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Ayr: Castles, Horses, and Golf on the Scottish Seafront
Located in Ayrshire county on Scotland’s western coast, the town of Ayr is an oceanfront resort town that is full of historic charm. Known for its horse racing, golf courses, centuries-old landmarks, and long sandy beaches, Ayr is also famous for its status as the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.
This seaside escape sits on the mouth of the River Ayr and offers visitors a wide variety of places to stay, from traditional and modern hotels to family-run bed and breakfasts. This idyllic coastal town remains one of Scotland’s most popular destinations for travellers who find themselves longing for sport, the sea, and authentic Scottish culture.
From Medieval Port Town to Scottish Cultural Centre
The village of Ayr dates back to the Middle Ages and was named a Royal Burgh in 1205 by King William I. The coastal settlement was the primary market and harbour of Ayrshire throughout the medieval and modern periods. Today, thousands of history- and culture-lovers visit Ayr to explore the many forts and castles that dot the area, including the remains of the large citadel commissioned by Oliver Cromwell in 1652.
At this time, Cromwell ordered five forts to be built throughout Scotland for the purposes of stationing English troops. The citadel in Ayr was the largest and most impressive of the five and most of the walls of Cromwell’s fortress are still intact. The area is today known as Montgomerieston, named for the family that was gifted the burgh by Charles II following the restoration of the monarchy.
As a centre of Scottish history, Ayrshire is also notable as the birthplace of poet Robert Burns. Now a suburb of Ayr, the village of Alloway where Burns was born is a twenty-minute walk from downtown and features the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and library. Also nearby is the house which served as the setting for Burns’ famous poem “Tam o’ Shanter.” Each May, the legacy of Robert Burns is celebrated at the Burns an' a' that! Festival, an art gathering which draws musicians, poets, and performers from around the UK.
Sandy Beaches and Rolling Countryside
Ayr began its transformation into one of Scotland’s most popular seaside resort locations with the expansion of the country’s railroad system in the 19th century. With this improved infrastructure came the numerous hotels, restaurants, and other tourist venues that now dot the area. Being one of the most fertile areas of Scotland, the county attracts many nature-lovers who visit to wander its many trails, engage in wildlife-watching activities, and enjoy the stunning views of the sea and the sprawling countryside. The Isle of Arran and the Aisla Craig are visible from the coast, while the Heads of Ayr offers a great vantage point overlooking rural Ayrshire.
The bustling coastal town also boasts some of Scotland’s most popular and family-friendly beach locations. Ayr Beach and the adjoining Prestwick Beach both offer stretches of clean sand ideal for long walks, sunset-watching, fishing, picnics, and water play. Ayr Beach also runs alongside numerous family entertainment venues including mini-golf, an indoor play centre, and laser tag. A myriad of water sports and boating activities are available as well.
Hit the Links or Head Off to the Races
Many visitors come to Ayr each year for its famous horse races. The town’s race course was founded in the 16h century and draws large crowds for its annual racing events, most notably the Scottish Grand National which the town has hosted since 1966. Travellers should be aware that prices for hotels in and near Ayr will be higher around race times as horse enthusiasts pour in from across the UK.
Ayrshire county is also known for its numerous golf venues. Ayr itself features the highly-rated public courses of Dalmilling, Belleisle, and Seafield, among others, giving golfers a plethora of links to enjoy. Ayr also hosts its own football and rugby teams on most weekends: Ayr United, the football club, plays at Somerset Park while the rugby team plays at Millbrae in Alloway.
World-Class Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment
Among Scotland’s largest and most successful local economies, Ayr boasts one of the country’s healthiest town centres and offers a myriad of boutique shops. Ayr Central, The Kyle Centre, and the store-laden promenade of High Street comprise the town’s main shopping centres. Foodies will also be happy to find a wide array of dining options to tease the palate, from international and fusion cuisine to traditional Scottish inns and British pub grub. Owing to the coastal location, seafood is always within easy reach as well.
Family-friendly venues for entertainment and leisure abound in Ayr, not the least of which is The Citadel which offers a swimming pool and other sporting activities. The Odeon Cinema plays contemporary films, while the historic Gaiety Theatre hosts shows and performers from all over the country. The Gaiety was built in 1902 and closed in 2009 due to lack of financial backing, but was thankfully re-opened in 2012 following a successful fundraising effort.
Visitors to Ayr can choose from a wide variety of accommodations, including traditional hotels, contemporary boutique establishments, family-run guesthouses, and old-school cottage inns. Adventurous types and history-loves can even book a hotel set in a historic manor or a romantic chateaux. Many of these accommodations are available along the River Ayr and the scenic coastline of Ayr Beach.