Dumfries is the principal town in Dumfries and Galloway. A more traditional administrative status is principal town of Dumfriesshire, but this changed in 1974. Further back, it was two towns, Dumfries and Maxwelltown; this changed in 1929 for administrative purposes, although the name is still sometimes used to describe the area west of the River Nith. Maxwelltown was not part of Dumfriesshire, so the two towns were then quite separate. In 1997, the town was deemed "best place to live in Britain", an accolade still sometimes used in describing the town.
Dumfries is linked by the A75, A701 and A709 to the M74 north-south route, the A76 to the Nith Valley and the continuing A75 to the west of the region. All these roads are reasonably good, although they can be busy and dangerous at times, and drivers should expect to find themselves in rolling queues at busy times. Travel times are usually quoted as 90 minutes to Glasgow and 45 to Carlisle by road.
Scotrail run a sparse service (a train every 2-hours in each direction and less on Sundays) from Glasgow Central to Carlisle via Kilmarnock that calls at Dumfries. Some trains carry onto to Newcastle upon Tyne via Hexham. Trains take just short of 2-hours to Glasgow and 35-40-minutes to Carlisle.
For more adventurous travellers, the town forms a key stopping point on National Cycle Route 7, with another route heading north via Ae Forest.
Dumfries is small enough for most tourist destinations within the town to be reachable on foot. Buses run from three points in the town centre - the Loreburn (shopping) Centre, Great King Street and Burns' Statue - to most parts of the town and surroundings, with longer-distance services leaving from the Whitesands. Traffic and parking are sometimes problems in the town, although not any more than in many others. Parking discs are required in most parking on and off-street, with the exceptions of parts of the Brooms Road, Whitesands, Newall Terrace car parks and the whole of that on Burns Street. A few taxi firms operate, offering a fairly inexpensive way of getting around given the short distances within the town.
- Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall (on A708 North east of Moffat). The Grey Mare's Tail is one of Scotland's finest waterfalls, a magnificent 60m cascade in the Moffat hills. This walk climbs past the falls and continues up to beautiful Loch Skeen, ringed by craggy hillsides.
It is at least 30-miles and an hours drive from Dumfries
- Caerlaverock Castle (11 km South of Dumfries). Daily 9.30am to 4.30pm (5.30 in summer). Impressive medieval castle surrounded by a water filled moat. Occupied from 11th century to 1640. The castle was partially destroyed in 1640, but much remains. £5.50.
- Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway, DG3 4AQ (About 17-miles north of Dumfries off A76 Kilmarnock road.), ☎ +44 1848 331555, e-mail: email@example.com. Drumlanrig Castle provides a variety of activities cultural, fun for kids to salmon fishing, mountain biking and walking. The Castle has 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers and guided tours are available from Easter until October. You will discover family portraits by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, landscapes by Paul Sandby and the Dutch masters, and cartoons by Rowlandson amid the finest furnishing and antiques. The 90,000 acre Estate boasts miles of beautiful walks and acres of gardens. Launch yourself down one of our championship mountain biking trails, or hook yourself a salmon, fishing on the river. Activities for kids include everything from the adventure playground to ranger-led wildlife walks and a host of events. The Castle is the stunning Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry. It is also the venue for the Dumfries and Galloway Country Show in July each year.
Dumfries's main claim to fame is as the last residence of the Scottish national poet Robert Burns, and there are various sites around the town ranging including a museum in his house, his grave, the nearby Brow Well that he drank from whilst ill, Ellisland Farm, where he worked for some time, and a few sites noted for having been frequented by him. Other attractions include the (free, but seasonal) Bridge House Museum and the Camera Obscura museum, which features various historical artefacts as well as the chance to view the surrounding area using that instrument. There is also the Ice Bowl, which includes a skating rink and bowling facilities, and, after some delay, the swimming pool and sports/exhibition hall "DG One"[www.dgone.co.uk]. As well as well and dry exercise opportunities, it has also hosted both Roy Chubby Brown and the Scottish Ballet in its short history. There are also two cinemas, both single screen: the Odeon, near DG one, which is often insulted by locals but is probably no worse than anywhere else, and the council run Robert Burns Film Theatre, which recently begin to describe itself as an “art house” and plays a mix of films, including some independent ones and major but slightly post-release ones. There is also the Ottersburn Gallery, near the old swimming pool and the Gracefield Arts Centre, on the Edinburgh Road.
Dumfries is also home to the oldest working theatre in Scotland. Situated on Shakespeare Street, a short walk from the Odeon cinema, the Theatre Royal hosts a variety of shows throughout the year, featuring both travelling companies and the Dumfries' own Guild of Players.
- Mabie Farm Park, Burnside Farm, Mabie, Dumfries, DG2 8EZ (From Dumfries follow the “Solway Coast” road (A710), taking you towards New Abbey), ☎ +44 1387 259666. A good kids entertainment place with rides, slides and animals.
- Dock Park, Dock Park, Dumfries (On east side of the River Nith access off A756). The Dock Park reopened in April 2014 with new play park and major improvements to existing facilities such as the band stand. There is also a mini golf and trampolines. The Café in the park is open from 10.30am to 5.00pm on weekdays and from 10.30am to 4.00pm on weekends.
Once a thriving market town, Dumfries has gained a reputation in recent years for lacking shops, with many empty windows at different times, and at one time many of the shops that did open were at the lower end of the market, such as one-pound and charity shops. This is often attributed to Carlisle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Metro Centre providing alternatives for shopping trips, as well as the wider issue of Tesco's prominence. Dumfries was also second to Exeter among those most criticised in a New Economics Foundation report on "clone towns", with the shops that do exist often being the same as everywhere else. However, this picture is not really accurate, with the Loreburne Shopping Centre now having very few empty units, and numerous independent shops just off High Street on English Street, Queensberry Street, and to a lesser extent Friar's Vennel, which has some independent and bargain shops, but also some covered with quaint illustrations on boards to avoid seeming derelict. The street was recently resurfaced as a way of combating its dingy reputation.
Also notable is the Barbour's department store, the town's oldest shop, an impressive sandstone building on Buccleuch Street. Dumfries has about a dozen charity shops, almost all in the town centre area. Electrical and DIY stores have gravitated towards two retail parks, located on the A76 (Glasgow Road), one of which also includes the large Tesco Extra store; there is also a third on the A709 (Lockerbie Road) containing cheaper shops such as Matalan, and this is also the site of the third Tesco for the town.
There is a Saturday market in the town centre, with stalls offering food, clothes, curios and other goods. During Summer months, car boot sales often take place on Sundays at Park Farm. Dumfries also has two auction venues, Dumfries Auction Hall near the town centre in Irish Street, and Thomson and Roddick which provides antique and other specialist sales in addition to their fortnightly general sales at Lochside Industrial Estate on the outskirts of the town. An empty High Street shop sometimes hosts pop-up charity shops which open for a few days.
This list is not exhaustive, and as elsewhere restaurants can close and open from time to time, but some of the most notable ones in the town include : -
- Casa Mia, 53 Nunholm Road, ☎ +44 1387 269619. 12.00 - 14:00 & 17:00 until late. Modern European Cuisine
- Jewel in the Crown, 48-50 St Michael St, ☎ +44 1387 264183. Indian Cuisine
- Hullabaloo, Mill Road, ☎ +44 1387 259679. Hullabaloo is situated alongside the Nith River to the west in the Robert Burns Centre.
- Drummuir Farm Ice Cream, Drummuir Farm, Clarencefield Road, Collin (Off B724 to the west of Dumfries), ☎ +44 1387 750599, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Established in 1991 it serves a range of home-made ice creams, hand-made in with milk from their own herd of dairy cows.
Not only for the kids!
- Lucky Star, 43-45 English Street, DG1 2BU, ☎ +44 1387 253655. Chinese
- Pizzeria Il Fiume, Dock Park, DG1 2RY, ☎ +44 1387 265154. Italian 3 courses £12 5pm - 6.30pm; Mains £10-20.
Dumfries has a reputation for having many pubs of various sorts, partly due to its status as a hub for the surrounding region. The most prominent is the Robert the Bruce, part of the Wetherspoons chain, in a former church building on the corner of Buccleuch Street and Castle Street (north of High Street), and named after the king who slew his opponent The Red Comyn at a now destroyed church nearby. Like Tesco, its arrival concerned independent rivals, and there have been a limited number of closures since then, including Mulligan's and Souter Johnny's. Others in the centre include Baker Street, the White Hart (pub/club/venue), The Yard (late night pub with music), Dink's (music bar), Ma-Donnas (lively bar/bistro), Slipstream, The New Bazaar, The Globe, The Hole i' the Wa' (which hosts live bands on Saturdays and nightly karaoke), The Stag, Dickie's and the Flesher's Arms. As well as those mentioned above, Dumfries has three venues clearly in the nightclub category:
- Jumpin' Jak's, part of a national chain. This has one large room and a wide selection of music. Generally friendly and good atmosphere with crowd members welcomed to dance on stage. This replaced the slightly seedy Junction with a gap between closing and opening in 2002.
- The Venue. Founded as The Loft then closed and re-invented after a drug-related closure, this was at one time the definitive nightspot in Dumfries for young people (often suspiciously young) but has come under pressure from Jak's, and moved into live events to maintain a distinct image. On weekend nights, it still provides strong competition for its corporate neighbour, with two rooms, one with dance music and the other covering pop, rock, hip-hop and anything else.
- Chancers. This is the longest-established of the three, and aims for an older crowd. Split into two rooms and open all nights of the week.
- The Steamboat Inn, Carsethorn, Dumfries, DG2 8DS (Off the A710 about 12-miles south of Dumfries), ☎ +44 1387 880631, e-mail: email@example.com. Nice inn on the coast with views over the Nith Estuary, real ales and good food
Some of Dumfries's longer-established hotels are no more, including the County, now Waterstone’s bookshop. The smartest and biggest hotel is the Cairndale, although it only gets a 3-star rating. B+Bs and rooms above some pubs are common around the town, as well as some hotels including the Huntingdon House and Birkhill on the A709 slightly out of the centre. On the edge of town there are two motels, Travel Inn and Travel Lodge, both close by near the split between bypass and non-bypass traffic on the east of town. Further out of town, there are a few country house hotels and camp/caravan sites.
- Dumfries Villa Bed and Breakfast, 33 Lovers Walk, DG1 1LR, ☎ +44 1387 248609. A lovely homely victorian town house offering B & B accommodation in Dumfries town Centre and near to Dumfries Railway Station. We provide a "home from home" atmosphere for all our guests. 5 Large spacious accommodation rooms available, with full facilities and decorated to the highest standard.
- Torbay Lodge Guest House, 31 Lovers Walk, ☎ +44 1387 253922. Our 4 star bed and breakfast Dumfries offers the convenience of ample off-road parking and is ideally situated, being less than a five minute walk to Dumfries shopping centre. We are situated within the quiet conservation area of Dumfries town centre town near other bed and breakfasts in Dumfries and only 150 yards from Dumfries railway station (no train traffic can be heard within the guest house).
- Queensbury Hotel (Above John Smiths Pub), 12 English Street (Near Boots the chemist, town centre), ☎ +44 1387 739913. Small hotel consisting of 15 recently renovated rooms above the John Smiths Pub. There is a complimentary continental breakfast and free Wifi access in the bar downstairs. £40 per night (with a Smith & Jones card).
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.
Most of the Dumfries and Galloway area is rural and seen as a getaway rather than being full of tourist attractions. Nonetheless, there are various sights around the region, including:
- Cream o' Galloway ice cream centre, to the west.
- Seven Stanes set of mountain bike courses set around Dumfries & Galloway, the closest to Dumfries being Mabie Forest, with Ae Forest not far away either.
- The David Coulthard museum in his hometown of Twynholm, described as "the world’s most comprehensive collection of Formula 1 memorabilia for any driver".
- Castle Douglas, Scotland's food town, is the next town along the A75.
- Past New Abbey is the John Paul Jones birthplace museum.
- Criffel, the highest local hill and a moderate walk to the top.
- The ever-threatened Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead, Scotland's highest village, in the Lowther Hills.
- Nearby Moniaive, deemed one of Britain's "coolest" villages by The Times in 2004, and home of the "Green Handbook for South-west Scotland". It was once the home of the artist James Paterson and a member of Franz Ferdinand has a house there.
- Ellisland Farm, a one-time residence of Robert Burns, to the north.
- The Savings Banks Museum, in nearby Ruthwell.
- Some of the most notable place names in the area include Little Cocklick, Cocklicks Farm and Twathats, the latter two close together near Ruthwell. Little Cocklick was once the home of Jean Maxwell, the Galloway sorceress, one of the last witches to be tried.
- The Devil’s Porridge war museum, to the east near Annan.
- The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Gretna Green; an old spot for runaway weddings.