Dumfries is the principal town in Dumfries and Galloway in Southwest Scotland. It's a market and former county town straddling the River Nith: Maxwelltown, the area west of the river, was a separate town until merged with Dumfries in 1929. Although it's a burgh of great antiquity, few of the buildings are very old, as invading armies kept wrecking the place. The last such visitor was Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, who demanded money and shoes for his men. But the Duke of Cumberland was marching down on him so he and his Jacobite forces scarpered, none too nimbly as few of the shoes had been handed over.
The poet Robert Burns spent his later life here: from 1788 to 1791 at Ellisland Farm 7 miles north, then in Dumfries until his death in 1796, aged 37. Sites associated with him are the main reason to visit the town, and it's also a good base for exploring the Dumfriesshire countryside. For travellers to & from Ireland who need a stopover, Dumfries may be a better choice than the port of Stranraer.
Scotrail trains run direct between Glasgow Central and Dumfries via Kilmarnock and Sanquhar, taking just under two hours. They run every couple of hours M-Sat but only two on Sundays. From England, change at Carlisle; this is also a route from Glasgow that's almost as quick as the direct train.
A74(M) is the main Carlisle-Glasgow highway, to the east of Dumfries. From Carlisle take A75 past Annan to Dumfries; this continues west to Castle Douglas and Stranraer. From Glasgow or Edinburgh leave A74(M) at Beattock for A701.
A76 runs up the Nith Valley from Dumfries via Sanquhar and Cumnock to Kilmarnock, for routes to Glasgow and the Ayrshire coast.
By bike: Dumfries is a stopping point on National Cycle Route 7, with another route heading north via Ae Forest.
Stagecoach Cumbria Bus 79 runs from Carlisle via Longtown, Gretna, Annan and Ruthwell to Dumfries, hourly M-Sat and every two hours Sunday.
Stagecoach Bus X74 runs from Glasgow via Hamilton, Lesmahagow and Moffat to Dumfries, hourly M-Sat and every two hours Sunday.
Stagecoach West Scotland Bus 500 runs from Stranraer via Glenluce, Newton Stewart and Castle Douglas to Dumfries, M-Sat every couple of hours and Sun every four hours. It doesn't serve the ferry ports at Cairnryan.
There's just one direct bus per day from Edinburgh, Stagecoach West Scotland Bus 102 via West Linton, Biggar, Abington, Elvanfoot and Auldgirth. This runs north from Dumfries around 09:00 M-Sat and returns south from Edinburgh around 17:00, no Sunday service. Otherwise take X95 between Edinburgh and Carlisle then change for Bus 79.
National Express / Ulsterbus 920 runs overnight from London Victoria via Luton airport, Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester airport and city, Preston, Carlisle, Dumfries, Castle Douglas, Newton Stewart, Stranraer, Cairnryan then by Stena ferry to Belfast.
Houstons Bus 372 runs south from Dumfries along A710, via New Abbey (for Sweetheart Abbey), Ingleston Ford Farm (start of the climb up Criffel), Kirkbean (turnoff for John Paul Jones birthplace), to Sandyhills which has a deer park. It runs hourly M-Sat, but only three times on Sunday.
DGC & Stagecoach Bus 6A runs south from Dumfries along B725 via Kingholm Quay to Caerlaverock Castle then loops back. Buses run every 3 hours M-Sat, no Sunday service. Three hours is longer than you need for the castle, so you could tramp along the road for an hour either north to Kingholm Quay or east to Ruthwell, both of which have more frequent buses back to Dumfries.
DGC Bus 213 runs north from Dumfries along A76 via Auldgirth (for Portrack Garden and Ellisland Farm) to Thornhill, 3 miles south of Drumlarig Castle. It runs M-F every hour or two, no weekend service. One bus a day continues north to Sanquhar and Kirkconnel.
In & around town
- Robert Burn's House, Burns Street DG1 2PS. Tu-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 14:00-17:00. Small museum in the house where he spent his last five years. Free.
- Other Burns sites to be found within town are the statues to him and his wife Jean Armour (1765-1834), and his mausoleum in St Michael's graveyard.
- Devorgilla Bridge is a 15th C sandstone footbridge over the River Nith. On the west bank the Old Bridge House, built 1660, is now a small free museum open Apr-Sept M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 14:00-17:00.
- Dumfries Museum, Observatory, Rotchell Rd DG2 7SW (corner of Church St west of river). Apr-Sept M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 14:00-17:00; Oct-Mar Tu-Sa 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00. History museum with local exhibits. The camera obscura, up a spiral staircase on the top floor of an old windmill tower, is open Apr-Sept. Museum free, camera obscura adult £3.40.
- Aviation Museum is a collection of military aircraft and equipment on a former RAF base that's nowadays Heathhall Industrial Estate north of the A75 bypass. It's open Jul-Aug W-F 10:00-16:00, Sa Su 10:00-17:00; Mar-Jun & Sept-Oct W 10:00-16:00, Sa Su 10:00-17:00; Nov-Feb Sat 10:00-16:00. Adults £6.
South of town
- 1 Sweetheart Abbey, New Abbey DG2 8BU (On A710 eight miles south of Dumfries, west of the river). Apr-Sept daily 09:30-17:30, Oct-Mar Sa-W 10:00-16:00. This is the remains of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1275 (hence the nearby village is called "New Abbey"; the old abbey was Dundrennan to the west near Kirkcudbright). It was founded by Devorguilla in memory of her husband John de Balliol, and she also endowed the Oxford college named for him. She carried his embalmed heart around everywhere in a casket of ivory and silver, until it was buried with her here, though the grave is now lost. The abbey is west of the river and there's no bridge below Dumfries, so reaching nearby Caerlaverock on the east bank means back-tracking. Adult £4.
- The Birthplace of John Paul Jones, naval hero to the US but pirate to the English, is at Abigland another 5 miles south on A710. It's a humble cottage with a small museum, open Apr-Sept daily 10:30-17:00, adults £4.50.
- 2 Caerlaverock Castle, Glencaple DG1 4RU (7 miles south of Dumfries on B725, east of river). Daily Apr-Sept 09:30-17:30, Oct-Mar 10:00-16:00 Summer 2020 - grounds open (free), castle expected to open in Aug/Sep. Impressive twin-towered triangular castle surrounded by a water filled moat. Built mid 13th C and wrecked and rebuilt until 1640 when it was abandoned. It's scenic and often used as a film location. Adult £6.
- South of Caerlaverock are the wetlands of the Nith estuary, a National Nature Reserve.
- Going west towards Annan, visit Brow Well an ancient spa (where Burns came in his last days in hopes of a cure), and Ruthwell Cross a remarkable 8th C high cross with Latin, Anglo-Saxon and Runic inscriptions.
North of town
- Portrack Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a wacky garden and sculpture park inspired by science: quarks, fractals, and black-hole distortions of space-time, insofar as it's possible to re-create these in rural Dumfriesshire. It's privately owned and only open one day a year as part of the Scotland's Gardens scheme, usually the Sunday of the first May Bank Holiday. For 2019 that was Sun 5 May, 11:00-17:00. Adults £10, children free. It's at Holywood DG2 0RW five miles north of Dumfries off A76. Take bus 246 from Whitesands in Dumfries. Best to take a taxi on the way back if you don't have access to a car, or plan ahead for the infrequent bus service.
- 3 Ellisland Farm (7 miles north of town along A76). M-Sa 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00, Su 14:00-17:00; Oct-Mar closed Su M. This was Burns' last spell of farming for a living, but poetically his most productive period. It's a cattle and sheep-raising farm on the banks of the Nith. Adult £5, conc £4.
- 4 Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill DG3 4AQ (17 miles north of Dumfries off A76), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Castle daily July-Aug (& occ May w/e) 10:00-17:00; gardens daily Apr-Sept. Impressive 17th C Renaissance "pink palace", interior by guided tour only, with 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers. Houses the Buccleuch collection of artwork, furniture and silver. Set in extensive gardens and estate with various activities for adults & children (think zip-wires). The Galloway Country Fair is held here in July each year. Adult £12, conc £10, child £6.
- Morton Castle is a jagged stump two miles east of Drumlanrig. Not much left of this remote 13th C Hall-House, the fun is in trying to find it, then having it to yourself. At Carronbridge leave A76 for A702 and take the second right. Always open, free.
- 5 Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall is one of Scotland's finest, a 60 m cascade in the Moffat hills. The walk to it continues up past the falls and to beautiful Loch Skeen, ringed by craggy hillsides. It's on A708 about 30 miles and an hour's drive from Dumfries.
- The Ice Bowl includes a skating rink and bowling facilities, swimming pool and sports/exhibition hall "DG One".
- The council-run Robert Burns Film Theatre.
- Galleries are Ottersburn Gallery near the old swimming pool, and the Gracefield Arts Centre on the Edinburgh Road.
- Theatre Royal on Shakespeare St claims to be the oldest working theatre in Scotland.
- Watch football ie soccer at Queen of the South FC, who play in the Championship, the second tier of Scottish football. Their home ground is Palmerston Park, capacity 8690, off Terregles St west of the river.
- Dock Park, east bank of the river below St Michael's Bridge A756, is a park and play area with mini-golf, trampolines and cafe.
- 1 Mabie Farm Park, Burnside Farm, Mabie, Dumfries DG2 8EZ (5 miles south of Dumfries on A710), ☏ . March-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. A good kids entertainment place with rides, slides and animals. Day ticket £8.
- Mountain biking at Seven Stanes course at Mabie Forest (south on A710), with another course at Ae Forest.
- Climb Criffel, 10 miles south of Dumfries off A710. It's 1870 ft / 570 m, so it's not a Munro, it's a Marilyn, but because it rears up in isolation from a low plain, it looks higher and commands all-round views. The usual route is from Ardwall by Loch Kindar: there's parking up the lane. It's a short steep ascent through forest, becoming boggy on the summit heathland, reckon 3 hours there and back.
- Dumfries Agricultural Show is held in early August at the Show Field, Park Farm DG2 7LU. The next event is Sat 1 Aug 2020.
Loreburne Shopping Centre is the main retail mall. Barbour's department store, the town's oldest shop, is still going strong in its impressive sandstone building on Buccleuch Street.
There is a (rather shabby) Saturday market in the town centre, with stalls offering food, clothes, curios and other goods.
- 1 Casa Mia, 53 Nunholm Road, ☏ . Daily 12:00-14:00 & 17:00-21:00. Modern European Cuisine
- 2 Pizzeria Il Fiume, Dock Park DG1 2RY, ☏ . Daily 17:00-22:00. Italian Mains £10-20.
- 3 Drummuir Farm Ice Cream, Drummuir Farm, Clarencefield Road, Collin DG1 4PX (Off B724 west of Dumfries), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa-Th 10:30-17:30, F 10:30-20:00. Serves a range of home-made ice creams, hand-made with milk from their own herd of dairy cows.
- Frothy Bike Co, 77-79 Whitesands, ☏ , ✉ ROSS@THEFROTHYBIKECO.COM. Everyday 7:00 to 18:00. A newer bike store cafe near the Whitestands bus stop, facing the river. Worth a visit for the coffee and breakfast. Try the scrambled eggs and salmon on toast.
- Robert the Bruce is a JD Wetherspoons at 81 Buccleuch Street (corner with Castle Street)
- Cavens Arms at 20 Buccleuch St makes their own ales and serves very decent pub classics.
- Globe Inn at 56 High Street is a traditional flagstone pub that Burns declared as "his favourite Howff", so raise a glass to Scotland's Bard here. Open 10:00-23:00, F Sa to 01:00, but on Burns Night and similar big occasions it's usually booked out for private events.
- Others in the centre include The White Hart Hotel on Brewery St, Slipstream and Dickie's on English St, New Bazaar on White Sands, Hole in the Wall on High St, The Stag on Bank St, and the Flesher's Arms on Loreburn St.
- Out of town: 1 The Steamboat Inn, Carsethorn DG2 8DS (12 miles south of Dumfries off A710), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 12:00-23:00. Nice inn on the coast with views over the Nith estuary, real ales and good food. Slick service, dog-friendly.
- Nightclubs: The Venue at Church Place has live events. Chancers on Munches St aims for an older crowd.
- Cairndale Hotel is a 3-star on English St.
- Huntingdon House is a 3-star at 18 St Mary's St near the railway station.
- Dumfries Villa, 33 Lovers Walk DG1 1LR, ☏ . 3-star B&B in Victorian town house. 5 rooms all en suite. B&B double from £70.
- Premier Inn and Travelodge motels are both east edge of town, junction of A780 and A75 bypass.
- 1 Cavens Country House Hotel, Kirkbean DG2 8AA (Off A710 ten miles south of town), ☏ . Upscale hotel in 1752 merchant's mansion, some rooms accept dogs. B&B double from £80.
- 2 Closeburn Castle is a tower house, probably 14th C, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the country. It's available for self-catering, sleeping six in two double rooms and one suite; it's off A76 ten miles north of Dumfries. Don't gripe at the lack of a lift: until 1748 there were no stairs, and people had to shin up a ladder.
- Trigony House is a pleasant country house hotel on the main road near Closeburn.
- Sanquhar is miles north up the A76, but if you're going that way you might splurge at Blackaddie House, B&B double £200 in 2020.
Safety is not usually a problem in Dumfries, despite occasional concern about the scale of its hard drug problem. Generally crime is rare and most likely to occur after something like leaving valuables in view in a car. Walking down the streets is seldom dangerous, even though there are less pleasant areas. Violence that occurs will tend to be unrelated to anything concerning tourists, but the Rangers-Celtic rivalry can have some impact in the town.
- The Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead, Scotland's highest village, in the Lowther Hills.
- Take the old road to Annan via Ruthwell for its 6th C High Cross and chalybeate Brow Well.
- For more Robert Burns memorabilia, head to his birthplace at Alloway just south of Ayr.
- The mountains seen to the south are the English Lake District. It's scenic but will feel very touristy after Dumfries & Galloway.