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The best things to do in the Scottish Borders

Castles, monuments and the River Tweed

Days Out Scottish Borders

Spend a day at the beautiful Floors Castle

From the highest hill to the deepest valley, the Scottish Borders is an area full of promise. A day out here can be anything you want it to be. Whether you’re nine years old or 90, there’s something here for you to enjoy: exciting wildlife encounters, bracing clifftop walks, sunny sheltered beaches, hills and valleys, historic houses, magnificent castles, romantic ruined abbeys, Roman monuments, and not forgetting the magnificent River Tweed which wends its way from its source at Tweed’s Well in the Southern Uplands, through the county to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

For family days out, there’s plenty of choice for history buffs, horticulturists, nature-lovers, mountain-bikers, and walkers. For history devotees, the Scottish Borders has a wealth of castles, historic homes and grand estates. Near Melrose, one such house is Abbotsford, home to the famous writer and poet, Sir Walter Scott. Today, visitors can enjoy the splendour of the house and gardens and take a stroll through the woodland and down by the riverside. At the entrance to the estate, there is an adventure playground for energetic youngsters. At the visitor centre, you can learn about Scott’s life, works and achievements, enjoy fine cuisine at the excellent Ochiltree cafe, or pick up a memento in the gift shop. Like most visitor attractions in the Borders, dogs on leads are welcome in the estate, gardens and cafe.

In Melrose itself, another popular visitor attraction is the picturesque ruin of the 12th-century Melrose Abbey. Adjacent to the Abbey is a National Trust for Scotland garden, Priorwood, which includes an orchard of heritage apple trees and a small wooded area. A short stroll away is Harmony Garden which is particularly beautiful in spring when the fritillaries and daffodils sway prettily in the breeze under the trees. Near Kelso, overlooking the Tweed, sits the impressive Floors Castle, the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and home to the Duke of Roxburghe. The castle and grounds are open to the public from Easter to the end of October. The Terrace Café in the walled garden is open all-year-round. Look out for events and garden talks and tours throughout the summer months.

Just 20 minutes from Kelso is Mellerstain House, one of Scotland’s great Georgian houses. Begun in 1725 by Scottish architect William Adam and completed in 1778 by his son, Robert, Mellerstain House is an outstanding example of 18th-century Scottish architecture, and some say one of Robert Adam’s finest works. The house stands in beautiful parkland which is perhaps best viewed from the Italian-style terraced garden overlooking the sweeping lawn and ornamental lake. Whilst in the Borders, you can visit Scotland’s oldest inhabited house, Traquair. Originally built as a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland, it has been lived in for over 900 years. Traquair hosts many public events including ‘A Dog’s Day Out’ in summer and a Victorian Christmas Fayre each winter.

Just 20 minutes from Kelso is Mellerstain House, one of Scotland’s great Georgian houses. Begun in 1725 by Scottish architect William Adam and completed in 1778 by his son, Robert, Mellerstain House is an outstanding example of 18th-century Scottish architecture

Grand estates and stately homes

Days Out Scottish Borders

Visit the stunning Manderston House

Thirlestane Castle, near Lauder is one of the oldest castles in Scotland. It is a magnificent 16th-century castle set in a quiet meadow landscape and home to the Duke of Lauderdale and the Maitland family. During the summer, the castle is open to the public, whilst the grounds provide a spectacular venue for a whole host of events including dog shows, family picnics, and classic car rallies. In Selkirk site The Haining, an 18th-century manor house which offers various walks around the estate, live music events, summer picnics and Christmas fairs. Jedburgh Castle Jail tells the story of the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh and gives visitors an insight into what life was like in an 1820s prison. The main building houses the museum’s collections which focus on traditions, industries and important individuals of this historic Scottish town. Visitors may walk through the original cell blocks of the Georgian jail.

If you head towards Berwick-upon-Tweed, you will find Paxton House, an attraction full of treasures including a nationally significant collection of Chippendale furniture and masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. And, nearby sits Manderston House, with its 56 acres of formal and informal gardens. Visitors to Hawick can enjoy a walk in Wilton Lodge Park, the 107-acre estate which straddles the River Teviot and features walks, play areas, a recently refurbished walled garden, and the Hawick Museum and Scott Art Gallery. There are seven forests dotted along the Tweed Valley, featuring everything from picnic spots to Tarzan swings. Daredevils will enjoy swinging in the treetop obstacle course at Go Ape in the Glentress Forest, Peebles. As well as rope swings, there are rope ladders, and zip-wires; the highest zip-wire being a knee-trembling 160ft above the ground.

Glentress Forest is also home to one of the magnificent 7stanes mountain biking centres, which span the south of Scotland. At each of the 7stanes locations is a unique ‘stane’ (stone) sculpture. The Glentress Stane is accessible on foot, bike or horse, and is a ‘must’ for Star Trek fans, as it’s a huge Ledmore marble sculpture carved with Klingon text. Mountain bikers of all levels can enjoy the trails, which are graded Green, Blue, Red or Black. Expert riders, and intermediate riders looking for a challenge, may also like to head to nearby Innerleithen, home of the famous Traquair Forest Red Bull down-hill and cross-country trails. Glentress may be better known for biking trails, but there are also five way-marked walking routes ranging from half a mile to 5 miles, with spectacular views including the Tweed Valley, the Caddon Hills and Soonhope Burn. For many keen walkers, The Border Hotel at Kirk Yetholm is a key destination: it is the finish line for those completing their 268th mile of the Pennine Way.

If you head towards Berwick-upon-Tweed, you will find Paxton House, an attraction full of treasures including a nationally significant collection of Chippendale furniture and masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland

Walking routes and scenic valleys

Days Out Scottish Borders

Banks of the River Tweed, Peebles

Also passing through Kirk Yetholm is the St Cuthbert’s Way, one of Scotland’s Great Trails; a cross-border route which stretches 62.5 miles from Melrose to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast. Whilst in the Borders, many visitors like to scale at least one of the iconic three peaks of the Eildon Hills, overlooking the pretty town of Melrose and the Eildon Valley. Other popular walks include the trails at Cademuir and Thornielee, and a climb to the top of Caberston, just above Innerleithen, to the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Another uphill walk which is well-worth the effort, is to the Waterloo Monument on Peniel Heugh (a hill between Ancrum and Nisbet). It is on private land, but walkers are welcome. For anyone wishing to climb the spiral staircase to the balcony at the top of the tower, they must first borrow the key from the Lothian Estates Office in nearby Bonjedward. For those who prefer lochs to peaks, a visit to St Mary’s Loch should be in order.

Situated on the A708 between Moffat and Selkirk, in the beautiful Yarrow Valley is the Borders’ largest natural loch. Over three miles long and just over half a mile wide, the loch was created by glacial action during the last ice age. From the loch, visitors can walk part of the Southern Upland Way to Traquair and onwards to Galashiels. Whilst not famous for its lochs, the Scottish Borders has several, including Alemoor Loch on the Ale Water, Lindean Loch, Portmore Loch, Yetholm Loch, and the picturesque Mire Loch on St Abb’s Head. Just off the coast of St Abbs, in Britain’s first voluntary marine reserve, there are several old shipwrecks. Scuba diving enthusiasts come from miles around to explore the wrecks from the Dive Centre at St Abbs Harbour. Dolphins can often be seen swimming in the area.

At the coast, there is an amazing array of birdlife to be seen on the circular walk at St Abb’s Head. At the right time of year, migrating birds can be seen in their thousands and, at nesting time, the cliffs are home to guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, and shags. South of St Abbs, and accessible via a coastal path, is the pretty, sheltered beach of Coldingham Sands. The beach, which is overlooked by a peppering of pretty beach huts, has a cafe and public conveniences and, during the summer months, lifeguards are stationed there. On the south side of the Tweed Valley, with views up to Glentress, is the Cardrona Forest. Horses and riders are welcome here, along with walkers and birdwatchers. Look out for red squirrels which live in the forest, and bats which live in Cardrona Tower. Meanwhile, at Jedforest, near Jedburgh, there is a series of exciting trails to explore on foot, horseback or by bike. The trails are way-marked, making the countryside accessible to visitors, giving the opportunity to enjoy stunning views across the Borders countryside.

Situated on the A708 between Moffat and Selkirk, in the beautiful Yarrow Valley is the Borders’ largest natural loch. Over three miles long and just over half a mile wide, the loch was created by glacial action during the last ice age

Wildlife and the Border Union Show

Days out Scottish Borders

Look out for Ospreys at Kailzie Gardens

Between May and September, the highlight of a visit to the Borders may be catching a glimpse of ospreys. You might see these magnificent birds at the two osprey centres near Peebles, which share a live camera feed of the nearby nest: Wild Watch at Glentress, and Osprey Watch at Kailzie Gardens. Osprey may also be seen at Born in the Borders, near Ancrum. During a successful breeding season, live footage from the nest’s CCTV camera is shown in the restaurant. And, if you head out on a walk by the river, you may be lucky enough to see one of the birds flying overhead. Other attractions at the Born in the Borders Visitor Centre are self-guided microbrewery and gin distillery tours, riverside walks and grass-sledging. There is also an excellent restaurant, and a shop selling local produce.

At nearby St Boswells, The Scottish Borders Donkey Sanctuary is home to ponies, llamas, goats, sheep, ducks, poultry and pigs – as well as their much-loved donkeys. The sanctuary is open on weekend afternoons from the end of March to the first week in January. For a truly memorable experience whilst in the Borders, how about an alpaca trek? For treks from one hour to half a day, visit Velvet Hall, Innerleithen or Beirhope Farm located in the Cheviot Hills, just outside the hamlet of Hownam.

For many, the best day out in the Borders is the Border Union Show which takes place at the end of July at Springwood Park (the 46-acre showground within easy walking distance of Kelso town centre). The show includes over 500 open classes, including competitions for horses, ponies, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, shepherds’ crooks, and horse-shoeing. Over 200 trade stands showcase everything from gigantic farm machinery to equestrian goods, and crafts and gifts. Adjoining the craft gift hall, the indoor food fair is packed with local artisan producers selling gin, bread, chocolates and ice cream. On the Saturday afternoon, there is family entertainment in the main ring. It’s the highlight of the rural calendar and a day out not to be missed.


Everything you need to know about the Scottish Borders

Where to eat in the Scottish Borders

The best shopping in the Scottish Borders

The best nightlife in the Scottish Borders

Your guide to arts and culture in the Scottish Borders

Image credits: ©Floors Castle; Rankine Photography Ltd/Manderston House; Shutterstock.com

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