May 06, 2022 14 min read
The Scottish Borders, or more commonly referred to as the Borders, is an area in the South of Scotland that is famed for its rolling landscapes, ancient abbeys, endless picturesque villages, and being the home of rugby sevens. Having lived in the Borders for over 20 years, I feel as though I might know a thing or two about what to get up to while visiting! But with so much on offer, where do you even begin? I could easily fill a book, but below is my brief guide to the top experiences here in the Borders to inspire your next adventure. Wondering where to walk, swim, cycle, shop, explore, eat and sleep? Read on…
The best way to get to the Borders is by car, purely because once you’re there it’ll be super handy to have the car to get around in. However, if you don’t have a car then you can easily get to the Borders via public transport thanks to the relatively new railway line running from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, a town that sits between Galashiels and Melrose. The journey takes just under an hour and you’ll see some stunning views along the way.
Once you’re in the Borders, if you don’t have a car you can still rely on pretty good public transport services to get you from A to B, this time in the form of a bus. The only downside is that your journeys will take much longer than it would in a car due to the bus routes stopping by every little village on the way, but that does sometimes come in pretty handy. Also, if you plan on getting around by bus, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t staying anywhere too remote otherwise your closest bus stop might be a long walk away!
With it being Scotland, there’s never the guarantee of fantastic weather. However, I would highly recommend visiting during the warmer, sunnier months. The Scottish Borders’ landscapes against a bright blue sky is a pretty spectacular sight! Many people like to visit in April for the infamous Melrose Sevens. If you didn’t know, rugby sevens was invented in the Borders town of Melrose, and so it has become a pretty big event over the years. Rugby teams from all over the world come to play and it’s a fantastic day out whether you’re a rugby fan or not! Something to also keep in mind is that from June through to the beginning of August, the Scottish Borders towns’ Common Riding weeks take place.
To explain exactly what these are would be a whole blog post in itself. However, to give you the shorter explanation, they are whole weeks dedicated to the celebration of each Borders town, with large events held every day or evening, like horse ride outs, bike rides, town balls, and traditional ceremonies. Whether you visit a Borders town during its common riding week is totally up to you. They’re great fun but get super busy, so if you’re looking for a quiet escape then be sure to check out online when each town’s week is and then work around it!
Common Ridding Ride Out
Mila enjoying the view
The Eildons - Melrose
Said to be the remnants of active volcanoes, The Eildon Hill, more commonly known as the Eildons due to their three peaks overall, are very popular amongst hill walkers, with the highest peak reaching 422 metres. There are clear walking trails spanning all three hills, and if you don’t fancy a big climb, just walking along the belt of the hills still provides stunning views of the Borders countryside.
Beaches (Coldingham Bay, St Abbs Head, and Pease Bay) - Eyemouth area
My favourite day out in the Borders is by far a day trip to the beach. Personally, I love to drive to Coldingham Bay where there’s a large car park, and then walk along the beach to the steps that take you up to the coastal walk to St Abbs.
St Abbs, if you didn’t already know, is a pretty popular filming location, and is in fact most famously known by Marvel fans as “New Asgard”, Thor’s hometown. It was also the place of choice for Harry Styles’ fictional town “Eroda”, as seen in his “Adore You” music video. It’s no surprise that it is the place of choice for Hollywood’s depiction of a twee, seaside town, as it really is just that. My favourite spot of all is St Abbs Head, which you walk through the town of St Abbs to get to. Here, you feel as though you’re on the edge of the world and it is a wonderful place to sit and reflect, read a good book, or enjoy reenacting Harry Style’s music video. ;)
Pease Bay is another beautiful beach in the Borders that is super popular amongst surfers, so if you’re a keen surfer, then get yourself out there! I like to finish a day at the beach with a big portion of fish and chips… read on to find out where I think the best fish and chips in the Borders is!
Cauldshiels Loch - Melrose
Cauldshiels Loch is my ultimate place to go for a dip on a hot summer’s day. To get there, I would recommend driving (there’s a place to park and then you walk up a track for around 10 mins to get to the loch), but you can get the bus to the Borders General Hospital and walk from there if you’re up for the 40 minute walk to the loch. Once at the loch, there are three or four beach areas to choose from, most with benches to pop your clothes on before braving the chilly water. Make sure you pack water shoes (or just regular shoes that you don’t mind getting wet) for the rocks underfoot, and read our wild swimming blog to get my tips on wild swimming!
Abbotsford Gardens - Melrose
Abbotsford House was once home to the Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian, Sir Walter Scott. Now, the house and its surrounding gardens are open to the public. The Abbotsford grounds are my go-to place if I fancy a more leisurely walk, comprising of mainly flat land along the bank of the River Tweed, and is free of charge to enter. The walled gardens, which are filled with blossoming flowers, are open in the summer months and cost around £5 to enter.
Scott’s View - St Boswells/Kelso
Named after Sir Walter Scott as it was said to be his favourite place to relax and reflect, Scott’s View is arguably the best viewpoint in the Borders, offering panoramic views of the county. Situated between Kelso and St Boswells, there isn’t a massive amount to do here except to do exactly what Sir Walter Scott did: pause and revel in being at one with your beautiful surroundings! Oh, and it provides a great photo opportunity too, of course.
River Tweed - St Boswells
With the River Tweed running throughout the Scottish Borders, you can imagine just how many riverside walks there are to choose from. I do however have a favourite spot, which is the Dryburgh area. Pop “Dryburgh Suspension Bridge” into maps and once you’re there, you have lots of walks to choose from. If you fancy being rewarded with coffee and cake half way through your walk, then I would opt to turn right before the bridge, which will lead you along the river to the town of St Boswells, home to The Mainstreet Trading Company bookshop and cafe (more info to follow!).
If it’s a super sunny day, then I like to cross the bridge, turn right, and then go back on myself under the bridge (there’s a little gate to get down to the river bank). This leads you on a gorgeous walk, facing the sun, with vast views of the river and the Scottish countryside and with little beaches along the way. I could walk along here forever on a warm day!
St Mary’s Loch - Selkirk
The largest natural loch in the Scottish Borders, St Mary’s Loch is a firm favourite with kayakers, paddle boarders, and wild swimmers. The loch is located a little further out from the centre of the Borders but well worth it if you’re willing to make the trip. If you aren’t too keen on going in the water, then walking along the loch is just as lovely of an activity, and possibly a little less cold!
I must admit, I’m more of a walker and wild swimmer than a cyclist, however I have been reliably informed that there are pleny of great routes around the borders for those who prefer two wheeled travel. However, the Scottish Borders Council website have all the information you need to know about the signed cycle routes in the Borders, along with downloadable maps of every route. I can guarantee that whichever one you pick will be filled with stunning views, but just expect to be tested by the hills!
Located near Peebles, Glentress is also a bit of a mountain bikers paradise with plenty of trails for the more adventurous off road cyclists. You can download route maps here and the nearby Tweed Valley Bike Hire has a variety of bikes for hire if you dont intend on bringing your own.
Dryburgh Suspension Bridge
Borders Book Festival - Melrose
Every year the Borders Book Festival takes place in the month of June in the gardens of Harmony House. They have a host of authors, actors, politicians, sportsmen, tv chefs, and comedians, not limited to only those who have a book coming out, come to talk to audiences about anything and everything. Having worked there, a couple of my favourites have been John Cleese, The Hairy Bikers, and, a nostalgic one, Steve Backshall! As well as hosting brilliant talks, the festival also offers great events like kilted yoga, a storytelling tent for children, and dance classes, and has an orchard filled with food trucks (Pizza Geeks and Mimi’s Bakehouse being my faves!).
Antique Shopping at Old Melrose - Melrose/St Boswells
I for one love a spot of antique hunting and one of my favourite places to do so in the Borders is at Old Melrose. While mainly known here for their traditional tearooms, I believe the star of the show is their adjoining antique shop. I have found pieces that I’ve been searching for years for there and for outstandingly low prices! They also have a second-hand book section in upstairs which I could explore for hours. I love reading the little inscriptions written on the first page telling us which era they were originally bought in.
Floors Castle Gigs - Kelso
A more recent affair, the stunning grounds of Floors Castle in Kelso were transformed last summer into a gig venue, which hosted ABBA (well, an ABBA tribute), and thousands of ABBA fans dressed to the nines in their best retro gear. Thanks to its success, you can now go and see the likes of Tears for Fears, Bryan Adams, and Michael Bublé this summer in this beautiful setting. If you’re not too keen on seeing any of these acts live, then don’t let that put you off visiting in general. The castle boasts gorgeous gardens and grounds which you’re welcome to explore and picnic on, and they even have cycle trails if you want to bring your bike!
Mainstreet Trading Company
The Mainstreet Trading Company - St Boswells
Tucked away in the small Borders town of St Boswells, The Mainstreet Trading Company is an award winning book shop, cafe, deli and homeware store all rolled into one. They also hold intimate events with the likes of Maggie O’Farrell, Chris Hoy, and Michael Palin to name a few. It’s my go-to place in the Borders for books, gifts, gorgeous local produce, and a delicious slice of cake. I’m hungry just thinking about it!
If you’re into shopping second-hand then the charity shops in the Borders are a great place to visit. Expect to find lots of lovely, good quality pieces at great prices. The prices in the countryside are amazing in comparison to the ones in the likes of Edinburgh and London. In my opinion, the best town for charity shops in the Borders is most definitely Kelso, with around five to choose from if I remember correctly! The charity shop in Melrose is also well worth a visit, I’ve found lots of hidden gems in there.
Macarts - Galashiels
Located in Galashiels, Macarts is a theatre which hosts a big mix of musicians and speakers. Here you can see all types, from local bands, to larger names, like the mountaineer Simon Yates, who recently did a fantastic talk on the unbelievable position he once found himself that inspired the book and film, Touching the Void.
As previously mentioned, the Melrose Sevens is a really fun day out whether you’re a rugby lover or not. The main event takes place on the first Saturday of April every year and plays host to some seriously impressive and exciting rugby.
Naked Sourdough - Jedburgh
Open from 9am-3pm on a select number of days (check their social media to keep up to speed on opening times), Naked Sourdough operates very much upon a get-it-before-it’s-gone basis! They sell out on most days, and it’s no surprise once you taste their goodies. Offering a mouth-watering selection of cruffins, sourdough, focaccia, croissants, doughnuts, and more, you will be totally spoiled for choice. Remember, go early!
Three Hills - Selkirk
Three Hills are a Scottish coffee roasting company who decided to open their own coffee shop back in 2018. This place is a firm favourite amongst coffee lovers and they’re great at what they do. The coffee shop also offers lots of yummy meals and baked goods.
Apples for Jam - Melrose and Earlston
If any of you are fans of Bross Bagels in Edinburgh, then here you can get your fill! With the bagels provided by Bross, Apples for Jam have thought up their own fillings, with the crowd favourite being their salt beef (sourced from the local butcher opposite), pickle, and French mustard bagel. Also providing gorgeous freshly baked pastries made by the local restaurant Seasons, deliciously fluffy scones, yummy cake, and good quality coffee, it’s definitely worth stopping by. Their Melrose venue is quite snug, so if you’re unable to get a seat there then their second location in Earlston is only a 10 minute drive away.
Apples for Jam
The Mainstreet Trading Company - St Boswells
I know I’ve already mentioned this place, but I thought I’d slot it in here too as their café really is fab. Such yummy meals, lots of different options catering to various dietary requirements, and delicious cakes.
Riverside Bakehouse - Duns
Offering gorgeous freshly made sourdough and pastries, The Riverside Bakehouse is the perfect place to stop for a post-surf treat, located around 20 minutes away from Pease Bay. The owner and baker of the goods, Aliona, is phenomenal at what she does, and I’d argue you can’t get better sourdough anywhere else in the Borders, despite the amazing competition!
Mainstreet Trading Company
Mainstreet Trading Company
Hunters Stables - St Boswells
If you fancy having a great meal in the comfort of where you’re staying, then a takeaway from Hunters Stables is always a great shout. Despite having a sit-in restaurant, I love getting one of their delicious pizzas and eating it al-fresco in my garden! They make great wood-fired pizza with loads of toppings to choose from, and if you can’t quite choose, they even offer a metre-long pizza which you can put up to three of you favourite toppings on. Yes, it’s maybe a little overboard, but oh boy it’s good.
Tempest Brewing Co. - Galashiels/Melrose
Named one of the top 100 breweries in the world, Tempest create some of the best pale ales I’ve had, my favourite being their Long White Cloud extra pale ale. Based in Tweedbank, a small town that sits between Melrose and Galashiels, the brewery is open to the public for tours, as well as for drinks in their taproom or beer garden. The Tempest team have a different food vender visit them every weekend, so you can enjoy a great street food style dinner while having a pint. Most recently, the team have had Bonnie Burrito come cook up a Mexican storm for their customers. For updates on who’ll be vending when you plan on visiting, be sure to check out their Instagram.
The Hoebridge - Melrose
Beautiful food, and stunning cocktails, this restaurant is my go-to for a special occasion. The menu is seasonal, filled with locally and freshly sourced produce, and is cooked to perfection. I have what could be deemed as *slightly* annoying dietary requirements and the owners have created a new, suitable (and just as delicious-looking) menu, every time I’ve visited, no questions asked! And trust me, the cocktails really are fantastic, with my favourite being their spicy marg. Oh, and they were named as one of the most beautiful restaurants in Scotland by Condé Nast, so expect to be in a seriously stunning setting!
Mackay’s fish and chips - Eyemouth
The best fish and chips in the Borders! Well, in my opinion anyway. It’s an absolute essential for me to stop by here after a day at the beach. The portions are generous, for example, if their catch of the day isn’t as big as usual then they’ll just give you two fish instead! Despite being based in Eyemouth, the Mackay’s team travel to Kelso every Thursday in their food van and serve their customers from there. There tends to be a pretty big queue so go early if you don’t fancy the long wait! Also, be sure to stay updated on what times they’ll be around on their Facebook page.
Rak Thai - Melrose
Yes, another takeaway, but serious restaurant quality. So many people have said that this little, hidden away takeaway produces some of the best, authentic Thai food that you can get here in Scotland and I would have to agree. Order at least a couple of hours in advance in order to secure the time you’d like to eat, particularly on a weekend, as they’re super popular!
There are swathes of places to stay in the Borders, but I would recommend staying as central as possible, as it will make visiting all the surrounding towns a whole lot easier. With Melrose and Galashiels being the most central towns, as well as being nearest to the train connections to Edinburgh, I’ve listed a couple of places that I love that are located in or around the two towns. A quick Airbnb search will offer you lots of great places to stay that won’t break the bank, but if you’re looking for something a little more special while visiting, then I couldn’t recommend these places enough!
It wasn’t until recently that I found out you could stay in Abbotsford House. When researching good locations for my Godmother’s 50th, I viewed The Hope Scott Wing, which is a segment of the house that is available for the general public to stay in. Steeped in history, the wing is, what I can only describe as, gorgeous. The interiors are beautifully curated and still so cosy, and, it gets better, it’s dog friendly! While dependant on when you visit, the wing only costs around £50 a head per night if the accommodation is filled (16 guests), which in my opinion, is an absolute steal.
Faldonside Escapes have a host of different types of accommodation in Melrose, from a hillside studio, to a stylish apartment in the centre of town, all as beautifully styled as one another.
If you’re planning on visiting with a large party then Kippilaw is a breathtakingly beautiful house which can host between 12 and 35 guests. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the house a couple of times, once to view for my school prom (it’s fair to say we decided it was far too lovely!), and another for a fantastic live music event. Despite being marketed as a wedding venue first and foremost, I know lots of friends and families who have stayed here whilst visiting the Borders and the price works out to be very reasonable per head.
I hope these recommendations come in handy if you ever visit this beautiful part of Scotland. If you do manage to visit any of these amazing spots, or have any questions about coming to the Borders, then be sure to get in touch!
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