Ayr is a town in Ayrshire on the coast of South West Scotland, with a population of 46,260 in 2020. Its chief attraction for visitors is the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of Robert Burns. Ayr is also near Culzean Castle and the golf course at Turnberry. It was the county town until Ayrshire was divided into east, north and south council areas. Ayr now only hosts the South Ayrshire local government.
Ayrshire is mostly lowland and fertile, and Ayr grew up as the market town for the nearby farm villages, but it was also industrial from the 17th century with local deposits of coal. It had a defensible river crossing and harbour, one of several ports that flourished before the Clyde was made navigable up to Glasgow. A major industry was smuggling: there were many quiet beaches where goods "for export" could be run ashore on moonless nights. And there was also illicit trade with England and its colonies, before the 1707 Union ended the embargo against Scotland.
One of those farm villages three miles south was Alloway, now a suburb of Ayr, and on 25 Jan 1759 it was the birthplace of Robert Burns. His family lived in the same cramped farm cottage until he was seven, then moved to a series of other farms near Tarbolton and Mauchline, always on the verge of poverty. Robert began writing poetry, chasing the women and drinking, not necessarily in that order; he was on the verge of emigrating to the West Indies when his first poetry collection was published in 1786. He was prolific and famous even within his short lifetime, and is now revered as Scotland’s national poet.
You’re bound to know Auld Lang Syne, but if you don’t know Burns' other works, essential reading is Tam O’Shanter (and you’ll need a Lallans glossary to translate the dialect.) Tam is a poor useless sort of farmer, and one dark wet night he's riding home from Ayr market, drunk as usual, when he sees strange lights in the derelict old church of Alloway. Creeping closer, he beholds witches dancing in a satanic party, and there’s one very fit young witch clad only in a skimpy shirt - a "cutty sark". Tam’s ribald shout to her is the biggest mistake of his prattish life, and it may well be his last.
Ayr's main sight is thus the Burns Heritage Park at Alloway comprising a museum in the cottage where he was born, the Auld Kirk (that spooky derelict old church), the Burns Monument and Gardens, and the ancient bridge Brig o’Doon where Tam fled from the witches. You'll know you're there when you see lots of coaches in the parking lot: summer in Alloway can be very congested. There isn't a physical tourist office but What's On Ayrshire post local information
Ayr is on the main road and rail route between Glasgow and Stranraer. With your own car from Glasgow follow A77. From England take M6 then A75 to Dumfries, A76 to Cumnock, then A71 into Ayr.
Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA), 6 miles west of central Glasgow on M8, has the best connections. It has flights from many UK and European cities, including the Hebridean islands. There are regular direct flights from Canada but other long-haul destinations usually involve changing planes in London or Amsterdam. There is a pre-bookable shuttle bus to GLA from Ayr, otherwise travel via central Glasgow.
1 Prestwick Airport (PIK IATA) is only 4 miles from Ayr, but only has Ryanair flights to Med holiday destinations such as Barcelona and Tenerife, nothing within the UK. The Ayr-Glasgow trains call here, as does the X77 bus, see below. Or take a taxi, or you could even walk.
Trains run from Glasgow Central four times an hour, but it feels like only two as slow trains departs 5 min after the faster trains. The latter take an hour to Ayr via Paisley Gilmour Street, Glengarnock (for Kilbirnie), Kilwinning, Irvine, Troon, Prestwick Airport and town, and Newton-on-Ayr. Change at Kilwinning for Ardrossan, West Kilbride and Largs. The last train leaves Glasgow around 23:30; an off-peak single in 2022 might be as little as £4.20.
From London, Birmingham and Manchester it's usually quickest to take a fast train via Carlisle to Glasgow Central then change. Another route is to change at Carlisle for the train towards Glasgow via Dumfries - get off at Auchinleck south of Kilmarnock and take Bus 42 to Ayr, described below.
2 Ayr railway station is central by the main square. There is a staffed ticket office and machines, a cafe, waiting room and toilets. There is level access to Platforms 1, 2 and 3. Platform 4 (towards Stranraer) is reached by steps over the footbridge, or step-free from the public road other side of the tracks. Plusbus is available at this station.
Newton-on-Ayr is a platform halt one mile north. You might use it for the north edge of town, or even the south edge of Prestwick town.
Stagecoach West Scotland is the main operator. Bus X77 runs from Glasgow Buchanan station to Ayr every 30 min, taking 65 min via Prestwick, with the last departing at 23:00. Bus 4 also runs every 30 min but takes two hours via Kilmarnock and Prestwick, so only use it for local journeys.
Citylink / Ulsterbus 923 runs three times a day from Belfast via the Stena ferry to Cairnryan then Glasgow. It calls at Ayr for pre-booked passengers only.
Bus 14 runs every 45 min from Irvine via Troon and Prestwick. From Ardrossan change at Irvine.
Bus 42 runs hourly from Muirkirk via Cumnock, Auchinleck (for trains to Carlisle and Dumfries), Drongan and Coylton to Ayr.
Buses 58 and 60 run every 30 min from Girvan via Maybole and Alloway to Ayr. The 358 runs twice from Stranraer via Cairnryan ferry terminal and Girvan.
3 Ayr bus station is central, half a mile northwest of the railway station.
Ayr is not a ferry port, but if your sailing times allow, it’s a pleasanter place to stop over than Ardrossan (for Arran) or Stranraer (for Belfast).
The nearest marina for small leisure craft is Troon.
Bus 57 runs hourly to Alloway, taking 10 min. Bus 60 towards Girvan runs hourly past the driveway to Culzean Castle; the 58 takes a different route.
The area is lowland and well-suited to cycling.
- 1 St John's Tower is the 15th-century bell tower of the original parish church and choir school, founded in the 12th century but demolished by Cromwell in 1654 to make way for a fortress. Only the tower was spared. A block north by the river bank is the main surviving stretch of fortress walls.
- 2 Auld Kirk. This was the 1654 replacement St John's church; Burns was baptised here. It's still an active Church of Scotland.
- Auld Brig across the river was originally a 13th century wooden structure, rebuilt with stone in the 16th. It's a narrow footbridge, mocked in Burns' poem Brigs o' Ayr as too narrow for a pair of wheelbarrows to pass. The bridge retorts that it will still be standing when the New Brig of 1788 has vanished, and so it proved - the present New Bridge is Victorian.
- 3 Burns Cottage Museum (Burns Heritage Park), Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway KA7 4PQ (off B7024 from Ayr), ☏ , email@example.com. Daily 10:00-17:00. This is the only ticketed area of the Heritage Park, the thatched cottage where Burns was born and lived until he was 7, plus adjacent museum. Adult £11.50, conc £8.50, NTS & NT free.
- Burns Monument, Brig o'Doon and Alloway Old Kirk by the cottage are free to view.
- 4 Rozelle House, Monument Rd KA7 4NQ, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 12:00-17:00. Small museum and gallery in an Adam-style mansion of 1760. It was built for Robert Hamilton of Bourtreehill, who got rich from slavery and sugar on his Jamaica plantations, and the name derives from his La Rochelle estate there. It was rebuilt in the 1830s; the family fortunes waxed then waned, and the mansion was gifted to the town in 1968. The surrounding park and woodland is accessible 24 hours. Free.
- 5 Belleisle Conservatory, Doonfoot Rd KA7 4DU, ☏ . Daily 11:00-16:00. Botanical garden and conservatory. The Victorian original was replaced in 1955 to the same design; this fell derelict in 2005 but was restored in 2010.
- Greenan Castle is the remains of a 16th century tower house teetering on the cliffs west of Belle Isle.
- 6 Culzean Castle, Maybole KA19 8LE (12 miles south of Ayr, 30 min by Bus 60), ☏ . Apr-Oct: daily 10:00-16:00. Magnificent late 18th-century mansion designed by Robert Adam as a bling-palace for the 10th Earl of Cassilis. With extensive gardens and parkland studded with follies, it often features as a film and TV location. Adult £18.50, conc £13.50, child £10.50, NT / NTS free.
- 7 Burns House Museum, Castle St, Mauchline KA5 5B, ☏ . Tu W F Sa 10:30-12:00, 13:00-16:00, Th 13:30-16:00, 17:00-19:30. Burns farmed at Mossgiel near Mauchline 1784-88 where he wrote several well-known poems, met Jean Armour and impregnated several others. Robert and Jean co-habited, and lodged here in town while waiting to move to Ellisland in Dumfries, which lacked a farmhouse. The house recreates his time here.
- 8 Dumfries House, Cumnock KA18 2NJ (off A70 near jcn with A76), ☏ . By booked tour only, Apr-Oct Su-F, Nov-Mar Sa Su. 18th-century Palladian mansion with extensive collection of Chippendale furniture, and grounds. It's owned by a charity founded by Charles III. In Sep 2022 he was in residence here when he learned of his mother Queen Elizabeth's serious condition, and was helicoptered to Balmoral where she died that day. Highlights adult £12, child £6; Grand Tour £16 / £6.
- 9 Cumnock Heritage Centre, Caponacre Industrial Estate, Cumnock KA18 1SH, ☏ . By booked tour only. Cumnock was a coal-mining village, and Keir Hardie (1856-1915) founder of the Labour Party lived here for many years. The pits closed in the 20th century and their sites were reclaimed. This small museum displays the industrial heritage.
- Baird Institute in Cumnock village centre is a gallery and museum open Th 12:30-16:00, 17:00-19:30, F Sa 10:30-12:00, 13:00-15:30.
- 10 Crossraguel Abbey, Kirkoswald KA19 8HQ (On A77; Bus 60 runs past). Closed. Rambling ruin of an abbey church, cloister and dovecote: it's pronounced "cross-rah-ul", commemorating St Riaghail or Regulus. In the 13th century the monks of Paisley Abbey were funded to build a branch abbey here, but they built only a small chapel and pocketted the rest. The subseqent legal ructions involved the Earl of Carrick, the Abbott of Paisley and the Pope, so it was a miracle any money was left over for building, but eventually a Cluniac monastery was established. It stood on the pilgrimage route between Paisley and Whithorn, probably not the reason King Edward I's army called by in 1307 and wrecked it, and it was re-built even better. The monastic order was dissolved at the Reformation, and in 1570 the Earl of Cassilis gained the lands by torturing the titular holder, as this worked quicker than going to law. Although the abbey was abandoned, its stone was left in place, so it's a substantial ruin. In 2022 it remains closed because of unsafe masonry but you see enough just looking over the hedge.
- Baltersan Castle half a mile northwest of Crossraguel Abbey is the ruin of a tower house built in 1584 and abandoned circa 1750. In 2020 it was for sale.
- 11 Dunure Castle is a scenic stump on a rocky headland. It was built 15th and 16th centuries, and abandoned in the 17th. This was where the Earl of Cassilis tortured the landowner of Crossraguel, by roasting and other culinary techniques. And it worked, he gained the land and never suffered retribution; the cooked man was not eaten but could never walk again. See also the small harbour at the base of the cliffs.
- 12 Electric Brae on the A719 south of Ayr (between Dunure and Croy Brae) is an optical illusion: a car going "uphill" can glide in neutral, since it's actually going downhill. However these days most motorists won't notice the effect.
- 13 Loch Doon Castle was built on an islet in the loch in the 13th century. It was besieged and re-captured a few times and in the 16th century King James V had it demolished to prevent use by rebels. The loch water level was raised in the 1930s for a hydro-electric scheme and reservoir, so the castle ruin was moved stone by stone from the islet to the roadside, the Abu Simbel of Ayrshire.
- What's on? Read Ayrshire Post (now part of Daily Record) or Ayr Advertiser.
- Golf: Belleisle is the town course south side on Doonfoot Rd. White tees 6446 yards par 71, with the smaller Seafield at 5429 yards par 67.
- Troon 7 miles north has the Royal Troon golf course, and Turnberry golf course and resort is 10 miles south of Ayr.
- Gaiety Theatre on Carrick St has regular shows.
- Citadel Leisure Centre, South Harbour Street KA7 1JB, ☏ . M-F 07:30-22:00, Sa Su 09:00-17:30. Council-run centre with gym, fitness classes and swimming pool.
- Cutty Sark Centre is a council-run events venue at 40 High St.
- Bannatyne Health Club, 1 Highfield Drive KA8 9SH (A77 at Whitletts roundabout), ☏ . M-F 06:00-22:30, Sa Su 08:00-22:00. Fitness and leisure centre. £50 monthly for all Bannatyne locations.
- Football: 1 Ayr United FC, Somerset Park KA8 9NB (near the racecourse), ☏ . "The Honest Men" play soccer in the Championship, Scotland's second tier. £14 adult, £7 concs.
- Ayr RFC, Millbrae, Alloway KA7 4PJ (by Burns birthplace). They play rugby union in National League 1, the amateur game's second tier in Scotland.
- 2 Ayr Racecourse (northeast edge of town). This has regular flat-race and National Hunt meetings. The Scottish Grand National is held here in April, with the next on 19-20 April 2024.
- Riverside Arena is a multi-sports facility off Craigie Way, a mile east of town centre.
- 3 Doon Valley Railway (Scottish Industrial Railway Centre), Dallmellington Rd, Patna KA6 7JH (12 miles southeast of Ayr on A713), ☏ . Jul-Sep Su 11:00-16:30. Celebrating "pugs", the stubby steam and diesel locomotives that for decades chugged up and down factory and colliery sidings. And you can even have one pull you along in the brake van. No, not very far. Adult £7, child £4.
- Dark Sky Observatory north of Loch Doon suffered a fire in 2021. Rebuilding is under way but the re-opening date is not yet known.
- Ayr County Show is held in May on the racecourse. The next is probably on Sa 11 May 2024, tbc.
- Ayr Comic Con is held in Citadel Leisure Centre in June. The next is probably on Sa 1 Jun 2024, tbc.
- Knockengorroch World Ceilidh is a Celtic music festival up in the hills near Loch Doon. The next is probably on 23-26 May 2024, tbc.
- International Ayr Show is a flying show over Ayr on 8-10 Sept 2023.
- Ayr’s shopping centre is Ayr Central.
- Alex Begg is a knitware factory outlet at 17 Viewfield Rd, Ayr KA8 8HJ, open M-F 09:30-16:30. Factory tours are available mid-week, tel +44 1292 293365 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
- - Burns' toast to the haggis
- Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
- Town centre west side of the railway station has Tempura Ayr, Drunken Coo, Mr Basrai's, Tudor Kitchen, Vito's and Meridian.
- Stage Door Cafe, 12 Carrick St KA7 1NU (next to Gaiety Theatre), ☏ . W-Su 10:00-18:30. Good light bites and pre-theatre meals.
- Vegan Earth, 18 Kyle St KA7 1RZ (near station), ☏ . Tu-Su 12:00-15:00. Homely cafe with great vegan food.
- New Bridge St into Sandgate and Fort St has New City Chinese, The Edison, Tree House, Cecchini's, Jinja and Rupee Room.
- @Home Thai at 95 New Road is open daily 12:00-22:00.
- Ayr India is still at its beach location at the foot of Seafield Rd, but now also has a more central outlet on Alloway Place, open daily 12:00-23:00.
- Splurge at Enterkine House Hotel ten miles east, see Sleep.
- Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
- Wi' tippenny, we fear nae evil; Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!
- - Tam o'Shanter is well wasted as he leaves the pub to ride home
- Town centre has Tam O’Shanter (below), Rabbie's, Droothy Neebors, The Twa Dugs, Market Inn, Crumbs & Cocktails, Smith's, West Kirk (below), Billy Bridges, Central Bar, Smugglers and The Fort.
- Tam o'Shanter Inn, 230 High St KA7 1RQ (200 yards north of railway station), ☏ . Su-Th 12:00-23:00, F Sa 12:00-00:00. This is Ayr's oldest pub, from 1749, and Burns often drank here - where didn't he? The none-too-steady exit of a drouthy friend was his model for Tam. So it draws a tourist crowd but remains a sonsie down-to-earth pub with decent food and drink.
- The West Kirk, 58a Sandgate KA7 1BX, ☏ . Su-Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-00:30. Wetherspoon's pub in the former Free Church, built in 1845. Good beer, food and ambience.
- Nightclubs are Powerhouse Rock Club and Vinyl.
- Brewery: Ayr Brewing Company produce a range of ales within Glenpark Hotel on Racecourse Rd, no tours.
- Distillery: see Kilmarnock for Lochlea whisky distillery.
- 1 Craigie Gardens Caravan Site, Craigie Rd KA8 0SS, ☏ . Clean well-kept site open Mar-Oct a short walk to town. Pitch £30.
- Western House Hotel, 66 Craigie Rd KA8 0HA (A719 at Ayr racecourse), ☏ , fax: . Great reviews for comfort and service. Main building has the best accommodation; "Courtyard" rooms are modern but ordinary. B&B double £200.
- Mercure Ayr Hotel, Dalblair Road KA7 1UG, ☏ . Boxy modern place in town centre with sea views, sauna, fitness centre & indoor heated pool. Good staff but the premises are tatty. B&B double £140.
- Travelodge, Highfield Drive KA8 9SH (off A77 at Whitletts roundabout), ☏ . Basic but decent enough chain hotel. B&B double £75.
- 2 Premier Inn, Wheatpark Place KA8 9RT (off A77 at Whitletts roundabout), ☏ . Normally a reliable chain hotel, but many disappointed guests, noise being the main problem. B&B double £85.
- 3 Enterkine House Hotel, Annbank, Ayrshire KA6 5AL (follow B742 to Mossblown then Annbank.), ☏ . Four-star country house hotel in extensive woodlands, with excellent restaurant. Often hosts weddings in summer. B&B double £120.
As of July 2022, Ayr and its approach roads have 4G with O2 and Vodafone, and 5G with EE and Three.
- Girvan has Turnberry golf course and hotel, and boat trips to Ailsa Craig.
- If you’re not sated with Burns, Dumfries is where he spent his last years.
- Ferries sail to Arran from Ardrossan, to Great Cumbrae from Largs, and to Bute from Wemyss Bay.
- South and east of Glasgow is industrial. The stand-out is New Lanark Industrial Village, a bold 18th-century social venture.
- Belfast is a fascinating city: take the direct bus from Ayr.
|Routes through Ayr|
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