The Scottish Borders

Last updated:
Thursday, 4 November 2021

Explore stunning landscapesSome highlights of what The Boarders have to offer

There are few areas in Scotland as accessible yet equally representative of the whole country as the Borders. Rolling hills of green and heathered moors welcome visitors to the region with open arms, although the Borders offers far more than idyllic scenery.

All aspects of the Caledonian nation thrive there – from the numerous castles and other historical sites to the cultural hotspots of art, literature, and music dotted across the land. Like the country it gatekeeps, the Borders pack an incredible amount of activity and community into a very small space. This guide hopes to take readers through just some of the wonderful options available for visitors to the Scottish Borders.

There are always places to explore...Anywhere in the Scottish Borders

Getting there

The Borders Railway Line connects Edinburgh with Galashiels – the largest town in the region – and Tweedbank, a smaller village on its outskirts. The journey lasts less than an hour from start to finish and takes passengers on a scenic trip through the hills and valleys of the lowlands.

See & do in the Borders

Whether you stay in the vibrant town of Galashiels or venture into the picturesque surrounding areas, there are always places to explore anywhere in the Borders. This is by no means an all-encompassing list, but merely a sampling of what is on offer throughout the region.

Abbotsford House, the home of Walter ScottThe Borders' breathtaking scenery

Nearest train station: approx 20 minute walk from Tweedbank Station. For a scenic riverside walk, you can take the Borders Abbeys Way.

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Much of Scotland’s literary tradition is built on the back of Sir Walter Scott, whose rich novels are still celebrated two hundred years after his death. From his immensely successful career, Scott built his equally immense home on the banks of the River Tweed. The house is an incredible love letter to the Romanticist era of British history, and one that has been immaculately preserved over the years.

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Nearest train station: approx 35 minute walk from Tweedbank Station.

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Surrounded by Melrose Abbey and the Eildon Hills, the three acres of Harmony Garden make up one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the country. The grey-bricked Georgian stately home acts as a centrepiece for the various flowing sections of the gardens. Herbaceous borders and vegetable beds lie side-by-side, showcasing the Edenic quality of the Scottish Borders.

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Nearest train station: approx 37 minute walk from Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Although it is glimpsable from Harmony Garden, to experience Melrose Abbey truly, it has to be explored. Amidst the centuries' worth of ruins, the titanic monastery still stands tall and open for public visits, where it has been converted into an extensive museum. With the remains of Alexander II and even the heart of Robert the Bruce said to be buried here, every brick of Melrose Abbey is laced in history.

Nearest train station: approx 1 hour 10 minutes walk from Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

The Leaderfoot Viaduct, although disused, still casts a deep shadow across the River Tweed. Standing an incredible 126 feet, it is one of the most impressive infrastructural projects developed in Scotland. The viaduct was due to be closed in 1981, 16 years after the last train had run across it, but nationwide protests led to its survival and taking into public ownership.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

A single bench stands atop Bemersyde Hill, three miles to the east of Melrose. The bench became synonymous with Sir Walter Scott after he visited so often that his horses reportedly stopped without his command. It is easy to see why – the idyllic forests roll miles to the summits of the Eildon Hills, while straight below flows part of the River Tweed.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

The calming atmosphere draped over Dryburgh Abbey is no mere accident, but one that was cultivated some 1000 years ago. Built in 1150, the abbey became home to countless monks across its centuries of activity. Although ended by the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, the monastery later saw the likes of Walter Scott buried within it in later years.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Built by James Seton – whose initials are still visible above the entranceway – in the 16th century, Greenknowe Tower is a tower house standing west of Gordon. Although the roof has not survived, much else of the building remains in fantastic condition, making it a wonderful place to explore for early architecture enthusiasts.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Hume Castle, named for the widely influential family who owned it, served many defensive roles throughout Scottish history. Initially built in the 13th century as a heavily defended castle, it was later modified for use as a lookout post during Napoleonic and Second World wars. Its ruins now stand high above the town of Hume, where it serves as a glorious landmark in the skyline.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

The remarkable tales of survival regarding Kelso Abbey are a great source of national pride for many in the area. Although now mostly ruined by time, the abbey resisted several waves of English assaults and maintained its Scottish identity. The buildings that remain paint a picture of the severe power held by the Kirk at the time and are an awe-inspiring space to visit.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Outside of its monumental abbey, the town of Kelso itself is a thriving space of agriculture and artistry. The town hosts frequent events for musicians to share their art, as well as accommodating a wonderful restaurant industry that makes liberal use of the local produce. Every corner of Kelso is overflowing with places to explore, and it is a fantastic base to holiday in the Borders.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

Built across seven years in the early 19th century, the colossal 150-foot Waterloo Monument commemorates the British victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Visitors should know that, although it is technically closed to the public, a key can be borrowed from the nearby Lothian Estates Office which takes climbers up a staircase to the circular balcony.

Nearest train station: Galashiels Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

For those in search of authentic Scottish tartan woven to perfection, there are few names more celebrated than Lochcarron of Scotland. Their visitor centre, located in Selkirk, offers bespoke tailoring for guests looking to take away an authentic piece of Scottish garb. Kilts, coats, and knitwear are all available for made-to-measure purchases.

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Nearest train station: Galashiels Station

Bus: Lothian Buses & Borders Explorer can take you closer to your destination.

No matter which area of the country you visit, you are never far away from a distillery in Scotland. The Borders Distillery does not focus just on whisky, however. Alongside the water of life, they also produce their perfected recipes of gin and vodka, so those with a taste for the clearer spirits will be well catered for during the 45-minute tours.

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Eat & drink in the Borders

Visit the Mainstreet Trading CompanyEnjoy cosy meals with friends and family.

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

Located in central Melrose, the Greenhouse Café lets visitors eat with views onto the glorious Melrose Abbey. The café offers a wide variety of classic lunchtime favourites cooked to perfection, with a menu that changes as local produce comes into season. Greenhouse is also very dog friendly, making it a perfect spot for anyone passing through.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

Combining two fields that Scotland excels in, this café and bookstore crafts a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere for visitors to eat and shop in. Everything on the menu has been locally sourced – or even baked in-house – to ensure Mainstreet Trading Company served only the best of the Borders.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

The beautiful grounds and location of the Buccleuch Arms hint towards the excellence served within their restaurant. Operating a purely field-to-fork policy, the kitchen crafts a menu that covers a wide variety of cuisines and styles. Scottish dishes made with Angus beef and locally caught fish are just some of the mouth-watering offerings at Buccleuch.

Nearest train station: Galashiels Station

Location: Kelso

In German, Schloss translates to castle, which should give you an idea of the luxury on offer in their Sunlaws restaurant. Following a philosophy of a small menu absolutely perfected, the restaurant has amassed a huge following in the fledgling two years since it opened. The quality of the food, coupled with the incredible choice of dining room and conservatory, ensures it will not be losing that any time soon.

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Stay in the Borders

A Caledonian welcome is always the perfect way to end a day of adventure. Throughout the Borders, passionate teams run a variety of accommodation options that can fit whatever type of holiday your party is searching for. Award-winning hotels and local-favourite inns are scattered throughout Galashiels, Selkirk, and beyond, ready to help you start and end your days in comfort.

Wonderful places to stay.Stay in style at the stunning Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course

Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

The gorgeous red brick exterior of the Buccleuch Arms promises guests an elegant stay filled with luxury – which is exactly what they provide. Visitors can explore the gracefully arranged grounds, bedecked with flowers and given shade by trees, before setting off on one of the many adventures available in the area. The Arms are also generous with their offers, with many combinations of meals and rooms available for significant discounts.

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Nearest train station: Galashiels Station

Location: Kelso

Just as the restaurant elevates Scottish produce, so too does the Schloss Hotel elevate the Borders into a true paradise. Each room is decorated with opulence in mind, and guests have a wide range of choices across the spectrum of size without skimping on quality. The sprawling grounds throughout Roxburge are utilised fantastically as the hotel offers a host of activities such as golf, fly-fishing, and even on-grounds horse riding.

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Nearest train station: Stow Station

Location: Lauder

Not a single hotel but a collection of idyllic cottages, every building in Dod Mill is utterly charming. Each is unique in function as well as aesthetic, from the sleek and stylish bunkhouse of The Bothy to the cosy romance of Old Mill. All of the cottages are situated on the beautiful Borders countryside – where the titular mill was once operated – so guests also share the land with a wide variety of wildlife such as rabbits, frogs, and otters.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

Soak up the atmosphere at The Townhouse Hotel, Melrose. A hotel with a contemporary twist, created and expertly run by the Henderson family, sister hotel to Burts Hotel, directly opposite.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

Experience the warmth of hospitality in true Scottish style at Burts Hotel, Melrose. The 18th century hotel, situated in the heart of Melrose’s picturesque market square, has been owned and managed by the Henderson family for almost 40 years.

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Nearest train station: Tweedbank Station

Location: Melrose

Fauhope Country House is a secluded, award winning ‘5 star gold’ B&B near Melrose in the heart of the Scottish Borders, with views that have inspired artists, writers, poets and musicians over the centuries.

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Extra time

Should you find yourself with more time to spend in The Borders, there are plenty of exciting places to explore slightly further out. The options below are best suited to day trips and are all fantastic ways to spend part of a longer holiday.

Visit the Great Polish Map of Scotland.Some the great attractions that the Borders has to offer.

Lochs are one of the defining features of Scotland’s topography, especially in the north, which is why Saint Mary’s is such a must-see for visitors to the Borders. As the largest loch in the region, Saint Mary’s is a space of natural tranquillity full of scenic views and remnants of Scottish history. Figures from William Wallace to James Hogg have all been known to frequent the loch, as well as the stunning Yarrow Valley nearby.

Originally built in the 19th century, the Kailzie Gardens lie just a mile to the east of Peebles. With its spot on the banks of the River Tweed, the garden’s walls surround an incredible 15 acres of land for visitors to explore. Blossoming rose gardens and long, stretching herbaceous borders greet guests upon their entry, enchanting them all throughout their woodland journey.

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One of the older castles in the area, Neidpath Castle was built almost 800 years ago yet still stands in remarkably good condition. Both inside and out, the owners have ensured that the castle remains authentic to how it was originally designed to look and function. Engravings dating back centuries are visible throughout the rooms, and many of the modifications (primarily defensive) are actually from the same time.

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At an incredible 50m x 40m, the work of Polish veteran Jan Tomasik is truly a wonder to behold. The Great Polish Map of Scotland, also known as the Mapa Scotland, is an incredibly intricate scale model of the country sculpted entirely from concrete. Six summers of work were poured into its creation, and it now stands on the grounds of Barony Castle. It tragically fell into disrepair throughout the 1980s, but a dedicated team of experts has been restoring Mapa Scotland since 2012.

Paxton House is one of the many locations throughout Scotland owned by the influential Hume/Home family, alongside places such as Hume Castle. This stunning red-brick Palladian house was constructed by Patrick Home during the 1750s, following his return from Europe. The interiors of the house – open for a tour guided by one of several experts – are very early examples of the neo-classic styling that would soon dominate British architectural design for decades.

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