Are you planning a visit or holiday to the Rhins of Galloway? Here are some of my top suggestions of the best things to do in this amazing part of Scotland.
Covid-19 hasn’t really changed how we holiday. We’ve holidayed in the UK for years and years now. We normally visit Aviemore for our holidays or another part of the Scottish Highlands. However, this year, prices were incredibly high and availability was really low in the Highlands. Deciding where to visit instead, I recalled visiting the Rhins of Galloway as a teenager and really loving it. I was sure my kids would love the expansive sandy beaches and dramatic rocky landscapes that this area of Dumfries and Galloway enjoys. What was even better was that at relatively short notice, we were able to find lovely, reasonably priced accommodation. So we booked, and off we went!
We’re just back from a week’s holiday on the Rhins of Galloway, and while my mind is still fresh I wanted to write about all the places I’d recommend visiting. If you are looking to visit the beautiful coastal region of Rhins of Galloway then here are my top family-friendly suggestions of where to visit on your next trip.
Where Is the Rhins of Galloway?
Firstly, you might be thinking The Rhins of What? Well, the Rhins of Galloway is a 25-mile long peninsula in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Jutting out into the Irish Sea, its southern tip is the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point of Scotland.
This area includes the principal town of Stranraer and encompasses the villages of Ardwell, Cairnryan, Castle Kennedy, Drummore, Dunragit, Kirkcolm, Leswalt, Port Logan, Portpatrick, Sandhead, and Stoneykirk, as well as a number of other smaller hamlets.
The Best Places To Visit and Things to Do in the Rhins of Galloway
If you are looking to mostly get away from it all, then this sparsely populated area is for you. The Rhins of Galloway is renowned for its expansive sandy beaches and dramatic coastal landscapes, and unique plant life.
When we were booking our trip, I thought we might run out of things to do on the Rhins of Galloway. I had planned that we may have to travel further afield for things to do. However, we spent a week there, and managed to not leave it once! As we very thoroughly explored almost the whole area, here are my top things to do in the Rhins of Galloway.
Logan Botanic Gardens
It’s safe to say that Logan Botanic Gardens is unlike any botanic garden I’ve ever visited in the UK. I think it’s probably my favourite botanic garden now, and I’ve been to a few! In part, because its relatively remote location means it’s an incredibly peaceful and tranquil place to spend a day, away from crowds of people. But also in part due to the amazing array of tropical plant life. We got lucky and visited on a very sunny Sunday. The sunshine, warmth, and tropical plants made it feel like we had been transported to some far-off exotic land, rather than being on a peninsula in Scotland!
The Gulf Stream warms the Rhins of Galloway, and this enables plants from Australia, New Zealand, South, and Central America, and Southern Africa to grow here. You can walk through groves of Gunnera (this was my kids’ favourite part) and groves of beautifully scented eucalyptus trees, as well as through the tree fern forest. There’s also a stunning walled garden, full of exotic plants, and fish ponds. And then there are the conservatories as well, housing more sensitive tropical plants. It’s a treat for both eyes and nose!
Something interesting to also note is that parts of the original Wicker Man movie were filmed here. In the movie, the gardens acted as Lord Summerisle’s garden. While you won’t find a Wicker Man here, do look out for the giant Wicker dinosaur.
The on-site Potting Shed Bistro serves a delicious lunch, as well as an array of cakes – including vegan cakes. We sat outside and enjoyed watching the local wildlife, whilst we ate in the most beautiful surroundings. If you’d rather take your own lunch, then picnicking is permitted in the gardens.
What’s great is that kids under fifteen go free. Adults are a great value £7.50 each. We spent hours here, and it was well worth the money. If you’re travelling with dogs, then do note that dogs (with the exception of assistance dogs) are not permitted into any part of the gardens.
The stunning Glenwhan Gardens was another beautiful garden we visited whilst on the Rhins of Galloway. These gardens are relatively new, created around 40 years ago, but my, this garden is breathtaking.
We spent hours wandering around the garden’s meandering pathways, discovering beautiful plants at every turn. Two small lochans (lakes) create the focal point of the main garden. However, there are stunning vistas to be had and sculptures to discover in all the nooks and crannies of the garden. There’s also a 17-acre moorland walk to explore. We ran out of time to even scratch the surface of the moorland.
If on the remote chance that life gave us an expansive garden then it would certainly look like this. It was wonderful. I’d love to go back in different seasons to see how it differs across the year.
Adults are £6 each, and kids are £1.50 each, which again is a bargain. Unlike Logan Botanic Gardens, dogs are welcome at Glenwhan Gardens. However, something to note is that picnics are not allowed in the gardens.
There is a small tearoom here. However, it has strong 1980s vibes and overworked staff. The member of staff taking food and drink orders was also expected to handle ticket sales and plant sales for the garden. This probably works for most of the year, but in peak visitor season in a place where you cannot bring your own food meant that queues did build up. Despite this, the food was good, with vegans catered for via the daily specials, and the cake selection was A+. If I was visiting again though, I would consider taking a car picnic.
Mull of Galloway Lighthouse
The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southern point. Here, perched on a 260-foot high cliff is the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse that is well worth a visit.
Unfortunately, due to Covid safety restrictions, you aren’t able to climb up to the top of the Mull of Galloway lighthouse at the moment. However, that doesn’t mean this stunning spot isn’t worth a visit. At the foot of the lighthouse is a beautiful RSPB nature reserve, that is free to access. Here you can walk around and admire the dramatic views from the clifftop over to Cumbria, the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Ireland. There is a host of wildlife to spot. These include puffins, porpoises, and dolphins if you are lucky. There are also beautiful coastal wildflowers to enjoy in spring and summer. We spent a really enjoyable and relaxing morning having a walk here, completely in awe of the surroundings.
It’s a really cheap visit. It’s free to park at the lighthouse and free to access the nature reserve.
When you’re done, there is a really amazing cafe – probably the best we visited in the Rhins of Galloway – next to the lighthouse. Here at the Gallie Craig, you can grab a coffee and a slice of cake, a cooked breakfast (vegetarian and vegan options are available), or lunch on top of the cliff, sit outside and admire the views. On a sunny day, like when we visited, then I can assure you that it’s utter perfection. I’d love to visit again on a stormy day. I’d sit inside with a steaming hot cup of tea, and appreciate the dramatic weather.
Alternatively, there are benches dotted around the reserve, and at the lookout point. Take a picnic and a flask of tea, and enjoy the 360° views.
Port Logan Beach
Port Logan beach is an impressive white sand beach in a sheltered bay. It stretches round in an arc from the harbour, with its mini stone tower, round to the Port Logan Fish Pond. Its sheltered nature makes it perfect for walking, swimming, paddling or any other beach-based activity you can imagine. There’s also a Victorian bathing pond and hut, next to the beach. It’s sadly no longer in use, but it’s worth a look. Despite visiting on a sunny morning, the beach was deserted, so if you’re looking for peace then you will hopefully find it in this heavenly spot.
Port Logan Fish Pond
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy a visit to the unique Port Logan Fish Pond quite as much as I did during our visit to the Rhins of Galloway. However, it turned out to be a firm family favourite.
Our satnav brought us to an old stone cottage perched on a cliff, that gives no clues as to what is to come. Inside the cottage are tanks housing a variety of small local fish. After an opportunity to look at these, and find out more about them, you are then taken down some stone steps from the backdoor of the cottage down to the main pond. This is a rock pool that 200 years ago was excavated into quite a deep hole, that is home to many species of marine life.
This fish larder, was in the Victorian era, used as a way of sourcing food and preserving fish until they needed to be eaten. Now it’s strictly educational.
The knowledgeable and friendly staff feed the fish. This encourages the different species to come up to the surface, where staff tell you about each one. After seeing many different types of fish local to the area, you can then enter a tiny aquarium inside a cave. Here you’ll find a variety of rock pool creatures, including Derek the 50-year-old lobster, and starfish and anemones. These were all fascinating to look at.
Due to Covid restrictions (particularly the potentially harmful interactions between fish and antibacterial hand gel), there are currently no opportunities to handle the wildlife. But still, getting to see flatfish, such as turbot, up close in such a fun and engaging way, was a real highlight.
It costs £10 for a family ticket, or £4 each per adult, and £3 per child.
Portpatrick is a charming little seaside village situated on the Rhins of Galloway. Here, rows of pastel-coloured cottages jostle for space along the rocky harbour, and amongst the vertiginous cliffs. At low tide, a small sandy beach appears in the harbour, making it a sheltered place to catch some rays or let the kids play under the shadow of the lighthouse.
Along the picturesque seafront, you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and bars aplenty, all with harbourside seating. Portpatrick is also well equipped with play parks and picnic areas, and an impressive rocky harbour to explore. Or if you fancy a walk, there are a couple of clifftop walks you can take. There’s one that takes you to the ruins of Dunskey Castle, and another that marks the start of the Southern Upland Way. We didn’t do these, as clifftop walks with young kids felt a little too nerve-wracking. However, I have added them to my list of things to do when we visit the Rhins of Galloway again.
There is no shortage of places to eat in Portpatrick. However, if you’re vegetarian or vegan then I found the best place to eat in Portpatrick, with its array of choices, is the Port Pantry. The other places tended to offer just one or two not particularly inspired options.
Kirkmadrine Stones and Church
A beautiful walk in the dappled shade of an atmospheric avenue of trees brings you out at the Kirkmadrine Stones and Church. Here you’ll find intricately carved stones from 500AD demonstrating evidence of early Christianity in Britain. Even if you aren’t religious, like me, or aren’t Christian, it is a fascinating site to learn more about the history of Britain.
Sadly you aren’t able to access inside the tiny church. This is a shame because it looks beautiful. However, you can spend some time reading more about the stones, walking around the churchyard, and take in the stunning views.
Of all the places we visited on the Rhins of Galloway, this was unexpectedly felt like the busiest!
If it’s one thing, then the Rhins of Galloway doesn’t hold back on beaches. Sandhead Beach is a vast and EXPANSIVE beach. It’s particularly great to visit with kids due to the playpark next to the beach, in case your kids get bored by the sea and sand. On sunny days it appeared to get quite busy (for Rhins of Galloway standards). If it’s peace and tranquillity you are after then this probably isn’t the beach for you. When the tide is out, then it’s also an incredibly long walk to reach the sea. Do check your tide times before visiting.
I managed no photos of this beach, but I promise, it is very beachy!
I hope you can see why the Rhins of Galloway might just be one of my very favourite corners of Scotland. It really is perfection in one small area, with so many different things to do. I am looking forward to so many more visits here. If you’ve been, or if you do go, then be sure to let me know of any spots that I missed on this trip! I’ll be sure to add them to my list of places to visit and re-visit!