This blog post was written as part of a paid partnership with Visit South West Scotland. All opinions are my own.
A trip to South West Scotland is the perfect nature escape; there are a lot of things to do in South West Scotland, and during my first trip, I was amazed at how much this area has to offer.
With breathtaking scenery, enchanting history, scrumptious cuisine, bright sandy beaches, and some of the darkest, starry skies in Europe – South West Scotland is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle and recentre yourself.
In this blog post, I’m covering some of the best places to visit in South West Scotland to achieve just that. I’ve also got some helpful tips for planning your trip here – so read on, and feel inspired to visit this wonderful hidden gem!
Tips for planning your trip to South West Scotland
The best way to explore South West Scotland is by car. For car rental, I recommend Auto Europe, Celtic Legend, or Arnold Clarke.
Using public transport can be a little tricky, especially as many of the areas we visited were quite remote.
If you are using public transport, the best way to reach South West Scotland is by catching the train to either Stranraer, Girvan, or Dumfries, then using the bus to get around from there.
There is a bus from the Girvan station to Newton Stewart, which is where you will find some of the activities in this list.
A central place to base yourself is in Wigtown. We stayed at Wigwam Holidays Wigtown which is located on a sheep and beef farm near the town. Our wigwam was the perfect indulgent escape; there are seven wigwams available to book, and six of these come with a private hot tub.
Our accommodation at Wigwam Holidays Wigtown was the perfect base to wind down with some stargazing in the hot tub before bed!
Things to do in South West Scotland
1. Go stargazing at the Galloway Astronomy Centre
If you’re visiting South West Scotland, make sure you make time to see the star attraction (see what I did there) – the night sky.
If you live in the UK, you may be surprised to hear that you may have never seen a truly dark sky before. A recent survey by the British Astronomical Association revealed that 57% of respondents struggled to see more than 10 stars with the naked eye, compared to 2% who could see more than 30 stars (truly dark skies).
The best place to learn about stargazing is the Galloway Astronomy Centre. Owned by Mike and Helen Alexander, they run tours, workshops, and courses where they teach beginners to the more experienced about what you can see in the night sky. They are also the only observatory open to the public in Dumfries and Galloway.
Mike is incredibly knowledgeable – he has been studying astronomy for 50 years! It certainly helps to have an expert beside you when trying to spot constellations, and I learned a lot from him during our tour.
They also have bed and breakfast accommodation, so the observatory is right on your doorstep!
The best time for stargazing is early spring and autumn; during the summer the sky doesn’t truly get ”dark” in Scotland. You’ll also want to plan your visit to avoid the full moon. The moon’s glare is so bright it can drown out many stars.
Tips for stargazing in South West Scotland
- Want to see the light pollution in your area? Check out this Light Pollution Map.
- Before you go stargazing, grab a copy of the Sky Map for the month. SkyMaps is a fantastic website and gives you plenty of information about what you can see with the naked eye and binoculars too. You need to know what you’re looking at, after all!
- Make sure you pack a pair of binoculars – you can actually see many stars, planets, and constellations with a simple pair of binoculars, like these ones.
2. Glentrool, Galloway Forest Park
Glentrool in Galloway Forest Park has the perfect blend of hiking, cycling, and history. It’s also a great area for stargazing, as it’s located in the Dark Sky Park.
The best view in Glentrool is from Bruce’s Stone, a tribute to Robert the Bruce, who, with just 300 men – was victorious in the Battle of Glen Trool against King Edward I’s 1500-strong army in 1307.
This battle was the beginning of the Wars of Scottish Independence, which Robert the Bruce decisively brought to a close at the Battle of Bannockburn 7 years later.
The best way to explore this history and get some of the greatest views of the glen is by walking the Loch Trool Trail, a 9 km (5 mile) circuit around the loch which also passes by Bruce’s Stone and the battlefield where the fight took place.
The Glentrool Visitor Centre has a small cafe which is a refreshing place to grab a bite to eat and an ice cream.
Make sure you bring coins with you to pay for parking.
- For more information to plan your trip, visit the Forestry and Land website.
3. Culzean Castle and Country Park
Culzean Castle (pronounced ‘’kil-lane’’) is an extravagant castle set within 120 hectares of country park on the Ayrshire coast. It’s the former home of the chief of the Kennedy Clan and dates back to 1792.
The castle was originally a tower, but it was expanded to become a great castle. The Library and Round Drawing Room make up some of the oldest parts of the castle.
The Kennedys actually immigrated to the USA, but then moved back to Scotland when they inherited the castle when a relative died. Fortunately, they were wealthy and poured a lot of money into expanding the castle. No expense was spared, as you can still see today.
The castle was designed by Robert Adam, one of the most influential architects at the time. The Oval Staircase is one of his last designs before he passed away, and is a must-see when you visit the castle.
There are so many things to explore in the country park, including a swan pond, walled gardens, beaches, deer park, woodland walks, children’s playgrounds, a cafe, and an art shop.
It’s easy to spend an entire day here, so take your time and enjoy everything the country park has to offer.
Fun fact: Though the Culzean Kennedys have no connection to the Presidential Kennedys, in 1945, President Eisenhower was gifted a lifetime tenancy for the castle’s top-floor flat. It was Scotland’s way of saying thank you for his work with Scottish troops during the war.
- For more information, visit the National Trust For Scotland website.
4. Kitchen Coos and Ewes
Have you ever wanted to pat a Highland Coo?
Kitchen Coos and Ewes is probably one of the best attractions in Scotland I’ve visited so far!
Neale and Janet offer farm tours and experiences where you can see Highland cows and Beltex sheep on their farm.
The Highland cows are incredibly well looked-after – you can tell because they are so friendly!
If you’re lucky, they will come up to you, where you have the opportunity to pat them. If not, you can still get plenty of coo action, watching them graze happily in their paddocks.
Not only do you have the chance to see Highland cattle and sheep, but there is Iron Age history you can explore too! Their farm was once an Iron Age settlement, and you can still see evidence of it today.
Janet is a whiz in the kitchen and served us some delicious home baking while we were there (including shortbread in the shape of Highland Coos!)
Out of all the things to do in South West Scotland, this was definitely a highlight!
If you’ve been following me you’ll know I’m a huge book lover – and if you’re like me, a stop at Scotland’s National Book Town should be on your list!
Wigtown has a range of independent bookshops, which sell a mixture of new and second-hand books.
Wigtown is home to Scotland’s largest second-hand book store, The Book Shop, which is owned by Shaun Bythell, author of ‘Diary of a Bookseller’ and ‘Confessions of a Bookseller.’
The Scottish Book section is ginormous and has many collectibles available for sale.
I also loved ReadingLasses – a second hand book shop and cafe, which serves up decadent homebaked cakes!
6. Glenwhan Gardens & Tea Room
South West Scotland has many beautiful gardens to visit – and Glenwhan Gardens is a treasure.
This spectacular garden covers 12 acres and has a collection of plants from all over the world. A 17-acre Moorland Walk has 120 species of wildflowers and grasses, which you can see as you wander along the Tree Trail.
As I walked the garden paths, the aroma of freshly bloomed flowers immediately transported my mind away from my worries and back into the present.
Artists were perched throughout the garden; it’s certainly a peaceful place, bursting with nature and the sounds of waterfowl as they drift along the pond. The highst point of the garden looks out across Luce Bay to the Mull of Galloway.
The tea room has a variety of homemade cakes and sandwiches, and delicious soup. The tea room caters to all dietary requirements, with many gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options on the menu.
Glenwhan Gardens also has a Shephard’s Hut for accommodation available on Airbnb, perfect for a peaceful weekend away.
Whithorn is a truly fascinating area for history lovers. It’s famous for its connections with St. Ninian and as one of the earliest Christian settlements in Scotland.
It is home to a variety of Christian stone carvings, including the Latinus stone, Scotland’s oldest Christian monument. You can see this stone, along with others, at the Historic Scotland museum.
Whithorn was also once a settlement during the Iron Age; evidence of life in this area dates back to 500BC, and many excavations have been completed in the area. One of the most interesting places to visit is the roundhouse, a replica of an Iron Age roundhouse that was found nearby at the Black Loch of Myrton.
The roundhouse was able to be replicated because the original was so well-preserved in peat bog, and archeologists were able to tell a lot about the people that lived in the area.
The roundhouse was rebuilt using as many traditional means as possible, and now you can take a tour with a knowledgeable guide to learn more about Scotland during the Iron Age!
To explore Whithorn’s complete history, from the Iron Age, to Christianity, to today – the museum and exhibition at The Whithorn Visitor Centre are fascinating.
There is also an exciting new long-distance trail called The Whithorn Way that has just launched. Spanning 149 miles, the hike begins in Glasgow and ends in Whithorn.
Be sure to add on a few days in Whithorn to the end of your hike to absorb all the incredible history in this area.
- For more information on visiting Whithorn, visit their website.
8. The Steam Packet Inn
The Steam Packet Inn is a restaurant I was delighted to discover on my travels in South West Scotland. Located at the bottom of the southwest coast on the Isle of Whithorn, this seafood restaurant truly is a hidden gem.
The Steam Packet Inn is a family-owned restaurant, and it recently underwent a big renovation. The new restaurant looks fantastic – with a large, traditional-looking bar as the centerpiece of the restaurant, a cosy lounge area for casual diners, and fairy lights lining the ceiling, it’s the very essence of Scottish coorie.
Our table looked out across the harbor as the sun set over the fishing village, and I happily munched on my delicious dinner of haddock and chips. Their dessert menu was just as good, with the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever tasted!
If you’re visiting South West Scotland, this restaurant is a must for the bucket list.
I was delighted to The Steam Packet Inn is dog-friendly too.
9. Crook of Baldoon
For bird watchers, the Crook of Baldoon is a haven.
The Crook of Baldoon is a coastal reserve of 196 hectares near Wigtown.
It is home to thousands of birds throughout the year, including pink-footed and barnacle geese, shelducks, whooper, lapwings, and skylarks.
It’s a peaceful place to spend a morning, or even an entire day – if you’ve got a pair of binoculars and some patience to wait for the birds to reveal themselves!
10. Mull of Galloway
The Mull of Galloway is the most southern point of Scotland. With miles of sandy beaches and the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, this area is a beautiful one to explore.
The drive to reach the Mull of Galloway is also really special -as you drive the winding road to reach the lighthouse, you’ll pass miles and miles of green farmland, cute cottages, and white sandy beaches.
Bring your binoculars because the Mull of Galloway is one of the best places to see dolphins, porpoises, and sea birds. You can also climb the 115 steps to the top of the lighthouse, which has super views across the Rhinns of Galloway.
I recommend getting ice cream from the cafe at the lighthouse – it’s some of the best I’ve tasted!
For more information on visiting the Mull of Galloway, visit their website.
Have I inspired you to visit the Dark Sky Park? Have you tried any of the above recommended things to do in South West Scotland?