Planning on visiting Scotland anytime soon? Here are 25 amazing things to do in Dundee! Your complete guide to the city starts right here…
Have you ever been to the city of Dundee in Scotland? The answer might be no. Dundee is often eclipsed by the other more well-known cities in Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, Dundee also has a lot to offer to tourists. There’s underground vaults, a street art trail, boutique shops, a world famous design museum, and a secret bar just for starters. It’s also had a little bit of money invested in it over the past few years – around £1 billion in fact. If you’ve never been to Dundee before or have preconceptions about what it’s like then I’d say: it’s probably not what you think. The city has evolved, grown and even been doused in praise by cultural juggernauts such as GQ and Vogue. I like to think of it as a little underdog town that’s slooowly getting noticed by the cool kids.
What should you know about Dundee?
Dundee is historically known for three things: jute, jam, and journalism. Jute is a rough fibre used to create canvas, sacking, and twine and the industry was a big part of Dundee’s past. There’s still plenty of beautiful old mill buildings that tell the story of city’s thriving jute industry past.
Now let’s get onto jam. Just to be obtuse, jam actually refers to marmalade. Dundee is also famous for its marmalade, which was created by the Keiller family using Seville oranges in the 18th century. And finally, journalism. Journalism refers to the publishing company DC Thomson, whose headquarters were – and still are – located in Dundee. The company is responsible for iconic comics such as the Beano and the Dandy and their equally famous characters Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Desperate Dan. Even more interestingly, I used to work there!
Oh, and we also love penguins.
Why should you visit in Dundee
One great thing about Dundee is that it’s super compact, so you can pretty much walk anywhere. It’s become a running joke that whenever my sister asks where something is in Dundee it’s always “about 10 minutes away”. Train station? Park? Town? All 10 minutes away. Dundee also has the honour of being the sunniest city in Scotland. You may be doubtful, I know. We are in Scotland after all! However, to me it feels like it’s sunny here ALL the time. Even if it does rain it seems to blow over really quickly and then the sun’s out again. It’s not always so good when I want work on my blog at home and I get the guilt for not being outside in it, but there we have it.
A few other things to do in Dundee
I also just want to point out that there are a few big hitters on the tourism landscape in Dundee that I haven’t included in the list. These include things like the RRS Discovery, the McManus art gallery, and the jute museum Verdant Works. Oh yes, and the Unicorn. Yes, we even have unicorns in Dundee – except this one is a ship. That’s because I’m a terrible tourist and I haven’t visited these places yet. However, I have heard great things so don’t let that put you off. I just wanted to make sure this list represented my own personal experiences in Dundee – either places I’ve been to myself or have been recommended by friends – which you’ll see throughout.
Vegan restaurants in Dundee
One final point. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan myself but I know the that’s something people want to know when they’re visiting a city. Are there any vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Dundee? I have good news, there’s a good selection of vegan restaurants in Dundee to choose from, including Underdog Dundee, Rad Apples, and Marwick’s Vegan Cafe. Have a quick mosey here for more on what the city has to offer for vegans.
There are also a number of places that serve delicious vegan and vegetarian food as part of their menu, including Rishi’s and the Bach – an amazing brunch spot. Mexican restaurant Mas also has a dedicated vegan menu. Their food (and drinks!) are amazing, but I’ll get to that a bit further down.
So let’s hop to it. Here are 25 cool things to do in Dundee…
25 amazing things to do in Dundee
1) Visit the V&A Dundee
The V&A museum in Dundee is probably the most famous tourist destination in the city. It’s the centre of the entire £1 billion waterfront redevelopment which has taken place over a number of years and has also included the redevelopment of the train station, the development of Slessor Gardens and the soon to be unveiled urban beach. The V&A Dundee really is the glistening jewel in the crown. It’s a breathtaking building to have right on your doorstep. I love stopping to looking at it when I’m out running – or maybe that’s just my excuse when I’m out of breath!
And if you think the V&A Dundee is going to be a stuffy place that’s just for the art and design crowd then you’re wrong. The architect of the V&A Dundee, Kengo Kuma, said that he wanted the building to be a ‘living room for the city‘ and I really feel like they’ve done a great job in doing that. It’s not the kind of space where you get shushed for making too much noise. There’s always small family-friendly exhibits on display in the upper foyer space which are engaging and interactive for kids, and you can go down just to meet a friend for coffee and cake or eat at the restaurant.
In terms of exhibitions, the Scottish Design Galleries are the permanent exhibition and they’re completely free. You can see amazing examples of Scottish design, such as original Beano artwork, a Christoper Kane dress, and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh oak tea room. The museum also runs two temporary exhibitions each year. I really can’t wait for this exhibition about the designer of the first miniskirt, Mary Quant, to open!
2) Hang out with the art crowd at the DCA
Dundee Contemporary Arts – or the DCA – is one of the best all round venues in the city. It runs a lot of fantastic art exhibitions and is a big part of the whole creative scene in Dundee, but it’s not just about “art” art if you know what I mean. It’s a really great place for everyone in the city to enjoy.
One of my favourite things about the DCA it that it has a cinema, which shows a mix of blockbuster movies and independent cinema. All the other cinemas are chains and are located on the outskirts of town so this is ideal if you’re based in the centre and don’t want to catch a bus or hire a car.
It also has an amazing restaurant, bar, and outdoor seating area. I’ve been there on many a gorgeous summer day, drinking rose in the sunshine, but I’ve also been there for lunch with my parents, dinner with my colleagues, brunch with friends, and plenty of other occasions. As I said, it’s a great all rounder!
3) Visit Foxlake Dundee
Looking for a bit of an adrenaline rush? Then try Foxlake Dundee, where you can try out a wide array of watersports. They do everything from wakeboarding, paddleboarding and ringo, which is where you get dragged around in a giant rubber ring. There’s also an inflatable obstacle course which looks like SO much fun. It’s perfect for older kids and adults alike, and it might even be something a little bit different to do for a hen or stag party. As long as you don’t mind getting soaking wet and freezing of course!
The other great thing about Foxlake, as with most things in Dundee, is that it’s located right in the centre of town at the City Quay. That’s basically a 5-10 minute walk from the train station. So you can have your session, head back to your hotel and get all warm and toasty in your room, and then get ready to go out and hit the town. Sounds like the perfect day out to me.
4) Walk along the river
One of my favourite things to do at the weekend is to go for a run along the waterfront in Dundee. It’s a great spot to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and enjoy amazing views of the River Tay. I’ve even heard some people say that they’ve spotted dolphins in the water before. What can I say, we love our water creature mythology in Scotland! I’ve never seen them myself, but who am I to spoil anyone’s fun? You’ll also be able to take in some landmarks, such as the railway bridge, the RRS Discovery, and of course the V&A Dundee, that ol’ linchpin of the city’s cultural regeneration.
5) Discover Dundee’s secret bar
If you come to Dundee then you must visit the secret bar in the city, which is known as Draffens. I’ll leave you to find out where it is yourself as that’s part of the fun, but I’ll give you a clue. Once you go past the creepy mannequins and start to hear the tinkle of 1920s jazz you know you’re on the right track. It’s small and dimly lit inside with expert bar staff who definitely play into the whole 1920s vibe, which is all of the fun. In terms of the drinks: they’re smoky, expensive and really strong. Really strong! Expect a lot of dark liquor… which tends to be served without a whole lot of mixer. I really like sugary drinks so I always like to go for one or two and by that time I’m craving something a bit sweeter – and a bit cheaper!
Can I also let you into a secret? There’s more than one secret bar in Dundee. Draffens is the original and, arguably, the best secret bar in Dundee, but if you’re into the speakeasy vibe then you might also be interested in basement bar Capones on the Perth Road. Like your rum? Then try the inconspicuous King of Islingston on Union Street. It’s another place that’s small but perfectly formed – we tend to have a lot of that in Dundee!
6) Explore the vaults in Dundee
You might have heard of the underground vaults in Edinburgh, which I’ve visited numerous times and would highly recommend. However, did you know that Dundee also had its own vaults? The tours of the vaults in Dundee are a fairly new addition to the city’s tourism landscape but they’re one that everyone got super excited about when they opened – even the locals. The first run of tours were snapped up straight away.
So why are the vaults there? Well, the vaults in Dundee were once a storage area that was used when Dundee was a busy trading port in the 17th century. They were later built over, but they offer a fantastic insight into the history of Dundee. If you like spooky things as I do, they’re a great way to spend an hour or so. Have a look at this article for a bit more information.
7) Take a selfie with Desperate Dan
As I mentioned, Dundee is a powerhouse of comics production and is birthplace of iconic comics the Beano and the Dandy and characters such as Dennis the Menace and Desperate Dan. There are nods to the city’s comic book roots throughout Dundee. The city has its very own Bash Street, named after the Beano’s famous comic book strip, The Bash Street Kids. The street sign also comes complete with playful comic-style splats!
While any homage to arguably the most famous character of all, Dennis the Menace, is absent in the city (I’m not sure why to be honest) the Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx statues almost make up for it. Almost! Located in the centre of town, just in front of the town square, you haven’t done Dundee right unless you come away with a selfie of Desperate Dan.
You should also walk up the street to view the DC Thomson building on Albert Square where these characters were created. It’s a pretty impressive building by anyone’s standards. Finally, there’s another statue located just outside. This one is of Oor Wullie, which is another iconic character. You can read his comic strip every week in Sunday newspaper The Sunday Post.
8) Hang out in Groucho’s
Like your vinyl records? Then definitely stop by Groucho’s on the Perth Road. Groucho’s has been part of the indie music scene in Dundee since the 70s and it’s achieved almost cult status now; becoming something of an institution in the city. It’s even been rumoured The Smiths singer Morrissey has been spotted there in the past. You really never know who you might bump into. As well as mining for bargains, Groucho’s record store is also a great place to pick up tickets and flyers if you want to know what’s going on in the city. I once managed to get tickets to see one my favourite bands, The Xcerts, at Grouchos on the day of the gig – such amazing service!
9) Get the cogs whirring with an escape room
I was a late convert to escape rooms, and when I say late I mean really late. I first tried one during a hen party in Newcastle a year or so ago and I expected to hate it… but I really, really loved it. So much so that I was keen to try one in my home city. There are a few escape rooms in Dundee but, again, some of them are on the outskirts of town so only really accessible by car. The one I went to was called Escape Dundee. It’s handily located right in the centre of the city – so perfect for kicking off a night out!
I went with a group of my old colleagues. As there was a big group of us we were split into two rooms. The room my team was in was billed as a Game of Thrones room, but I’d say it was more of King Arthur / Knights of the Round Table vibe. It was great! It wasn’t super easy but it wasn’t crazy hard either. I’d say it would probably a good option if you’re pretty new to escape rooms. We managed to escape in time but the other team got out ahead of us. It was such a laugh and I’d definitely recommend it!
10) Stop by the cutest street in Dundee
Chandlers Lane in Dundee is one of my favourite streets in the whole city. It’s cobbled, the houses are super cute, and it just has a different vibe to anywhere else in the city. If you want a nice location to grab a selfie this is it. It’s also located right on the waterfront so you can stop off there as part of your walk along the river, if you decide to do that!
11) Enjoy delicious pub grub at Trades
I love Trades House Bar. It’s a proper old fashioned pub right in the centre of town. It’s the kind of place you could go to with your parents for lunch AND have a real boozy night out with friends later on. I’ve done both. Nine times out of ten when you walk in you’ll be greeted by a blast of noise, as they’re often showing football on the big screen. However, there are separate cosy nooks for you to sit if you’re ordering food.
The service is impeccable and the food is pretty awesome too. It’s pub grub done well, with everything from steak pies to lasagne to balmoral chicken. The only issue you might have is trying to find a seat as everyone in the city seems to turn up here on a Saturday. It’s one of the best places for atmosphere in Dundee and I’d highly recommend it.
12) Drink margaritas at Mas
Mas is a tiny Mexican restaurant on the Perth Road of Dundee, in the west end of the city. There are lots of things I love about Mas: the decor is playful and cool, the service is friendly, and the food is amazing. Think Mexican-style small plates of tacos, quesidillas and, my favourite, the queso fundido – molten cheese served with tortilla chips. It also does a full vegan menu. However, my favourite part is the margaritas. They do a different special every day but they’re all as good as each other. The one in the photo is passion fruit! As far as I’m concerned it’s the best Mexican in Dundee.
13) Climb the Law
A confession. I’ve lived in Dundee for around ten years now and I only climbed the Law for the first time last year. The shame. You may not know what the Law is, but it’s the big hill on the city’s skyline that you’ll see in near enough every photo of Dundee. Everyone calls it a volcano, but it’s actually a volcanic sill. It’s the place to go if you want to see panoramic views of the city. I have to warn you that it’s a pretty steep incline – although you can take you car up – but the views are pretty incredible at the top. If you get a nice day it’s also a lovely spot to have picnic.
14) Have a drink in Mennies
If you want to rub shoulders with the locals of Dundee then Mennies is the place to go. It’s an Edwardian bar with a real old fashioned vibe. It has a beautiful bar with different sections and two living rooms that are so charming and homely that you feel like you’re having a drink at home.
Be warned, this is one of the most popular pubs in Dundee. It gets absolutely crammed on a Friday and a Saturday night, and probably other nights of the week too. But if you want to get a sense of the real Dundee and not just the tourist circuit then you can soak it up right here.
It’s also going confuse you because the pub isn’t actually called Mennies, at least not according to the signage outside. It’s actually called the Speedwell Bar. However, it’s affectionately known to locals as Mennies because of the landlady who ran it for more than 50 years. Read more about it here.
15) Enjoy the sunshine at Magdalen Green
Magdalen Green is only a short walk away from my flat and it’s one of the nicest parks in the city. And Dundee has a lot of nice green spaces. Recognisable by the brightly coloured bandstand, it’s a great spot to take the dog out, go for a run, or just hang out with friends. My favourite spot is at the far end of the park. If you walk right along to the end you’ll find a couple of picnic benches which make the perfect lunch spot.
If you visit Dundee in June it’s also where one-day festival Westfest is held. Expect live music, food stalls, bars, and lots of market-style stands – I even got my palm read once! I make a point of rounding up my friends so we can all together. And the best part of West Fest is that it’s completely free.
16) Enjoy a cocktail at Bird & Bear
If you’re looking for things to do in Dundee at night then I would definitely recommend enjoying a cocktail or two at Bird & Bear. Although, saying that, Bird & Bear is good at any time of day. I’ve been there for lunch, dinner and drinks after work, and they also do a very cool hip hop brunch that is definitely worth trying if you’re in the city for the weekend.
This venue swapped hands so many times in the time that I’ve lived in Dundee and it never felt quite right. That was until Bird & Bear took over and just completely nailed it. Now, it has everything. The decor is stylish, the cocktail menu is extensive, and the atmosphere is electric. You’ll pop in for one drink and be here all night long, trust me.
17) Eat a peh at Clarks 24 hour bakery
A what? A ‘peh’ is how the locals pronounce the word pie, and refers to a Scotch pie. Want to know some other examples of Dundee dialect? One of my favourites is the fact that Dundonians refer to roundabouts as ‘circles’. But I’ve gone off topic again – sorry, folks.
The 24 hour bakery in Dundee has near legendary status in the city. It’s mostly favoured by students after a night out who want something to mop up all the alcohol. I’ve been there myself at 3am, blinking in the bright lights in the queue for my chips and cheese. The bakery is a bit tricky to find. If you don’t know the city well so I’d recommend either googling it or simply following the hungry crowds of students after the clubs let out.
18) Go on the Open/Close trail
You might not have heard of the Open/Close Dundee before but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the coolest things to do in Dundee. It’s a street art trail that was created as a way of brightening the streets of Dundee. It comprises a series of painted doorways as well as other street art created by a mix of local, national and international artists. One of my personal favourites is local street artist C.Gull (the pink flapper gull artwork below). You can see his work as part of the Open/Close trail and dotted around the city.
There are two trails, one in the city centre and one Stobswell, which is an area on the east side of the city. You can wander around and discover it yourself (Open Close Dundee helpfully have maps on their website which highlight where everything is located) or attend one of their amazing guided tour trails, which run on the first Saturday of every month. They take just over an hour in total and are a great way to discover the secret nooks and crannies of the city that you might not otherwise see.
19) Check out the boutique shops on Exchange Street
Exchange street is located in what is known as downtown Dundee, and it’s one of the prettiest streets in the city. Small but perfectly formed and packed full of independent retailers that are definitely worth exploring. Pick up some gifts or homeware from Swankie Joes, sample the delicious cakes and coffee at T And Cake, source fresh local products at Heart Space Whole Foods and indulge yourself with some local cheeses at The Cheesery. Any street with a dedicated cheese shop is a winner in my eyes, even if it is a bit whiffy! Oh yes, and there’s also the amazing Flame Tree Cafe, which is the perfect lunch spot. Make sure you try their rainbow bagels!
20) Eat fish and chips at the Tailend
We’re well known for our love of deep-fried foods in Scotland, which you can read more about in my recent blog post on 25 things to eat in Scotland. However, there’s more to our love affair with deep-fried foods than deep-fried Mars Bars. Fish and chips done well is something of a national delicacy and the award-winning Tailend in Dundee is a great example of this. It’s even been voted the best fish and chip shop in the country!
You can order your traditional fish supper with battered haddock and chips, and eat it straight out of the paper on the walk home. Suffice to say that the suppers from here are especially tasty. However, there are also a few more more usual offerings on their menu. Well, unusual for a chippie at least! I’m talking seared scallops, tiger prawns, grilled halloumi and lots more. You can also sit in and eat at their basement restaurant if you want to be a little bit fancy – order a glass of champagne for the full experience!
21) Get even more fancy alongside Game of Thrones props at Dynasty
If you’re looking for something a little bit extra when you’re in Dundee then try Dynasty, a luxury restaurant and outdoor bar in the west end of the city. And when I say a little bit extra I actually mean a whole LOT extra. Dynasty is inspired by the renaissance and neo-classical eras and it’s about as opulent as it gets. This isn’t the kind of place you rock up to in your hoodie and trainers. There’s a lot of gold, a Sistine Chapel-style ceiling, and a beer garden decorated with props from Game of Thrones. So if you’re wanting to be really fancy for the evening, this is the place to come.
22) Get a picture with the Lemmings
Did you know that Dundee has some big connections to the gaming industry? Iconic games Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings actually originated in Dundee. There are also a ton of video game companies in the city now. We even have a university, Abertay University, which is one of the best in the world to study at if you want to work in the gaming industry.
If you’re visiting you definitely want to pay homage to those gaming roots and visits the Lemmings statues on the Perth Road. I used to play Lemmings at my older cousin’s house when I was growing up so these statues always make me smile. The fact that someone also dressed them up with face masks during lockdown is another reason – they rocked that look.
23) Eat brunch at Pacamara
There are a lot of great brunch places in Dundee. I’ve already mentioned the Flame Tree Cafe and there’s also The Bach in Albert Square in the centre of town. And don’t forget the unassuming but lovely Tartan Coffee House in the west end, a regular haunt of mine. However, I think Pacamara on the Perth Road has to be my favourite. I’ve been there numerous times for brunch and it’s always great. It’s pretty small inside, so you should definitely try and book if you want to get a seat. I’m always jogging past there at the weekend and it does get really busy.
The menu at Pacamara has everything from brioche french toast with bacon and maple syrup, to poached eggs and avocado, to their wonderfully decadent bubble and squeak benny, which is perfect for mopping up the excesses of the night more. They also do great coffee. It’s probably one of the more expensive places in Dundee for brunch, but I’d say it’s worth it. And one final thing, it’s also the perfect place for people watching if you can get one of the much coveted window seats.
24) Flex some muscles at the climbing centre
All that eating and drinking in Dundee might have got you wanting to burn off some energy. If that’s the case then the climbing centre in Dundee, Avertical World, is a great place to visit. I’ve been a couple of times and the staff are so friendly and welcoming. So much so that when I went with my friend I thought she actually knew the instructor, because they were making in-jokes within about the first five minutes of arriving.
You can hire everything you need there so there’s no need to bring any equipment with you. You can also be a complete beginner. You can try the vertical walls with the guidance of the instructor or try bouldering, where you won’t be attached to ropes and will just fall onto the mats below. It’s great fun and the perfect way to work up an appetite on a rainy afternoon.
25) Visit Broughty Ferry
Dundee is located next to Broughty Ferry, a suburb of the city where all the wealthy merchants used to live in the 18th century when Dundee was known for its jute industry. As I mentioned earlier, Dundee is a real post-industrial city. You can see plenty of old mill buildings that have been converted into flats and even hotels – Hotel Indigo in Dundee is a great example. But I digress. Broughty Ferry, or the Ferry as it’s referred to be locals, is as charming as it comes. It’s basically a lovely seaside town. Visit the castle, hang out at the beach or visit one of the many cafes, restaurants and bars located there. The tapas bar gets great reviews. You can definitely find enough to do to spend a whole day there.