Things to do in Galashiels, Scottish Borders
Today Galashiels is one of the largest of the Scottish Borders towns, with a population of just over 12,000 people, and it's a popular starting point for visitors to the area, thanks to the Borders Railway from Edinburgh.
Things to do in Galashiels and Nearby
Though there aren't many tourist attractions in Galashiels itself, there are lots in the surrounding area, all easily accessible by car, bike, or bus:
Old Gala House
Find out about the exciting history of the area, including the Border Reivers, and enjoy the beautiful garden. There's also a cafe and gift shop.
The famous writer Sir Walter Scott is known throughout the world, but he made his home in the Scottish Borders at Abbotsford House.
There's also 120 acres of land and gardens to explore including beautiful walks beside the River Tweed.
Bank Street Gardens
In the centre of Galashiels, Bank Street is home to a range of independent shops.
Not an attraction worth making a special journey to visit - but a very pleasant part of town to see while you're here.
A short drive from Galashiels takes you to Scott's View - a beautiful viewpoint where you can see the River Tweed winding through the landscape beneath the Eildon Hills.
There's a romantic story that Sir Walter Scott stopped here so often when travelling back to his home at Abbotsford, that his horses would halt without being told. On the day of Scott's funeral, the cortege passed Scott's View, and his horses halted as usual, so their master could enjoy his view one last time.
Scott's View is just off the B6404, so it's very close to our next attraction:
The 4 famous Abbeys are some of the Scottish Borders most famous attractions: Dryburgh Abbey, Kelso Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey and Melrose Abbey - all are worth a visit.
You can wander around the ruins, enjoy the Gothic architecture and really get a sense of what life as a monk might have been like, hundreds of years ago.
Don't miss the Dryburgh Yew - believed to be one of the oldest living trees in Scotland, having been planted in 1136.
Traquair House & Brewery
Traquair House is believed to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. Dating back to 1107, Traquair has a rich and fascinating history, including visits from 27 Scottish Kings and Queens.
There are also extensive grounds to explore, including a maze that the whole family will enjoy, before stopping for refreshments in the Garden Cafe.
Great Tapestry of Scotland
Scheduled to open in 2021, the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor experience is currently being built, at a cost of more than £6 million, in the centre of Galashiels.
This exciting development is set to become a popular tourist attraction - sure to bring thousands of visitors to the town to see the story of Scotland hand-stitched by thousands of its people.
It is appropriate that this new national treasure - a history of Scotland in textile form is coming to Galashiels - a town with a rich history in the textile industry.
Scottish Borders Donkey Sanctuary
A few miles outside Galashiels you'll find the Scottish Borders Donkey Sanctuary which provides a permanent home for donkeys and mules that needed re-homing.
Covering 80 acres and including beautiful views over the River Tweed the sanctuary is also home to llamas, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and ponies so it's a great place for animal-loving families to enjoy.
Clearly visible from many places in Galashiels, the three peaks of the Eildon hills are a famous local landmark.
The best starting point is the nearby town of Melrose. The paths are steep in places, but not beyond the scope of keen walkers, or anyone who is reasonably fit and prepared to take their time.
Braw Lads' Gathering
Many Border towns hold annual celebrations of their unique history, often involving riding through the town and surrounding land on horseback.
The Braw Lads Gathering dates from the 1930s, but commemorates much older historical events:
The main event is the Ride Out that takes place on the final Saturday when the Braw Lad receives the Burgh Flag and leads a horseback procession of hundreds of local supporters on a route that takes in the Raid Stane, crosses the River Tweed and ends at the Old Town cross for the ceremony of sod and stone.
The cavalcade also includes a pipe band, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Braw Lads' Gathering FAQ
Q. What does "braw" mean?
A. Braw means good, fine, fine-looking or excellent.
Q. How are the Braw Lad and Braw Lass chosen?
A. The Braw Lad and Lass are chosen from the young people who apply for the roles. This takes place each April on "Declaration Night". Applicants must be over 18, single, have been born in the Galashiels area, and have been resident in the area for at least 12 years.
Q. What's the best place to see the cavalcade?
A. Our favourite vantage point is Scott Street - there's a tremendous atmosphere as large crowds gather to enjoy the spectacle of more than 100 horses thundering up the hill. Another popular spot is the Tweed Bridge or river-side, to see the fording of the Tweed at Abbotsford.
Q. What else happens during Braw Lads' Week?
A. In addition to the main ride, there are several other ride-outs, as well as family events non-riders can take part in, including the Braw Lads' Bike Ride, the Braw Lads' Country Dance, Braw Lads' Sports, and a Fancy Dress parade through the town which is always well-supported.
The Galashiels coat of arms shows two foxes eating plums from a tree, with the inscription "Sour Plums".
While their guard was down, a group of locals discovered them quite by chance and slaughtered them all.
This skirmish is commemorated by the "Raid Stane" - one of the locations visited by the Braw Lads Ride Out every June.
There are two golf clubs in Galashiels, both offering unique challenges set in stunning Borders scenery:
Galashiels Golf Club
The club has a 9 hole par 70 course with a relaxed atmosphere and dress code, and caters to golfing parties of all sizes.
Torwoodlee Golf Club
This club has been challenging golfers for more than a century, and has been awarded most friendly/visited club in the Borders Freedom of the Fairway scheme several times.
The course, set in a scenic valley among mature trees and offers 18 challenging holes, but is suitable for golfers of all levels.
The Scottish Borders is a mecca for cyclists from across the UK and around the world - a combination of quiet roads and spectacular scenery making it an irresistible place to explore on two wheels.
As well as world-class mountain-biking facilities at Glentress near Peebles, and challenging downhill courses at Innerleithen, there are several popular cycle trails that pass through Galashiels:
Borders Railway Link Cycle Route
This 8 mile easy route takes in the towns of Clovenfords, Melrose and Galashiels and is ideal for a relaxed family day out.
Tweed Cycle Route
At 95 miles, this scenic but challenging route, takes in many Borders towns including Coldstream, Galashiels, Kelso, Melrose and Peebles.
Coasts and Castles
This 200-mile multi-day route offers cyclists a chance to see much of what the region has to offer, starting in Newcastle and finishing in Edinburgh via Hadrian's Wall and the beautiful Tweed Valley.
For more information, and many more (and shorter) routes, check out the Cycle Scottish Borders website.
The Scottish Borders is a popular area with walkers, and many well-trodden routes pass near Galashiels:
The 214 mile Southern Upland Way coast-to-coast route passes through Galashiels during the Traquair to Melrose section of the route.
At the other end of the scale, the Galashiels Town Trail is only 2 miles long, but guides you around the town and through the fascinating history of Galashiels, pointing out many landmark buildings on the way.
Other Sports Facilities
Galashiels has a 25m indoor swimming pool offering lane swimming and inflatable fun sessions as well as Learn 2 Swim classes.
Athletics is also well catered for with an all-weather 400m running track at Tweedbank Sports Complex. There's also an indoor bowling hall, 2G pitch, gym and fitness studio.
The Borders Tennis Centre has 7 tennis courts (4 floodlit).
Galashiels also has a well-kept bowling green.
For a relatively small town, Galashiels is lucky to have a 4 screen cinema offering a range of new and popular films.
Family-run since 1993, the Pavilion has seen significant investment in its projection and audio facilities, making it a great place to relax, eat popcorn and enjoy a film with the family.
Q. What shops are there in Galashiels?
A. Galashiels is the main shopping town for this part of the Borders so it has a good choice of shops for a town of its size. There's a large Tesco Extra supermarket and a similarly-sized Asda next door. Several other chains are represented including Boots, Next, WH Smith, Marks and Spencer Food, Halfords, Matalan, Aldi and Pets at Home. There are also quite a few independent shops in the town centre, many on Bank Street and Channel Street.
Q. What does Galashiels mean?
A. The name comes from two words: Gwala, meaning "full stream" and Shiel meaning "shelter". So Galashiels means the "shelters by the full stream" where people took shelter by the river.
Q. Where's the cheapest place to buy petrol?
A. Asda has a "pay at pump only" petrol station next to its car park which is usually the cheapest place to buy petrol in town.
Q. Is Galashiels a nice place to live?
A. Apparently it is: In 2019 Galashiels was voted the happiest place to live in Scotland in a survey for property website Rightmove.
Q. How far is Galashiels from Edinburgh?
A. By road it's 35 miles from Edinburgh to Galashiels. You can also go by train from Galashiels Station at the Transport Interchange and take the Waverley Line into Edinburgh. The journey takes just under an hour by train.
Q. How far is Galashiels from Glasgow?
A. By road it's 76 miles from Glasgow to Galashiels. You can take the train from Glasgow, change at Edinburgh and take the Borders Railway to Galashiels. The journey times are 2-3 hours by train depending when you travel.
Q. What do local people call the town?
A. Galashiels is usually shortened to "Gala" by local people.
Q. Where can I hire a bike in Galashiels?
A. You can hire bikes from the Diamond Cycle Centre which is behind the Shell petrol station.
Places to Stay
There are several hotels and guesthouses in Galashiels and the surrounding area:
The Kingsknowes Hotel
A Scots Baronial mansion built for a wealthy local mill owner in 1869.
Conveniently located just off the A7 between Galashiels and Abbotsford, the hotel has many original Victorian features and a magnificent Edwardian conservatory.
The Hawthornebank Guest House
Hawthornebank offers luxurious en-suite bedrooms with TV and WiFi. Fluffy white robes and slippers are provided - ideal when using the outdoor hot-tub.
Places to Eat
Galashiels is well served for restaurants and cafes. There's a McDonald's or a Gregg's if you're looking to grab a snack on the go, as well as a selection of restaurants offering Indian and Chinese meals. For more traditional Scottish fayre, try:
Located in the visitor centre at Abbotsford, Ochiltree's Cafe is a stylish, modern eatery offering an excellent range of meals and snacks made from local ingredients, and quick and friendly service.
Herge's on the Loch
Situated in Tweedbank, not far from the railway station, Herge's offers quality food and some excellent views over the water.
With everything from Lite Bites, and an Evening Pizza Menu to A la Carte dining with dishes made from quality local produce, it's no wonder Herge's won the Best Taste Award for its food.