36 hours in Dundee, the city of Discovery, Design and the V&A

Thursday, 2 August 2018
Post in collaboration with V&A Dundee and Apex Hotels

The city of Dundee on the silvery Tay. So much more than Jam, Jute and Journalism, this UNESCO City of Design is just waiting to be rediscovered. Soon to be home to Scotland’s first design museum and the only V&A Museum outside of London. A redeveloped waterfront area is the gateway to a thriving independent food and bar scene, culture, theatre, museums, parks, street art and more.





Dundee has been the butt of many jokes over the years, particularly from Aberdonians. But the boot is very much on the other foot these days as whilst Aberdeen has suffered from the oil industry decline, Dundee has pulled itself up by it's bootstraps and totally reinvented itself. For the most part its been a city that I've passed through onto somewhere else rather than a final destination, however when I have stayed it's always been in the Apex City Quay Hotel and Spa right on the waterfront next to the Tay Bridge. Much of the excitement in the city at the moment stems from the redevelopment of the waterfront area including the opening of Dundee V&A. The first ever dedicated design museum in Scotland and the only other V&A museum anywhere in the world outside London. An invitation to visit the city for an event in conjunction with Apex Hotels, Dundee One City, Many Discoveries and V&A Dundee was one I could not refuse.



I decided to make the most of the opportunity and extend my time in the city to two full days. I asked on social media for recommendations of where I should visit, eat and drink and was quite literally inundated with suggestions. One of which was an absolute must do was the Maggie's Penguin Parade. Maggie's is a charity close to my heart and I recently participated in the Maggies Aberdeen Culture Crawl and held a Kitchen Table Day for them. Throughout the city and beyond, 80 large and many more small and baby penguins have been beautifully decorated to create a fantastically fun art trail. To help me track them down I made a donation for a map and purchased their app. Over the two days I managed to rack up a lot of steps and track down 32 of the 80. The penguins are on parade until September with a farewell weekend 22/23 September. 


My previous visit to Dundee had been a flying one with an hour between trains en route to Gleneagles. On that day I got a glimpse of the waterfront redevelopments on a whistle stop visit to Brassica for a glass of Champagne. At that point the new entrance and concourse of Dundee Railway Station was still a work-in-progress however this time it was fully operational. What a difference! The new look gives a positive image of the city from the moment you step off the train. As you exit the first things you see are RRS Discovery and the V&A. I've previously visited Discovery on a couple of occasions so gave it a miss on this trip but it is an award winning attraction and well worth a visit. Built in Dundee, Discovery was the ship that took Scott and Shackelton on their first expedition to Antarctica.


As I navigated the city on the look out for penguins and taking in the atmosphere, one of the main things I noticed was all the open space. Much of the centre is pedestrianised which gives opportunity for outdoor seating, sculptures, artworks and plenty of al fresco eating and drinking. Even more open space comes in the form of Slessor Gardens, a large parkland area located in the central waterfront. Alas I didn't get the opportunity to explore them on my visit as they were closed off in preparation for an upcoming Rita Ora gig. I look forward to exploring their Pocket Gardens and Discovery Walk on a future visit. 


Verdant Works is somewhere I've long since know about but never got around to visiting. Located in a refurbished Mill it tells the story of the city's textile heritage. Jam, Jute and Journalism are synonymous with Dundee but I must admit to being very ignorant of the Jute part. Social and industrial history is most definitely my thing and I found the whole museum absolutely fascinating. The rise and decline of the jute industry, tales of the mill workers, connections with India, tenement life, gender role reversal, health and leisure, the deafening sound of the machines and much more. The exhibition culminates in the architectural stunning High Mill with two floors of viewing platforms. My ticket cost £11.25 and allows me access for 12 months - so I may well be back. Verdant Works is run by Dundee Heritage Trust who also run RSS Discovery and discounted joint tickets are available if you wish to visit both attractions.




Following my journey into jute it was time to check into The Apex Hotel where I'd dropped off my luggage earlier in the day. I had a bright and spacious room on the fourth floor overlooking the City Quay. The hotel has been in Dundee for 12 years and I worked out that I first stayed in it 11 years ago to celebrate a girlfriend's significant birthday. I've returned a number of times since and it's a firm favourite with my kids too who love the fact it has a swimming pool. All 151 rooms have recently been upgraded as part of a multi-million pound refurbishment. I was glad to see that the baby hasn't been thrown out with the bathwater and that there was still an Apex Duck in my bathroom to accompany the Elemis toiletries.



Now for the main attraction which was the promised exclusive exterior walk-around of the new V&A Dundee, seen from an angle the press had not accessed before. I'm not sure when I first heard that the V&A was coming to Dundee but I'm pretty sure I would have done a double take at the news. I started to follow the build on social media and see Kengo Kuma's amazing architecture rise from the Tay. In February I was delighted to bag myself a ticket to see V&A Dundee Director Philip Long speak at The Barn and came away even more excited and inspired about what was being created. It was a fantastic experience to head inside the building site barriers and get up close to what is to surely become an iconic building. Sunshine and blue skies showed it in it's absolutely best light as did all the surrounding water. The highlight was undoubtedly walking through the tunnel beneath the building before taking selfies with the V&A sign. We were allowed no further then this to avoid any sneaky peeks into the gallery space. 


Angles. Curves. Light. It is one seriously sexy building. And that’s just the outside! What treasures lie within? That will be discovered from 17th September (Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th are ticketed and already sold out). The museum will be open seven days a week 10am - 5pm. Entry will be free although a paid ticket is needed for certain events, activities and temporary exhibitions. The first touring exhibition will be Ocean Liners : Speed and Style. Re-imagining the golden age of ocean travel and allowing you to experience what it would have been like to step on-board one of these great ‘floating palaces’ of the past. Permanent Scottish Design Galleries will chronicle the rich history of design from the 15th century to present day with over 300 exhibits ranging from architecture to fashion, healthcare to furniture, and engineering to video game design.


Time to head back to the Apex Hotel for drinks, nibbles and networking with like minded bloggers and creatives. We were greeted with cocktails made with local Verdant Gin (Scottish Gin of the year 2017) which is distilled and bottled in small batches in their Dundee distillery, the first in the city for almost 200 years. Appropriately they were named 'The Victoria' and 'The Albert', one sweet and one sour - I'll let you decide which was which. To accompany were Tayside themed canapes created by head chef Graham Paulley. Dundee Ambassador and Head of Beano Studios, Mike Stirling informed, entertained and inspired us with a wonderful heartfelt speech about the quirks and resurgence of the city and there were photo opportunities a plenty with hashtags, Dennis the Menace and Wee Maggie the Penguin. 


The next morning I headed out for a run across the Tay Bridge, but first I had to work out how to get up there! Pedestrian access is from underneath via lift and stairs. It was a longer route than I'd anticipated almost reaching 5k there and back. Having worked up an appetite I breakfasted on Eggs Florentine with a side of crispy bacon in the Metro Brasserie before heading for a swim, steam and sauna at Yu Spa. Bags packed and deposited at reception I checked out and set off to explore further.


Confession time. Prior to this trip I'd never even heard of the McManus Art Gallery & Museum, despite the fact that it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. Having now visited I feel suitably chastised. To mark the 80th birthday of The Beano, McManus has become McMenace for the summer. Whilst this will undoubtedly appeal to both little and big kids there is so much more to see in this stunning building than Bash Street. With my perchance for social and industrial history I could have spent hours in the Making of Modern Dundee gallery. So many famous names associated with the city - Wm Low, Timex, Levis, Lemmings, Michellin, Keillers and NCR to name but a few. I was also able to continue to fuel my fascination with the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster and The Royal Arch. Admission is free and opening hours are Monday to Saturday 10am - 5pm, Sundays 12.30pm - 14.30pm.





I'd been given so many recommendations as to where to eat and drink during my time in Dundee but really only managed to scratch the surface. The perks of solo travel came with lunch at The Wine Press where I sat outside in the sunshine with a glass of Rose and shared an epic sharing platter with myself! Having recently discovered via the power of DNA that I am a quarter New Zealander it would have been rude not to pop in past The Bach for a coffee. Solo travel does however have it's downside and that came when I fancied visiting Dundee's secret bar Draffens. Could I really go by myself? However spurred on by my Instagram Story buddies I navigated the dark streets and wheelie bins and finally found the correct doorway to this hidden gem! My reward was a Negroni. Further al fresco dining at Dundee Contemporary Arts which never fails to disappoint with it's food, art and cultural offerings.


When I looked out my bedroom window at the Apex Hotel the first thing I noticed was a huge inflatable worthy of Total Wipeout floating in City Quay. On closer inspection this was Foxlake Adventures and I just knew that their aqua park would be right up my teenagers street. Alas they weren't with me but we were due to be passing through Dundee again in a couple of days on our way back from St Andrews so I booked them in. I just watched from the sidelines but they did the Aqua Park and then twisted my arm into also booking Wakeboarding, both of which they thoroughly enjoyed. For under 16's the aquapark is £14 for 50 mins and wakeboard £16 for 15mins (ever the Aberdonian my son turned 16 the following day so I saved £6 by taking him whilst he was 15 years and 364 days old!)


After a busy 36 hours discovering just some of what Dundee has to offer it was time to collect my luggage and head back to the railway station. I'm only 55 minutes by train from Dundee to Stonehaven and I suspect it's a journey that I will now be making much more regularly now that Jam Jute and Journalism have been replaced with Design and Discovery. Even Vogue have been impressed with what Dundee has to offer flagging it up as an emerging hub for Scottish creativity and an intriguing place to visit right now. I'd have to say that I agree with them. 


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www.foodiequine.co.uk Dundee on the silvery Tay. So much more than Jam, Jute and Journalism, this UNESCO City of Design is just waiting to be rediscovered. Soon to be home to Scotland’s first design museum and the only V&A Museum outside of London. A redevloped waterfront area is the gateway to a thriving independent food and bar scene, culture, theatre, museums, parks, street art and more.


Disclosure: I stayed in Dundee as a guest of Apex Hotels, Dundee One City, Many Discoveries and V&A Dundee. As always, all views expressed are my own.
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