For centuries, Dunfermline has played an important role in Scottish life. As the ancient capital, the seat of kings and the resting place of monarchs including (most of) Robert the Bruce, it was only right that this year, as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, it became Scotland’s eighth city.
Aside from its heritage credentials, Dunfermline also has an enviable choice of culture, with two excellent theatres, the original Carnegie Library, extended in recent years with a complementary arts facility, and museums such as the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, which tells the story of a man who was born here and use his fortune for good.
As a day trip or a break, there’s much to discover in Dunfermline, which has taken its rightful place on the Scottish tourism map.
If one name is associated with the city more than any other it’s not a king or a saint – it’s a man who began his life in a small cottage in the town and became the greatest philanthropist of his time, giving away around 90% of a fortune that in today’s values would run into the billions.
Andrew Carnegie, above, was born here in 1835 and any visitor here should start the Carnegie trail at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, (see box right) and move on to many of the public spaces he donated to his fellow Fifers.
The Pittencrieff Estate was donated (now Pittencrieff Park) as well a free library and swimming baths, now the Carnegie Leisure. It’s even possible to catch a show at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall, named in his honour.
The city has a history of notable public figures, particularly across music and literature. In music Dunfermline is the hometown of singer and actor Barbara Dickson, of the frontman of Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson, and of Nazareth’s Pete Agnew. Stuart Adamson, of Big Country and The Skids moved to Dunfermline as a teenager.
Another talent lost too soon, the author Iain Banks was from Dunfermline, as is poet and novelist John Burnside.
The most recent success story is the new Dr Who. Ncuti Gatwa was a pupil at Dunfermline High School after arriving in Fife from Rwanda as a refugee.
Apart from Edinburgh, Dunfermline can claim to be the most important historic location in Scotland.
This history centres around Dunfermline Abbey and Palace. Dunfermline Abbey became a mausoleum for the royals from the eleventh century, when Queen Margaret was buried there until the early fourteenth-century when it became the resting place of Robert the Bruce, the last of seven Scottish kings to be buried there (even though the Bruce’s heart was transported to Melrose).
Some of Scotland’s greatest monarchs were laid to rest at Dunfermline Abbey
Dunfermline was also the birthplace of royals too – the son of Robert the Bruce, David II of Scotland, James I and even Charles I, the last monarch to be born in Scotland, but who met a grisly end when executed in 1649.
Apart from all that, it’s a beautiful place to visit. It’s peaceful with elaborate stained glass and a painted vault.
Also in Dunfermline is the landmark ‘Pink Hoose’ as it’s known by locals. This is the oldest house in Dunfermline and is actually called the Abbot House. Dating from the sixteenth century and on Maygate in the area known as the city’s heritage quarter, the main part of the building is closed for renovation at the moment. However the new gift shop is open and is stocked with a raft of innovative Scottish designers.
The Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline is about bringing music to satisfy all tastes to the Art Deco interior. With Carnegie’s education ethos in mind, it also specialises in music education.
There are three stages, offering everything from classical to country to contemporary pop.
Celebrating its centenary year, the Alhambra Theatre makes good use of its huge stage – one of the biggest in Scotland – by bringing spectacular musicals and major touring music and comedy to Dunfermline.
If you’re thinking of visiting in winter, catch the panto, which is one of Scotland’s biggest.
Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries
The Carnegie Library was the first library financed by Andrew Carnegie to the tune of £8000 – in 1883! There are now more than 2500 Carnegie libraries but this is the original and in recent years the building has expanded to encompass a free museum, a gallery, reading rooms and a café.
P J Molloy & Sons
Known as one of Scotland’s best live music venues, P J Molloy & Sons is definitely the place in Fife where you’ll not only see the best of new bands, open mic nights and quieter, intimate acoustic sessions, you’ll see bigger acts choosing this popular venue for a stop on a national tour. Live music six nights a week.
The Fire Station Creative is a stylish independent arts venue. Apart from the gallery and studio space for artist, designers, jewellers, photographers and more, there’s a café and cocktail bar.
Look out for special events, which includes classes, special exhibitions and live music too.
Locally it’s known as The Glen, which is a rather humble name for what was voted Scotland’s best park in 2019. Among lawns and walks are an art deco pavilion with cafe, an open-air stage, glasshouses, a peacock aviary and playgrounds.
The Scottish Vintage
They’re beautiful these vintage buses, and they can be seen on a 49-acre site just north of the city. There is also something for train and tram lovers.
Scotland’s famous motor racing circuit is here at Dunfermline and whether you want to spectate or release your inner Max Verstappen, it’s a great family day out.
KINGSGATE SHOPPING CENTRE
Dunfermline is brimming with quality independent shops, and Kingsgate Shopping Centre has long been an important hub for shoppers. The central shopping centre is ideal for those looking for one destination to tick-off the shopping list. Inside the extensive indoor centre, you will find retailers including River Island, The Entertainer, Boots, Waterstones, Starbucks, M&S, Dunfermline Art Centre, and more.
At Kingsgate you can also indulge and refuel with restaurants and cafés such as Wonder of Foods for some pizza, wraps, burger, or a German style Kebab. Inside you will also find Bubble Treats, BB’s Café and the award-winning The Wee Tea Company.
The centre hosts monthly events and markets, often to help promote small local businesses.
ANDREW CARNEGIE BIRTHPLACE MUSEUM
Moodie St, Dunfermline KY12 7PL
Born in Dunfermline in 1835, Andrew Carnegie became the richest man in the world after emigrating to America with his parents. This museum, located in the cottage where he was born, traces the story of his fascinating life and rapid rise to fortune after being born the son of a modest weaver. Visitors can find out about how Carnegie made his money – and how he later gave most of it away to charity – as well as his lasting legacy through landmarks like Carnegie Hall in New York.