the A68 border is my favourite since there’s a huge rock there for a photo opportunity (and sometimes a piper) and also amazing scenery. I travelled this way every year as a child to visit family – I loved seeing the rock border and was always disappointed if we went another road.
Carter Bar is where you’re aiming for and it’s around 10 miles from Jedburgh and so a great addition to visiting that town. Wrap up warm as it might be a bit windy at the top!
See a huge Scotland map
This is a quirky attraction near Eddlestone, a small village near Peebles. It’s a concrete relief map of Scotland that was built by Polish geographers in the 1970s. It’s free to visit and gives you a great overview of the landscape of the country.
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