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, eg 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.
By road 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.
By rail: 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.
By air the best-connected airport is Glasgow GLA, 6 miles 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 PIK is just 4 miles 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 USAF 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.
By sea: 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 mins), 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.
The stand-out local attraction is the village of Alloway 3 miles 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. Tam’s ribald shout to her is the biggest mistake of his prattish life, and it may well be his last . . .
The Alloway sights are known collectively as Burns National Heritage Park. They comprise the cottage where he was born, the Auld Kirk (that spooky 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 parking lot: summer here can be very congested.
- Burns Cottage Museum (part of Burns Heritage Park), Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway KA7 4PQ (off the B7024 from Ayr), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 10-5 pm daily. thatched cottage where Burns was born, and lived until he was 7, plus adjacent museum. A short walk brings you to the Auld Kirk, Mausoleum & Brig (free access) adults £9, NTS 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.
On the road between Ayr and Alloway, see also Rozelle country park (KA7 4NQ) - mainly for the grounds, but the small mansion is also interesting.
In the town of Ayr itself, 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, chose Arran.) Behind, less distinctly, are the hills of the Argyll peninsula – it would be a 120+ mile 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 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 Culzean Castle (12 miles south of Ayr, frequent bus takes 30 mins). 10.30-5 pm daily April-Oct, 11-4 pm Sat & Sun only Nov-March. magnificent 18th century mansion designed by Robert Adam. Plus park.
- 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, Sat & Sun in winter. 18th C Palladian mansion with extensive collection of Chippendale furniture, plus grounds. adults £9 for highlights, £13 for Grand Tour.
- Scottish Industrial Railway Centre (Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group), Dunaskin, Patna KA6 7JF (12 miles south-east of Ayr on A713 towards Dalmellington), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. closed for winter; 2017 open days not yet posted. various small steam locos, mostly standard gauge, some colliery narrow-gauge
- In Kirkoswald see Crossraguel Abbey, a rambling 13th C ruin. The Ayr to Girvan buses run past it hourly Mon-Sat.
- The Scottish Air Show is held at Prestwick Airport, next show is 2-3 September 2017.
The big sport here is golf. Troon, 7 miles north, has the Royal Troon golf course, plus Dundonald Castle. Turnberry golf course and resort is 10 miles south of Ayr.
Ayr United play football at Somerset Park, KA8 9NB near the racecourse. They currently play in the Scottish Championship, having gained promotion from the First Division in 2016 – see club website for fixtures.
Ayr RFC play rugby union at Millbrae, Alloway. They currently play in the Scottish Premiership.
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.
Entertainment & leisure facilities in town include:
- The Citadel leisure centre, S Harbour St KA7 1JB, pool and variety of sports including bowling
- Bannatyne Health Club, Highfield Drive KA8 9SH, fitness and leisure centre at Whitletts roundabout.
- Odeon Cinema is in Burns Statue Square KA7 1UP
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. Decent eats at (amongst others) Macfarlane Bistro (92 Sandygate, KA7 1BX) and Stage Door Cafe (12 Carrick St KA7 1NU). Alas, Fouters Bistro has gone out of business. The outstanding restaurant is ten 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 active 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&B's 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: email@example.com. 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 (Ten miles from Ayr: 5 miles off A77, follow B742 to Mossblown then Annbank), ☎ . Check-in: 2.00pm, check-out: 11am. four star country house hotel situated in 350 acres 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.