Why you must visit Dundee and the Victoria & Albert Museum this year

Dundee bills itself as Scotland's sunniest city and visitors from across the world are certainly taking a shine to it these days.
The Victoria & Albert Museum on Dundee waterfront.The Victoria & Albert Museum on Dundee waterfront.
The Victoria & Albert Museum on Dundee waterfront.

Many are drawn by the new Victoria & Albert Museum, built to celebrate Dundee’s important contribution to everything from video games to medical research and comics.

The museum (the only V&A outside London) was opened to much fanfare in the autumn, and ever since it has been pulling in thousands of visitors from around the globe.

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It may be the headline attraction but dig a little deeper and there is much more to this former industrial powerhouse than you might think.

Inside the V&A.Inside the V&A.
Inside the V&A.

Architect Kengo Kuma’s building is certainly eye-catching in its dramatic setting on the bank of the River Tay.

Part of an ongoing regeneration project, the waterfront structure is a testament to design in itself – all striking inverted triangles and curved concrete, inspired by (according to the promotional blurb) a Scottish cliff face.

Inside is no less impressive. Permanent displays showcase everything from Scottish textiles to pottery and jewellery to shipbuilding.

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The Beano, one of Dundee’s most-loved exports, is featured, as is a beautifully-restored tearoom interior by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Meanwhile, a programme of changing exhibitions will, it is promised, celebrate the very best of design from around the world.

Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx in Dundee city centre.Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx in Dundee city centre.
Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx in Dundee city centre.

Be warned: it does get busy (anyone planning to take in the stunning views from the cafe is advised to book a table in advance).

After all, located as it is just a short distance from the railway station and only a 10-minute drive from the airport, V&A Dundee is well positioned to pull in the crowds.

Still, while it is (rightly) fast becoming Scotland’s latest must-see cultural destination, the vibrant city it calls home has plenty of other gems that should not be overlooked.

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Dundee Contemporary Arts, a short stroll from the V&A, has art galleries, a print studio, two small cinemas, a shop with a café-bar and a restaurant. Even on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was a lively destination and well worth a visit for its excellent food.

Nearby in the city centre is the McManus, Dundee’s more traditional art gallery, housed in an imposing gothic building. It features eight galleries and an impressive roster of exhibitions.

During our visit, we were treated to Bash Street’s Back at The McMenace!, a celebration of the Beano’s 80th birthday.

In a dry dock next to the V&A is the Royal Research Ship Discovery, the Dundee-built vessel sailed by Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first expedition to the Antarctic in 1901.

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While I was in heaven admiring Mackintosh’s tea room, it’s no exaggeration to say that my four-year-old son was utterly entranced by the story of Scott and his adventures.

He was similarly taken by the strangely atmospheric HMS Unicorn, the oldest British warship still afloat which is moored in Victoria Dock.

Dundee’s importance as a port and industrial centre is everywhere to see.

Historically the centre of a global trade in jute, a coarse fibre that can be spun into threads, the city’s largest industry is now long departed and the mills have since closed.

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For anyone who wants to take a glimpse into the past and see the old spinning machines in action, a trip to the Verdant Works is well worth it.

This great industrial past was also evident in our accommodation.

Hotel Indigo, a former jute mill, has now been renovated to the highest standards, complete with stylish restaurant and ultra-modern bedrooms.

No wonder that it’s been named one of the best hotels in Scotland.

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Just like the V&A, it’s another sign that although Dundee has been battered by the winds of change, it is also an ambitious and proud place. It has every reason to be.

Would we return? Yes. And next time we’ll stay a little longer.

We may have been initially drawn in by Kuma’s building but, in the end, we found so much more to interest us.

Travel facts:

- V&A Dundee is open daily, 10am-5pm (seasonal opening hours may apply). Admission is free although some exhibitions and events may carry a charge. To check opening hours, go to https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee

- For information about Dundee’s other attractions, including accommodation and places to eat, go to https://www.visitscotland.com or https://www.dundee.com.