24 Hours in Dundee - The Chic Scotland Edit
Dundee - best restaurants, cafes, museums, hotels and things to do....
Ok so yes, we all know that Dundee has the V&A, and has brought the spotlight and lots of visitors to Dundee…. Hurray! But I heard through the grapevine that tourists are coming to Dundee, heading for the V&A and then disappearing off again…. how very dare they!
So when Ian Black of @visit.dundee invited me down to showcase what else Dundee has to offer for a weekend break, I jumped straight on a train heading for Scotland’s hottest and most aspirational city!
Turns out… it’s A LOT! In fact – I genuinely was shocked at all the cool stuff happening in Dundee. It’s received so many prestigious accolades that there are honestly too many to mention. Here are just a few –
- One of the coolest, smartest, most cultured and confident cities Britain has – Condé Nast
- One of 22 destinations especially hot in 2018 – Bloomberg
- Coolest little city in Britain – GQ Magazine
- Can I at this point quickly mention the urban beach soon to open which doubles as an ice rink!
Em WOW! Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling, Inverness… take note – this is how you do it.
I had to spread the word…. so lets get straight to it shall we.
I came for 24 hours with my pal Rachel - but Dundee is also very suitable for families. (The V&A, Science Museum, Verdant Works, McManus Gallery, RRS Discovery and the Botanical Gardens are all very child friendly).
We stayed at the Staybridge Suites. The Staybridge Suites are in the same building (across a beautiful courtyard) as Hotel Indigo, they are part of the same hotel group. Both hotels are a really fabulous option if staying in Dundee. I genuinely would not recommend anywhere on here that I didn’t absolutely love – and I absolutely loved both of these hotels. Prices are super reasonable at under £100 per night for a room at the time of writing (April 2019).
Both hotels are housed in a converted jute mill and they’ve done a fantastic job keeping a lot of the beautiful original features. Although owned by a huge hotel chain, the focus is very much on celebrating Dundee and being a local hotel. This was real and not just a nod to the area, it really felt like a celebration of Dundee. Hotel Indigo has an industrial but colourful, funky feel. The Staybridge Suites felt a little bit more luxurious with pinks and more muted tones, wood, leather and beautiful light fixtures.
The Staybridge Suites are a longer stay concept hotel – all the 85 rooms have fully equipped kitchens and there’s a gym and laundry in the building. There’s also a little pantry convenience store in the lobby for wines, beer, snacks and other essentials, which I thought was really useful.
The in-house restaurant is called Daisy Tasker’s, over at Hotel Indigo – more about that later.
I managed to get an early check-in, so Rachel and I plonked our bags down in the gorgeous 5th floor hotel room, admired the view and then headed straight out into the sun. I could not believe how warm and sunny it was for April, of course it does help make a city look and feel just that little bit more fabulous.
First stop, a wee look in at J A Braithwait – the oldest shop in Dundee, they sell coffee beans and tea. The shop has been in the same family for 150 years, it’s so full of character.
We also popped into St Paul’s Cathedral to admire the stained glass windows and gorgeous ceiling. It’s worth a look. They have lunchtime concerts most Saturdays at 1pm. Imagine the chilled out sounds of choral music – bliss.
By this time we were gagging for a cup of coffee, so headed to Blend Dundee. Probably the coolest coffee hang spot in Dundee. There are loads of comfy sofas and shelves filled with books, window seats, fresh baked goodies and the smell of great coffee brewing away. We had the brunch special which was yummy.
Just down the road a bit we happened upon The McManus – Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum. This was the surprise for me, I never knew it existed and just how lovely it was. I guess all the older, original museum/gallery spaces in Dundee have had to up their game to compete with the V&A, and boy has The McManus done this – there’s so much to see – including the building itself.
So, it was late afternoon when we got out and we realized we’d not even been close to the waterfront redevelopment, so we thought we better head down there. We sauntered through town in the sun passing through beautiful City Square and Caird Hall.
While I’m at it I should mention a few more lunch options if you want something a bit more substantial. Castle Hill is really great if you want something special. I also adore the Jute Café in the Dundee Contemporary Arts building. Other cafes are listed below.
Heading down to the waterfront we were tempted into the Wine Press with the sight of people drinking vino in the sunshine. They do an amazing wine flight with accompanying dishes. The sharing boards also looked really good.
We didn’t have time to go to the V&A because we had a different agenda planned. However both myself and Rachel had been before. If you’ve not done Dundee before, I’d recommend staying two nights, to fully appreciate all of the museums on offer here in this UNESCO City of Design! Of course the V&A is amazing, and is a huge attraction to enjoy and admire, but there are other really interesting museums too.
It might be worth noting what a nice surprise Slessor Gardens was, which is just to the east of the V&A. They do events and concerts here. I also noticed a really cute little kids garden here – where your little ones can let off some steam after a busy morning at the museums.
Next, we headed to the stunning west end of the city by car. Mostly completely overlooked by tourists to Dundee, including Strawberry Bank… the longest, loveliest lane in Europe. Perfect for a few Instagram worthy snaps.
Photo by Ian G Black Media
We ended up at the Taypark House Hotel. The Gin Garden wasn’t open but it is open from mid April all through the Summer. However, we had a lovely stroll round the hotel. It’s a great spot for afternoon tea, or a morning coffee. But yeah, I guess the Gin Garden just sounds a bit more fun – great for an elegant hen party or birthday celebrations huh! They also have a chic shed for weddings and events.
Onto the Dundee Law. This is something that you should definitely be on your list when you go to Dundee and it’s probably one of the most commonly missed highlights. Dundee is built up the edge of an extinct volcano called the Dundee Law. Drive to the top (or walk I guess?) and you’ll be rewarded with the most stunning view of the Tay and whole city below you. The huge monument at the top made of granite is a war memorial. The memorial is lit with a large flame at its top on a number of significant days in the year including remembrance Sunday.
After our busy day and being pounded with sunshine, it was back to the Staybridge for some chill time, and to get ready for evening shenanigans.
Ok, now let me explain to you what we did here which I think is a bit of a genius idea. We had a freelance make-up artist come to the room to do our make-up for the night out. Her name is Lucy, of @BeBeautifulDundee. She will come to your hotel room and do make-up for £30 per person (minimum of 2 people). Such a luxury, but not really because it’s so relaxing and lovely – do it people! Lucy is a wee dream and I can recommend this service to absolutely anyone.
We had dinner in the hotel at Daisy Taskers. We sat in our own huge booth and ate the most gorgeous meal – cooked to perfection. The cocktails were amazing too.
Out into town we looked for Draffens – the secret speakeasy underground bar. It is so so cool – if you can find it. Just ask around, it’s in the centre of town, all the locals know of it.
There’s another kinda similar bar around the corner which is a fun Cuban rum bar called the King of Islington. Worth a look!
Lastly we stopped passed the Bird and Bear – another really stunning bar where we had our last drink of the night. Hiccup…
The next morning after breakfast in the hotel, and with a bit of a heavy head, we just wanted to do something a bit low key. We drove down to the waterfront area and took some nice photos near Chandlers Lane. I’d love to see inside one of the houses on this street, what an incredible location to own a property. A bit further on down the waterfront we stumbled upon an interesting industrial harbourside area. We had a look into the very unique Waters Edge business hub. It’s state of the art, eco-friendly offices with art gallery, café and event space. So cool.
Then we headed off to Dundee’s Botanical Gardens for a stroll and finished up at Crolla’s for an ice cream.
To Sum Up:
Our 24 hours was done.. and we’d packed in so much, but could have gone on to see so much more. Next time I’d like to take in some of the sites outside of Dundee like Glamis Castle, Broughty Ferry, St Andrews and the East Neuk of Fife. I’ve also heard really good things about the Newport Restaurant with Rooms. Maybe hiring a house on the Tay somewhere with a big garden and taking the kids for a week in the school holidays might be my next excursion there.
SO! Why has all of this good stuff happened to Dundee of all places? Here’s my theory. Maybe it had gotten so bad, (we used to call it Scum-dee when I was growing up), that it was a clean sheet of paper able to completely re-write itself. Well kinda, but there’s more to it than that. Dundee had a lot of good shit going on before redevelopment that was just a bit hidden and needed a rebrand.
This is a city that wanted to pull its socks up and move forward into a new, globally recognised future, and actually - they had all the basic raw ingredients to make it happen. Firstly, it’s all so visual, I can see why the V&A set up shop here. The seriously strong visuals of the Beano characters, the cute jam and marmalade pots, the sharp lines of the RRS Discovery and the textures of textiles. It’s ALL art and design really, isn’t it. Also, the geography is so right - the fact that it assembles itself along a long stretch of beautiful waterfront, and also sits on a volcano!
One thing I should mention is that there is some work to be done bringing the beautiful aesthetics up the hill a bit towards the more run-down areas, but what city is not without its contrasts?
I truly hope that Dundee will continue to attract new interesting digital companies and lots more tourism, because I think this will play an important part in making real financial benefits trickle down (or up) to the Dundonians who live up on the law. And I’m positive this will happen.
So, please, do stop for a few nights in Dundee on your way around Scotland. Make sure you’ve Done Dundee, and done it properly please.
A RIDICULOUSLY HUGE thank you to Ian G Black Media for organising our trip.
Photos: Chic Scotland unless mentioned.
Notable mentions go to:
Dundee, it's no half bad!
Really enjoyed this. Good to see the McManus mentioned, it's often forgotten about. Next time you visit, please also go to Verdant Works. A great place to sit and eat a sandwich on a sunny day is The Howff, Scotland's second most important burial ground, historically speaking.
Another really good place to eat is Jessie's Kitchen in B'Ferry. I also like Tonic, they do a great selection of burgers, including vegan and vegetarian. I could go on and on, I love Dundee, the good bits and the bad.