12 Cool Things to Do in Dundee.
Things are changing in Dundee. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, and I couldn’t believe the difference on my recent visit! Here is my list of cool things to do in Dundee, and why I love this city so much.
Dundee’s waterfront is in the middle of a £1 Billion redevelopment, and everyone is talking about it. Affectionately known as the home of jam, jute and journalism, these industries will always be tightly woven into Dundee’s heritage and identity, as the city undergoes an exciting regeneration. Once overlooked as a tourist destination, Dundee has fast emerged as the cool kid in class, and this is only the beginning.
As Dundee develops and morphs into a modern butterfly, visitors are flocking from across the globe to experience it. From the new V&A Dundee and the city-wide surge in street art, to the flourishing food and drink scene, Dundee really is the place to be.
Honestly, I had expected the changes to be somewhat over-hyped, but I was wrong. Dundee really took me by surprise, and quickly stole the top spot for my favourite city break of 2018. There is so much that I love about this city, and there are lots of wee gems waiting to be discovered.
Things I love about Dundee:
- It’s wee – Dundee is perfectly compact and easy to walk around. Most of the main sights are within close walking distance, which makes for a relaxed and leisurely city break. It also means that you’re never far from the River Tay.
- It’s close – Dundee can be reached in just over an hour by train from Edinburgh, and its only 30 minutes by bus to adorable St Andrews.
- It’s embracing chance – Local businesses and entrepreneurs are jumping on the spike in tourism, and locals are genuinely excited about the city’s transformation.
- It’s unpretentious – Despite its sudden rise to fame, Dundee is totally down to earth, and so are its residents; it’s a city that’s not going to ‘forget where it came from’!
- The accents – the local dialect and Dundonian tones are unlike any other. ‘Twa’, ‘awa’ and ‘teckle’. Need I say more?
Cool Things to Do in Dundee.
1) Visit the new V&A.
The eagerly anticipated V&A Dundee is at the heart of the all the hype, and has been the catalyst for many of the improvements around the city. Not only is it the first design museum in Scotland, it is the only other V&A museum outside of London in the world. The building is designed by famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who will also be responsible for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium. The striking contemporary design, which floods the interior with natural light and views of the Tay, is a symbol of the city’s developing waterfront. Kuma described the space as a “livingroom for the city”, and it is exactly that.
A design museum could be perceived as niche or intimidating, but the reality is far from it. You may think you’ve had little exposure to the industry, but design is everywhere and there is something for everyone at the V&A. In the Scottish Design Galleries – which is a permanent exhibition – visitors will find costumes from famous films, epic architecture on the Isle of Skye, the reconstructed Ingram Street Tearoom by Rennie Mackintosh, illustrated films, theatre sets and a truly stunning winged tiara.
‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’ is the museum’s debut temporary exhibition, and it’s so cool. Showcasing over 250 objects from collections around the world, the exhibition captures the opulence and extravagance around the romantic era of ocean travel; from the engineering of the ships and the interior design, to the highly fashionable garments worn aboard, and the graphic design of the iconic posters advertising the voyages.
- The V&A also has an excellent café and restaurant, run by Heritage Portfolio. I had a most enjoyable coffee and managed to refrain from indulging in one of the seriously good-looking cakes. I won’t be so sensible next time!
- Entry to the V&A Dundee is free, however there is a charge for the Cruise Liners Exhibition; £11 per adult and £7 per child
- The museum has lockers and a ‘changing places’ toilet
- There is no dedicated parking at the museum – even more incentive to travel by public transport!
- For more information, visit the V&A Dundee website
2) Admire the street art.
OpenClose Dundee is a creative street art initiative which has brought a very welcome splash of colour to the doors of Dundee. Founded and run by PhD student Russell Pepper, OpenClose initially received funding for 6 doors, however thanks to support from local businesses, and artists volunteering to be involved, there are now 19 door murals on the city centre trail. My favourite mural is Dreamer by Sofia Sita (below) which is at the back of Dundee Contemporary Arts.
The project is an amazing, alternative way to draw in visitors and regenerate the city, while showcasing the talent of both local and international artists. Russell is now working on another project called Waste of Space, which will apply the same approach to the general waste and recycling bins on Perth Road. I’m excited to see the progress!
- Visitors can self-guide around the trail – orbook a tour with Russell, which I highly recommend!
- For more information on where to pick up maps or to book a tour, please visit the OpenClose website
3) Take a tour of The Vaults.
Who knew that Dundee had underground vaults? Having been on many a ghost tour in Edinburgh, I was intrigued by what DD Tours had to offer. Besties Louise and Stuart set up a website five years ago, purely as a place to document stories about Dundee, and as a resource for people to learn about the city’s less-than pleasant past. Soon they were receiving numerous requests for tours, and the rest is history!
Louise and Stuart deliver their tours in tandem – something I’ve not experienced on a walking tour before – and they work so well together; they have a comical camaraderie and they really know their stuff. They recently obtained access to the vaults at Custom Exchange, which they cleared out, made H&S compliant, and transformed into an eerie visitor experience. Our group made the descent in our super-stylish hard hats, and listened to entertaining tales of the darkest years in Dundee’s history. There are no theatrical frights or ghost stories on this tour; the real deal is disturbing enough, thank you.
- DD Tours offer a range of tours including orientation walks of the city and the waterfront. You can view the tours and prices on the DD Tours website
- My Dark Dundee – The Vaults tour cost £12 and lasted around 1 hour
4) Meander through the McManus.
The McManus Art Gallery and Museum is housed within a beautiful Victorian, Gothic-style building and is packed with exhibits which tell the story of Dundee’s history and heritage. Delve into the details of the once thriving jute industry, as well as Keiller’s marmalade, and D.C. Thomson’s famous publications. I discovered that Dundee also played a significant role in shipping, whaling and computing industries. Safe to say this city was a bit of an all-rounder!
On my most recent visit to the museum, there was an ‘McMenace’ exhibition (which closes on the 21st October 2018) in celebration of The Beano’s 80th birthday. The ‘Bring Bash Street Back’ slogan donned the fun and colourful exhibits which told the story of the nostalgic childhood comics. Just like the V&A, this is a free attraction and a perfect wet weather option.
- Find out which exhibitions are currently displaying, on the McManus website
- Check out the Beano 80th birthday visual timeline on the DC Thomson website
5) Browse the shelves in This Way Up.
I stumbled across this wee gem of a book & record shop on my wanderings along Dundee’s cute Perth Road area. Owners Ani and Matt used to run a pop-up shop in the George Orwell pub but decided to take the leap into their very own premises in September 2017, and they haven’t looked back.
The couple are members of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, so the shelves are filled with a range of curated books covering everything from feminism and anti-racism, to travel and 20th century literature. They also have an eclectic selection of second-hand CDs, cassettes and vinyl. This Way Up gives you that reminiscent experience of browsing and handling your music and books before you buy; everything that Amazon does not.
- Check out This Way Up Facebook page or pop into the shop for a chat with the lovely Ani
- There is another record store on Perth Road called Le Freak which I’m told also hosts in-store music events at weekends. You can check out their website for more info
6) Stay at the new Sleeperz Hotel.
Sleeperz is a shiny new hotel which sits above Dundee Railway Station, and is just a stone’s throw from the city’s blossoming waterfront. The vibrant and contemporary abode features 120 fully-equipped, modern bedrooms and a restaurant which serves breakfast and an all-day menu. The location was perfect for my sightseeing trip, my room overlooked The Discovery and the V&A Dundee, and I found all staff to be super-friendly. Yet another positive addition to Dundee’s tourism offering.
- I stayed at Sleeperz Hotel on a Room Only basis in September 2018 for £75 per night
- To check availability and prices visit booking.com
Foodie Things to Do in Dundee.
It’s time for this list to shine a spotlight on Dundee’s foodie scene. I was really impressed by the quality of the food on offer in Dundee, from restaurants and unassuming cafes, to a converted tram out on the street. Here are six tasty dishes to add to your list when visiting Dundee.
7) Pop in for a Padrino Pizza.
Padrino Pizza is a small, independent pizzeria in the centre of Dundee, which serves delicious Neapolitan pizza with a sourdough base and fresh toppings. I opted for a pizza with spicy Italian sausage and caramelised peppers, and a side of parmesan fries. The stone-baked oven had my pizza ready as quick as a flash, and the slices started disappearing into my mouth at the same speed. What I couldn’t manage was taken back to the hotel for later. The setting is casual, the food is great value, and the staff are lovely.
- Pizzas start from £5
- Check out the Padrino’s Pizza Facebook page for more information
8) Munch on Mince on Toast at The Bach.
It was here, in this trendy New Zealand-style café, on a drizzly midweek morning, that I discovered my new favourite brunch dish; mince on toast. It’s simple really – tasty chipotle chilli mince with a poached egg and hollandaise. Why didn’t I think of this before?! While I’d be tempted to order this again on my next visit, I will probably try something else on the menu as it all sounds amazing. The flat white was spot on too!
- My coffee and mince on toast was £10.90
- To view the full menu click here
9) Have a sober kebab at Agacan.
When scouting for Dundee restaurant recommendations on social media, Agacan just kept appearing. The Turkish restaurant is intimate and bursting with colour, from the painted tables and chairs, to the mosaics and artwork on the walls. On the recommendation of lovely waitress Lara, I went for the Iskender, which featured various meat kebabs with rice and fresh salad, all doused in garlic yoghurt and chili sauce. The portion was massive, and everything was delicious.
- My main dish and soft drink came to £20.90
- To view the full menu visit the Agacan website
10) Try a famous rainbow bagel at The Flame Tree Café.
A rainbow bagel is exactly what it sounds like, and I had to get involved in the novelty of it all. The bagels are made by a Jewish baker in London, before being transported up to Dundee, and they’re so popular, the café sells wee rainbow bagel badges as a tribute. Though it tastes exactly like a normal bagel, it just didn’t feel right ordering a savoury filling, so I went for peanut butter and jam. I also had a breakfast smoothie with banana, blueberries, oats, milk and honey. Yum!
- My breakfast smoothie and rainbow bagel was £6.35
11) Go old-school with breakfast at Tony’s Diner.
When it comes to foodie finds, ‘cool’ doesn’t have to mean ‘new’, and this humble establishment is as far away from ‘hipster’ as you can get. Tony’s Diner is a wee serving of café nostalgia, and reminds me of the kind of place my Gran would take me as a child. The current owners have had the café for 20 years and little has changed. It’s popular with workmen and locals, as well as visitors from areas around Dundee. The interior is a retro beige colour and a cup of tea is 90p. I loved the walk down memory lane, and my sliced sausage and egg roll.
12) Order Stovies from the Auld Tram.
The Auld Tram is a unique city vendor offering street food with a historical twist. Comfort food and hot drinks are served from within a Dundee & District Tramways Horse Drawn Tram which would have been used in the 1870s. Much more than just a novelty, The Auld Tram is known for its quality food, as well as for being the sister restaurant to the award-winning Bridgeview Station (which is now on my list). I took a cup of stovies back to my hotel room, which obviously tasted even better because it was cold and raining outside.
- My tasty cup of stovies was £2.50
- Check out The Auld Tram Facebook page
How to Get to Dundee on Public Transport.
- I travelled from Edinburgh to Dundee by train
- The journey takes between 1 hour 10 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes depending on which time you travel
- Ticket prices start at £26 for an Off-Peak return (you might be able to grab even cheaper advanced purchase tickets)
- If you prefer to travel by bus check out the Stagecoach x54 which takes just over 2 hours and costs £11.20 each way with a Fife Dayrider Plus ticket. You can view the timetable here