My parents moved to Melrose quite some time ago and (as a result) I’ve spent many a weekend acquainting myself with all its pretty spots and hidden gems. Often missed out in favour of popular tours to the north (Loch Ness, etc.), the Scottish Borders are packed with history, independent shops, and scenic walks. I’m hoping that this guide will convince you to make space for Melrose during your Scotland travels. Let’s get started:
Things to do in Melrose
Melrose Abbey & Museum
Notably, the most famous thing to see in Melrose (and arguably, the Scottish Borders?), Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 and is said that be the final resting place for the heart of Robert the Bruce.
The ruins have been incredibly well maintained and walks through the grounds treat visitors to an up-close encounter with incredible arches and stonework detail, my favourite being a pig playing the bagpipes! See if you can find him!
Ticket prices also give guests access to the gardens and museum.
Priorwood Gardens National Trust for Scotland
Just along from Melrose Abbey, hidden in the wall that runs up towards the town centre, you’ll find a doorway leading to one of the prettiest ‘secret’ gardens in the Borders.
On a dry day, this is possibly my favourite spot in Melrose. The doorway leads you down a pathway, past an old house covered in crawling vines sprouting pears and pretty foliage. It quickly opens out into a larger garden, bursting with colourful flowers and offering benches to sit back and enjoy it all from. To the right, you’ll find an impressive orchard; apple trees lined up in rows and tucked out of sight from the bustling main road.
Melrose and its surrounding area are well-known amongst the UK walker and rambler communities for their impressive local, short, and long-distance walk routes. In particular, many head to this area to conquer the slopes of the inspiring Eildon Hills, as well as stroll along the banks of the beautiful River Tweed. Local non-profit group Melrose Paths have a wonderful website that provides clear maps of walk options, including 12 circular routes taking in many of the key sites in the area (the famous Abbotsford Estate, for example).
History enthusiasts will love the newly refurbished Trimontium Museum. Following a £1.4m upgrade, the attraction tells the story of the Romans in the Scottish Borders and their relationship with the local population. Pre-dating Hadrians Wall, the nearby Trimontium Fort site was one of the largest in Scotland. The museum is now home to one of the greatest collections of Roman military artefacts in the UK. Volunteers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, so make sure to chat with them – a great way to spend a rainy half-day in Melrose.
A very quick stop, sitting just across the road from the Abbey entrance, this little garden square is maintained by the NTS team and has a very different style to that of the larger Priorwood gardens. In bloom, the flowers here are planted in deliberate, neat little rows – trading uncertainty for manicured order. Whilst I tend to prefer the wild unpredictability of Priorwood Gardens, there’s something very pleasing about this charming stop.
Gattonside Suspension Bridge
So close to Melrose, but so many people miss this delightful stop simply due to a lack of exploration. Only a 5-minute walk from Melrose Abbey is an old suspension bridge that links the town to the nearby village of Gattonside.
Built in 1826, keep a look out for the old toll fine notices, still detailing how much it’ll cost to take your horse and carriage across the water.
More gardens, you say? Stick with me – whilst Melrose has a lot of gardens to discover, I can assure you they’re all quite different. A private Georgian manor house sits within these well-maintained National Trust gardens, providing visitors with a path that winds between fruit and vegetable beds and offering little stop points to take in views across the Abbey. Harmony Garden is popular with locals, playing host to the annual Borders Book Festival every June. I attended a wonderful Spring Watch talk by Michaela Strachan here one time.
Gattonside Abandoned House
Gattonside house is an abandoned 4-storey mansion in the neighbouring village of Gattonside (a quick walk across the bridge mentioned above). Originally built in around 1808, it’s now rumoured to be haunted by residents of its past. In the 1900s the building was used as a care home, housing up to 70 people with learning difficulties. Like so many other homes run by the church, the locals tell stories of abuse, neglect and misery.
The locals are keen to deter children from gathering and scrambling around the now derelict building and, in 2022, new fencing measures were put around it to keep people out. You can, however, still, loop the building and its grounds. The walk from Melrose to Gattonside is a particularly pretty one, and so this makes for a nice detour for those with an interest in big, old buildings.
Restaurants In Melrose
Melrose has a good number of restaurants and cafes, but here are the ones offering the best vegan-friendly options:
I’ve been going to Marmions for years and Chris, Andrea, and the team are always delightfully friendly (and offer lots of options for hungry vegans). Alongside their traditional menu (which has less of an offering), they also deliver a tasty Turkish selection that nods towards Chris’s family roots. After years of having to endure falafel as the only vegan option on menus, I’m pretty tired of it. However, for Marmions, I make an exception – theirs is my absolute favourite! Also in their meze offering: vegan-friendly breads, fresh hummus, and multiple vegetable plates in an array of tasty sauces.
Eden Coffee House Melrose
Eden Coffee House is the only place in Melrose that I’ve found to serve vegan-friendly cake on a regular basis and, for that reason, it gets my vote. The cafe recently changed hands and now has a full vegan menu, offering all sorts from paninis and nachos to burgers and avocado toast. Whilst I LOVED their cake, their vegan cheese and chilli jam ciabattas were a little sad looking. However, I very much appreciate the effort in a town that seems reluctant to add more plant-based options to its menus.
Apples for Jam
When they first popped up, little Apples for Jam had only a few offerings for vegans; cakes every now and then, alongside a permanent avocado toast option. However, recently the cosy little coffee shop (which also has another venue in nearby Earlston) has upped its game, offering baked goods from plant-based Zola’s Bakery in Galashiels. And, if that’s not enough, on October 22 they added a new vegan (and gluten-free) option to their menu: Warmed banana bread with coconut yoghurt and sliced banana.
Shopping in Melrose
Simply Delicious is perhaps most popular for its ice cream, with queues trailing around the block on a sunny day. However, they also stock a range of vegan-friendly hand-made chocolates and sweet treats. It’s a nice place to pick up a small gift or souvenir without breaking the bank.
Bank House Living
There are a few clothing shops in Melrose (be sure to have a good rummage around the charity shops here as this place is sliding around in money), but Bank House Living is my go-to for fashionable, wearable pieces. It’s giving the same vibes as Oliver Bonas, or an understated Boden.
Things to do in the Scottish Borders near Melrose
Locals took to social media in 2021 as Harrison Ford appeared at Leaderfoot Viaduct in his trademark leather jacket and fedora hat – with news quickly spreading that the crew were filming a world war scene for 5th movie in the series.
The impressive 19th-century bridge stands at 126 feet tall and runs over the River Tweed. Only a stone’s throw away from the Roman site of the Trimontium, there’s a pull-in bay on the B6360 with a footpath onto near Drygrange Old Bridge, from which you can take in the cross-river views.
Just 3 miles east of Melrose, this photogenic stop spot gets its name from the tale about Sir Walter Scott’s fondness for it. Looking out across the River Tweed and beyond to the Eildon Hills (three peaks of volcanic rock), the tranquil viewpoint can be found on the B6356, where the road has been widened to provide extra parking.
Quite possibly one of the top tourist attractions in the Scottish Borders, Abbotsford House was the grand home of Scotland’s celebrated Novelist, Poet, and Playwright, Sir Walter Scotland. Resting peacefully on the banks of the River Tweed, the grounds boast spectacular walled gardens, whilst the home itself allows visitors the opportunity to explore Scott’s robust library, study area, and collection of historic armour.
The area surrounding Melrose is littered with interesting peel towers (slim castle-like fortresses designed to protect occupants from English raids) – and the locations are often so quiet that you can enjoy them completely by yourself. Two of my favourites:
Smailholm Tower: sitting alone on a little crag called Lady Hill, looking out across the surrounding countryside. Built in the 15th century, and later acquired by ancestors of Sir Walter Scott, it went on to inspire numerous pieces of his work. The tower was awarded a 5-star tourist attraction status by Visit Scotland and, at the time, only 8 other sites held this title.
Fatlips Castle: Ramblers making the journey through the wooded paths to the top of Minto Crags are rewarded with countryside views and a visit to 16th-century Fatlips Castle. The fortress was said to have gotten its name because every gentleman who entered was greeted with a kiss by one of the ladies of the building.
Spending a bit more time in the Scottish Borders? Did you know that it’s home to the world’s largest terrain topographic model? Take a trip to Barony Castle to see The Great Polish Map of Scotland.