As the UK’s only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) City of Design – and the home of the Beano and Dandy – Dundee is full of cultural delights. From fascinating museums to the rich Dundee art scene, it’s easy to get your teeth stuck into its unique cultural characteristics.
Culture in Dundee
Exploring the journey to discovery, the RRS Discovery is situated just a four-minute walk from Dundee train station. This award-winning attraction is dedicated to Captain Scott, a British Royal Navy officer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic. If you fancy taking a look around his ship, read our dedicated page on the RRS Discovery to find out more.
Also run by the Dundee Heritage Trust is Verdant Works, an interactive attraction that tells the story of Dundee’s textile heritage. Located a 20-minute walk from RRS Discovery in a refurbished mill, it takes you back to the 19th century to explore the city’s rich history with jute – a vegetable fibre that can be spun into fabric. This self-led museum, which opens all year round, shows you how Dundee became the main supplier of the world’s jute goods, and introduces you to some of the interesting characters of the period. They also put on fascinating exhibitions which take a deeper look at machinery, pattern designs and other quirks of the time.
Dundee Science Centre is all about helping children learn. Open 363 days a year, the exhibitions encourage young ones to engage with science through hands-on experiences. Located in the Greenmarket area of the city, the museum is right next to Dundee Contemporary Arts. Find out more about the Dundee Science Centre on our dedicated page.
Walk seven minutes further north – towards the city centre – and you’ll reach the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum. Run by The University of Dundee, you’ll find all kinds of interesting specimens here. From skulls and skeletons to fossils and skins, the historic university buildings house everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the animal kingdom. Free to visit, make sure you take some time to browse the fascinating collection of animals from the HMS Challenger voyage, which took place in 1872-6. The D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum is open 9.30am-8.30pm on weekdays and 9.30am-4.30pm on weekends.
Sitting at the mouth of the River Tay is Broughty Castle Museum. The castle itself was built in 1496 on a raised mass of land looking over the water. Its history is intense, holding much military action including multiple attacks during the 16th century. Today, Broughty Castle is a captivating museum with sweeping views across the river. Diving deep into the history of its Broughty Ferry location, the museum covers the people, environment and wildlife that make this area unique. Admission is free and it’s just a 10-minute drive from Dundee city centre.
Get on board the HMS Unicorn on South Victoria Dock Road for a trip down memory lane. Built as an aircraft repair ship for the Royal Navy in the 1930s, it was completed during WWll and is now the last intact warship in the world. Built during a time of technological transformation, HMS Unicorn represents both the end of great wooden shipbuilding and the start of the iron steamship. As well as offering a good nosy around the ship, the HMS Unicorn team hosts an event calendar chock-full of fun, ranging from live music performances to treasure hunts and historical talks. Open all year round, you can also request a guided tour of the ship.
Our video guide to Dundee culture
Located in a stunning Gothic Revival building in Albert Square is The McManus gallery, a museum and gallery with a large collection of fine art and natural history artefacts. Inside, its eight galleries are spread across two floors and feature a breathtaking array of art from the last 400 million years. Exhibits take you on a journey from the birth of Dundee right up to the city it is today, including works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Glasgow Boys. For all you football fans out there, the earliest painting of a football match is well worth a look. The McManus is free and there’s a charming, family-friendly café on-site if you want to grab a bite to eat. The shop is also quite the draw, as it stocks a fantastic selection of products inspired by the history of the area.
Part of the University of Dundee, the Cooper Gallery is pushing artistic boundaries by displaying work that challenges our way of thinking. Steeped in design, visual culture and contemporary art, the exhibitions are always changing and often feature work by students. If you can get there for the opening of a new display, it’s well worth a visit as the gallery is packed with energy. Located within the College of Art and Design, entry is free and it’s only a 20-minute walk away from our Dundee Centre hotel.
Sticking with the modern day, Dundee Contemporary Arts is located next door to the Dundee Science Centre. Housing two large-scale art galleries, a two-screen cinema, a print studio and a café, you could spend all day getting lost in this magnificent hub of artistic excellence. If you want to plan a visit, make sure you read our guide to Dundee Contemporary Arts first.
Another product of the University of Dundee, Dundee Fine Art Museum holds a notable collection of fine art. Mainly filled with 19th- and 20th-century pieces by Scottish artists, there’s also an impressive selection of artwork by English painters, including celebrated portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough. As you’d expect, the work here is beautiful and as it’s free to enter. Perfectly positioned in the heart of the city centre, it’s well worth a visit if you have a few hours to spare.
For something a little bit different, Ignite Dundee is a cultural festival that celebrates imagination. Hosted during the month of May at venues across the city, the event includes exhibitions, shows, workshops and talks.
For 30 years, the Dundee Flower and Food Festival has been entertaining visitors and locals in Dundee. Set within the luscious grounds of Camperdown Country Park, just off the A90, this fun festival brings the best food, horticulture and live entertainment to Dundee during the first weekend of September. For green-fingered folk, there are plenty of gorgeous displays – including cut flowers, plant pots and so much more. There are also cooking demonstrations, a craft fair and lots of activities to keep the little ones entertained. You won’t go hungry either, as there is a wide variety of local food tents for you to feast your eyes and mouth on. The festival is about a 25-minute drive from our Dundee East hotel.
If music is more your thing, you’ll want to head to the Dundee Jazz Festival. Held in November, this is an opportunity to see some of the best Scottish and international jazz talent across the city of Dundee. The programme and locations are announced in the run-up to the festival, and ticket prices vary depending on which event takes your fancy, so make sure you keep an eye out on the website to find out what’s on if you’re staying in one of our hotels in Dundee in November.
The Discovery Film Festival is Scotland’s international film festival for young audiences. Aimed exclusively at young people, the festival has been introducing international film and cultural insight to them for the last 14 years. Held across two weeks towards the end of October, the films focus on the relationships between children in different cultures and the people and things around them. Based at Dundee Contemporary Arts – next door to the Dundee Science Centre – this is a great event to attend if you have inquisitive children who want to learn more about the world.
Now in its fifth year, Almost Blue Festival is a blues festival that takes place across the clubs and pubs of Dundee in June and July. Unlike a lot of music festivals, this one is free, and it’s always a riot. Spread out across both the city centre and Broughty Ferry, the festival brings a great buzz to Dundee and is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the culture while enjoying some good old pub grub and a pint of the best craft ale.
For over a decade the NEoN Digital Arts Festival has been welcoming artists and makers from across the globe to Dundee. With a heavy focus on digital media, this festival has a different theme every year, with 2018’s event set to tackle how growing up in a digitally enabled culture affects our perception of lifespans. Held in November, the festival takes place across a number of iconic building in Dundee, including The McManus, Dundee Contemporary Arts, and Dundee Science Centre.
The Dundee Literary Festival is a five-day extravaganza celebrating the written word. Perfect for adults and children alike, past visitors include celebrated children’s author Jacqueline Wilson. Bookworms will love this event, which is jam-packed with established and brand new voices and includes book readings, talks, workshops and so much more across the city.