I know a thing or two about Scotland: first, it’s gonna rain when you are there. It doesn’t matter the season, rain is always just around the corner making the scenery dramatic and unforgettable. Second thing is, if you wait for 5 minutes the weather will change. When the sun comes out Scotland becomes even more beautiful. But what I didn’t know is that there are so many things to do in Dornoch, that I wish I could have stayed there longer.
Dornoch is famous worldwide for golf. This small city in the Scottish Highlands has one of the best golf courses in the world. It’s impressive, but golf is not my cup of tea, I’m not a big fan of the sport neither is Rob. Nevertheless, we boarded a plane to Edinburgh, rented a car and drove all the way North to discover what to do in Dornoch besides golfing, and to visit Dunrobin Castle.
So if you are thinking, planning or wondering if you should travel to Dornoch, the answer is yes, and here is why:
Top things to do in Dornoch – for those who love golf or not
1st – Admire Dornoch Castle
Dornoch Castle is located in the heart of town. I have the feeling that the whole city life happens around that square and you will walk up and down that street a couple of times. It’s a cute street, on one side is Dornoch Castle and tower, nowadays it gives place to a hotel with a restaurant, and the former Courthouse. On the other side there are a green garden and the Dornoch Cathedral, the perfect combination for a Scottish charming town. Admire Dornoch Castle from the outside, maybe even book a room and spend a royal night there, stopping by the restaurant for a glass of whiskey isn’t a bad idea either. A weekend at Dornoch Castle can easily be added to the list of the romantic getaways in the UK.
2nd – Dornoch Bagpipe Band Parade
We didn’t sleep at the castle, neither had dinner there [it was fully booked, consequences of a last minute trip], but we watched the city Bagpipe Band Parade in front of the castle and that was incredible. It can’t get more Scottish than this, Dornoch Bagpipe Band playing on the main street of the town, the castle behind them, girls dressed in costumes performing Highland dancing and the sun setting down on the background. What you see in the photo above is real life in Scotland. The Bagpipe Band Parade happens only during Summer, every Saturday at 8pm. Plan your visit to Dornoch between the end of May and early September and spend the whole weekend there.
3rd – Visit Dunrobin Castle
Still on the royal side of the trip, when planning what to do in Dornoch don’t forget to add to your list a visit to Dunrobin Castle. The castle resembles a French château, it’s completely different from the medieval castles you usually see in Scotland. Dunrobin, which means Castle of Robin, dates back to the early 1300s and has deep importance to the history of that region. When talking to locals you can figure out that history is not as pretty as the property, and maybe that’s why visiting it is so interesting. Despite the turbulent past, Dunrobin Castle is one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Great Britain and it’s marvelous.
The castle has 189 rooms, some of them are open to visit, manicured gardens and a museum. If you are traveling around the country you must add Dunrobin Castle on your Scotland itinerary, the castle is open from April to October and visiting time may vary according to the season, check Dunrobin Castle website for more details.
I recommend you to visit Dunrobin Castle after midday, the place is less crowded and you can explore it at your own pace until closing time. Most of the guide books will tell you that a visit to Dunrobin Castle takes about two hours, well, we spent 4 hours there and we only left it because the castle was closing. Some travelers are interested in watching the falconry display that happens at the castle garden twice a day [11am or 2pm], so plan your visit accordingly.
Officially Dunrobin Castle is located in Golspie, but it’s only a 10 minute drive from Dornoch, which makes it one of the top attractions on this Dornoch guide. Also, it’s so pretty, so unique and so close to Dornoch that it’s a shame if you travel all the way there and not visit it.
Let’s celebrate New Year in Scotland? Discover the incredible Edinburgh Hogmanay and have the time of your life.
4th – Stroll around Dornoch Beach
It Doesn’t matter what the weather is like, a visit to Dornoch is not complete without a walk on Dornoch’s endless beach. The sea is cold and rough, the sand is golden and the wind might be blowing like crazy, but there is where the beauty lays. Depending on the season, you might spot wildlife there as seals and different types of birds. The sun rises on the sea, so if you are an early bird make the effort to watch this spectacle, the only downside is that in the Summer the sun rises around 4am.
5th – Golf with a view
The love story between Dornoch and golf is old, it has been 400 years that the sport is played there. This long relationship gave Dornoch some knowledge about how to build award-winning courses, host players and how to blend nature and culture to the sport. If you are a pro, a golf enthusiast, or someone that just wanna try it, travel to Dornoch and discover by yourself why this year Royal Dornoch Golf Club was voted 2nd best among the World’s Top 100 Golf Courses.
6th – Great Gin Tasting
Whiskey lovers, please forgive me, but the list of unique things to do in Dornoch won’t have any whiskey distillery mention. On the other hand, let’s raise a glass and toast with some of the best gins in the world that are produced on this beautiful island. You might know that after whiskey, gin is one of the main alcoholic beverages produced in Scotland, and if you didn’t know that I’m here to tell you that Dornoch is the perfect place to join a gin masterclass. It’s time to upgrade your skills on the trendy G&T game.
Just beside Dornoch Castle, you can find The Carnegie Courthouse a historical building you must visit. Search for the Whiskey Cellar and don’t get intimidated by the thousands of bottles and the two guys that know a lot about Scotch. Walk to the tasting room in the back of the cellar, join an immersive tasting and learn about Scottish Gin craft.
Before heading to the shop, visit The Carnegie Courthouse website or send them a message on Facebook to book the gin tasting. The masterclass starts at 3pm, lasts one hour and offers 4 kinds of tasting. All the gin is produced in Scotland and most of the mixers are local too. Go solo or book this experience with your friends or family, fun and tipsy walking back to the hotel are guaranteed.
Side note: you can do whiskey tasting there too, just in case you felt tempted.
7th – Taste hearty food at the Courthouse Cafe
At The Carnegie Courthouse go up to the first floor and spend some time at this lovely cafe. Dornoch courtroom is beautifully ornate and there you can learn about the town’s history and get to know some of the personalities that made Dornoch such an important community in the Highlands. Done with history, the best thing you can find there is the food. On the menu, there are home-baked cakes, local recipes and hearty food that will give you energy to keep exploring Dornoch or cure your hangover after all the gin and whiskey tasting.
The Courthouse Cafe & Wine Bistro is open 7 days a week from April do October from 9am to 4pm, and from November to March it’s open from 10am to 4pm. If you travel to Dornoch in March, book your table in advance and join the Friday and Saturday dinners at the Courthouse Cafe.
8th – Check out Dornoch Cathedral
Dornoch Cathedral dates back to 1239, it was originally built as a Roman Catholic church and after the Reformation, it became part of the Church of Scotland. The architecture of the church is the highlight, try visiting it when the sun is shining on the church as it becomes even more beautiful. The light shining through the stained glasses adds a colorful touch of the old structure.
A curious fact about Dornoch Cathedral is that it’s run by a woman minister. Rev Susan Brown is one of the 194 women ministers in Scotland and she was the one who married Madonna and Guy Ritchie in 2000.
9th – Follow The Women Trail
Are you ready for more women power? Go on a walk through the city and discover the history of important women that shaped Dornoch’s history. From royal figures to local wives, there is a lot to learn during this 1 and a half hour walk. How to start this trail? Easy! Download Dornoch city app on your phone, click on the tab “walks” and choose the “Dornoch’s Notable Women” one. When you are done with this walk, choose another one and keep finding things to do in Dornoch on foot.
10th – Visit Dornoch Links Museum
If you want to know more about Dornoch, get a glimpse of the golf history in town, and even discover how Scotland’s last witch was condemned to be burned alive in 1727, you should sure visit the Historylinks Museum in Dornoch. The Dornoch museum is one of the few 5-star museums in Scotland. It’s open from April to October, every day from 10am to 4pm.
This 3rd trip to Scotland was completely different from the previous ones when we visited Edinburgh and Glasgow and went on a day trip to the Highlands. This time we wanted to have a little taste of driving in Scotland. We didn’t have much time as it was a weekend getaway, but it was enough to enjoy part of one of the best road trips in Scotland, the Highland 500 route.
Yes, Dornoch is a small town, but it has many exciting things to do, flavors to try, and beautiful nature to admire. Our list of what to do in Dornoch is a quick guide to the best of town, activities, and places you can visit in 2 days.
If you are planning a visit to Dornoch, have a look at our Dornoch Accommodation Guide. You will find on the guide a list of the best hotels in Dornoch, great apartments to rent, and budget-friendly accommodation.
Our last tip is to drive slowly, not because of the traffic but to admire the beautiful scenery and discover incredible places like the one below.