10 Cool Things to Do in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere
With its low carbon, nature-friendly experiences and providers, it’s no surprise that the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere has been listed on National Geographic’s Cool List for 2024. Around the world, UNESCO Biospheres embody the connection between people and nature to finding wellbeing activities in our great outdoors. To help celebrate the region’s Cool List status, we’ve selected the best unique experiences for a jam-packed day out or short getaway.
As well as our top picks below, visit the Biosphere’s own website to find even more activities and attractions to explore.
It’s no secret that getting outside, embracing nature and soaking up some sunshine can work wonders for our physical and mental wellbeing. The Biosphere’s wild landscapes and countless acres of broadleaf woodland helps create the perfect setting for lots of outdoor activities that are kind to the mind, body and soul. Here are a few local providers to help you relax and unwind:
Way of the Wild, Newton Stewart, Dumfries & Galloway – founded by Biosphere Guide Christy Miles, enjoy outdoor experiences from forest bathing and bushcraft to being taught the basics of Backwood survival shelter building complete with an al fresco pizza cookout. What’s not to love?
Adventure Carrick, Girvan – specialise in holistic wellbeing adventures with practitioners in foraging, yoga, and more. Discover the art of the tea ceremony in a temperate rainforest. The ancient native woodlands of Glentrool and the Wood of Cree are just as important as tropical rainforests for the multitude of rare lichens and moss that grow on the rocks and trees. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Check out their biking, kayaking and wild food experiences.
From October to March, experience the Biosphere’s dark skies in all its glory. In 2009, Galloway Forest Park was the first dark sky site in the UK to be granted Dark Sky Park status thanks to its exceptionally low levels of light pollution. Whether you’re planning a romantic date night or hanging out with friends, be sure to book a stargazing experience. Led by the Biosphere’s Dark Sky Rangers, Elizabeth Tindal and Matthew McFadzean, learn more about the history, science and astronomy of the night sky. Each tour can be tailored to fit your needs which can include tasty treats and creative activities from rockpooling to making a dream catcher. On a clear night, you might be lucky enough to see 7,000 stars and planets, a truly unforgettable experience.
Enjoy a dark sky experience in broad daylight. Located in Kirkcudbright, Dark Art Distillery produces Scottish craft gin inspired by the Biosphere’s crystal-clear night skies, using botanicals which only bloom at night to create their luxurious spirits. The 90-minute distillery tour delves into the history of gin, the magic process of how the gin is made and of course a tasting session.
Did you know? The distillery is housed in a former historic school building, next door to the Dark Space Planetarium. Tiny and big planet explorers can learn more about the wonders of space, with a rolling programme of exhibitions and events. Its star attraction is the state-of-the-art HD digital projection system giving you an immersive visual experience through films taking you to the edge of the solar system and back. It’s definitely out of this world!
The fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets. At Galloway Activity Centre, you can experience the joys of cycling even late at night. The Biosphere is well-known for putting a new spin on outdoor leisure by championing activities including dark sky cycling. Ride into the night with The Biking Explorers who provide bespoke experiences on off-road trails. Take a trip across Loch Ken on a powerboat before starting your cycling adventure on a mountain bike ride through the Galloway Forest Park.
On 25 January, Scots celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard. Burns was born and raised in Alloway, now part of the Biosphere region and wrote many of his well-known poems here. Take a trip to where it all began by visiting Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Discover his humble beginnings in the cottage where he spent his early years and explore the museum which houses more than 5,000 Burns artefacts including his handwritten manuscripts. Of course, a trip dedicated to all things Burns wouldn’t be complete without sampling Scotland’s national dish at the museum café, haggis, neeps and tatties.
Alloway is well served by public transport. If you’re visiting the Biosphere ahead of Burns Night, make sure to experience a Blazing Burns Spectacular, an evening dedicated to dancing, food and fire!
There is nothing better than a good night’s rest. In the Biosphere you can find a wide selection of off-grid stays for some much-needed TLC. Find your next getaway from our pick of the bunch:
Shepherds Huts, near Dalry – ditch the phones and enjoy a short getaway at a woodland retreat. Wake up to the sound of nature with red squirrels, pine martens and roe deer nearby.
The Coorie, Glentrool, Dumfries & Galloway – sleeping up to five people, this eco-friendly stay is run by a volunteer-led community enterprise. You’ll find all your home comforts including extra pillows and bedding to snuggle into after a busy day exploring the Biosphere.
Outdoor Hotel at Low Auldgirth Steading, Dumfries – welcomes self-catering guests to their bothy and bell tents, all warmed up by wood-burning stoves. Make the most of life on a working farm by booking a farm tour or start the day off right with a farm fresh breakfast pack.
Craigengillan Estate, near Dalmellington – offers luxury glamping pods. With more than 70 miles of off-road trails to explore on two feet or two wheels.
Founded by the award-winning land artist, Charles Jencks. This former coal mine has transformed into a breathtaking 55-acre cosmic artland for the whole family to enjoy. Open from April to November, the Crawick Multiverse links to the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology with a network of paths which navigate features and landforms representing the sun, universes, galaxies, comets, black holes and more. During the warmer months, make sure to bring a delicious picnic as you marvel at the wonderful creations including the Striding Arches, sandstone sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy which crown the hilltops around Moniaive.
Scotland provides the warmest of welcomes and you’ll also receive a nice one from our fluffy friends too. The Biosphere stands out from the rest and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled on where you can find them:
Gledpark Deer Safaris, Kirkcudbright – hop aboard a tour of a model red deer enterprise where you’ll learn more about these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
Kitchen Coos & Ewes, Newton Stewart – visit Scotland’s only farmer-led Highland cow safari. You’ll get the chance to see the beautiful herd and take lots of photos. After the tour, make sure to stop off and try some delicious home baking at the café onsite.
Galloway Red Kite Trail, Castle Douglas – open all year round, see spectacular red kites, a bird of prey reintroduced to help strengthen the ownership of the kites by local communities.
If you’re brave enough to handle the chilly temperatures, head out into the water for an invigorating swim. Join Sarah Redman from Swim the Lochs for a unique aquatic experience. You’ll be in safe hands as Sarah is an STA-qualified open water swimming coach and offers individual and group sessions, wellness days and special events such as ‘Dips and Chips’ on Girvan beach. Fancy taking your experience up a notch? Book a guided swim under the stars at Galloway Forest Park, awarded a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park.
Biosphere Guides bring a wealth of knowledge to make your holiday extra special. The guides are made up of local people and activity providers who take great pride on high quality sustainable experiences. From foraging to walking tours, there are a wide variety to suit all tastes and budgets. Here is just a selection:
Foot Luce Walking Tours, Newton Stewart – keep your eyes peeled for many of the Biosphere’s Neolithic sites. Do you want to know a cool fact? Scotland has more stone circles than anywhere else in the UK.
Galloway Wild Foods – offers sustainable foraging experiences across an incredible diversity of habitats from mountain to coast.
Alouette Nature Tours – explore flora, fauna and learn more about local folklore associated with the Biosphere. Make sure to listen out to the call of red kites over the Glenkens, whooper swans at Crook of Baldoon and the gannets of Ailsa Craig, an uninhabited island just eight miles off the Ayrshire coast.
We hope that we’ve given you a flavour of cool things to do in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. Make sure to also check out Scotland's UNESCO Trail - the first country in the world to bring together 13 UNESCO sites into one trail.
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