Dumfries is the principal town in Dumfries and Galloway. A more traditional administrative status is principal town of Dumfriesshire, but this changed in 1974. Further back, it was two towns, Dumfries and Maxwelltown; this changed in 1929 for administrative purposes, although the name is still sometimes used to describe the area west of the River Nith. Maxwelltown was not part of Dumfriesshire, so the two towns were then quite separate. In 1997, the town was deemed "best place to live in Britain", an accolade still sometimes used in describing the town.
Dumfries is linked by the A75, A701 and A709 to the M74 north-south route, the A76 to the Nith Valley and the continuing A75 to the west of the region. All these roads are reasonably good, although they can be busy and dangerous at times, and drivers should expect to find themselves in rolling queues at busy times. A railway runs through the town, following a similar route to the A75 east and the A76 north, with reasonably frequent and reliable services but on ageing trains. Travel times are usually quoted as 90 minutes to Glasgow and 45 to Carlisle by road.
By rail the former journey is slower and the latter quicker, due to the long route of the railway through Ayrshire.
For more adventurous travellers, the town forms a key stopping point on National Cycle Route 7, with another route heading north via Ae Forest.
Dumfries is small enough for most tourist destinations within the town to be reachable on foot. Buses run from three points in the town centre - the Loreburn (shopping) Centre, Great King Street and Burns' Statue - to most parts of the town and surroundings, with longer-distance services leaving from the Whitesands. Traffic and parking are sometimes problems in the town, although not any more than in many others. Parking discs are required in most parking on and off-street, with the exceptions of parts of the Brooms Road, Whitesands, Newall Terrace car parks and the whole of that on Burns Street. A few taxi firms operate, offering a fairly inexpensive way of getting around given the short distances within the town.
Dumfries's main claim to fame is as the last residence of the Scottish national poet Robert Burns, and there are various sites around the town ranging including a museum in his house, his grave, the nearby Brow Well that he drank from whilst ill, Ellisland Farm, where he worked for some time, and a few sites noted for having been frequented by him. Other attractions include the (free, but seasonal) Bridge House Museum and the Camera Obscura museum, which features various historical artefacts as well as the chance to view the surrounding area using that instrument. There is also the Ice Bowl, which includes a skating rink and bowling facilties, and, after some delay, the swimming pool and sports/exhibition hall "DG One"[www.dgone.co.uk]. As well as well and dry exercise opportunities, it has also hosted both Roy Chubby Brown and the Scottish Ballet in its short history. There are also two cinemas, both single screen: the Odeon, near DG one, which is often insulted by locals but is probably no worse than anywhere else, and the council run Robert Burns Film Theatre, which recently begin to describe itself as an “art house” and plays a mix of films, including some independent ones and major but slightly post-release ones. There is also the Ottersburn Gallery, near the old swimming pool and the Gracefield Arts Centre, on the Edinburgh Road.
Dumfries has gained a reputation for lacking shops, with many empty windows at different times, and at one time many of the shops that did open were at the lower end of the market, such as one-pound and charity shops. This is often attributed to Carlisle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Metro Centure providing alternatives for shopping trips, as well as the wider issue of Tesco's prominence. Dumfries was also second to Exeter among those most criticised in a New Economics Foundation report on "clone towns", with the shops that do exist often being the same as everywhere else. However, this picture is not really accurate, with the Loreburne Shopping Centre now having very few empty units and numerous independent shops just off High Street on English Street, Queensbury Street, and to a lesser extent Friar's Vennel, which has some independent and bargain shops, but also some covered with quaint illustrations on boards to avoid seeming derelict. The street was recently resurfaced as a way of combating its dingy reputation. Also notable is Barbour's department store on Buccleuch Street. Electrical and DIY stores have gravitated towards two retail parks, located on the A76, one of which also includes the large Tesco Extra store; there is also a third on the A709 containing cheaper shops such as Matalan, and this is also the site of the third Tesco for the town.
This list is not exhaustive, and as elsewhere restaurants can close and open from time to time, but some of the most notable ones in the town include as of mid-2008:
- Jewel in the Crown, Indian, St Michael's Street
- Hullabaloo, general, near Robert Burns Centre just to the west of the river in the centre
- Linen Room, general, upmarket, St Michael's Street
- Marchills, contemporary, Moffat Road
- Casa Mia (formerly Casa Tuscana), European, Edinburgh Road
- Lucky Star, Chinese, English Street
- Pizzeria Il Fiume, Italian, Dock Park
- Bella Roma, Italian, Eastfield Road
More information, including some about the surrounding area, can be read here: http://www.information-britain.co.uk/restaurantlist.cfm?county=70
Dumfries has a reputation for having many pubs of various sorts, partly due to its status as a hub for the surrounding region. The most prominent is the Robert the Bruce, part of the Wetherspoons chain, located at the north end of High Street, and named after the king who slew his opponent The Red Comyn at a now destroyed church nearby. Like Tesco, its arrival was worried about by independent rivals, and there have been a limited number of closures since then, including Mulligan's and Souter Johnny's. Others in the centre include Baker Street, the White Hart (pub/club/venue), The Yard (late night pub with music), Dink's (music bar), Ma-Donnas (lively bar/bristo), Slipstream, The New Bazzar, The Globe, The Hole i' the Wall, The Stag, Dickie's and the Flesher's Arms. As well as those mentioned above, Dumfries has three venues clearly in the nightclub category:
- Jumpin' Jak's, part of a national chain. This has one large room and a wide selection of music. Generally friendly and good atmosphere with crowd members welcomed to dance on stage. This replaced the slightly seedy Junction with a gap between closing and opening in 2002.
- The Venue. Founded as The Loft then closed and re-invented after a drug-related closure, this was at one time the definitive nightspot in Dumfries for young people (often suspiciously young) but has come under pressure from Jak's, and moved into live events to maintain a distinct image. On weekend nights, it still provides strong competition for its corporate neighbour, with two rooms, one with dance music and the other covering pop, rock, hip-hop and anything else.
- Chancers. This is the longest-established of the three, and aims for an older crowd. Split into two rooms and open all nights of the week.
Some of Dumfries's longer-established hotels are no more, including the County, now Waterstone’s bookshop. The smartest and biggest hotel is the Cairndale, although it only gets a 3-star rating. B+Bs and rooms above some pubs are common around the town, as well as some hotels including the Huntingdon House and Birkhill on the A709 slighly out of the centre. On the edge of town there are two motels, Travel Inn and Travel Lodge, both close by near the split between bypass and non-bypass traffic on the east of town. Further out of town, there are a few country house hotels and camp/caravan sites.
Most of the Dumfries and Galloway area is rural and seen as a getaway rather than being full of tourist attractions. Nonetheless, there are various sights around the region, including:
- Cream o' Galloway ice cream centre, to the west.
- Seven Stanes set of mountain bike courses set around dumfries & Galloway, the closest to Dumfries being Mabie Forest.
- The David Coulthard museum in his hometown of Twynholm, described as "the world’s most comprehensive collection of Formula 1 memorabilia for any driver".
- Mabie Farm park, Mabie forest.
- Carelaverock Castle, once a fort against the English, which is near the Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre.
- Castle Douglas, Scotland's food town, is the next town along the A75.
- Shambellie House Museum of Costume, Sweetheart Abbey and the New Abbey Corn Mill, at nearby New Abbey.
- Past New Abbey is the John Paul Jones birthplace museum.
- Criffel, the highest local hill and a moderate walk to the top.
- The ever-threatened Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead, Scotland's highest village, in the Lowther Hills.
- Nearby Moniaive, deemed one of Britain's "coolest" villages by The Times in 2004, and home of the "Green Handbook for South-west Scotland". It was once the home of the artist James Paterson and a member of Franz Ferdinand has a house there.
- Ellisland Farm, a one-time residence of Robert Burns, to the north.
- The Savings Banks Museum, in nearby Ruthwell.
- Some of the most notable place names in the area include Little Cocklick, Cocklicks Farm and Twathats, the latter two close together near Ruthwell. Little Cocklick was once the home of Jean Maxwell, the Galloway sorceress, one of the last witches to be tried.
- The Devil’s Porridge war museum, to the east near Annan.
- Drumlamrig Castle, home of the recently deceased Duke of Buccleuch and soon be be again the home of the stolen painting Madonna with Yarnwinder.
- The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Gretna Green; an old spot for runaway weddings.
Safety is not usually a problem in Dumfries, despite occasional concern about the scale of its hard drug problem. Generally crime is rare and most likely to occur after something like leaving valuables in view in a car. Walking down the streets is seldom dangerous, even though there are less pleasant areas. Violence that occurs will tend to be unrelated to anything concerning tourists, but the Rangers-Celtic rivalry can have some impact in the town.