Scotland is full of amazing places to explore, and yet, so many are passed over for ever-popular Scottish Highlands and Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
Don’t get me wrong, Edinburgh is a wonderful city, and the Highlands are stunningly beautiful. But there are lots of other pockets of Scotland offering just as much; jam-packed with history, adventure and unforgettable experiences!
One area often unfairly overlooked is the Scottish Borders, despite it being an integral part of what makes Scotland the country it is.
Where is the Scottish Borders?
As you’d expect, the Scottish Borders is located on the border with England. It’s directly above Northumberland and below Edinburgh and the Lothians.
This means you can plan easy day trips from both areas, as well as from Glasgow. But, of course, there’s so much to see and do that we’re sure you’ll want to spend more time there, and luckily there are lots of great places to stay too!
So what does the Scottish Borders have to offer?
To start with it’s the sight of many historic events that helped forge the Scotland we know and love. It has luscious rolling green landscapes that are home to a wealth of historic monuments and architecture that allows you to step back in time.
It also has a fantastic small stretch of coastline that hosts quaint still-working fishing villages, rocky outcrops and beautiful sandy beaches.
There’s so much good local food, restaurants, street food, delis and locally sourced ingredients that will make any recipe sing!
And last but by no means least, the people that live there are creating and curating awesome experiences and adventures that you won’t find anywhere else in Scotland.
What doesn’t the Borders have to offer?!
When the team at Scotland Starts Here asked us if we wanted to spend a few days exploring some of the best things to do in the Scottish Borders, we had no hesitation in saying YES! And now we’re equally excited to share what we discovered with you.
To help you make the most of your visit to this fantastic area we’ve outlined some of our favourite things to do in the Scottish Borders, broken down into sections that should help you plan your trip.
While it is easiest to have a car, it is possible to visit many of these attractions on public transport with careful planning.
Historic Attractions in the Scottish Borders
Visit the Abbeys
The Scottish Borders is home to many Abbey’s but is most well known for the ruins of four magnificent ones.
Jedburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey and Kelso Abbey are all remarkably close to each other, and were all founded in the 12th century.
David I, later the King of Scotland, was keen to have a show of power throughout the lowlands of Scotland, and so founded the Abbeys for various orders.
However, it did little good as they were often attacked by the English, and all eventually fell into ruin when the reformation led to a ban on celebrating mass.
Here’s a little more info on each one:
Melrose Abbey was built near an older monastery associated with St Cuthbert, a famous monk from the area. It was home to Cistercian monks for over 400 years and was made from red sandstone, which makes its appearance a little different to the other Abbeys.
It’s said to be the burial place of the heart of Robert the Bruce (with his body being buried in Dunfermline Abbey). A lead casket was recovered from the site, although not in the location the heart of a King would have been expected to be. However, the spot is marked so you can visit today.
Jedburgh Abbey was one the Abbeys founded by David I for the Augustinian order in 1138, who were also present at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh.
Although it suffered through many conflicts much of the main Abbey is still standing today, and you can see the outlines of the other buildings on-site too.
The small but excellent Visitor Centre explains more of the story of the Abbey and includes a model of what it would have once looked like.
We loved exploring Jedburgh Abbey, and B enjoyed running around too! It’s nice to visit with a young child because he could enjoy being outdoors while we were still able to learn about the history of the Abbey and see the magnificent ruins.
On top of this, it’s a photographers dream!
Across the road from Jedburgh Abbey is Stewart’s Bistro, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch while still overlooking the Abbey through the windows. We can highly recommend the burgers and it’s great for little ones too.
Dryburgh Abbey was built by Premonstratensian monks not too long after Melrose Abbey. It was not afforded the same financial help to rebuild after later battles and fell into disrepair earlier.
However, the ruins have been a popular spot to visit for many years, including by Sir Walter Scott. He loved it so much he is buried there alongside his wife.
Kelso Abbey is the least intact of the four Abbeys, with only the west tower really remaining, despite once being one of the largest and wealthiest in the area. It was founded by Tironensian Monks invited to the area by David I in 1113.
Unlike the other Abbeys, there is no entrance fee and you are free to wander throughout during opening hours. The other three are run by Historic Scotland and you can purchase tickets online or on-site.
For someone from New Zealand, 900 years is a very long time in history, given we don’t have much obvious or known history past a couple hundred years. Walking through places that were built almost 900 years ago is mind-blowing!
Explore the Castles
The Abbeys may be the usual historic draw for visitors to the Scottish Borders, but there are actually lots of castles to explore too, all with their own story to tell. The historian in you will never want to leave!
Here’s just a few we would recommend:
- Fatlips Castle: More of a tower house than a full castle, but with an intriguing name whose exact origins are unknown. Something to do with the amorous attentions paid to visitors by those living there is the best guest! It is private access only but you can pay a small deposit and obtain a key from Denholm before hiking uphill to see the tower and views for yourself.
- Hermitage Castle: This formidable fortress has fascinatingly bloody history from a time before it fell to into ruin.
- Floors Castle: Holds the grand title of the largest inhabited castle in Scotland as it is currently home to the Duke of Roxburghe, whose ancestor built the castle in 1721. You can visit the castle and the extensive gardens, including a walled garden and adventure playground, and there is also a lovely cafe serving locally sourced food as well.
- Jedburgh Castle Jail & Museum: Appearing as a castle from the outside, but it was first transformed into a prison in the 1820s and is now a museum.
Mary, Queen of Scots Visitor Centre
This historic old tower house near Jedburgh tells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, including her life, her time in Jedburgh, and the modern cult that has grown around her today.
Her life story is the stuff of legends, made up equally of tragedy and romance and is something everyone travelling around Scotland should learn more about!
Meet the Animals
Farm tour with Jackson’s at Jedburgh
We can’t stress enough how much we loved Jackson’s at Jedburgh!
Jasmine and Fenwick welcomed us warmly to their working farm before whisking us away on the back of a covered trailer to the top of the farm to see the views across the surrounding countryside.
On the way we passed by fields of cows and sheep, and B was absolutely enthralled by those and the whole ride too.
Back at the farm buildings, we were able to enjoy the family-friendly purpose-built area which includes a real tractor to climb on and explore (not working, of course!) toy tractors, a sandpit and numerous diggers, and an area to feed the animals.
They run toddler sessions here weekly and we would sign up in a heartbeat if we lived closer!
Farm tours should be pre-booked, but there are lots of seasonal events throughout the year too, like pumpkin carving and meet the animals, so check out what’s happening when you’re planning your trip.
Just make sure you bring your wellies and your camera, B was at his most excited and when running between the sandpit and the goats and it was so nice to get photos oh him enjoying himself.
There are also arts and crafts workshops for the grown-ups too! We will most definitely be back.
Velvet Hall Alpacas
Just outside of Peebles is Velvet Hall Alpacas, home to a herd of over 30 beautiful alpacas that you can meet, feed, and take on an alpaca trek!
Jean and Stuart fell into alpaca farming after learning more at an agricultural show and then falling in love. We can see why as they’re such lovely creatures and fantastic around little ones, B had so much fun.
They’ve now opened their farm to visitors, so you can simply meet the alpacas and learn more about them, or have a longer visit that includes leading an alpaca on a walk through the lovely Tweed Valley countryside.
It’s such a unique and fun experience and something we would never have expected out of the Scottish Borders!
Check out the beautiful scenery
The Scottish Borders may not have the towering mountains of the Highlands, but it has more than enough beautiful quintessentially Scottish scenery to make up for it!
The beautiful landscape is strewn with castles, abbeys, and other ancient monuments, and the heather-covered hills, valleys, rivers and lochs allow you to enjoy a real Scottish experience.
Potentially the most famous view in the Borders is Scott’s View, overlooking a horseshoe bend of the Tweed River and the rolling green valley beyond. Located close to Dryburgh, Melrose, and St Boswells, it’s well worth the minor detour.
Its namesake comes from its reputation as one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourite views.
Scott is one of the most famous Scottish novelists, said to be the inventor of the historic novel as well as being an accomplished poet, historian, and biographer.
His work and monuments to him can be found across Scotland including the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens which is dedicated to him.
It’s said he stopped at what is now Scott’s View so frequently that his horses would wait without command when they passed by. It’s even said his funeral procession was halted here, as the horses stopped to give their master one last look at the Borders landscape.
Close to Scott’s view is Leaderfoot Viaduct, a railway viaduct opened in 1863 that stretches 38 metres above the valley and river below.
You can overlook the viaduct from the adjacent Drygrange Old Bridge, built in 1776, and also the current road bridge, which spans the river next to it.
It’s a great photo stop or you can simply take in this feat of historical engineering.
Visit Grand Houses & Gardens
Traquair House & Gardens
Traquair House is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house, having been home to members of the Stuart family since 1491 after it was built in 1107. It also has the distinction of having been visited by 27 Scottish Kings and Queens.
There is so much history associated with the house, but one of the things I find most interesting is related to the 1700s and the Jacobite rebellions.
The Stuart family were supportive of the Jacobite cause, and according to legend, after a visit from Bonnie Prince Charlie, the then Earl of Traquair closed the Bear Gates at the top of the drive to the house and pledged that they would not be opened again until a Stuart King was back on the throne.
They’re still closed today of course!
At only an hour from Edinburgh, it makes an easy day out for the whole family.
As well as tours of the house, there’s the extensive gardens and woodlands which include a children’s playground, animals, and a 25-year-old hedge maze.
There was originally a brewery on site 300 years ago that was resurrected in 1965, and craft workshops are available for browsing for unique gifts too.
We also stopped by the cafe which has delicious cakes (highly recommend the chocolate and coffee tart!) with lots of outdoor seating available amongst the peacocks wandering around!
Abbotsford, Home of Sir Walter Scott
Abbotsford, Scott’s home on the banks of the river Tweed, was built around an original farmhouse that was on the land when Sir Walter Scott bought it. It looks more like a castle than a home!
You can now visit the house and gardens, as well as an exhibition, shop and cafe. There are items within that inspired Sir Walter Scott, and it’s a wonderful place to learn more about him.
Bowhill House & Country Estate
This early 19th century stately home is open for visitors through the summer months, allowing you to see the house, expansive gardens, and take advantage of the numerous activities like horse riding, fishing, and the adventure playground.
Bowhill House is set amongst some beautiful scenery, including Ettrick forest, and there is a loch just nearby too.
Explore the Scottish Borders Coastline
The Scottish Borders doesn’t have a huge coastline, but what it does have is well-worth visiting! Along the Berwickshire coast, you can discover sandy bays and rocky cliffs, with traditional fishing villages dotted amongst them.
Here are a few of our favourites:
More recently St Abbs found fame after being transformed into New Asgard, the town where Thor and the Asgardians retreated to in the Avengers: Endgame film.
It’s a tiny village with a small winding road down to the harbour and is surrounded by rocky outcroppings.
St Abbs Head is a nearby cliff-top nature reserve with beautiful views and excellent seabird-watching opportunities.
Just ten minutes walk along the Berwickshire Coastal Path from St Abbs is the sandy crescent of Coldingham Bay.
The sheltered beach is great for swimming (in the warmer months!) and there are lots of surrounding paths for walks that give lovely views of the bay.
Eyemouth is a working fishing town with a harbour and beach, and bigger than nearby St Abbs and Coldingham.
You can take boat trips from here or walk along the beach, but the best thing about visiting for us was Giacopazzi’s Cafe!
Located right next to the harbour, they offer sit in and takeaway fish and chips, traditional Italian pizzas, and their multi-award winning ice cream.
It’s a family-run affair which was started by Lorenzo Giacopazzi, who left his Italian home in 1898 to head to America but stopped in Scotland instead. He opened an ice cream shop, and Giaccopazzi’s has now been an Eyemouth institution since 1900.
We tried their delicious fish and chips, thick shakes made from their own ice cream, and pizzas. Kids get to assemble their own before they’re taken away to be cooked! They also have cute character keep-cups for kids sundaes and ice cream. Very family-friendly, B loved it!
Further north is the beautiful Pease Bay, another sandy beach bordered by sandstone cliffs and worth a stop as you journey along the coast.
Shop at Independent Stores
There are lots of lovely independent shops in the towns across the Scottish Borders, selling Scottish made food and goods.
But we want to give a special mention to the Mainstreet Trading Company. It’s based at the heart of the Borders, in St Boswells, within an old building that formerly housed a large general store.
The character of the building adds to the ambience of what is now a lovely bookshop and cafe in the main building, and a deli in the old storehouse out the back selling all sorts of tasty treats.
They won the Best Small Shop in Britain in 2018, and it’s really not hard to see why!
We had the best flat white we’ve had in a long time there, browsed through the bookshop and picked up a tractor book for B (his favourite) that we’d never seen before, and then drooled our way around the deli full of British goods!
We would definitely plan another stop here on any future trips through the Borders.
Enjoy Outdoor Adventures
Amongst the heather laden hills, woodlands, rivers, and rolling countryside, there are numerous walking trails snaking across the borders for keen walkers to experience.
Some of the most popular longer distances include:
- Southern Upland Way: 212 miles coast to coast from Dumfries & Galloway in the west across the Borders to Cockburnspath in the east.
- John Buchan Way: 13 miles between Peebles and Broughton, across farmlands and moors.
- Berwickshire Coastal Path: 28.5 miles along the second-highest cliffs on the east coast of Britain, from Cockburnspath to Berwick-upon-Tweed just over the border in England.
- Borders Abbeys Way: 68 miles linking the four Borders’ Abbeys, Drybrough, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose.
- St Cuthbert’s Way: 62.5 miles starting at Melrose and following St Cuthbert’s life across the Borders and through to Lindisfarne in England.
There are many much shorter and accessible walks across the Borders too, and it’s worth seeking out at least one walking experience on your travels so you can spend time absorbing the fresh air, stunning views and beautiful countryside.
Glentress Go Ape and Mountain Bike Riding
Glentress Forest is located close to Peebles and offers a range of mountain biking trails for all levels, plus the Go Ape treetop challenge involving zip wires and obstacles high up amongst the trees.
It’s great for older children and childish elders, as there are minimum age and height limits for some of the activities.
You can read more about our Go Ape experience here.
Boat tours from Eyemouth and St Abbs both offer opportunities to get out on the ocean for further exploration of the coastline, birdwatching, seal spotting, and even diving.
Sample the Food & Drink
If you think we could visit the Scottish Borders without indulging in the food and drink on offer then think again! We’ve already mentioned the Mainstreet Trading Company, Giacopazzi’s, and Stewart’s Bistro, but there’s also plenty of other places to stop by on your travels.
The Scotland Starts Here site and app have some great suggestions for cafes and restaurants here that will keep you well-fed for your whole journey.
If you fancy raising a glass or two on your visit here are some excellent distilleries and breweries you can explore in the area too:
- 1881 Gin Distillery: Located at Peebles Hydro, you can attend their Gin School experience to try out Gin Distillery for yourself, take a tour of the distillery, or just sample the gin at the bar!
- Tempest Brewing Co: There is an onsite taproom where you can enjoy a drink and a food truck available too. Tickets required at the moment.
- Born in the Borders Brewery: Beers are made from barley grown in the neighbouring fields. Currently closed for renovations, but usually, self-guided tours are available and there is a restaurant too.
- The Borders Distillery: Opened in 2018 and is the first Whisky Distillery in the Borders since 1837 and they are open for pre-booked tours.
How long do you need in the Scottish Borders?
How long is a piece of string? We’ve lived in Edinburgh for years and still only scratched the surface of the Borders. If you live nearby there are plenty of things you can see on day trips, so it’s well worth considering when you’re looking for something new to do.
Most of the places we’ve mentioned are within a 1.5 hour drive from Edinburgh and the surrounds, and from lots of places in Northumberland too, so they are really accessible for a day of exploring.
If you’re from further afield then we would suggest at least 2 days, but preferably more, of course!
In that time you would be able to see some of the historical sites like one or two Abbeys and stately homes, as well as visit the coast or some of the lesser-known places like Jackson’s at Jedburgh or the Velvet Hall Alpacas, especially if you have kids.
Scottish Borders Itinerary Ideas
Many of the sites are within close distance to each other. If you want to cover as much as possible then once you arrive in the Borders you could work from east to west or vice versa.
For example, start around Peebles, visiting Traquair House then adventuring at Glentress, after this head east and see the Abbeys around Melrose and Jedburgh, before journeying northeast up to the coast.
Where to Stay
There are lots of accommodation options in The Borders if you’re planning an overnight stay, including self-catering cottages, B&B’s, quirky accommodation like Ettrick Valley Yurts or Upland Shepherd’s Huts, grand houses and hotels like Dalhousie Castle or Roxburghe Hotel, or the wonderful Peebles Hydro.
Peebles Hydro was the perfect resting place for us on our most recent foray into the Borders.
It may be located in Peebles but it feels like you’re in the countryside thanks to its position amongst the trees and the stunning views across the valley from the hotel.
We had a large two-bedroom suite which suited us well with a toddler and allowed us to relax while B slept soundly.
They offer an amazing array of activities to enhance your stay, like Segway rides, shooting and archery, as well as tennis courts, a children’s playground, and a swimming pool and spa.
The onsite restaurant had superb meals including a really nice kids menu plus there’s a bar selling their own 1881 gin made on site.
Visiting the Scottish Borders should be a given for anyone who wants to explore a more unique area of Scotland! This isn’t even an exhaustive list of all the things to do in the Borders, and we’re so excited to keep exploring what’s right in our backyard.
Disclaimer: We were invited to take part in this Scottish Borders adventure by Scotland Starts Here, but as always, you can trust that all opinions are entirely our own and any recommendations are based on our own experience.
4 thoughts on “Best Things to Do in the Scottish Borders + How to Plan Your Adventure”
I have been to The Borders and visited many of the small villages and Melrose Abbey and the beautiful countryside. I definitely want to go back and explore more, especially a lot of the areas you have mentioned here! I think I would need at least two to three days and even then I wouldn’t have seen everything 🙂
I’d definitely recommend at least that so you can cover lots of the best things to see and do! Hope you get to make a trip soon 🙂
Great post! I’ve only ventured down to the Borders a couple of times, first to check out the abbeys which really surprised me! Melrose in particular is a lovely little town. We took a trip to St Abbs just before lockdown for a walk around the coast and that was really lovely too. Definitely need to check out more of the area, as I’d like to visit the Mary Queen Of Scots centre and Sir Walter Scott’s house. Still haven’t done the walk to Scott’s View either.
Thanks! I haven’t done the Mary Queen of Scots centre myself so would love to do that. There really are so many great places to see around there.