Looking for the best free things to do in Dundee? Then check out my list!
15 free things to do in Dundee coming right up!
You know the drill: you want to visit a new place but you don’t want to blow the budget. Luckily, Dundee is a pretty affordable city at the best of times. It’s miles cheaper than Edinburgh or Glasgow so if you want to stretch your pennies as much as possible then it really is the perfect place. And that’s not to say there’s any dip in quality, either!
There are so many amazing free things to do in Dundee. You can visit some of the many incredible galleries or museums, take in the gorgeous river views, grab a selfie with the penguin statues or check out some of the amazing street art around the city.
If you want to go a bit further afield there’s a ‘volcano’ to climb and enjoy amazing views, highland cows to go and see, and the nearby port town of Broughty Ferry that combines a beach with a bustling high street that’s packed with cafes, bars and boutiques.
I’ve kept all the spending to an absolute minimum, although I have thrown in a few examples of where you might want to drop some cash if you feel like it. But the takeaway message is this: there’s tons to do in Dundee that is completely free. Enjoy!
If you like this most you may enjoy my other Dundee content:
- 25 things to do in Dundee
- The best cafes and breakfast spots in Dundee
- The best restaurants in Dundee
- Everything you should do in Broughty Ferry
1) Visit the V&A
It’s the flagship museum that’s been a big part of the city rebrand. It’s also one of the best free things to do in Dundee.
Whether you arrive by car, rail or bus, the V&A is one of the first things you’ll see when you arrive in the city – and it really packs a punch when it comes to first impressions. For starters, just take a moment to look at the building itself.
It really brings the drama, with its sloping concrete panels being a nod to the wildness to the Scottish seascapes we all know and love. You can look at it a hundred times over and still see something different and I’d insist that you walk all the way around to take in all its angles. Of course, you also want to get ‘the’ photograph next to the lettering.
But you can actually go inside the V&A for free as well. The architect of the building described it as a “living room for the city” and it really is just a great place to hang out. The Scottish Design Galleries are free to enter for one. It’s here that you can see such treasures as a Christopher Kane dress and a fully restored Charles Rennie Mackintosh tearoom. There are also regular temporary exhibitions at the V&A, although you do have to pay for tickets.
Also, don’t miss the balcony with amazing views of the River Tay – also free to access!
2) Walk along the River Tay
It’s been a popular activity throughout lockdown, right? Don’t we all love to walk!
However, walks along the River Tay are popular 365 days a year. On any given weekend you’ll find walkers, joggers and cyclists crowding along the river. I’ve been one of them many a time too! There are rumours that you can sometimes see dolphins in the River Tay but even if you don’t there’s still some incredible Scottish scenery to take in.
If you walk up to the railway bridge you’ll be able to get some rather stunning photographs of the bridge curving onto the river. You may also see the remnants of the Tay Rail Bridge disaster. In 1879 the high girders of the bridge collapsed into the river as the result of a ferocious storm, bringing with them the train, its crew, and its passengers. You can still see the stumps of the old railway bridge poking out of the water next to the new one.
All in all, the river is a big part of Dundee’s history and is well worth soaking up.
3) P-P-P Pose with the penguins
You may not know that Dundee has an affinity with penguins. This is linked to the RRS Discovery, the whaling ship that now sits in prime position next to the V&A Dundee museum on the waterfront. The RRS Discovery’s first ever mission was to Antarctica, which is also known as the South Pole. And, as you may know, is also where penguins reside!
You’ll see a few penguins scattered around the city. There are some just outside the Discovery Point museum in the city, where you can learn more about the adventures of the RRS Discovery – and even step on board! You’ll also spot some penguins next to Steeple Church right in the city centre. These often get dressed up on the University of Dundee graduation day. And I would know, because I had to do it once or twice when I worked in the marketing team at the university!
Unfortunately, there aren’t any real penguins in Dundee. If you want to see some real ones you’re probably best travelling to Edinburgh to catch the penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo.
4) Get a photo with Desperate Dan
Desperate Dan is the cow pie-eating lead character from iconic DC Thomson comic The Dandy. He’s celebrated by a larger than life statue right in the city centre. Desperate Dan is definitely always going to be on my free things to do in Dundee checklist.
But to be honest, I’m doing the city a disservice by just talking about Desperate Dan. A statue of Minnie the Mink joins him in the central high street location, and there are a few other spots for comic book fans to explore in Dundee. Another one is right outside the iconic DC Thomson building in Meadowside, which is the location where all the incredible characters from the Beano, the Dandy, and many more were created.
What I’m referring to is the ‘Oor Wullie’ statue. He’s a spiky hair scamp who is known for wearing dungarees, sitting on his bucket, and causing mischief! You can read his comic strip in local newspaper The Sunday Post but it is in broad Scots, which may be challenging!
Why not visit Bash Street, which is named after the famous Bash Street Kids comic strip from the Beano? The street sign comes complete with splats and stains, like it’s just been fired at by a catapult. Exactly the kind of thing that would happen in the comic strip!
5) Take a breather in Slessor Gardens
If you need to take five after doing all the touristy things then chilling out in Slessor Gardens is one of the best free things to do in Dundee. You can even go one better and grab a coffee before you head into the charming city centre Slessor Gardens.
Slessor Gardens are an area of gorgeous greenery right on the waterfront. There’s plenty of grass but there are also a few lovely leafy pockets, complete with benches. They make the perfect spot to sit with a coffee and a book when you want a breather. Despite the fact that it’s right in the centre of town, and surrounded by roads, I always find it really chilled here.
It’s not always the case however. Slessor Gardens is the space where all the big open-air concerts are held in Dundee. Everyone from Little Mix to Tom Jones has played here! I’m hoping that when the world goes back to normal we can expect a few more amazing acts to play here. Not every city has a concert venue a minutes-walk from the train station!
6) Explore the McManus Art Gallery & Museum
The McManus galleries really is up there as one of the best free things to do in Dundee.
The building itself is a beautiful. It’s a gothic revival masterpiece with an amazing winding staircase that has a real sense of grandeur about it. Now for the inside… well, unfortunately I can’t help with that in any great way. To my shame, I’ve never actually visited the McManus in Dundee. However, don’t let my terrible tourism put you off. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about the McManus has said how fantastic it is, so please go and see it!
In the McManus museum you can see numerous artefacts which nod to Dundee’s historical roots in the whaling, jute and shipbuilding industries. The galleries also showcase three centuries of Scottish and European art, but with a real focus on Dundee.
There’s also a lovely café if you want to make a pit stop for coffee and cake.
7) Go and see the Highland cows
Highland cows in Dundee? I’m not yanking your chain, really!
Full disclosure: there are Highland cows in Dundee. However, they’re not roaming around in the middle of the city centre (unfortunately) so you may have need to take a bit of a walk to get to them. If you’re not travelling to the city with a car then that’s worth knowing. However, I travel past them all the time and they’re always there hanging out in their usual spot. If you do make the trek then you’ve got a great opportunity to get some lovely photographs.
The Highland cows are located in Riverside Natural Park, which has actually been built on an old landfill site. It’s a great place to go for a walk – or walk the dog if you have one – and soak up a bit of nature. There are skylarks, rabbits, a charming pond with swans and ducks, and you can also enjoy views of the Tay Estuary. Go at sunset for gorgeous skies!
The cows are located in a field near the road. You can usually take pictures of them from the road if you don’t want to go all way in – they don’t look as if they move much!
How long does it take to get to Riverside Nature Park in Dundee?
- On foot – it’s a full hour walk from the train station
- By bike – hire a bike and it’ll only take 17 minutes
- By car – drive there and it’ll take you 8 minutes
8) Walk to Broughty Ferry
Continuing the walking theme…
The first thing you may be wondering is what’s Broughty Ferry?
Well, Broughty Ferry is a rather charming port town that’s just a few kilometres along the coast from Dundee. When Dundee was a big industrial city in the 1800s the Ferry is where all the wealthy jute barons moved to so they wouldn’t have to mingle with the working classes. Hence, it’s always been a little bit more of a well-to-do neighbourhood.
You can still see some of the impressive jute mansions dotted around but, these days, Broughty Ferry is more known for being a bustling beachfront town. There’s a busy high street with cute boutiques, lovely parks to explore, and even Broughty Ferry castle.
Read my blog post on the best things to do in Broughty Ferry here.
My favourite thing about Broughty Ferry is all the amazing cafes and restaurants. Predictable, I know, but I’m ALL about the food. The Ship Inn is great for seafood, Forgan’s is a great brunch spot – I really loved their French toast – and Vissochi’s does amazing ice cream cones that are perfect to enjoy while wandering along the seafront.
You can walk to Broughty Ferry from Dundee… or you can cheat and get the bus. It’ll only set you back a couple of pounds so hopefully that’s not too much of a cheat. Either way, visiting the Ferry is one of the best affordable or free things to do in Dundee.
Broughty Ferry is also home to the world’s best van that always makes me laugh!
9) Climb the Law
I couldn’t write a list on the best free things to do in Dundee without including the city’s ‘volcano’.
If you’re feeling energised and think you can muster up the energy to drag yourself up one of the most distinctive landmarks in Dundee then this activity is just the ticket. Grab some trainers and climb the Law!
What is the Law you might be wondering? A good question, seeing as it doesn’t really give itself away by its name. The Dundee Law is the often talked about as being “Dundee’s volcano” but that’s not strictly true either. It’s actually a volcanic plug and sill which was created 400 million years ago. There’s zero chance of any eruptions basically.
The Law stands at 572 feet high and is topped by a large wall memorial. It’s a pretty memorable sight and you’ll probably have seen it on any photographs of the cityscape. Dundee Law is also one of the best places to enjoy views of the city. You can see in pretty much every direction; from the sparkling river and the bridge being the most striking!
Oh, and just in case I didn’t mention it earlier, there’s a cheat. You can actually drive all to the top of Law rather than walking. But, in some ways, the views are more enjoyable after the struggle to the top!
10) Soak up the green spaces
One of my favourite things about Dundee is the parks and green spaces.
My favourite parks in Dundee:
- Magdalen Green
- Balgay Park
- Baxter Park
- Dudhope Park
- Camperdown Country Park
I live just along the road from the beautiful Magdalen Green in the west end of Dundee. It’s such a gorgeous spot that you sometimes even see people getting married here.
With its iconic bandstand, long stretch of grass, and even some picnic benches tucked away at the top, it’s a great place to spend those warmers days and evenings. Have I mentioned that Dundee is Scotland’s sunniest city? Definitely pack a pair of sunglasses if you’re visiting!
Magdalen Green is also home to West Fest, which is an event that happens once a year in the city and is completely free! Come along to watch live music, enjoy the summer sunshine, and soak up the atmosphere. If you want to dip into your wallet there’s street food, alcohol for sale – including an amazing gin and prosecco bars – and lots of stands selling merchandise by local makers. I even got my palm read once, so it’s great!
However, it’s not the only park in Dundee that’s worth checking out. I also love Balgay Park, Baxter Park in the east end of the city, and Dudhope Park. The latter even has a skate park, so if you’re looking for things to do with kids in Dundee it could be the spot.
You also may have heard of Camperdown Country Park. It’s a supersized park of over 400 acres which is located on the outskirts of the city. It’s also where the weekly park run takes place in normal times! Camperdown Park in Dundee a lovely place to go for a walk, and they even have a wildlife centre in the middle! Don’t go thinking it just has your regular pigs and goats either…
Camperdown Wildlife Centre has a whole host of amazing animals to see, including marmosets, lemurs, and even a brown bear! You do have to pay for this one, with admission being £6 for an adult and £5 for a child/concession. Find out more here!
All in all, visiting the green spaces in the city is one of the best free things to do in Dundee.
11) Go on the Dundee architectural trail
If you’re into local architecture then this will definitely be on your list for the best free things to do in Dundee.
Dundee architectural trail is a completely new one for me! I haven’t done it and, although I know most of the buildings on the trail , I don’t know much about them. Well, this trail perfectly fills in those knowledge gaps! If you’re completely new to Dundee or you just want to find out about the history of some of the biggest landmarks then this will get the thumbs up.
So how do you do the architectural trail? Well, it’s simply a map that you can download and follow. There are 27 buildings on the trail in total. The map includes their address, where you can find them on the map, and some really interesting facts about them.
I had no idea, for example, that Frank Sinatra once stayed at the Queen’s Hotel, which is just five minutes down the road from me. Frank Sinatra! It’s just a great way to contextualise some of the buildings… rather than just wandering around and not knowing why they were built or what type of architecture style they utilise.
The website helpfully points out that it takes around 45 minutes to complete the trail.
You can download the Dundee architectural trail map here
12) Take a tour of the Howff
The Howff is a graveyard and burial ground. Just making the clear before we go any further, as that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Howff over the years as I used to work at DC Thomson, the headquarters of which are just across the road. So for me, heading into the Howff to eat a sandwich was a pretty normal thing to do.
Established all the way back in 1564, the Howff is the second oldest graveyard in Scotland. It reportedly has one of the most important collection of tombstones in the country.
You can wander through or enjoy a quiet moment on one of the benches. However, if you’d like someone to really bring it to life – that’s probably the wrong phrase to use but there we are – you can also join a guided tour of the Howff. The guided tours are run by Dundee Howff Conservation Group and they get some brilliant reviews on Tripadvisor.
According to the comments, the tours and engaging, informative, and reveal some of the dark secrets of Dundee…. Which definitely sounds interesting! Having really enjoyed wandering around Greyfriar’s Kirkyard the last time was in Edinburgh (on Halloween) and being really intrigued by all the symbolism, I really want to do a tour now!
According to reviews, the tour takes an hour and a half in total.
13) Go and see the Lemmings statues
One of the things Dundee is most famous for is its gaming roots. Did you know that Grand Theft Auto, the massive video game franchise, was born in Dundee? It was created by a company called Rockstar, which is now located in Edinburgh. They also created a game called Lemmings, which you may or may not be familiar with. I’m not a big gamer or anything but I have fond memories of playing at my cousin’s house when I was a kid.
There’s a tribute to Dundee’s gaming heritage in the form of the lemmings statues, which are found in an area of green space on the Perth Road, in the west end of the city.
Dundee also isn’t losing momentum with its video gaming niche. The creator of Minecraft has a studio in Dundee and there’s even reports of a huge eSports arena opening down near the waterfront. So when it comes to video games, Dundee is really on the map.
14) Check out the city street art
Soaking up the city’s street art is definitely one of the best free things to do in Dundee.
I’m a big fan of street art. Whereas some of us may associate street art in Scotland more closely with Glasgow, or possibly Aberdeen, Dundee has its own style of street art to add into the mix, and it’s awesome.
The Open/Close street art trail is what pulls a lot of the street art together. The project kicked off in 2017 when the project funded to inject some colour into some of the hidden nooks in the city, by painting doorways. This was a trial run, but it simply snowballed from there. Now there are lots of painted doorways in the city which add a pop of creativity throughout the city.
How much does the Open/Close tour cost?
Well, there’s no fixed fee for the guided tour – you choose to contribute what you think it was worth at the end of the tour. However, you can also choose to do the tour by yourself, by simply downloading one of the street art trail maps from their website. Either way is great, although I guess you might find out more about the artists if you do the guided tour, which takes an hour and a half approximately.
There are actually two Open/Close street art trails in Dundee; the city centre trail and the Stobswell trail. I’ve only seen pockets of the city centre trail so far but I love it. You’ll just be wandering down a cobbled alleyway and then a bright burst of colour in a nearby doorway will catch your eye. The Van Gogh and kingfisher doorways are probably my favourite.
You can find out more about the Open/Close project in Dundee here
15) Cross the Tay Road Bridge
Fancy stretching your legs a little bit more? Then you might fancy walking across the bridge.
I’m going to level with you. The footpath on the bridge is in the centre of the bridge, which means you have traffic on either side. Because of that, it means it can be a bit noisy, and you also won’t be able to pose for photographs with unobstructed sea views behind you. But, having run across it before, it’s a great way to get a new perspective of Dundee.
How do you get to the footpath on the Tay Road bridge? Well, there’s some stairs and a lift right on the waterfront – make sure you take a photo of the bridge from this perspective.
So what’s on the other side of the bridge? Well, the great thing is that as soon as you’re across the bridge you’re in Fife – which is the mother land for me! What that actually means is that the end of the bridge joins right up with the Fife Coastal path. So if you want to do more walking then there’s a lovely scenic coastal route just waiting for you.