Designations on this journey
How to get to south Scotland
The southwest of Scotland is an easy destination to get to, with lots of different travel options.
Trains run regularly from Glasgow to Ayr, and onto Barrhill in South Ayrshire. From Ayr, some trains continue along the coast to Girvan and Stranraer.
Trains run in the east of Dumfries & Galloway from Carlisle or Glasgow through Gretna Green, Annan, Dumfries, Sanquhar and Kirkconnell. A direct service to Lockerbie from Glasgow and Edinburgh is also available.
Carlisle Lake District airport operates direct flights from London, Belfast and Dublin, providing easy access to south Scotland.
Fly into Edinburgh or Glasgow Airports from across the UK and Europe, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin and Amsterdam.
Travel within the biosphere
The rural landscapes of this UNESCO biosphere lend themselves to a slower pace of travel.
The region is criss-crossed with well mapped and maintained walking and cycling routes which are accessible to all ages. Scotland’s core paths allow you to explore off-road, and the National Cycle Network’s routes 7 and 73 enable cyclists to enjoy low-traffic or traffic-free paths right through Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, with links to destinations beyond.
Most of the biosphere’s villages and towns are accessible by bus, with timetables published online by local council providers.
Train services from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Ayr, Stranraer, Lockerbie and Dumfries take travellers to historic railway stations within the biosphere, including Kirkconnel, Sanquhar and Girvan, and will allow you to connect with the rest of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail.
For visitors wishing to drive parking is typically easy and free, with more than 50 charging points available for electric vehicles – a number that is increasing every year.
Check out the South West Coastal 300, which takes in miles of beautiful coastline and quiet country roads, almost encircling the biosphere. There's also the Galloway Tourist Route, which runs for over 90 miles from Gretna, straight through the biosphere and its communities, up to Ayr.
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere
Where to start
good road and rail links to Glasgow, Edinburgh and northern England, and a
ferry connection to Northern Ireland as well, you have a choice of entry points
to Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. Why not begin your trip at
one of the biosphere communities where you’ll be given a warm welcome and
information to help you explore?
Or follow in the footsteps of famous names, from St Ninian, who arrived at Whithorn in 397, to Robert Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, whose work was constantly inspired by his travels across these lands. The biosphere routes and itineraries will ensure that you begin your tour of the region in the place that suits you best.
Towns to base yourself in
Why it’s special
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, and is a natural playground full of opportunity for outdoor adventure. It’s a place of geological wonder, with unique habitats and rare wildlife that the biosphere works to protect. Learn about the history of south-west Scotland while experiencing the rich cultural life and creative scene celebrated by biosphere communities.
The biosphere covers 5,268 square km of south-west Scotland and is centred on the hills and moors of the Merrick Kells Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which was formed by glaciers millions of years ago.
Type of designation
How long to stay
At least 4 days
What to do during your time
Things to do
Girvan to Ballantrae Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
This stretch of Ayrshire’s coastline is a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to miles of sandy beaches, diverse wildlife, ancient geology and coastal scenery. The rocks of Ballantrae Bay are of particular interest to geologists and date back to the early formation of Scotland. Along the coastline, you can admire the island of Ailsa Craig, and set off on walking trails through Carrick Forest.
Find out more on geology between Girvan and Ballantrae.
A climb up Cornish Hill in Ayrshire is perfect for a quick stroll through wild open countryside. At 158 m high, you’ll feel the benefits of the fresh air as you reach the top of the hill, where you can enjoy the calm, tranquil views over the Cornish Loch.
Find out more about the Cornish Hill walking route.
Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve (NNR)
This nature reserve is one of the wildest places in south-west Scotland and is a paradise for walkers, boasting panoramic views over an immense landscape. Get involved in the variety of things to see and do here, including spotting birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon – the fastest bird in the world. Wander along trails and paths and look out for sculptures nestled in the landscape created by local environmental artists.
Explore Cairnsmore of Fleet NNR.
Situated on the hilltops near Cairnhead are three sandstone arches known as the Striding Arches. These singular sculptures were created by artist Andy Goldsworthy and are built of red sandstone, sourced locally in Dumfries. The arches consisting of 31 blocks weighing 27 tons, standing at 4 metres high and spanning across 7 metres.
Find out more about the Striding Arches.
Kirkcudbright Artists Town
The harbour town of Kirkcudbright on the Solway Coast has been a popular spot for artists and creators for centuries. Featuring a distinctive blend of medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings, Kirkcudbright became a hub for Scottish artists in the later 19th century and has since become known as the ‘Artists’ Town’.
Join Kirkcudbright Art Tours for a wander with local expert, Fiona. Enjoy the perfect introduction to the town's heritage and learn more about the artists who call this home.
Pay a visit to the Crawick Multiverse, a former coal mine now transformed into a fantastic 55-acre artland space the whole family can enjoy. Full to the brim with exciting discoveries, theories of the universe, themes drawn from space, astronomy and cosmology, this is a truly inspiring landmark to experience.
Find out more about Crawick Multiverse.
Kitchen Coos & Ewes
Experience life on the farm at Kitchen Coos & Ewes at New Luce, near Newton Stewart. Get up close to everyone’s favourite cow breed, the Highland Coo. You’ll learn about the majestic beasts and see them in their natural environment, with many chances to snap that perfect picture! There are lots of tours, including an Insta Coo Tour and Cream Tea Coo Tour.
Find out more about Kitchen Coos & Ewes.
Discover the glorious south westerly landscape with Adventure Carrick, an adventure company offering a range of outdoor activities, from paddleboarding to mountain biking. Based in Girvan in the Firth of Clyde, you can enjoy a half or full day adventure, or even a whole family holiday exploring the beautiful south west corner of Scotland.
Book an experience with Adventure Carrick.
Food & Drink
Discover some incredible food and drink businesses across this part of Scotland. In the charming town of New Galloway, stop for a tasty lunch at The Smithy. With outside seating for sunny days and a cosy tearoom inside, the café serves fresh Scottish produce in a relaxed setting beside the bubbling Mill Burn.
New Galloway is Scotland’s smallest Royal Burgh. Refine your kitchen skills with a home cooking lesson with Lindsay at Home Cook School in Maybole, Ayrshire. No matter your culinary level, you can learn to make some authentic Scottish dishes, expand your repertoire and impress at your next dinner party.
Pick up some freshly baked breads and rolls from Earth’s Crust, a family-run artisan bakery in Castle Douglas. The bakers specialise in a slow fermentation process to craft their breads, using all-natural ingredients.
Find more foodie places to visit in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere.
Book a stay at Nithbank Country Estate. This luxurious 5-star country house B&B is just 3 miles from Drumlanrig Castle and set in the most beautiful and tranquil setting, ideal for a revitalising break away from the city.
Head to Creeside Escape for an off-grid shepherd’s hut stay, away from it all. Set on a working farm in Ayrshire, you can spend cosy nights inside the hut admiring some of the darkest skies in Europe. Wake up with grazing sheep outside your door to keep you company and embrace a simpler way of life.
With stunning vistas over the River Dee, Solway View Holidays is a perfectly situated campsite for a relaxing coastal break. With spacious pitches for tents and caravans, quirky wigwams, and a sociable picnic, barbeque and fire pit area, this spot is made for making memories.
Find more places to stay in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere.
Walks, cycle routes, ways to travel around
The south of Scotland is a picturesque place to explore on foot or on two wheels. Follow the many trails and waymarked paths around the area, with a chance to spot elusive and native wildlife along the way. Take a picnic with you and stop off to admire your surroundings. Plan a Galloway Cycling Holiday, or hire bikes from Biosphere Bikes.
Where next on the UNESCO Trail?
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To arrive in the east of Scotland from most places in the UK, it’s a simple case of hopping on a train from the nearest station and arriving in Edinburgh Waverley Train Station. There’s also Edinburgh Airport with connections to international hubs across the UK and Europe. From here, reach Dundee by train, or make use of excellent rail, bus, and cycle networks to explore the wider region. Find practical advice and tips on getting around the cities and the region’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, attractions, accommodation, and places to eat.View Journey
Uncover the UNESCO Wonder of Scotland's Northern Isles
The north islands of Scotland are closer than you think, with frequent ferry crossings from the mainland and flight connections to and from Aberdeen and Inverness airports. Once here, getting around by car, foot or bike is a breeze thanks to a superb inter-island ferry network, quiet roads, and regular buses. Discover the best way to explore Shetland and Orkney with information on transport, accommodation, places to eat and attractions.View Journey