Dundee is turning its fortunes around. An exciting waterfront transformation is well underway and the city’s evolving cultural and culinary scenes are bursting with innovation. Dundee is also the perfect gateway to some of Scotland’s finest coast and countryside.
Discover Dundee, old and new
Dundee commemorates its industrial heritage through a collection of first-class attractions. In the 19th century, the Tayside city became the world leader in jute production, thanks to its already successful weaving, shipbuilding and whaling industries (whale oil was needed to soften the jute). Wander round Verdant Works (West Henderson’s Wynd, 01382 309 060), a renovated mill, and imagine working amid heat, dust, oil fumes and deafening, pounding machinery.
Dundee’s position as a major whaling centre bolstered its reputation for building powerful ships able to navigate the Arctic pack ice. And so it was Dundee shipbuilders who constructed the RRS Discovery (Discovery Point, Discovery Quay, 01382 309 060), Scott’s polar research ship for the 1901 British National Antarctic Expedition and one of the last three-masted wooden vessels built in the UK. Step aboard the meticulously restored boat for a taste of the hardship encountered during the voyage and the pioneering scientific work carried out on the ice.
While Dundee’s traditional manufacturing industries have waned, its creative industries have flourished. In 2013, developers will break ground for Dundee’s most ambitious attraction yet. V&A at Dundee is slated to open in 2015, focusing on design and the impact it has on everyday life. The striking building promises to be light, airy, angular and most definitely eye-catching; designed by Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates, it will likely become an icon for the city. Four galleries will host world-class design exhibitions as well as highlighting leading Scottish design throughout the ages. In the meantime, the V&A is organising a programme of events, exhibitions and lectures in the city to whet your appetite.
See why Dundee is bidding to become UK City of Culture 2017 and kick off your cultural exploration at Dundee Contemporary Arts (152 Nethergate, 01382 909 900). This creative hub exhibits (and aims to inspire) modern art, holds insightful pre-opera talks, presents live music performances, and airs thought-provoking films. Leave time to pick up quirky crafts from the funky shop or grab a pre-theatre dinner at the hip Jute Café Bar (01382 909 246).
A few minutes’ walk away, GENERATOR projects (25-26 Mid Wynd Industrial Estate, 01382 225 982) is an artist-run initiative championing the work of new and mid-career artists. Committee members can only serve for two years maximum, ensuring a constant turnover of original ideas. Its exhibition space is a fantastic place to see art created by up-and-coming talent.
The Hannah Maclure Centre (1-3 Bell Street, 01382 308 324), part of the University of Abertay, showcases innovative global and local artists through a dynamic series of exhibitions. A real treat is its 72-seat cinema, which screens independent, offbeat, art house and classic films as well as hosting live performances and workshops. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the cool rooftop terrace café, a great spot for a coffee or sandwich lunch.
The days of whaling and jute may be long gone, but 21st-century Dundee has found its niche in the booming digital and gaming industry. The city celebrates its success and ingenuity in this arena each November at the NEoN Digital Arts Festival. Expect interactive installations, digital art exhibitions, hands-on workshops and big-name speakers.
Cake and marmalade
It won’t do your waistline any wonders, but Fisher and Donaldson (12 Whitehall Street, 01382 223 488) has been baking for five generations in Dundee and Fife, and the proof is literally in the pudding. Its cakes, pastries and pies are to die for and the fudge doughnut might just tip you over the edge.
Caffeine hounds can savour gourmet coffees and a laid-back vibe at Caffè Borsa (Panmure Street, 01382 228 894), which opened in the Dundee Chamber of Commerce building (originally the city’s stock exchange) in late 2012. Tuck into nachos or tapas and hang around for regular live acoustic performances in the evening.
You’d be crazy to miss out on Scottish seafood in Dundee. For some of the best, head straight for The Blue Marlin (Camperdown Street, City Quay, 01382 221 397), named Restaurant of the Year at the 2012 Dundee City Centre Retail Awards. Its well-travelled chef blends flavours and recipes from across the globe with locally caught fish. Delve into fresh Scottish mussels, Catalan-style seafood stew or tiger prawns seasoned with Asian spices.
Classy, yet casual restaurant The Byzantium (11 Hawkhill, 01382 221 946) serves a mean 28-day-aged Scotch rib-eye steak along with mouth-watering Mediterranean mezes and daily changing market fish. Look out for its good-value set menus.
Coast, countryside and castles
Visit Dundee and you can find yourself in staggeringly beautiful countryside in no time. You only have to head along the shore to the seaside suburb of Broughty Ferry to explore a former pretty fishing village with a cracking beach to boot. Or cross the Tay and walk a section of the spectacular Fife Coastal Path. It takes around four to six hours to hike from the Tay Bridge to St Andrews, home to arguably the world’s most famous golf course. The town’s sweeping beach played a starring role in Chariots of Fire.
The landscape to the north of Dundee reveals a startling succession of picturesque valleys. The five Angus glens are stereotypically Scottish: glacier-shorn mountains swathed in heather, gently sloping forest-clad hillsides, flower-strewn meadows and whitewashed stone farmhouses interspersed with ancient tracks used by cattle raiders, and streams where illicit distillers hid their stills. The annual Angus Glens Walking Festival in late May/early June is a superb way to discover the area on foot.
Finally, don’t miss out on one of Scotland’s grandest castles, Glamis Castle (Glamis, near Forfar, 01307 840 393), home to the Earls of Strathmore since 1372 and HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother as a child. You may also recognise it as the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.