It’s just over half an hour’s drive from Glasgow, but Ayrshire feels like a different world entirely; the landscape of rolling hills, rugged islands and sandy beaches is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you’re craving a trip to Scotland that’s a little different from the usual tartan tour buses, there are few better places to experience the local culture and cuisine. Time to pack your bags and get ready to explore; our experts at Plum Guide have put together a few of our favourite things to do in Ayrshire to start you off.
Green fields at the coastline of Isle of Arran, Scotland, UK
Take a trip to the Isle of Arran
Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, the Isle of Arran makes a great day trip or weekend diversion if you’re looking for things to do in Ayrshire that stray from the beaten path. Whether the hills are lit up by summer sunshine or shrouded in fog (and let’s face it, it’s Scotland, so one of these options is more likely than the other) there’s plenty to do and explore here. Trek to the top of Goat Fell, the highest mountain on the island, visit the Neolithic stone circles and burial cairns of Machrie Moor, or spend a drizzly afternoon sheltering in the distillery, where whisky has been made since the 1800s. If dramatic landscapes are your bag, you could do worse than taking a trip up to the Highlands and staying somewhere like this spacious waterside abode.
Honour Ayrshire’s most famous son
You might not think you’re a poetry fan, but if you’ve ever joined in with a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne at a New Year’s Eve party, you know at least one penned by Ayrshire’s most famous residents. Robert Burns (or Rabbie, if you’re Scottish) was born in the small town of Alloway just south of Ayr, and his works like Address to a Haggis and To a Mouse earned him the status of Scotland’s most beloved poet. You can learn all about his life in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which is full of dog-eared manuscripts and fun interactive exhibits that will even keep the most unruly of kids entertained. A ticket to the museum also grants you access to the cottage where he was born; he and six siblings were raised in this tiny thatched dwelling. Atmospheric though it is, we’d prefer to stay in Heather Blush, one of the rather more luxurious Plum homes in Ayrshire.
Visit the ancestral home of one of Scotland’s ancient clans
Imposing turrets reaching into the sky are almost commonplace in Scotland. No Edinburgh itinerary would be complete without a visit to the castle, and of course we at Plum have discovered one of the most impressive homes in Ayrshire – Atop The Ayrshire Cliffs – for a stay that will make you feel like royalty. Even if you’re waking up in palatial surroundings every morning of your holiday, we think it’s still worth taking a trip to the magnificent Culzean Castle. Looming high over the Ayrshire cliffs, this 18th century residence was built for one of the oldest clans in Scotland and fittingly, is stuffed with grand oil paintings, an iconic oval staircase, and enough historic weapons to outfit an army. It’s also set within a large country park, so pack a picnic and explore the woodlands. Keep an eye out for the herd of red deer and venture down the rocky cliff paths to wander the beaches of the estate. Don’t forget to bring your bucket and spade; with a history this long and illustrious, there’s bound to be buried treasure somewhere around here.
Sample some of the freshest seafood around
We firmly believe the old adage that the way to the heart is through the stomach, and not just in relationships. The best way to get to know a new destination, in our not-so-humble opinion, is to sample the local cuisine. In Ayrshire, this means the salty tang of hot chips on the seashore, the crisp snap of oatcakes alongside a hearty bowl of soup, and tender morsels of wild-reared Scottish venison. But above all, what it means is seafood. Ayrshire’s chefs have always sought inspiration from the waves, and menus are filled with a bounty of haddock, lobster and salmon. Braidwoods, the proud holder of Ayrshire’s only Michelin star (which they’ve been awarded for twenty-one years running) serves up delicate West Coast monkfish and hand-dived scallops, while the The Catch at Fins Restaurant is well-supplied with the catch of the day from their very own fishery, Fencebay. They also have a farm shop right next door, so you can treat yourself to some smoked salmon for luxurious holiday breakfasts.
The Ayrshire Coast, Scotland
If you’re feeling shellfish, though, there’s only one place to go – Maccallum’s Oyster Bar, right on the port in the tiny, jutting peninsula of Troon. Trying to rank the best things to do in Ayrshire is a tough task, but we think that dining on freshly caught oysters while the waves crash against the harbour walls outside might just be top of the list. It would be a shame to visit Scotland and not spend some time in the capital – especially when our Plum Guide home critics have gone to such an effort to find the city’s best accommodation for you. Check out our guide to the best areas to visit in Edinburgh if you’re travelling with family; we’re quite taken with this modern flat in the heart of the Old Town.