Ayr is a town in Ayrshire, in South West Scotland. Its chief attraction for visitors is the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of Robert Burns. Ayr is also a good base for exploring South West Scotland, e.g. Culzean Castle, and for reaching the islands of Arran and Great Cumbrae.
Ayr is on the main road and rail route between Glasgow and Stranraer, the ferry port for Belfast. Reaching Ayr from England by public transport will usually involve travelling via Glasgow.
With your own car from Glasgow follow A77. From England take M6 then A75 to Dumfries, A76 to Cumnock, then A71 into Ayr. The X77 bus runs between Glasgow Buchanan Street and Ayr every 20 minutes, taking one hour.
There is a train to Glasgow Central every 15 mins, 1 hour. Every two hours, this train continues to Edinburgh, and there are frequent other connections from Glasgow Central. These all take a slower route, via Motherwell and Carstairs, but are usually more convenient than changing stations in Glasgow for the fast trains from Queen Street.
The best-connected airport is Glasgow (GLA), 6 mi (9.7 km) west of central Glasgow on the M8. Flights to many UK and European destinations, and several of the Hebridean Isles have flights only to GLA. Regular direct flights to Canada (all those emigrant cousins to visit) but other long-haul destinations will usually involve changing planes in London or Amsterdam. There is a pre-bookable shuttle bus to GLA from Ayr, otherwise travel via central Glasgow.
For better long-haul options, head for Manchester (MAN) or the London airports.
Prestwick Airport (PIK) is 4 mi (6.4 km) from the centre of Ayr, but only has Ryanair flights to holiday destinations such as Barcelona and Tenerife; nothing within the UK. The Ayr – Glasgow trains call here, as does the X77 bus. Or take a taxi from town centre, or you could even walk. Prestwick airport’s main role has long been as a staging post for transatlantic military aircraft. That’s how it came to be the only place in Britain where Elvis Presley ever set foot (at least in his earthly form), as he returned home in 1960 from US Air Force service in Germany. Foreign VIPs sometimes land here for the same reason, and that big runway means there are proposals for Prestwick becoming Europe’s “space port”. This is expected to come into operation about the same time that Elvis next turns up for open-mike night in an Ayrshire pub.
Ayr is not itself a ferry port, but if your sailing times allow, it’s a pleasanter place to stop over than Ardrossan (for Arran) or Stranraer/Cairnryan (for Belfast). The Glasgow – Cairnryan – Belfast bus calls at Ayr three times a day for pre-booked passengers only: note that the Belfast ferry now sails from Cairnryan not Stranraer harbour.
Bus 57 runs hourly to Alloway (ten min), and Ayr is a transport hub for the other villages and small towns of Ayrshire.
The area is lowland in nature and well-suited to cycling.
In the town of Ayr, the main sights are the Auld Kirk where Burns was baptised, the old river bridge commemorated in his poem Twa Brigs, and St Johns Tower: yes, Mary Queen of Scots slept here; where didn’t she? Oliver Cromwell built a stout wall around the town, which here and there survives.
There’s a beach and promenade with a grand view over the islands of the Firth of Clyde. Centre-stage is the Isle of Arran, with Goat Fell its highest point. (If you only ever manage to see one Scottish island, choose Arran.) Behind, less distinctly, are the hills of the Argyll peninsula – it would be more than a 120 mi (190 km) drive to get round there, though you can hopscotch via Arran. To the north, the Isle of Bute is in view, but it’s low-lying and merges into the Cowan hills behind. To the south, there’s no mistaking Ailsa Craig rearing up from the sea. It’s an uninhabited bird sanctuary with no ferry service, but occasional boat trips go from Girvan.
The stand-out local attraction is Burns National Heritage Park (listed below) in the village of Alloway 3 mi (4.8 km) south, where Robert Burns was born on 25 Jan 1759. 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 his other works, essential pre-reading is Tam O’Shanter (and you’ll need a Lallans glossary to translate the dialect.) On a dark dreary night, Tam is 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.
The Heritage Park comprises the museum, the cottage where Burns was born, the Auld Kirk (that spooky derelict old church), the Burns Monument and Gardens, and the ancient bridge Brig o’Doon. You'll know you're there when you see lots of coaches in the parking lot: summer in Alloway can be very congested.
The main attractions beyond Ayr & Alloway are the great mansions of Culzean (say Cul-ane) Castle and Dumfries House, listed below. Another island to visit is Great Cumbrae - it’s such a short, frequent ferry ride from Largs, and a couple of hours there will frankly be enough – that a day-trip from Ayr will do it fine.
- 1 Burns National Heritage Park, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 10AM-5PM daily. Start your visit at the museum itself then explore the adjacent cottage; these are the only ticketed areas. Free access to the Monument, Kirk and Brig. Adults £9, NTS & NT members free.
- 2 Burns Cottage Museum (part of Burns Heritage Park), Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway KA7 4PQ (off the B7024 from Ayr), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM-5PM daily. Thatched cottage where Burns was born, and lived until he was 7, plus adjacent museum. Adults £9, NTS & NT members free.
When Burns was 7, the family outgrew the cottage, and they tried to make a living on a series of nearby farms: at Mount Oliphant, Tarbolton, Mauchline and Maybole. Not much to see there except a few plaques, and graves of his family, drinking cronies, and lovers. Burns moved to Edinburgh but couldn’t afford it (so no change there, then) and spent his later years in Dumfries.
- 3 Rozelle Country Park, KA7 4NQ (On the road between Ayr and Alloway). Mainly for the grounds, but the small mansion is also interesting.
- 4 Culzean Castle (12 mi (19 km) south of Ayr, frequent bus takes 30 min). Apr-Oct: daily 10:30AM-5PM; Nov-Mar: Sa Su 11AM-4PM. Magnificent 18th-century mansion designed by Robert Adam, and a park.
- 5 Dumfries House (The Great Steward of Scotland’s Mansion Trust), Cumnock KA18 2NJ (off A70 near its jcn with A76), ☎ (to book tours). By booked tour only, daily in summer, Sa & Su in winter. 18th-century Palladian mansion with extensive collection of Chippendale furniture, and grounds. adults £9 for highlights, £13 for Grand Tour.
- 6 Scottish Industrial Railway Centre (Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group), Dunaskin, Patna KA6 7JF (12 mi (19 km) south-east of Ayr on A713 towards Dalmellington), e-mail: email@example.com. Jul-Aug: Su 11AM-4:30PM, also last Sunday in Sept. Celebrating "pugs", the small steam and diesel locomotives that for decades chugged up & down factories and collieries. And you can even have one pull you along in the brake van. (No, not very far.) Adults £6, children over 4 £4.
- 7 Crossraguel Abbey (in Kirkoswald the Ayr to Girvan buses run past it hourly Mon-Sat.). Apr-Sep: M-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM. A rambling 13th-century ruin.
- 8 Electric Brae (on the A719 south of Ayr, between Dunure and Croy Brae). An optical illusion whereby a car going "uphill" can glide in neutral, since it's actually going downhill. However these days many motorists may not notice it.
The big sport here is golf. Troon, 7 mi (11 km) north, has the Royal Troon golf course, and Dundonald Castle. Turnberry golf course and resort is 10 mi (16 km) miles south of Ayr.
Entertainment & leisure facilities in town include:
- Citadel Leisure Centre, South Harbour Street, KA7 1JB, ☎ . Swimming pool and variety of sports including bowling.
- Bannatyne Health Club, 1 Highfield Drive, KA8 9SH, ☎ . Fitness and leisure centre at Whitletts roundabout.
- Odeon Cinema, Burns Statue Square, KA7 1UP.
- 1 Ayr RFC. Play rugby union at Millbrae, Alloway. They play in the Scottish Premiership.
- 2 Ayr United Football Club, Somerset Park, KA8 9NB (near the racecourse), ☎ . They play in the Scottish First Division, having being relegated in 2017 after a single season in the Championship. See club website for fixtures. £14. £7 for seniors students, unemployed, people with disabilities (carers free).
- 3 Ayr Racecourse (on the south edge of town). Has regular flat-race and National Hunt meetings, and the Scottish Grand National is held here each April.
Ayr’s two shopping centres are the Kyle Centre and Ayr Central.
Ayr has the usual selection of eat-in and carry-out places with fast food, Indian, Chinese, fish & chips, and of course haggis.
- Macfarlane Bistro, 92 Sandygate.
- Stage Door Cafe, 12 Carrick St.
The outstanding restaurant is 10 mi (16 km) miles away at Enterkine House Hotel, see “sleep” listing.
Ayr has lots of bars, mostly around the bus station. Agreeable pubs include Tam O’Shanter at 230 High St and Rabbie's Bar in Burns Statue Square. Look out for products of the Ayr Brewing Company, a small brewery brewing since 2009.
Night clubs in Ayr include Club de Mar (KA7 1QH), Madisons (KA7 1NS) and Furys (KA7 1PX), all very central.
There are many B&Bs situated in and around Ayr and several chain hotels. Small family-run hotels are mostly near towards the racecourse. There's not much in Alloway.
- Western House Hotel, 2 -6 Whitletts Road, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Located at Ayr Racecourse. Approx. £110.
- Travelodge, Highfield Drive KA8 9SH (Whitletts roundabout), ☎ , fax: .
- Mercure Ayr Hotel, Dalblair Road, Ayr KA7 1UG, ☎ . In town centre with sea views, includes sauna, fitness centre & indoor heated pool.
- Premier Inn, Wheatpark Place, Ayr KA8 9RT (off A77 near racecourse), ☎ .
- 1 Enterkine House Hotel, by Annbank. Ayrshire KA6 5AL (10 mi (16 km) miles from Ayr: 5 miles off A77, follow B742 to Mossblown then Annbank), ☎ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. Four-star country house hotel situated in 350 acres (140 hectares) of woodland estate. Award winning food by Paul Moffat and team from £100.
If you’re not sated with Burns, Dumfries is where he spent his later years. Take bus 42 or 43 from Ayr to Auchinleck (the railway station for Cumnock) then the direct train.
Ferries to the islands in the Firth of Clyde are operated by Calmac, see their website for times and fares. Both Arran and Glasgow are within range of a day-trip from Ayr, but you’d miss the essence of them, stay longer. The must-see destination in Scotland is Edinburgh. With your own car, reach it by the scenic A70 rather than pelting down the motorway.
South and east of Glasgow are several small towns (Kilmarnock, East Kilbride, Coatbridge, Hamilton, Motherwell, Lanark) that most travellers pass by. And so should you. If however you can't avoid them, because your Great Aunt Morag would be most upset if you didn't visit her, don't despair, there are several things worth seeing. These include New Lanark Industrial Village (ML11 9DB), David Livingstone's birthplace at Blantyre (G72 9BY) and Chatelherault country park (ML3 7UE).
To counterbalance the famous national poet, visit rejuvenated Dundee home of the infamous national poet, William "Topaz" McGonagall.
For destinations in Ireland, take the direct bus for Belfast.