With a vast redevelopment and investment project underway to transform the city’s waterfront, Dundee has started to pop up on many of the global ‘must visit’ lists. And with good reason: Scotland’s fourth largest city is experiencing a renaissance and here are some of the best businesses in the city to help you experience it to its fullest.
Dundee is a city with a shiny new image and an increasingly bright future. With the opening of the world class, £80 million V&A Dundee museum, the city’s leaders made a bold statement about their vision for the city. But look a little closer and you may recognise that you’ve known about the city all along, through computer games like Grand Theft Auto or the Desperate Dan comics. If you owned a Timex watch in the 70s it would have been made here, and the city’s industrial era saw it a world leader in the jute industry.
Shipbuilding was also a major employer once upon a time, and right next to the V&A Dundee is the majestic wooden steamship, the RRS Discovery, the ship that successfully conveyed explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic in 1901. The waterfront is bordered by the city centre, and this region is where most of the action is, but the steps and paths of Dundee Law lead to a magnificent viewpoint over the city, and are worth consideration, particularly on a clear day. As for hotels, shopping, and eating and drinking options in Dundee, here are the best ways to experience the city like a local.
Taypark House (484 Perth Road) is the mansion that jute built. Known as ‘jute barons,’ the wealthy leaders of the jute industry built their legacies in grey stone using Scots Baronial revival architecture. Taypark House is a beautifully restored example, complete with crow-stepped gables and a turret. Rooms combine tasteful snatches of original brickwork with modern furnishings like ensuite bathrooms and flatscreen TVs, while providing views of the river or gardens. The airport is close by and there’s a pleasant onsite café.
To be a little closer to the action, Apex City Quay Hotel & Spa (1 West Victoria Dock Road) is located right in the heart of the city’s main redevelopment zone around Dundee Docks. On the same quay as the HMS Unicorn, and minutes from the V&A Dundee, Apex has modern rooms with king-size beds, and top-notch facilities including a large pool, spa, fitness centre, and bar and restaurant. It is also minutes from a host of different dining, drinking and shopping options in the city centre.
Another jute legacy, Hotel Indigo (Lower Dens Mill) occupies an iconic former spinning mill that was built in 1822. The historic site has been thoroughly revamped to form the trendy boutique hotel with a fine dining restaurant and bar. Comfort is prioritised in the rooms, and many come with a bathtub, which is ideal for a soak after a tiring day spend exploring the city’s many design and art exhibitions. An excellent buffet breakfast is also available daily for an additional fee.
Dundee Backpackers Hostel (71 High Street) was the only hostel in Dundee city centre at the time of writing. But the owners don’t rest on their laurels, and this is an excellent place to spend the night on a budget. Rooms have fascinating photos of how the historic building housing the hostel used to look before it was refurbished, and with the spiral stone staircases you could almost feel as though you’re staying in a museum. There are dorms or private rooms available, along with a large common room with a pool table, free Wifi and a sizable kitchen for communal use.
Head northeast along the coast from Dundee and you reach Arbroath, famed for its “smokies”, or smoked haddock. Naturally, some of them make their way to Dundee, and Tailend (81 Nethergate) is one of the best sit-in fish and chips restaurants offering them up. Traditionally they are eaten at breakfast, although you will find them on all-day menus more frequently these days. Tailend opens from lunch onwards and also has a broader menu than seafood, with burgers, salads and an excellent drinks list.
Porters Bar & Restaurant (City Quay, Camperdown Street) has some good fish options, like the smoked haddock fishcakes, or roasted cod fillet. But it’s from the grill that most of their best work is served, including aged sirloin steaks. Wednesdays are steak nights, there is an excellent afternoon tea option on advance booking, while Sunday roasts cap off the weekend. The wood and brick interior creates a smart, laid-back ambience.
There are plenty of excellent restaurants offering Scottish cuisine in Dundee, but the global scene is well covered too. Tahini (11 Bank Street) is an endearingly sprightly little restaurant serving up Lebanese and Mediterranean set meals of three or five tapas courses in the evenings. There is an à la carte option at lunchtimes too, with classics like hot and cold meze, hummus and stuffed vine leaves.
Food is prepared and served with artistry at the sophisticated Castlehill Restaurant (22-6 Exchange Street). The theatre of food takes stage here, with thoughtful creations using a range of unusual ingredients including monkfish, wild hare and wood pigeon. While it is possible to take the three course option from a menu offering four options for each course, it is the tasting menus that really allow the creativity to shine through.
Café Montmartre (91 Perth Road) is a family-run bistro located in Dundee’s West End. Rustic French and Mediterranean dishes like confit de canard and moules, Shetland mussels in a creamy sauce, are indicative of a kind of authentic bistro fare that is hard to find in this region of Scotland. Proprietors Thierry and Anne are particularly adept at fostering an inviting atmosphere to accompany the food.
Open from breakfast to dinner, Avery & Co. (34 South Tay Street) covers all the important meals of the day with their healthy, natural dishes. This is a great option for vegetarians, while the majority of their dishes are also customisable to fit vegan, dairy-free and gluten free diets. There is a separate vegan menu with a tofu version of fish and chips, a vegan haggis wrap and polenta chips.
Bars & pubs
When 71 Brewing (36-40 Bellfield Street) opened their brewery in 2017 it was the city’s first for almost 50 years. Capitalising on the soft water of Dundee, their trademark brew is the 71 lager, but they also make a mean craft beer too, including the Mandarina, which is a delicately balanced and fruity brew. Their taproom and bottle shop is open daily, with late hours kept form Thursday to Saturday. Tours of the brewery are also available, although it is best to book these in advance.
Right in the heart of the city centre you will find Trades House Dundee (40 Nethergate) with its Victorian interiors and large stained glass windows depicting the city’s historic trades, including weavers and engineers. Pub grub is available with a decent variety of draught beers. The doors open at 10am every day but Sunday (11am), with locals heading in for coffee, before the lively crowd arrives from lunchtime onwards.
The George Orwell (168 Perth Road) is a simple, no frills boozer local to the University of Dundee’s main campus. Wooden furniture and the occasional plush leather chair lend an extra air of scholarly glamour. Expect a good mix of locals and students on one side of the bar, with a broad selection of drinks on the other. Ask the staff for recommendations when it comes to drinks.
The Art Bar (140B Perth Road) is a short way from George Orwell, closer to the University and the Lemmings statues. The vibe here skews youthful, with the occasional pub quiz, open mic and karaoke party keeping things lively. The setting is extremely cosy, with something of a communal living room vibe, surrounded by photos, art and curios covering most of the wall space.
One of the better-known beer brands of Scotland has a signature pub and eatery by the name of Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen (10 South Tay Street). While beer is their forte, the all-day, brunch & lunch, and dessert menus offer plenty of food with which to pair a good glass of hoppy craft beer or lager. Aside from their own brews, there’s a selection of other respected craft beers, as well as wine by bottle or glass, and a spirits list dominated by regional whiskies and gins to drink neat or pair with a pint.
Some of the best shopping in Dundee can be found minutes from the waterfront at the Overgate Shopping Centre. While this spot dominates the shopping scene, many of the best boutique stores can be found in the surrounding streets, such as The Edinburgh Woolen Mill (57-9 Commercial Street). The Dundee branch of this well-known store has a range of clothing, particularly the kind of items that suit the region’s more challenging winter conditions. Harris tweed, as well as cashmere knitwear, like cardigans, are popular buys here.
Kenny’s Music (29 Castle Street) is an excellent musical instrument shop selling percussion and pianos as well as electric, bass and acoustic guitars. The store has a good range of accessories too, including effects pedals, straps, strings, drum sticks and sheet music. The store is open daily and offers a part exchange and an in-house guitar tech service.
Sticking with the music theme, Groucho’s Record Store (132 Nethergate) is something of an institution in Dundee, and a must for lovers of vinyl. You can pick up record players here too, along with thousands of well-laid-out and organised records. Take a peek at their website for information on upcoming record and CD fairs in the city for an even broader array of choice.