Scotland Starts Here! Things to do in the Scottish Borders

Scottish Borders - St Abbs

Fancy trekking with alpacas, spotting dolphins in a marine reserve, hurtling down a world-class mountain bike trail and staying in an ancient tower house on the beautiful River Tweed? Well you can do all of this in Midlothian and the Scottish Borders. Offering up one of the best places for a staycation in Scotland, here are my favourite things to do in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian. Scotland starts here!

This is a paid partnership with Scotland Starts Here and uses affiliate links (marked with a *) from which I may make a small commission from.

COVID 19 notice – please check local restrictions before you plan your travel to the Scottish Borders.

Short on time? 5 reasons to visit the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

  1. Go trekking with Beirhope Alpacas – discover the stunning Cheviot Hills on a hillside hike with your new furry best friends.
  2. Walk the 28-mile Berwickshire Coastal Path from Cockburnspath to Berwick on Tweed stopping at beautiful Coldingham Bay along the way. The views of the east coast of Scotland are spectacular, especially at St Abbs Head.
  3. Ride a RIB from Eyemouth to see the coast in a whole new way – speed up the coastline to spot seabirds, seals and dolphins in a National Volunteer Marine Reserve.
  4. Go world-class mountain biking at Innerleithen, Glentress and Newcastleton – with miles of mountain bike trails, three of Scotland’s fantastic 7-Stanes centres are in the Borders.
  5. Indulge your history geek – from medieval tower-houses you can actually stay in, to grand estates and historical abbeys – if you love Scotland’s history the Borders is your dream destination.
Scottish Borders - Alpaca Trekking

Where are the Scottish Borders? 

Stretching from beautiful Berwickshire in the east to the Pentland Hills in the west, and bounded by the English border in the south and the capital of Scotland in the north, are the Scottish Borders and Midlothian. With beautiful historic towns, ancient abbeys, castles and tower houses, rolling peaks and a stunning coastline, the Scottish Borders are the perfect introduction to Scotland. 

Pentland Hills walks Scottish Borders

Despite being one of Scotland’s most accessible areas – the region is connected by the Borders Railway, the A1, and the East Coast Mainline and within just 1 hour drive of Edinburgh and Newcastle – the Scottish Border Region has long been a Scotland hidden gem, known only to locals and enlightened travellers. The rest of us tend to hoof it up to the Highlands – missing out on the Lowlands!

It is time to change that. Here is my complete guide to things to do in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian. 

The need to know before you go to the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

The Scottish Borders are huge! Covering nearly 2000 sq miles, the Scottish Borders have been traditionally split into four regions – Berwickshire on the east coast; Roxburghshire with the towns of Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose; quiet and rural Selkirkshire; and pretty Peeblesshire.

There are lots of different areas of the Borders and Midlothian to explore, which makes the area perfect for day trips from Edinburgh and road trips!

The Scottish Borders are defined by the River Tweed. Did you know ‘Tweed’ in Celtic actually means Border? It gives a whole new meaning to the ‘tweeds’ used to define the Scottish clans! The river which gives the ‘Borders’ its name stretches 97 miles right across the region and many of the towns and villages are situated along its length.

Talking of warring clans, the Scottish Borders had it tough – the region was invaded both during the Wars of Independence and the infamous Border reivers.

The Reviers were raiders along the border made up of both Scots and English and stole whatever they could, so much the whole area is peppered potted with fortified bastle houses and tower-houses – from Neidpath Castle near Peebles to Smailholm Tower and the huge Hermitage Castle. 

Neidpath Castle - Scottish Borders

Midlothian and Scottish Borders Map

Places to stay in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

The Allanton Inn – a traditional coaching inn in the small village of Allanton, offering up fantastic hospitality, gorgeous local food and real ale along with a large beer garden out the back. Rooms are modern, large and comfortable. Dating back 100s of years with tons of character the Allanton inn is the perfect Scottish inn from which to explore Berwickshire and the east coast. Book the Allanton Inn*

Neidpath Castle Queen Mary’s Chamber – looking for true romance or fancy staying in your own castle for the night? Well you can at Neidpath Castle* near Peebles. This tower house offers up just one suite – the Queen Mary’s Chamber – with huge fires, a roll top bath and your own four poster bed. The best bit? You get the full run of the castle for the night – even the ramparts! Book Neidpath Castle*.

Read more – a stay at Neidpath Castle

Looking for family castle accommodation? Barns Castle* is also owned by the Neidpath family and also located near Peebles sleeps four guests. 

Westside Woodshed – In the Pentland hills just to the south of Edinburgh is Eastside, a working free-range blackface sheep farm which has been in the Cowan family since 1850 and Eastside Cottages, four luxurious self-catering holiday cottages, perfectly located for exploring the surrounding hills.

My favourite is the Westside Woodshed, an incredibly stylish Scandi-inspired cottage for two hidden amongst the trees. The cottage is perfect for exploring Midlothian. Stay at Westside Woodshed

Places to stay Midlothian

Ruberslaw Wild Wood Camping – On a hillside beneath the often misty Rubers Law hill hides a beautiful Scottish Borders campsite and a hive of activity. Opened in 2011 by the Bailey family, Ruberslaw Wild Woods Camping is a gem, offering woodland camping, glamping safari tents and pitches in a walled garden.

With a warm welcome, a bustling campsite hub and a well-stocked shop – all the facilities you need for a great time camping in Scotland. Stay at Ruberslaw Wild Wood Camping

Airbnbs in the Scottish Borders 

  • The Old Mill* – a gorgeous cottage for two near Lauder 
  • The Bothy* – a converted barn which sleeps up to four people near Thirlestane
  • Nettlebush Cottage* – sleeps two near Peebles 
  • The Woodland Cabin* – Looking for rustic? Get off grid with this glamping hut near Abbey Saint Bathans
  • The Smithy* – couple up at this gorgeous cottage near Crookham

Hotels in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

Where to eat in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

What to do in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

Ready to plan your trip? Here is my complete guide to things to do in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian. 

Go on an adventure in the Scottish Borders

Love the outdoors? Here’s how to explore the Borders by bike, foot, and err, with an Alpaca! 

Trekking with Alpacas – Beirhope Farm

Hidden high up in the Cheviot Hills is Beirhope Farm, home to an Alpaca Trekking Centre. Fancy taking an alpaca for a walk? You can! Head up into the Cheviot Hills for views over the Eildons Hills to Edinburgh to and learn all about the Scottish Borders’ history.

There are lots of alpaca options – from a meet and greet perfect for children (with a pocket full of carrot treats, alpacas are easily bribed to become your new best friends) to a three hour mountain hike.

On site is a small shop and a picnic area – so bring your own lunch and dine with the alpacas. I promise, trekking with alpacas will be one of the best things you will have ever done! Book Bierhope Farm Alpaca Trekking.

Ride an Eyemouth Rib to St Abbs

Fancy scooting down the coast on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat)? Well you can at Eyemouth. Book a seat on an Eyemouth Rib Trip and explore the stunning Berwickshire coastline of the Scottish Borders.

In charge is experienced skipper Tim Grimshaw who will whizz you down the coast spotting seals, sea bird and even dolphins as you enter the St. Abbs and Eyemouth National Voluntary Marine Reserve.

There are lots of RIB trip options available – we went on the leisurely Coastal Explorer which is a relaxing sea safari, or book onto the Fast Blast for a high speed adventure up the coastline! Book a brilliant Eyemouth Rib Trip with skipper Tim.

Mountain Biking in the Scottish Borders – The 7 Stanes

Scottish Borders mountain biking

You can ride three of the 7 Stanes, Scotland’s world-class mountain biking centres in the Scottish Borders – Glentress, Innerleithen, and Newcastleton.

With a wide range of mountain bike routes available to suit all levels, we are complete beginners and love the Upper Green Route with its fabulous views across Peebles and those in the know as serious mountain bikers love the Innerleithen XC route. 

Why not explore the three mountain bike centres in the Scottish Borders with a private or group mountain bike lesson or guided mountain bike ride from Ridelines?
Our skills lesson with Allan included a fun lesson in correct positioning, use of gears, how to stop (!!) and most importantly, gaining confidence on our bikes, in a private half day session.

We tried out both hardtail and full suspension Cube mountain bikes, along with an E-mountain bike – which made getting up those hills so much easier – and made us both squeal with joy! Book a lesson with Ridelines.

Go Ape tree top adventure at Glentress Forest, Peebles 

Go Ape Scottish Borders

Go Ape offers up a tree top adventure – swing through the trees, climb huge obstacles, brave huge zip wires and launch yourself off platforms with glee.

I loved Go Ape – being scared of heights, I wasn’t even sure that I would manage the course at all, but after a great safety briefing, with constant reminders of ‘always stay attached’ I actually felt really confident about getting up into the trees.

Prices range from £33 for a gorilla (aged 16 and over) to £25 for a baboon (aged 10 to 15) and are worth every penny. Book Go Ape, Glentress.

Places to visit in the Scottish Borders

Fancy a day trip? Here are my favourite places to visit in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian

Visit St Abbs and hike St Abbs Head 

St Abbs

With the beautiful St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve offering up spectacular cliffside walks, links to Hollywood (hint, it’s New Asgard and is Eroda in Harry Style’s Adore You video) diving, fishing and seabirds galore, the village of St Abbs is the perfect place in the Scottish Borders for a day trip. 

Head up above White Heugh Bay for views of the St Abbs harbour through rock turrets and walk the circular route through the dunes, returning via the pretty Mire Loch looking out for seabirds and seals. From St Abbs you can walk along the clifftop to Eyemouth via the pretty Coldingham Bay. Return to St Abbs for crab sandwiches at Ebb Carrs Cafe. 

Explore Midlothian and Scottish Borders Abbeys & Castles 

The Scottish Borders are famous for its four 12th Century abbeys – Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso and Dryburgh – founded in the 12th century, along with medieval peel towers – from Neidpath Castle near Peebles to Smailholm Tower and the huge Hermitage Castle. 

Dryburgh Abbey is the final resting place of author Sir Walter Scott and Field-Marshal Earl Haig who set up the Haig Poppy Fund, Melrose probably the best known and best preserved, the oldest abbey is Kelso, and the richest, Jedburgh. The circular Border Abbeys Way takes in all four Scottish Borders abbeys over 65 miles. 

The Borders are also full of castles – in response to the Reiver’s raids of the 1430s, a line of 25 ‘Peel Towers’ were built along the tweed valley – most are still standing today and you can now stay in Neidpath Castle* near Peebles. 

Abbotsford – the home of Sir Walter Scott

A stunning country house built in the 1800s as the home of famous Scottish novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott, additions and alterations led to Abbotsford being described by Scottt as ‘the Delilah of his imagination’, his ‘Conundrum Castle’ and ‘flibbertigibbet of a house’. 

Opened to the public in 1833, the house continued to be lived in by the Scott family until 2004 and is now a fantastic visitor attraction with stunning rooms and a beautiful walled garden and a fantastic library.

Born in Edinburgh in 1771, Scott became both an Advocate and a Poet, writing historical romantic fictional poems such as Marmion and Lady of the Lake, and his famous fictional novel historical Waverley in 1814 – which Edinburgh Waverley station is named after, along with Ivanhoe and The Heart of Midlothian. Visit Abbotsford.

Dawyck Botanic Gardens 

A north-facing hillside rising 850ft above sea level, wouldn’t normally be where you’d expect to find a botanic garden, but deep in the Tweed Valley hides one of the world’s most spectacular arboretums.

Dawyck Botanic Garden was originally planted to cheer up the setting of Dawyck house, once described as “lonely mansion in the bosom of a gloomy mountain”, Dawyk comes alive in Summer and Autumn when the colours of the famous Azalea Terrace are at their brightest but the garden is gorgeous whatever the season. . 

Take a stroll around Dawyck Botanic Gardens (Paid – Adult £7.00, Concession £6.00, Child (15 and under) Free). Read more – visit Dawyck Botanic Gardens.

Rosslyn Chapel

History buffs will love Rosslyn Chapel and the walk around Roslin Glen. Rosslyn Chapel whilst being famous for the Da Vinci Code (and the potential hiding place of the Holy Grail) is actually one of Midlothian’s not so hidden gems.

A fantastic 15th-century chapel sitting above a beautiful glen, the interior is exquisitely carved and decorated. The church is still consecrated so there are no photos allowed inside but the chapel really needs to be seen to be believed.

Rosslyn Chapel is open for visitors, with 150 guests allowed in each day in timed slots, we visited during the pandemic and the whole visit felt very safe. Visit Rosslyn Chapel and glen.

Walks in the Scottish Borders 

From the Pentlands to the Cheviots, there are lots of ways to explore the Scottish Borders and Midlothian by foot.

My favourite walks in the Pentland Hills 

Pentland Hills

Directly to the south west of Edinburgh and spanning both Midlothian and West Lothian, the Pentlands covers 50 sqm miles of hills and nine reservoirs. Here are my favourite walks in the Pentland Hills.

  • The Great Glen Mystery Walk – a 2-mile ramble (which can be shortened to a mile) from the Flotterstone car park up to Glencourse Reservoir, great for kids
  • The Torduff Water Walk – a 2 mile circular around Torduff & Clubbiedean reservoirs
  • Nine Mile Burn and Caps Law – a 4 mile path takes you up over Monks Ridge and Caps Law to the foot of the Kips before returning underneath Braid Law. 
  • The Capital View Walk – explore  Hillend Country Park to Swanston on this short 2.5 mile (but very hilly) walk
  • The Five Peaks in the Pentlands – a 10-mile circular which takes in the Five Peaks of the Pentlands – Turnhouse Hill, Carnethy Hill, Scald Law and East and West Kip.
  • The Pentlands Skyline – the full circuit of the Pentland Hills two ridge lines over 16 miles.   

The best walks in the Pentland Hills

More walks in the Scottish Borders

  • Discover the Tweed Valley Forest Park at Glentress – not just for mountain bikers, there are lots of paths to explore in Glentress with great views of Peebles. 
  • Explore the Tweed Valley and visit the gorgeous Dryburgh Abbey at Newtown St Boswell and visit Neidpath Castle beside the river at Peebles. 
  • Complete the circuit of pretty St Mary’s Loch near Selkirk with beautiful views and lots of Scottish Borders history to discover! 
  • Fancy some hillwalking, hike the Cademuir Hills to discover hillforts and climb the Eildon Hills for an incredible view across the Borders.
  • Named after a locally famous author, the John Buchan Way takes you 13.5 miles from Peebles to Broughton.
  • The St Cuthberts Way is a 62 mile route which runs from Melrose Abbey to Lindisfarne.  

How to get to the Scottish Borders

The Scottish Border is one of Scotland’s most accessible areas within just 1 hour drive of Edinburgh and Newcastle. However, much of the area is rural, so if you fancy road tripping in the Scottish Borders, a car is useful. 

You can also get to the Scottish Borders by the Borders Railway which stops at Tweedbank, Galashiels, and Stow and the East Coast Mainline. Buses to the Scottish Borders are run by Borders Buses and Midlothian by Lothian Buses.

Love, from Scotland x

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