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The best things to do in Ayrshire and Arran

You truly are spoilt for fantastic days out and activities on a trip to Ayrshire and Arran, but here are the best things to do. If much of the mountainous highlands of Scotland resemble the spectacular backdrop of a Lord of the Rings landscape, you could regard Ayrshire as its Shire, a beautiful vista of gently rolling hills and perfectly-husbanded farmland. That’s not to say Ayrshire does not have its fair share of adventure – there are many places to have fun. In fact, there’s no shortage of fantastic days out for families, friends or couples eager to explore the region.

Spectacular scenery

One of the must-see attractions in Ayrshire and Arran is Culzean Castle and Country Park. Perched atop the Ayrshire cliffs, this National Trust property features glorious gardens, breathtaking beaches, wonderful woodlands and the Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland play areas to tire out hyperactive holidaying children. The jewel in its crown is the spectacular castle itself, an 18th-century masterpiece that was once home of the Earl of Casillis. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the castle, taking in the opulent interiors and marvelling at the fine collection of paintings, furniture and military swords on display. Even simply wandering around the grounds is enchanting, with more than 40 buildings and secret follies to be explored, as well as the flamboyant formal gardens, ice house and Swan Pond. There are several dining options available on-site and a gift shop.

Culzean Castle

Learn about the fascinating history of Culzean Castle

Less than ten miles from the Castle is Heads of Ayr Farm Park. This action-packed adventure hub offers activities, events and animals galore. Monkeys, meerkats, snakes and even Ralph the camel all call Heads of Ayr home, providing visitors with the perfect chance to learn more about different creatures great and small. Activities on offer include bumper boats, a giant sand pit, an adventure playground, quad biking, trampolining and an aerial runway. There are also numerous special park events taking place throughout the summer calendar. There are a couple of cafes onsite, too, for when it’s time to recharge the batteries. With so much on offer, one day may not be enough! The park is open throughout the summer season.

If much of the mountainous highlands of Scotland resemble the spectacular backdrop of a Lord of the Rings landscape, you could regard Ayrshire as its Shire

Robert Burns

Alloway is just a little further up the coast and no visit to Ayrshire and Arran would be complete without a visit to the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns. As well as the fascinating Robert Burns Birthplace 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 explore first-hand the life and works of the poet. Throughout the year, there are also a variety of Burns-themed events that take place, including artisan food fayres, open-mic music sessions, ceilidhs and even a theatrical Hallowe’en tea party.

Burns Monument-Ayrshire

Find food fares, open-mic sessions and much more around the Burns Monument

Another famous Ayrshire mounument is Kelburn Castle and a visit to this eccentrically-decorated building is an unforgettable experience. Recently awarded Best Family Venue at the Scottish Hospitality Awards, the accolade is certainly well-deserved. Kelburn Estate, which occupies 3,500 acres of land near Largs, has music and drama events, adventure activities and trails to explore. As well as touring the colourful, graffiti-clad castle, visitors can ramble through the glen, enjoy horse riding or mountain biking, or attend one of the many hosted events. Murder mystery tours, theatre and even its own summer music festival makes Kelburn the top choice for a day out in the region.

With so much of Ayrshire’s villages and towns located on the coast, it makes perfect sense to enjoy a trip on The Waverley. Evoking a sense of nostalgia when holidaymakers sailed “doon the watter”, a day out on the Waverley is sure to delight kids and adults alike. During the summer months day-trippers flock to experience a trip on the last sea-faring paddle steamer in the world. Majestic, fun and educational, the excursions depart from various locations, including Ayr, Girvan, Largs and Millport. Relaxing on the deck of the iconic boat is also the perfect way to see the Ayrshire coast. As well as standard sailings, there are often party-themed tours.

Alloway is just a little further up the coast and no visit to Ayrshire would be complete without a visit to the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns

Ocean-themed attractions

While the Waverley is the ultimate in relaxation at sea, for anyone serious about having fun on the water, Sportscotland Cumbrae offers a variety of courses that range from dingy sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, sea kayaking, cruising, all the way up to instructor training and professional yachtmaster – and all from its base on the beautiful isle of Great Cumbrae. Participants can choose to stay at the centre, with prices inclusive of accommodation and meals unless courses are identified as individual day or non-residential. One chalet has a lounge area and kitchen facilities, making it ideal for self-catering groups. There is also a bar, plus a sauna – perfect for relaxing after a day out on the water.

For those who prefer their coastal experience mixed with a little history and lots of live action, the coast the town of Largs is home to Vikingar! This fabulous discovery centre has everything you need to know about the Vikings. With so many years of Scandanavian-Scottish history to explore, Vikingar! is the prime place to experience notorious tales of battle and adventure as they’re brought back to life. As well as the immersive Viking experience, the centre also features a leisure pool, fitness centre, theatre and soft play area. Just a short hop across the water from Largs, tiny Great Cumbrae may not have Vikings but it is famous for being a bicycle island. With more than 1,000 bikes available for hire in its single town of Millport, this the perfect place to explore on two wheels. With quiet beaches, watersports, shopping, cafes, galleries, curious historical sites and more, it certainly won’t disappoint. Just make sure to stop for a holiday snap at the famous Crocodile Rock!

Another ocean-themed attraction is the Scottish Maritime Museum. Located in Irvine, this is a must for anyone interested in Scotland’s illustrious seafaring heritage as it boasts the largest collection of shipbuilding tools and machinery in the country. You can explore the “Cathedral of Engineering” in the form of the Linthouse Shipyard, discover historic boats and vessels, and even have a go at sailing your own boat in the indoor and outdoor ponds. There are regular art exhibitions, too, in the purpose-built Lomond Gallery. Travelling inland again, right into the heart of Kimarnock, a trip to Dean Castle and Country Park makes for a fantastic – and completely free – day out. Featuring an historic 14th-century castle, countless woodland walks, an urban farm, a rural life centre and even an enchanting illuminated forest during the autumn months, Dean Castle attracts visitors from far and wide. The castle is temporarily closed for renovation work, but this shouldn’t deter today’s day-trippers eager to explore the stunning Ayrshire countryside.

Talking of exploring, horseriding is a popular way to discover Ayrshire’s beautiful countryside and coastline. It’s a great way to take in views over the Firth of Clyde to Ailsa Craig and Arran from the saddle. Ayrshire Equitation Centre offers 74 acres of pasture to explore and its own on tack shop. Approved by the British Horse Society and the Trekking and Riding Society of Scotland, it comes highly commended by the Scottish Tourist Board and specialises in tuition and livery – catering for all ages and levels, from complete beginners up to competition level. Taking one of the regular ferries from Ayrshire to Arran promises to fill your eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of this island’s spectacular scenery and enchanting flora and fauna. There are many unique attractions to create fun days out.

Another ocean-themed attraction is the Scottish Maritime Museum. Located in Irvine, this is a must for anyone interested in Scotland’s illustrious seafaring heritage

Country parks, castles and the coast

Many visitors begin their island adventure with a visit to Brodick Castle and Country Park. While the castle itself is currently closed for restoration, the formal gardens are a marvel to explore. Meanwhile, the sprawling woodland, bathing pools, waterfalls and the new Isle Be Wild Adventure playground are fun for all ages. Walkers can enjoy more than 10 miles of waymarked trails, watching out for the local wildlife and taking in the dramatic scenery en route. During the summer months, a hop over to The Holy Isle can make for a very pleasant excursion from Arran. Reachable via ferry in less then 10 minutes from the village of Lamlash, The Holy Isle enjoys a rich and interesting spiritual history dating back as far the 6th century. Its compact size means it’s ideally explored on foot, with natural wonders such as a healing spring and a hermit cave. It’s the perfect place to unwind and get away from it all, or go wildlife spotting – wild ponies, sheep and goats can all be see roaming the island.

Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle is perfect for a family day out

It is also home to the renowned Centre for World Peace and Health, which hosts a variety of day retreats, including mindfulness, Buddhism, yoga and Tai Chi. If you like to live life at a faster pace, adventure lovers are spoiled on Arran. This is an outdoors paradise that has something for everyone’s sporting aspirations. Arran Adventure, based at Auchrannie Resort in Brodick, aims to meet these with comprehensive selection of activities to satisfy the inner adrenaline junkie. From segways to archery and mountain biking to gorgewalking, a day or half-a-day spent with Arran Adventure is guaranteed exhilaration. There are courses for ages six years and up and to suit all levels of fitness and experience.

For something a little more sedate why not go touring? With a circumference of just 56 miles, Arran is the perfect destination for a good, old-fashioned road trip. Load up the car, pack a picnic of local island goodies and circumnavigate the island, enjoying the charming villages and fascinating historical sites dotted around the coast. Make sure to take a pair of binoculars. Arran has an abundance of wildlife to spot, including seals, otters and golden eagles. If you’d prefer a guided wildlife tour, Arran Wild Walks can accommodate. With experienced guides, they offer both mountain walks and wildlife tours.


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The best nightlife Ayrshire and Arran

Your guide to arts and culture in Ayrshire and Arran

Image credits: ©Heartland Arts/Adobe Stock; Shutterstock.com

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