Dundee has been one of the most talked-about cities in the past few years.
A UNESCO City of Design from 2014, Dundee featured in Lonely Planet’s ‘10 Best in Europe’ list for 2018 and has now been named one of the world’s top destinations in National Geographic’s 2019 ‘Cool List’ alongside places like Hong Kong and Oslo.
So what’s all the hype about?
Dundee’s £1 billion waterfront restoration project, led by the new V&A Museum, is at the forefront of a deeper regeneration plan. The project aims to rediscover the city’s cultural heritage and its global impact on design and technology.
Historically an industrial and manufacturing city, modern Dundee is an up-and-coming and friendly hub which features stunning museums, vibrant art, and a quirky food and drink scene.
At the centre of the city’s restoration plan is the newly-opened V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first museum of design. If you arrive into Dundee by train as I did, the V&A is the first thing you see exiting the train station, and what a sight it is.
Designed by architect Kengo Kuma taking inspiration from the Arbroath cliffs, this geometrically shaped building is impressively vast, but fits harmoniously with the surrounding waterfront and River Tay.
The inside is warm and hospitable, the ground floor comprises of a cafe and a gift shop, while the main exhibitions are located on the upper floor, accessible through an open staircase. The Scottish Design Galleries are dedicated to showcasing the history and impact of Scottish design, spanning through fashion, engineering, computer gaming and comics.
Although smaller than what you would expect from the outside, the exhibits are still incredibly interesting. The indisputable star of the show, however, remains the building’s stunning architecture.
Right beside the V&A, the RSS Discovery and museum make a fun and informative activity which takes you through the history of Scott and Shackleton’s 1901 scientific expedition to Antarctica. The exhibition draws on Dundee’s shipbuilding heritage and sheds light on the peculiar day-to-day life of the people on board.
The highlight of my visit was stepping on the RSS Discovery ship itself, which is perfectly preserved and furnished to early 1900s standards.
Attracting keen Dundonians since 1867, The McManus is all about the people, art and legacy of Dundee and nicely complements both the V&A and Discovery Point in showcasing Scottish design and craft making. The museum is located at the centre of large Albert Square in an imposing Victorian Gothic building.
You could spend hours exploring the eight airy galleries that showcase whaling artefacts, 20th-century Scottish paintings and everything in between.
The cherry on the cake is that the museum is free, so there really is no excuse not to stop by.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of my day trip to Dundee was statue spotting around the city. Home of British comic strips The Dandy and The Beano, Dundee is proud of its comics legacy and has turned iconic characters Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx and Oor Wullie into wonderful examples of public art.
You can admire bronze representations of the famed DC Thomson characters around the city, alongside a statue of the popular 90s computer game Lemmings, also created in Dundee by DMA Design – former name of game developing company Rockstar.
Four miles east of Dundee, the coastal suburb of Broughty Ferry offers great views of the Tay Estuary and is home to some of the best pubs and restaurants in Dundee.
Right by the shoreline sits historic Broughty Castle, which was built at the end of the 15th century to protect this important estuary. Having survived a siege during the 16th-century Anglo-Scottish war, thus suffering substantial damage, it was left to decay until the mid 19th century, when shifting European powers and a possible war with France led to a substantial refortification in virtue of its strategic position. Broughty Castle has had its share of drama.
Today the castle houses a museum dedicated to the people and environment of Broughty Ferry. Although the museum is a bit dated, the castle is well preserved and the remarkable views of Broughty Ferry beach and the Firth of Tay make it a worthwhile detour from the city centre.
Walking around the city there is a wide choice of restaurants and cafes. I enjoyed a delicious soup and sandwich lunch at a friendly neighbourhood cafe, Simpsons, recommended to me by a local friend. Other local favourites include brunch at The Bach and Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar.
The evening options are also rich and diverse, ranging from cosy pubs to sophisticated cocktail bars. I highly recommend the speakeasy bar Draffens to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. Hidden in a gritty alley, Draffens is famously hard to find, but once you walk through the non-descriptive door and enter the dimly lit basement room, you will find a classy bar serving inventive drinks.
Equally interesting is their sister bar The King of Islington, a rum bar with a Caribbean atmosphere and very knowledgeable staff.
With historic sights, pop culture landmarks, remarkable architecture and so much more on offer, it’s no wonder Dundee is on everybody’s mouth. Whether for a few hours or a few days, Scotland’s fourth largest city is well worth a visit!
P.S. Absolute Escapes offer award-winning self-drive holidays in Scotland. All of our itineraries are fully flexible, so whether you’d like to stop in Dundee for a few hours on your way to the wild Scottish Highlands, or spend a few nights in the City of Discovery, get in touch now and start planning your unforgettable trip to Scotland.