Things to Do in Dunkeld
So, you’re thinking about visiting Highland Perthshire and looking for things to do in Dunkeld and Birnam during your visit. Well, you’re in luck! There’s plenty to see and do in the area for all the family, from nature walks with wonderful views along the River Tay to historic buildings, art galleries and museums, outdoor activities and some of the finest food and drink establishments in Scotland.
Where is Dunkeld?
Dunkeld sits on the banks of the River Tay. Birnam is a short walk away on the other side of the river. The two towns are easily reached by car from Perth (15 minutes) and Edinburgh (1 hour 20 minutes). There is also a regular train service from Inverness and Glasgow, with Birnam station located just outside the town centre and Dunkeld station, a 10-minute walk from the centre of town.
Is Dunkeld Worth Visiting?
These days Dunleld is well worth a visit, but that wasn’t always the case.
Historically, Dunkeld was the capital of Scotland, forged by Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scots. As people moved away to cities, the town fell into ruin.
Much of Dunkeld has been restored and National Trust for Scotland has contributed mainly by refurbishing some of the homes surrounding the Dunkeld mercat cross and the beautiful Gothic Atholl Memorial Fountain in the centre.
Today, the town is a popular tourist destination, acting as a gateway to the Highlands and there’s enough to see and do in the area to keep you occupied for however long you choose to visit.
The neighbouring town Birnam has been home to many famous residents over the years, including the playwright J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan while living in the town.
If you’re new to the area, you may not know where to start when it comes to finding things to do. This guide to help you make the most of your stay and discover all the wonderful things to do in Dunkeld.
Historical Attractions in Dunkled and Birnam
Dunkled is steeped in history. From the earliest times, its people have fought for their independence and today it has a rich heritage that attracts visitors from all over the globe.
Dunkeld Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. The cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and is one of the largest in Scotland. It’s also home to several historical artefacts, making it a great place to learn about the history of the area.
The origins of Dunkeld Cathedral date back to the early 11th century when it was founded by Queen Margaret, the wife of Malcolm III. The current building dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries and has been extensively restored over the years. Today, it’s a popular place for visitors to learn about the history of Christianity in Scotland.
It is said that the relics of St Columba were buried under the chancel for safekeeping after St Columba’s return from Iona. You can still see St Columba’s Dove in the Wast Window. Inside the Cathedral sits The tomb of the Wolf of Badenoch and The Effigy of Bishop Sinclair.
Address: 10 Cathedral St, Dunkeld PH8 0AW
Tel: 01350 727249
Thomas Telford Bridge
There’s a very special history behind the Dunkeld bridge that connects Birnam to Dunkled across the River Tay. The bridge was designed by the famous industrial engineer Thomas Telford and was completed in 1809, opening up the Highlands to the more populated south. It cost a halfpenny to walk across it. Many felt that the cost was unaffordable and riots ensued. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice a prison built into one of the arches to keep troublemakers at bay.
One of the most common things to do in Dunkeld and Birnam is to visit Birnam Oak. It is easily accessible from the village centre on the brown tourist road at the Sessile Oak. Some humorous signs on this road are meant to help the foresters, such as ‘This isn’t me, I’m a sycamore’. If you discover the oak you will not have any problems finding them, they are about 23ft tall!
Birnam Oak is most famously known for its connection with William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. According to the play, Macbeth was encouraged to commit murder by three witches who prophesied that he would become king. The witches were said to have met him beneath a tree in Birnam Wood before making their prediction. “Macbeth will never be vanquished until the Birnam wood to Dunsane Hill is defeated.”
Although the story is fictional, it’s thought that Shakespeare may have based it on a real event that took place in the area in the 11th century. Today, Birnam Wood is a lovely place to take a walk and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. It’s also home to many interesting plant and animal species.
Address: Oak Rd, Dunkeld PH8 0BL
The Birnam Oak
Photo © Gordon Hatton (cc-by-sa/2.0)
There are so many fantastic walking routes in the vicinity of Dunkel and Birnam for you to discover. Below we’ve included some of the most popular places to enjoy the beautiful surroundings within Highland Perthshire.
Pine Cone Point
One of the most popular things to do in Dunkeld is visiting Pinecone View Point. Sitting within the Birnam Hills, on the south side of Dunkeld and Birnam, this viewing point looks down to the town centre and River Tay. The best way to get there is by following one of the many walking trails starting at The Hermitage car park.
During your ascent to Pine Cone Point, you’ll explore a forest of Larch, planted by the 3rd Duke of Atholl. Would you believe it, but it is said he used a cannon to scatter seeds! Keep a look out for the breeding ospreys who may be circling above you and on the ground, you may even spot red squirrels.
Address: Dunkeld PH8 0HX
Dunkeld Heritage Walk
A good way to know how the town has developed is to visit the blue plaques on the walls. They appear in the background of your trip. Find a local shop and look for signs at buildings like the Old Jail in Telford Bridge or the Old Courthouse. Dunkeld is a small village that you should explore because of its size, and easy access to places. This is an ideal way to explore Dunkeld’s historic area and explore the local history.
Walk Along the River Tay
The River Tay is Scotland’s longest river and runs through both Dunkeld and Birnam. It’s a popular place for locals and visitors alike to take a walk, relax and enjoy the stunning scenery.
There are several routes you can take, but one of the most popular is the Birnam to Dunkeld Walk. The route takes you along the banks of the river and through some of the most beautiful scenery in the area. It’s the perfect way to spend a day exploring the outdoors.
The Hermitage is a National Trust property located just outside Dunkeld. The site includes different trails, each of which offers something different.
One of the most popular trails is the Douglas fir trail, which takes you through a stunning forest. The Hermitage is also home to a number of waterfalls, making it the perfect place to cool off on a hot day. Other trails include the Reekie Linn trail, which leads you to a series of cascading waterfalls, and the Black Spout trail, which takes you to a hidden waterfall.
Address: Old Military Rd, Dunkeld PH8 0JR
Tel: 01350 728641
Dunkeld House Tree Trail
The majestic trees found throughout Perthshire that gave the city a nickname of “Big trees” are a testament to the Dukes of Atholl who cultivated 27 million trees over the span of 1738-1830. They lived in Dunkeld House and now visitors can enjoy the gardens of this historic estate, which houses a variety of world-class rare conifers. Dunkeld House staff work together with Edinburgh Botanic Gardens to collect seedlings from all over the world from forests that are near extinction.
Address: Blairgowrie Road, Dunkeld PH8 0HX
Dunkeld isn’t just a place to learn about its history and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. There’s a thriving community of creativity, arts, wildlife and tasting experiences that make the town unique. Below you’ll find some of our favourite activities.
Loch of the Lowes
Loch of the Lowes is an outdoor park with visitor centres and wildlife reserves that cover more than 100ha of land and lies 3 km north of the city. Star attracts osprey breeding pairs who return to the nest in early April and late September. The nesting site is 150 meters from the hiding place; telescopes and binoculars can be found for viewing up close.
In winter, it is also possible to see red squirrels and other birds like the otters and pine marten. Several species are worth looking for. A viewing window is available to watch birds in the surrounding countryside.
Address: Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre and Reserve, Dunkeld PH8 0HH
Tel: 01350 727337
Birnam Arts Centre
The Birnam Arts Centre offers a variety of things to do in Dunkeld featuring a diverse concert program including folk music, fiddles and Scottish bands. In the basement are constantly changing art displays and you can even have an opportunity for workshops. Potter’s Junction Gift Shop offers a variety of great little gifts including a coffee, a home-baked cake and a snack, as well as a delicious breakfast and lunch.
Address: Station Rd, Birnam, Dunkeld PH8 0DS
Tel: 01350 727674
Birnam Arts Centre
Photo © Birnam Arts Centre
Beatrix Potter Exhibition & Garden
We’ve already mentioned that several authors were inspired by their time in Dunkeld and Birnam, including J. M Barrie and Rudyard Kipling. But did you know that the world-famous author of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, also spent time in the area?
She was such a fan of Dunkeld and Birnam that she used the town as a setting for her book The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
Today, you can learn all about the author and her connection to the area at the Birnam Arts & Conference Centre where you’ll find the Beatrix Potter Exhibition which includes a number of original illustrations from her books.
Address: Dunkeld PH8 0BN
Beatrix Potter Exhibition
Photo © Beatrix Potter Exhibition
Located on Cathedral Street it is an amazingly cute and quirky shop and it’s perfect for children wishing for a more intimate look at Dunkeld’s architectural and cultural heritage. They paint anything including cups and plates and fairy tales, and even small Highland cows and sheep. Adults may also have fun and bookings are not necessary. Just come in pick your favourite colour and then enjoy an hour and a half of relaxation and painting.
They also put additional activities on during the School Holidays.
Address: 2 Cathedral St, Dunkeld PH8 0AW
Tel: 01350 728044
Taste Talk Whisky & Chocolate Pairings
At Taste Talk, we offer unique whisky tasting experiences that pair the finest scotch whiskies with delicious chocolates made by the award-winning Highland chocolatier. It’s a chocolate and whiskey tasting experience that’s a match made in heaven. The Taste Talk Experience is the perfect way to enjoy some of the best malt whiskies in the world while learning about their history and production.
Outdoor Activities in Dunkeld and surrounding areas
If you prefer life in the fast lane and are looking for adventure and excitement, then you’re in the right place. There are loads of ways to get your kicks in Dunkeld. Here are some of the best outdoor activities in the area.
Progression Bikes at St Ninians Wynd offer a variety of bikes to hire from a children’s bike to a trailer for adults – electric bikes to full-swing bikes for serious users. The rental process includes the use of a helmet or padding if necessary. It’s a great way to explore the Perthshire countryside and make your own adventure. Bikes are available for rental for anywhere from one day to several days.
Address: 2 St Ninian’s Wynd, Dunkeld PH8 0AT
Tel: 01350 727629
Land Rover Experience Scotland
Are you looking for some serious adventure with the immersive all-terrain capability of a Land Rover? Whether you attend a half-day or a full-day adventure, you are guaranteed to leave feeling a real sense of achievement. Every experience is hosted by world-class instructors all of whom benefit from a wealth of knowledge and expertise to help you make the most out of your time.
Address: Loch Fishings, Butterstone, Dunkeld PH8 0HH
Tel: 01350 727720
Land Rover Experience
Photo © Land Rover Experience Scotland
Another alternative for those who feel adventurous is to travel in quad bikes around Perthshire hills. Highland Off-Road takes you for one hour of fun on its assault route dotted with steep hillside cobbles and camelback hills then through open fields or forests. It’s an amazing way to get out and discover the surrounding scenery on a quad bike.
Address:The Steading, Dunkeld House, Dunkeld PH8 0HX
Tel: 01350 728700
Splash White River Rafting
If you’re a big fan of adventure, then white water river rafting will be right up your street. While not necessarily operating in Dunkeld itself but in the nearby town of Aberfeldy (on the River Tay) and also the village of Grantully (on the River Tummel) you can spend three hours of pure excitement, navigating Grade 2 and 3 rapids. This is a very popular attraction, so advanced booking is essential.
Address: Dunkeld Rd, Aberfeldy PH15 2AQ
Tel: 01887 829706
One of the best ways to explore Dunkeld is with a tour guide. If you’re visiting one of Scotland’s major cities such as Edinburgh or Glasgow, there are plenty of private hire tour guides who can plan your adventure to Highland Perthshire. They’re often very knowledgeable about all the top things to do in Dunkled such as the main attractions, places to eat, drink and relax; whatever the weather.
If you prefer to spend a few days discovering the town of Dunkeld, nearby villages and the surrounding area then you may want to stay a few days to take it all in. There’s a great community here in Dunkled and Binham with independent B&Bs as well as hotels and camping spots nearby too. We recommend booking well in advance to get the best deals
Photo © Andrew Wood (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Restaurants in Dunkeld
There are many wonderful places around Dunkeld where you can have a good meal. Howie’s Bistro is a breakfast restaurant serving smoked avocado and smoked salmon and fried eggs as well as lunches of soups, pasta dishes, salads and classic Scottish foods like fish and chips and steak and a beer pie. It’s also been a huge success for their night menu.
Perth Arms is Dunkeld’s oldest trading pub and also a popular choice. Chattan Tearooms in Birnam and the Foyer Coffee within Birnum Arts Centre are excellent options to enjoy a delicious lunch or a traditional takeaway fish and chips at the Dunkeld Fishbar.
Photo © The Taybank
What’s your Favourite Thing to do in Dunkeld & Binham?
We’d love to hear what you think are the best places to visit in the area. Leave us a message about what you love the best.
Even if this is your first time to Dunkeld, are planning a visit to Scotland or just looking for a day out in Perthshire, we think there’s something for everyone. From delicious attractions to wild adventures, glorious nature and fun family activities. We look forward to seeing you soon.