Things to do in Kilmarnock
As Ayrshire’s largest town, there are plenty of things to keep visitors busy in Kilmarnock. The town has a rich history and many attractive walks and cultural highlights to explore. In this article, we’ll look at some of the best things to do in Kilmarnock.
These tie in perfectly with a Haven stay at Craig Tara (around 21 miles away)!
Dean Castle and Country Park
Dean Castle is a 14th-century castle and has been the family home of the influential Boyd family for over 400 years. It sits on over 200 acres of wooded countryside, offering many relaxing walks and a chance to exercise your pet (on the lead). There’s also a rural life centre, where you can learn about wildlife and sustainable country living. In the park, you’ll spot herds of rare breed animals including deer, Eriskay ponies and Bagot goats.
The castle is open to visitors and is free to tour, revealing a fascinating and bloody history, which includes historic battles, treachery, and the restoration of the castle by new owners. There’s a Treehouse Café for refreshments, with canine-friendly seating and a selection of hot and cold snacks and drinks.
The park has plenty of scenic beauty and sights to discover, such as the Kilmarnock Water River, a hidden pair of stone lions, and the grave site of the castle’s owner and restorer, the 8th Lord Howard de Walden.
The Palace Theatre and Grand Hall
Originally the town’s corn exchange, the Palace Theatre was built in 1863 in an elaborate, Italianate style. Its grand design perfectly suited its later transformation into the town’s principal theatre venue, playing host to stars including Billy Connolly, Sean Lock, Calvin Harris, the Happy Mondays, and 70s glam rockers The Sweet, who penned their famous song Ballroom Blitz about a wild night in the venue.
Nowadays, the Palace Theatre holds an eclectic programme of dance shows, theatre, comedy, music, and kids’ shows. The Grand Hall is a large meeting and dance space with a domed ceiling, which also forms part of the entertainment complex. Depending on who’s playing, of course, you may have to book tickets well in advance. You can try the box office for returns too!
Kay Park and the Burns Monument
Another of Kilmarnock’s most popular green spaces, Kay Park covers 30 acres in central Kilmarnock and includes an ornamental pond and fountain and the epic Burns Monument, as well as a column commemorating parliamentary reformers who protested here in 1816.
Kilmarnock water runs through the west of the park, and there’s plenty of space for picnicking, dog walking or simply having a wander while admiring the swans. The Burns Monument stands at its centre, commemorating the local bard of Scotland with sweeping staircases. There’s even a recently added marriage suite, so that couples can tie the knot, watched over by the author of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.
The Dick Institute
The Dick Institute is one of the most significant cultural spaces in the town. It’s a museum, a gallery space, and a library, with a diverse permanent collection including musical instruments, scientific exhibits, and artworks.
The gallery hosts exhibitions by some of the biggest names in Scottish and international contemporary art including Grayson Perry, Bill Viola, and Rachel MacLean. It's not elitist though, having hosted shows about Aardman animation, pop art, and the work of children’s author Michael Morpurgo.
Throughout the summer, there’s an Open Art Exhibition, showcasing the work of artists and makers from across Ayrshire. There are plenty of child-friendly shows and classes as well. The Dick Institute has been highly praised among municipal galleries, and of course, there’s a tearoom for when you need to recharge those cultural batteries.
For more insight into Scottish culture, visit McCallum Bagpipes, where you can find out about the design, history, and manufacture of the country’s national instrument. Probably the most significant maker of pipes in Scotland, McCallum’s has been creating beautiful instruments for over 25 years.
Their large showroom and factory offer Scottish formal wear as well as bagpipes and drums, and the staff are more than happy to explain the history and intricacies of the instruments on display. Their showroom includes a viewing gallery into the factory, so you can see bagpipes being manufactured.