Ayrshire and Arran certainly pack a punch when it comes to arts and culture. With ancient abbeys and castles, marvellous museums, dynamic theatres, and modern galleries, there’s something to attract history buffs, music fans, culture vultures and art lovers.
You may not know much about Kelburn Castle’s rooms but you could be familiar with its quirky exterior. This was famously given a radical and very colourful graffiti makeover by a group of Brazilian artists in 2007. Kelburn Estate near Largs is also notable for its wealth of eclectic arts events, which draw tourists from far and wide, including a Peaky Blinders-themed murder mystery weekend, adventure days featuring Wild West, Jurassic and Knights and Warriors themes and even its own well-established annual music festival. Taking place at the end of June, the Kelburn Garden Party is a self-proclaimed “cultural safari for the mind, body soul”. With a wide range of musicians performing, including Goldie and Krafty Kuts, as well as the fascinating Museum of the Moon, circus performers, The Neverending Glen Art Trail and more, it’s now a firm favourite in the summer festival calendar. Suitable for all ages, the Kelburn Garden Party is not to be missed.
Theatre and concerts
Just 10 minutes over the water from Largs, the tiny island of Great Cumbrae has a wealth of cultural attractions for visitors to enjoy. Garrison House – once the residence of customs officers charged with preventing smuggling on the River Clyde – is now a major community hub for the island’s only town of Millport. As well as housing the GP surgery, council offices and a state-of-the-art library, it is also home to The Museum of the Cumbraes. This showcases the rich history of the islands, with artefacts on display from more than 4,000 years ago and right up to the present day. With smugglers, sailors and even scientists all playing an important role in island life throughout the ages, the museum is a worthy testament to the people who shaped the Cumbraes.
The Palace Theatre, located in the town of Kilmarnock, is a 500-seat venue with a year-round programme of drama, music and comedy. Its Cafe Bar hosts monthly comedy slots that promote up-and-coming comedians. Next door in the Grand Hall is the best place in Ayrshire to enjoy live music, with regular large-scale concerts featuring the likes of superstar DJ, Calvin Harris. Also in Kilmarnock, at the heart of 200 acres of woodland, sits Dean Castle, which takes its name from the dean or wooded valley. The original keep dates from around 1350 and the Palace was added 110 years later. Today the castle is home to world-class collections of historic weapons, tapestries, armour and musical instruments. It’s currently undergoing restoration work, but when the castle reopens visitors will be able to enjoy free tours and even try on the ancient suits of armour. There is also a visitor centre, shop and a tearoom.
Kelburn Estate near Largs is also notable for its wealth of eclectic arts events, which draw tourists from far and wide
Crafts and culture
Craft Town Scotland in West Kilbride is an essential stop-off point for anyone intrigued by locally-produced art and design. Set within former church The Barony Centre, it is made up of nine active studios, exhibitions, activities, an events space and a cafe. Visitors can gain a unique insight in to the techniques and craftsmanship of the talented local designers, enjoy some fabulous exhibitions and even take part in creative activities. With plenty of independent craft shops dotted around the village of West Kilbride, it’s a good idea to bring some spending money to collect your very own art pieces.
Based at Dalgarven Mill in Kilwinning, the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume offers visitors a detailed insight in to the rural history of the region. Comprising a former grain mill, a comprehensive agricultural museum and a vast costume collection of more than 2,000 pieces, a day out at Dalgarven feels just like stepping back in time and experiencing a first-hand perspective of Ayrshire culture. History buffs and bookworms can also enjoy the outstanding archives. Moreover, with a stunning rural riverside location, Dalgarven is a peaceful as it is informative.
The Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine is a vibrant cultural hub serving the North Ayrshire area and beyond. With two multi-purpose studio spaces, a gallery and a cafe bar, the centre is well-equipped to host its numerous events and activities that run throughout the year. Drama, theatre, comedy, music and art exhibitions are all on offer, and there are even classes and workshops available for eager beginners and budding thespians. Exploring the fascinating history and legacy of Robert Burns is a reason to visit Ayrshire in itself, and a trip to Alloway – the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard – is the perfect place to start. As well as the fascinating museum, the town acts as a living monument to the poet, and boasts Burns Cottage, Brig o’ Doon, Alloway Auld Kirk and a Poet’s Path. A truly immersive Burns experience, visitors can really explore the life and works of the bard. Throughout the year, there is also a full calendar of events taking place, including artisan food fayres, open-music sessions, ceilidhs and even a Hallowe’en tea party.
Based at Dalgarven Mill in Kilwinning, the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume offers visitors a detailed insight in to the rural history of the region
Museums and galleries
At more than 100 years old, The Dick Institute is one of the most important museums and cultural spaces in the south west of Scotland. Located in Kilmarnock, the museum is Ayrshire’s largest and its reputation it second to none. As well as several permanent displays, the museum often attracts internationally-renowned exhibitions, including Miffy, Quentin Blake and Wallace and Gromit, and works from some of Scotland’s most prolific contemporary artists. All this, plus archaeology, social history, natural history displays and East Ayrshire’s central library ensure a trip to The Dick Institute is always engrossing.
Set within the magnificent grounds of Rozelle House in Ayr, the McLaurin Gallery homes one of the finest collections of 20th-century art in the country and often exhibits works from local, national and internationally-acclaimed artists. Actually comprised of four different galleries in what was originally the servants’ quarters at Rozelle House, the McLaurin Gallery boasts a robust programme of exhibitions, events, talks and workshops that take place throughout the year too, so there is always a reason to return.
At more than 100 years old, The Dick Institute is one of the most important museums and cultural spaces in the south west of Scotland