Best Things to do in Dundee
In the world of Scottish tourism, Dundee is underrated. Why that should be is a real headscratcher. Geographically advantageous, within close proximity of the central belt and the south east Highlands, home to some of Scotland’s most likeable folk and a veritable culture hub. Not to mention the city’s eternal and affectionate contribution to the world of the comic strip. Lots to love. But with huge investments having been made to regenerate much of the city in recent years, there are signs that Dundee is back on the rise. Here’s my look at the best things to do in Dundee and why it’ll always have my support.
There isn’t a better way to get your bearings of a place than looking down on it from above. In Dundee Law, the city’s geography comes to your aid with the opportunity to ogle glorious all-direction panoramas. A fairly steep but straightforward walk from the city, you can take in the beautiful Sidlaw Hills to the north and the sprawling city, complete with mighty River Tay, to the south. The old-industrial feel of Dundee is immediately apparent as mills, construction cranes and the two stretching Tay bridges to Fife grapple for your attention.
When making your way back to the city, be sure to say hello to Desperate Dan himself. Give him a hug even, you’ll not have been the first. You’ll find him in the city square hanging on to his own version of the famous Dandy comic book that many will remember with a burst of amused nostalgia.
In addition to the lovely locals and lingering sense of imperial industry, Dundee draws an easy comparison to my home city of Glasgow with the nautical feeling that grips you at Discovery Point. With the area still in the midst of urban redevelopment there is no taking away from the star of the show – the remarkable RSS Discovery that took on the worst of the world’s elements in its polar expedition at the turn of the last century. Several gruelling years at sea followed – which included being stranded in ice and requiring rescue – to put this shatteringly inhospitable continent on the world map. Looking at this naval relic it’s incredibly hard to grasp that it made it as far as New Zealand (anyone who has flown there will appreciate the distance by air never mind sea) and then to the ends of the earth itself in Antarctica.
Aside from a nosey on the ship itself, be sure to spend at least an hour in the accompanying visitor centre. Fabulously laid out and presented, you’ll get the full story of a remarkable mile-marker in worldwide travel and adventure. Greeted as heroes wherever the ship put into port, this epic venture into the unknown was one of challenge, danger and, ultimately, pioneering success.
Next door you’ll spot the on-going work of the V&A Design Museum which is on its way (in 2018) to add a new level of interest in Dundee’s waterfront. Expect plenty of coverage of that from me when it arrives!
Housed inside a magnificent Gothic abbey-like building this place has it all. Everything from fine art to natural history and a statue of Burns to welcome you. Another beautifully laid out attraction, 8 galleries fill two floors and can easily soak up a couple of hours of your time. Going back as far as the Iron Age it presents the full Dundee story and locally relevant items including Dundee’s role in the whaling industry and contribution to the world of comics are prevalent. Be sure to visit the Albert Hall on the upper level – a stunning space complete with stained glass windows and commanding ceiling rafters.
Yet again, a comparison with Glasgow springs to mind as McManus runs a similar path to Kelvingrove in its holistic diversity of exhibits. Museums can be tiresome for some folk and it’s easy to get saturated but this place is amongst the most visitor-friendly I’ve seen and there really is something for everyone.
Time for maybe my personal favourite – the fabulous Verdant Works. Jute, jam and journalism are Dundee’s oft-quoted claims to fame. As far as the former goes, this is the leading place to appreciate the city’s rich industrial past. A thoughtful, immaculate and deeply evocative museum, the original machinery and near-tangible atmosphere can whisk you back to the days when Dundee stood as the world leader in this particular product.
What actually is jute anyway you may ask? Good question, wasn’t quite sure myself. It’s a rough, hair-like substance that originates in India and Bangladesh and is used in clothing, carpets, rope, sacking and more. Ubiquitous to the extent that only cotton was more common. The discovery that whale oil (Dundee had an impressive whaling fleet) added to raw jute allowed the spinning of it into fabric made jute and Dundee a match made in heaven. Tough, cheap and versatile it became a hugely popular commodity and Dundee was the clear 19th Century world leader in its production and exportation. Verdant Works is a jute mill of the highest order and offers a very personal insight into the day to day running of this challenging workplace. Forget HR departments and employee rights, this was a brutal shift.
Like all of the above, Verdant Works is within walking distance of the city centre. It also makes my shortlist for finest museums in the country.
Broughty Castle Musuem
On a sunny day you’ll be wanting a visit to Broughty Ferry. My dad’s family used to come here regularly on their summer holidays if you can believe it. Step aside Tenerife, I’m awa doon the ‘Ferry. I’m not sure the kids of today would respond too positively to that decision but it does offer a beautiful sandy beach and the atmospherically grim looking Broughty Castle Museum. Although limited in military history, it does go as far back as the 15th Century and is now home to a museum with exhibits on the whaling industry and the wildlife that habitates nearby. From the tower whales and dolphins can even be spotted at the right time of year in the Firth of Tay.
The suburb is around 4 miles east of the city and is best reached by train, bus or car. World class golfing is also not so far away in the form of Carnoustie, a repeat host of the Open Championship.
While the above best things to do in Dundee can just about be done as part of a busy day-trip, it’s best seen over a couple of days when you can go at a leisurely pace. But don’t stop there. Sandwiched between Fife and the Angus Glens there’s all the ingredients for an extended east coast break. Avoiding the well trampled tourist paths, this is a slice of Scotland that’s full of surprises.
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