Southern Scotland — more specifically, the Scottish Borders region — is a beautiful stretch of land with green rolling hills and an incredible history. While often overshadowed by the popular Scottish Highlands to the north, I am here to tell you that southern Scotland should not be easily dismissed.
Southern Scotland is home to green rolling hills, charming small towns, and incredible castle and abbey ruins. This region of Scotland offers visitors an opportunity to visit an area that is a little more off-the-beaten-path than the Highlands. Being a bit more remote allows visitors to enjoy attractions that are less crowded, book more affordable accommodations, and experience less traffic on the roads as they travel.
During our visit to Scotland, we intentionally planned our itinerary with plenty of time to explore the Scottish Borders, and boy, were we glad we did! The Scottish Borders greeted us with diverse scenery, welcoming locals, and incredible castles, palace homes, and abbeys.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to my favorite historic sites to experience in southern Scotland!
1. Rosslyn Chapel
Even if you aren’t a history buff, you have probably still heard of Rosslyn Chapel thanks to the popular movie The Da Vinci Code, which filmed scenes in Rosslyn Chapel.
This southern Scotland historic site was founded in the 15th century and served as a family chapel until it fell into disrepair in the mid-1600s. It lay in ruin until the restoration of Rosslyn Chapel began in the 1800s after a visit from Queen Victoria.
After receiving years of conservation and renovation, Rosslyn Chapel has not only been meticulously restored, but they have also added an impressive visitor center to the property.
Rosslyn Chapel is loaded with decorative elements, both inside and out. These decorative elements include columns, stained glass, and intricate stone carvings. The stone carvings inside Rosslyn Chapel are truly works of art. These carvings range from individual characters such as a knight on horseback to complete scenes like the “Dance of Death,” which depicts characters accompanied by skeletons.
During your visit, you can also descend the 26 steps down into the crypt area of the chapel!
Rosslyn Chapel Visitor Center is located about 30 yards from the parking lot. Once inside, the visitor center, gift shop, and cafe are all wheelchair accessible. As Rosslyn Chapel is a medieval chapel, it does contain uneven floors and some steps within the chapel itself. The chapel is happy to provide assistance if needed; just ask.
Rosslyn Chapel is such a unique and interesting place to visit, it is easy to see why it is a favorite historic site in southern Scotland.
Please visit the Rosslyn Chapel website for information on tickets and operating hours.
2. Melrose Abbey
While Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136, the ruins of the abbey that you can visit today only date back to the 16th century.
The ornate carvings that adorn Melrose Abbey take center stage. When you arrive at the abbey, take special note of these incredible carvings, the window tracery, and gorgeous piers that speak to the importance of the building.
Another testament to the importance of Melrose Abbey is the fact that several powerful figures in history chose it as their final resting place. Robert the Bruce loved it so much that he had his heart buried here while his other bodily remains are at Dunfermline Abbey.
Visitors can explore the ruins of the abbey, the abbey grounds, cloister, and museum that are on site. A mobile audio tour is available but requires internet access.
Please note that as this is a historical site, some areas may be off-limits or not accessible during times of restoration. Please check their website for the most complete and up-to-date information regarding visiting Melrose Abbey.
Pro Tip: If you are up to climbing stairs, then don’t miss the opportunity to visit the rooftop of the abbey. The views from this vantage point are amazing! Take note though, the stairwell is steep and narrow.
3. Jedburgh Abbey
Another of the historic sites in southern Scotland, Jedburgh Abbey, is a fabulous example of early Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
Originally established as a priory in 1138, Jedburgh was later raised to the status of abbey. While none of the buildings from this era survived, several artifacts from the time period have been discovered on the site and can be viewed in the visitor center.
Jedburgh Abbey not only served as a church and home for priests, but it was also the castle home to King Alexander III.
During your visit to Jedburgh Abbey, take in the history and grandeur of the Scottish abbey while learning more about monastic life during the medieval ages. Your tour allows you to visit the abbey church, cloister, and domestic buildings that are on the site.
An audio tour of the abbey is included in your ticket price, but you will need internet access in order to use this feature.
There are several stairs and some uneven terrain required to gain access to the abbey. However, the visitor center (which includes a great viewing area) is accessible.
Please visit Jedburgh Abbey’s website for more information on accessibility, ticket prices, and operating hours.
4. Floors Castle
Hands down, Floors Castle is one of my absolute favorite historic sites in southern Scotland!
This grand castle (which looks like it jumped out of the pages of a fairy-tale) was commissioned for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe in 1721 and has served as the family home for every generation since.
A visit to Floors Castle allows you to peek inside an incredible Scottish castle. While touring the castle, you will get to see the family’s vast collection of fine art, furniture, tapestries, porcelain, and more.
In addition to the interior of the castle, visitors can also explore the castle grounds and gardens. The Walled Garden houses 4 acres of seasonal color and includes an 1850s glasshouse where delicate flowers and fruit are housed.
The castle grounds also contain a French-style formal garden, a woodland garden, and walking and biking trails.
Be sure to visit the castle’s Terrace Cafe when you are hungry. Here, you can enjoy their seasonal menu or participate in afternoon tea, which takes place daily.
The castle tour does require quite a bit of walking, climbing some stairs, and standing. The majority of the castle is accessible, but some portions are not due to its historic nature.
Floors Castle is a great addition to your list of southern Scotland historic sites!
Please visit their website for information on operating hours and ticket prices.
5. Thirlestane Castle
Head to the small town of Lauder to find the historic Thirlestane Castle. This incredible 16th-century castle is home to the Duke of Lauderdale. As one of the oldest castles in Scotland, it is amazing that Thirlestane Castle has remained the Maitland family home since its inception.
A visit to the historic castle allows you to discover the castle’s fascinating history, including the castle’s connection to Mary Queen of Scots. Castle tours are offered May-September, allowing visitors to view the historic furnishings, ornate plasterwork, and beautiful art on display.
Thirlestane Castle also offers organized activities including horseback riding, fishing, spa treatments, and afternoon tea.
There is parking near the castle with a gravel walkway leading to the castle entrance. The castle tour does require some walking and standing, but the castle does have an elevator that accesses all floors of the castle.
Visit the Thirlestane Castle website for more information.
Pro Tip: To have a romantic getaway, consider staying a few days in one of Thirlestane’s castle suites. We had the pleasure to stay in one of the castle apartments during our time in Scotland, and we loved it!
6. Abbotsford House
Once home to the 19th-century writer Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford House is a wonderful addition to your list of historic sites to visit in southern Scotland.
The house you see today is definitely not the original farmhouse that was on the property when it was first purchased by Scott. No, Abbotsford House looks more like a fairy-tale castle.
The incredible house is said to have even inspired Queen Victoria. Apparently, she remodeled her home, Balmoral Castle, in a similar fashion after staying here! You can learn about this and about Sir Walter Scott and his life when you visit the visitor center and take a tour of Abbotsford House.
Your admission includes a guided audio tour that takes you through the ground floor of the house, including Scott’s library and personal study. The impressive armory is also on the tour and includes precious artifacts from Scott’s collection ranging from suits of armor to medieval weaponry.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the grounds of Abbotsford House during your visit. There are three beautiful gardens, each designed to feel like extensions of the home, and even referred to as “rooms.” There is also a chapel on site which houses sacred relics.
Abbotsford House has many paved paths available, both from the parking area and from the Visitor Center to the main house. The tour of the main house is located on one floor, and all rooms are completely accessible. There are benches and respite seating located throughout the tour and outside in the gardens. Do note though that like the other historic sites in southern Scotland, Abbotsford House may contain uneven surfaces.
Please visit the Abbotsford House website for operating hours and ticket prices.
Pro Tip: If you are up for it, take a walk along the woodland trail around the estate. It is magnificent!