If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, Ayrshire & Arran is the perfect escape. The west coast region has it all – stunning landscapes ranging from countryside glens to sandy shores; outdoor adventures perfect for great days out; and thrilling history to discover, from tales of Vikings to the story of our National Bard, Robert Burns. You can also experience perfect island life at Arran or Cumbrae – just a short ferry ride from the mainland.
Not sure where to begin? Start with these hidden gems from across the region.
Just a 10-minute ferry journey from Largs, get a taste of easy-going island life on the Isle of Cumbrae. Explore the town of Millport, home to Britain’s smallest cathedral – the Cathedral of the Isles – and the distinctive Crocodile Rock. Cycling the 10-mile loop around the island is the perfect way to explore all it has to offer. Suitable for all abilities, it offers brilliant views across the North Ayrshire coast. If you don’t have a bike, don’t worry – cycle hire is easily available in Millport.
Nestled in the heart of Kilmarnock, Dean Castle Country Park covers over 200 acres – so it’s no surprise that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Follow scenic trails that wind through woodland, open farm land and wetland areas. After that, explore the original landscape designed by Lord Howard de Walden in the early 1900s which has been faithfully restored. Kids will go wild to meet Eriskay ponies and Hebridean sheep in the Urban Farm. Afterward, you can also learn all about sustainable living in the Rural Life Centre.
The coastal town of Troon is home to stunning beaches that offer fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde. Outlander fans may recognise the town. Troon provided the setting for the scene where Claire, Jamie and Murtagh arrived at the coast and boarded a 17th century ship to France at the end of season one. Golf enthusiasts are also in the right place, with the town home to an incredible seven courses including the famous Royal Troon.
Once a major west coast seaport, Irvine’s beautiful harbour stands in testament to the town’s important maritime past. See this history in the architecture found around the harbour, including stunning Georgian buildings. Learn all about the town’s shipbuilding heritage at the Scottish Maritime Museum. Located in a former shipyard building, there’s hands-on exhibits that adults and kids will both love. Try building model boats and sending Morse code. Afterward, make sure to visit the amazing stone dragon who lives at Irvine beach!
Dumfries House near Cumnock is one of Scotland’s most stunning stately homes and one of our best kept heritage secrets. Dating from the 18th century, the house was designed by famed architect Robert Adam. It is also filled with furniture by Thomas Chippendale – one of the leading cabinet makers during the Scottish Enlightenment. After you’ve taken a guided tour around the house, explore its beautiful settings. This includes the Adam Bridge, river walks and the doo’cot – a 17th century building once used to house doves and pigeons.
You can’t visit Ayrshire without delving into the work of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Burns was born in the village of Alloway. Visit the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which includes the famous Burns Cottage, as well as the beautiful Burns Monument and Memorial Gardens. Alloway also provides the setting for one of his most famous works, Tam o’Shanter. The Brig o’ Doon, the bridge over which Tam flees for his life in the poem, still stands in the village today.
Machrie Moor Standing Stones, Arran
On the beautiful island of Arran stand six Neolithic stone circles which evoke the island’s mysterious past. People have lived in this part of Arran for almost 8,000 years. The artifacts you can explore today at Machrie Moor all date from between 3,500 to 1,500 BC. Earlier, timber circles preceded these on the same site. Step into the island’s Neolithic past and explore the standing stones, burial cairns, and hut circles that make up a landscape that conjures up fascinating images of prehistoric Scotland and the people that called it home.
Loudoun Hill near Darvel has played an important role in Scotland’s history. A volcanic plug, the hill itself is a reminder of the very formation of the country. But that’s not all – according to legend, Sir William Wallace defeated an English force here in 1296. The hill was then the site of the Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1307, where Robert the Bruce claimed a major victory in his bid to claim back his kingdom. Keep an eye out for the Spirit of Scotland sculpture. The striking monument uses Wallace’s silhouette to allude to the area’s past.
Perched upon a cliff edge, the ruin of Greenan Castle near Ayr serves as a dramatic reminder of Ayrshire’s rich heritage. While a fortress has sat on the land since the 12th century, the current tower house dates from the 1600s. Built by the Lord of the Isles, the castle later passed into the hands of Clan Kennedy. For a fantastic view of the castle, walk to the beach below to see its stunning position overlooking the sands.
With its stunning Victorian promenade, the charming town of Largs is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing day by the seaside. Make sure to visit Nardini’s – the town’s famous art deco ice cream parlour that has been named one of Scotland’s best. Home to the nation’s largest marina, it’s easy to get on the water, with ferries to Cumbrae leaving from the town, as well as other boat trips. The town was also the site of a victory over invading Vikings in 1263, and this heritage is still celebrated today. Journey back in time to a Longhouse at Vikingar!, and live like the one-time invaders did at the annual Largs Viking Festival – a week-long celebration of Viking culture.
Just 18 miles from Ayr, Loch Doon is a stunning freshwater loch with loads to discover. Explore the ruins of Loch Doon Castle at the south end. Originally located on an island in the loch, after water levels were raised in the 1930s the castle was dismantled and moved to the shore. Visit the Round House Café at the northern end, and watch ospreys and their chicks, who nest by the loch. After you’ve fuelled up, begin the nearby walk into the stunning Ness Glen, a beautiful wooded gorge that follows the River Doon. At the end of the night, you can discover all the wonders of the night sky at the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, just a few miles down the road.
It’s impossible to talk about the village of Turnberry without mentioning golf. Home to two championship courses and a golf academy, it’s the perfect base for golfers. The iconic Turnberry Lighthouse sits on the Ailsa Course, but did you know it also sits alongside the ruins of Turnberry Castle, which is thought to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce? Their position on the coastline also offers fantastic views across to Ailsa Craig. The island is known both for its bird sanctuary and its granite – almost 70% of all curling stones are made from granite from the island!
It’s time to take a different path in Ayrshire & Arran, and why not discover East Ayrshire’s undiscovered gems? Don’t forget to share your own amazing images from Ayrshire & Arran using #ScotlandIsNow and #VisitScotland!