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.
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 and Ayr every 20 minutes, taking one hour.
Trains run to Ayr from Glasgow Central every 15 mins, taking 50-60 mins via Irvine, Troon and Prestwick. Every two hours, this is a through-train from Edinburgh via Motherwell.
Ayr is also on the line between Kilmarnock and Stranraer, with trains every couple of hours.
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 the local bus to Ayr. This is Stagecoach Bus 42, running hourly between Ayr and Cumnock, taking an hour.
1 Ayr railway station is central by the main square.
The best-connected airport is Glasgow (GLA), 6 mi (9.7 km) west of central Glasgow on the M8. This has flights to many UK and European destinations, especially to the Hebridean islands. There are 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.
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.
Ayr is not a ferry port itself, 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 Arran and Ailsa Craig.
The stand-out local attraction is Burns National Heritage Park (see 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 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 Cull-ane) Castle and Dumfries House, listed below.
- 1 Burns National Heritage Park, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 10:00-17:00. 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.
- Burns Cottage Museum (part of Burns Heritage Park), Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway KA7 4PQ (off the B7024 from Ayr), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 10:00-17:00. 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.
- 2 Rozelle Country Park, KA7 4NQ (On the road between Ayr and Alloway). 24 hrs. Mainly for the grounds, but the small mansion is also interesting.
- 3 Bellisle Conservatory is a botanical garden at the south edge of town, open daily 10:00-16:00.
- Greenan Castle is the remains of a tower house teetering on the cliffs west of Belle Isle.
- 4 Culzean Castle, Maybole KA19 8LE (12 mi (19 km) south of Ayr, frequent bus takes 30 min). Apr-Oct daily 10:30-16:30. Magnificent 18th-century mansion designed by Robert Adam, and a park. Adult £17, NT / NTS free.
- 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), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Jul-Aug (plus end of Sept) Su 11:00-16:30. Celebrating "pugs", the stubby 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 four £4.
- 7 Crossraguel Abbey, Kirkoswald KA19 8HQ (On A77; Ayr to Girvan buses run past hourly.). Apr-Sep Su-W 09:30-17:30. A rambling 13th-century ruin. Adult £4.80.
- 8 Dunure Castle is a scenic stump on the coast off the A719 five miles south of Ayr.
- 9 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.
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:
- Gaiety Theatre on Carrick St has regular shows.
- Citadel Leisure Centre, South Harbour Street, KA7 1JB, ☏ . Swimming pool and variety of sports including bowling.
- 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.
- Odeon Cinema in Burns Statue Square by the railway station shows mainstream releases.
- 1 Ayr RFC. They play rugby union at Millbrae, Alloway, in the Scottish Premiership.
- Watch football ie soccer at 2 Ayr United FC, Somerset Park, KA8 9NB (near the racecourse), ☏ . They play in the Scottish Championship, the second tier of Scottish football. £14 adult, £7 concs.
- 3 Ayr Racecourse (northeast edge of town). Has regular flat-race and National Hunt meetings. The Scottish Grand National is held here in April, with the next on Sat 22 April 2020.
- Ayr County Show is held mid-May on the racecourse. The next event is Sat 9 May 2020.
- Ayr’s two shopping centres are the Kyle Centre and 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 email@example.com
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 KA7 1BX, ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-14:30 & 17:00-20:00, Sa 10:00-21:00, Su 10:00-16:00. Good food & ambiance.
- Stage Door Cafe, 12 Carrick St KA7 1NU (next to Gaiety Theatre), ☏ . Daily 10:00-21:00. Reliable good food.
- Splurge at Enterkine House Hotel ten miles east, see “Sleep”.
- 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.
- 1 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.
- Try the products of the Ayr Brewing Company, a micro-brewery producing some 60 casks a week. They don't do tours.
- Madisons Night Club is by Gaiety Theatre on Carrick St. Open Tu-Su 22:00-02:00 but the place is up for sale in Sept 2019.
- Furys Night Club on High St is open W-Su 23:00-02:30.
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 KA8 0HA (A719 at Ayr racecourse), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Main building is best accommodation; "Courtyard" rooms are modern but ordinary. B&B double from £90.
- Travelodge, Highfield Drive KA8 9SH (A77 at Whitletts roundabout), ☏ , fax: . Clean welcoming chain hotel. B&B double £65.
- Mercure Ayr Hotel, Dalblair Road, Ayr KA7 1UG, ☏ . In town centre with sea views, sauna, fitness centre & indoor heated pool. Good staff but the premises are tatty. Double room £80.
- Premier Inn, Wheatpark Place, Ayr KA8 9RT (off A77 near racecourse), ☏ . Good reliable chain hotel. B&B double £75.
- 1 Enterkine House Hotel, Annbank, Ayrshire KA6 5AL (Ten miles east of Ayr; from A77, follow B742 to Mossblown then Annbank.), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. Four-star country house hotel in extensive woodlands, with excellent restaurant. B&B double from £80.
- If you’re not sated with Burns, Dumfries is where he spent his later years.
- South and east of Glasgow are several small towns (Kilmarnock, East Kilbride, Coatbridge, Hamilton, Motherwell and 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 and Chatelherault country park near Hamilton.
- For destinations in Ireland, take the direct bus for Belfast.