Updated: Apr 14
Dundee has some excellent attractions for visitors. If you only have a few hours in the city, top of your list must be Discovery Point, The V&A Dundee and The McManus Art Gallery & Museum. All are located very close to each other and easy to get to from the train station. I promise you'll have a great day.
As always, please follow all UK Government Covid restrictions & guidance and only visit Dundee if it's completely safe to do so. Here are my favourite sixteen places to visit in Dundee:
V&A Dundee - Design Museum
The fabulous V&A Dundee Museum is Scotland's first design museum and the first to open outside London. It's completely free to visit and very easy to access being right opposite Dundee's main train station.
The new Scottish Design Galleries bring together hundreds of historically significant objects from the renowned V&A collections, alongside prominent loans from across Scotland and around the world. The museum is open 7 days a week, from 10am, and has an excellent cafe and restaurant (great for brunch) with stunning views of the waterfront for visitors to enjoy.
Discovery Point & RRS Discovery
Located near the city centre, Discovery Point is a fascinating visitor centre that narrates the story of the impressive RRS Discovery (moored alongside) and Captain Robert Falcon Scott. You can climb on board the ship itself and explore the interactive multimedia displays to discover what life was really like for these courageous and intrepid Antarctic explorers.
The McManus Art Gallery & Museum
Dating back to 1867, the McManus has recently undergone extensive refurbishment. The Museum contains the city’s extensive collection of artefacts and paintings charting the city’s development from a small settlement to the city it is today.
There are eight different galleries covering all aspects of the city, its landscape, history and people and is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Dundee. If you've got time, get a coffee or a bit of lunch in the excellent restaurant.
The Verdant Works
The Verdant Works tells the story of the Jute industry in Dundee and is a fascinating insight into a bygone industry that used to employ tens of thousands of people in Dundee. The mill dates back to 1833 and has been lovingly and authentically restored with multimedia technology and interactive displays bringing the mill and the life of its workers back to life. Well worth a look.
Dundee Contemporary Arts
Dundee Contemporary Arts ( DCA) opened in 1999 and is Dundee’s visual art centre housing a cinema, two contemporary art galleries, a print studio, visual research centre, shop and a cafe bar. The DCA is very much one of Dundee’s social and cultural hubs and hosts numerous exhibitions, workshops, talks, events and film festivals throughout the year.
If it's a sunny day, I love to have a beer here and soak up the rays.
HMS Frigate Unicorn
Located a short walk from the V&A Design Museum, The Frigate Unicorn is a magnificent warship dating back to 1824. It's the oldest British-built ship still afloat. She is unusual in that she has spent all her working life in Dundee and even predates many of the buildings in the city centre. If you’re visiting RRS Discovery please make sure you also visit this amazing ship and help ensure its future.
Dundee Science Centre
Opened in 2000, Dundee Science Centre is dedicated to inspiring youngsters to learn more about science and technology. Based on the five senses, there are interactive exhibits including the sight & perception zone and the brain zone and science demonstrations throughout the day. Terrific for getting children excited about science!
Broughty Castle & Musuem
Broughty Castle was built in 1496 and sits at the mouth of the River Tay. It has seen plenty of action over the years due to it strategic position on the River Tay. The museum houses interesting exhibits on the history of Broughty Ferry and its people, and offers some fantastic views over the River.
Mills Observatory is located in Balgay Park and is the UK’s only full-time public observatory. It was built in 1935 and has a distinctive 7-metre dome made from paper mache which houses the Victorian refracting Telescope. Admission is free to the Observatory and displays (planetarium shows attract a small charge.)
Camperdown Wildlife Centre
Situated just 15 minutes from Dundee, this excellent wildlife centre is located within the lovely Camperdown Country Park. The centre is not only a place for enjoying the animals, but also has a serious role to play in research, education and the conservation of our most endangered species.
Located 20 minutes drive away, near Forfar in the Strathmore valley, Glamis Castle dates back to the 14th century, although much of the present building is 17th century. The Castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne and was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Tours of the garden and the castle are a must for visitors.
About a 30 minute drive east of Dundee, Arbroath Abbey was founded in 1178, by King William the Lion, for monks of the Tironensian order. It is perhaps most famous for the Declaration of Arbroath in which Scottish nobles asserted their freedom and independence from the English. Today it is largely a ruin and has been for several hundred years, but the excellent visitor centre does a great job of bringing this historic abbey back to life.
Spending a Day in Dundee
At first, Dundee may not appear to be the best looking Scottish city, but delve a little deeper and you'll find a young at heart, dynamic city that is successfully evolving from its industrial past.
Famously known for its primary industries of Jam, Jute & Journalism which have all but disappeared, the city has risen to become an internationally important centre for computer gaming software, cancer research and biotechnology.
Dundee is a fairly small city and the city centre, being heavily pedestrianised, is a pleasure to get around on foot.
The city airport is located a short taxi drive from the city centre from which there are regular domestic flights to other parts of the UK. The bus station is also centrally located and there are good regular services to the popular, outlying suburbs of Broughty Ferry and Monifieth.
Most of Dundee’s tourist attractions can be easily visited in a day (longer may be required!) and near the top of your list, should be the wonderful McManus Art Gallery & Museum in the city centre. This Gothic Revival style building contains the city’s main collections and has undergone recent refurbishment. The exhibitions will particularly appeal to art and history lovers young and old and best of all it’s free to get in. The adjoining McManus Cafe is a great place to grab a coffee and a bite to eat and has a super outside landscaped terrace which is great on a sunny day.
If you're a fan of art & design, next on your list should be the striking new V&A Design Museum which directly overlooks the waterfront. This stunning new building was designed by Kengo Kuma and opened in 2018. It's the first Victoria & Albert Museum to be opened outside London and centres around the excellence of Scottish design. You'll find everything from fashion, architecture and furniture, to video game design, art and sculpture. You can grab a coffee n' cake from the downstairs cafe or head upstairs to the excellent 'Tatha Restaurant' for brunch or an afternoon tea. If it's a nice day, ask for a table on the outside terrace which has great views of the RRS Discovery and the Tay estuary.
Next on your list should be the fascinating Verdant Works at West Henderson’s Wynd which brings back to life the rise and fall of Dundee’s Jute industry. Dundee was once christened “Juteopolis” such was its reliance on this incredibly useful material. During the 19th and 20th century its versatility made it indispensable and it was used in everything from rope to parachutes and electric cable. The museum is located in a former Jute Mill and there’s even the opportunity to see jute weavers in action. There’s a good cafe here and it’s a great place to take the kids.
Moving to the waterfront the next must-see attraction in Dundee is the impressive Discovery Point which is just a short walk from the city centre. Here you’ll find a terrific visitor centre dedicated to Captain Scott and his research ship RRS Discovery which has been beautifully restored and now lies permanently berthed next to the visitor centre. Audiovisual shows, actual polar artefacts and exhibitions bring to life the very real hardships that Captain Scott and his crew had to endure for years on their polar expeditions. There’s also a good shop and cafe here for visitors to enjoy.
Another impressive ship to visit after RSS Discovery is the HMS frigate Unicorn, which is the oldest British warship still afloat today and the 6th oldest ship in the world. Launched in 1824, she is considered to be the best preserved wooden warship in the world and is well worth a visit.
For children, no visit to Dundee would be complete without a visit to the superb Dundee Science Centre which brings to life science through the five human senses. There are some terrific interactive exhibitions and demonstrations here that will both entertain and educate children and adults alike. There’s also a good coffee shop here which serves snacks and light lunches.
If you’re a lover of contemporary art & culture, a visit to the DCA – Dundee Contemporary Arts complex, just a short walk from the city centre, is a must. The DCA hosts a variety of fantastic films, exhibitions, workshops, talks and events throughout the whole year, all centred around the development of contemporary arts and culture. It’s a real social hub for the city and the light and airy DCA Jute Cafe Bar is a great place to meet friends and family.
If you are fortunate enough to have a clear, sunny day in Dundee, it’s very worthwhile heading north of the city centre to the extinct volcanic plug that is Dundee Law. From here there are fantastic views across the city to Fife, Perthshire and the Sidlaw Hills from a stylishly constructed observation point. It’s also a good place to munch on a picnic while you admire the view. While there, it’s also worth considering visiting the Mills Observatory which is close by at Balgay Hill Park. This is the UK’s only full-time public observatory with the sole aim to encourage public interest in astronomy and science. The Planetarium shows are particularly worth booking when observatory staff will talk you through the night sky and explain the mysteries of our galaxy.
No visit to Dundee would be complete without a visit to Broughty Ferry, a popular seaside suburb located about 4 miles east of the city centre. This seaside suburb is a very pleasant place to while away a few hours with many excellent gift shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs to enjoy. The beach is also a great place to enjoy a picnic with the family and enjoy the sea air.
While you’re there a walk around the small enclosed harbour & esplanade and a visit to Broughty Castle & Museum is well worthwhile. The Castle museum tell the story of the origins of Broughty Ferry along with some interesting local and military exhibitions.
In the evening, the best places for eating and drinking are to be found in the West End of Dundee and Broughty Ferry. The city has some very good pubs, bars and restaurants as does Broughty Ferry which can get busy in the summer months.
For something to do on an evening in Dundee, the Dundee Repertory Theatre and the Caird Hall are both excellent venues for theatrical and musical shows and productions.
Dundee should never be overlooked. It's rapidly transforming its waterfront and reconnecting its citizens with its maritime heritage. It's a city on the rise with so much to see and do. Make a day of it - I promise you won't be disappointed.
Author: David Wheater