Here's my guide to spending a day in Perth. Make the most of the city's outdoor spaces and riverside location before heading to George Street where you will find the best independent retailers and Perth Museum and Art Gallery.
There is a map at the end of the blog to help you navigate to the places I have suggested here.
Perth's location on the banks of the Tay, Scotland's longest river, is one of its greatest assets. Make this your first stop- it's just a 10 minute walk from the train station.
Wide pavements on the west side of the river provide a grand, urban perspective, akin to a Parisian stroll along the Seine. However, the most delightful walks can be had on the east side of the river where you will find the Riverside Park.
This park has water features, sculptures and the largest collection of heather in Scotland- over 950 species. The pathways look onto the river and the city skyline.
Kinnoul Hill View
If you fancy a bit of a hike, head up Kinnoull Hill for one of Scotland's best views. Allow for about 2 hours to make the return walk to the viewpoint shown in my photo. You could also pop into Branklyn Garden to see the Himalayan Blue Poppies.
My blog about Branklyn and Kinnoull Hill has more detail about these places.
Continental Cafe Culture
The layout of the streets that surround Saint John's Kirk is reminiscent of an Italian Piazza. The cafes and restaurants have outdoor seating facing the church.
A good spot to enjoy the atmosphere is Hinterland, a cafe with superb coffee, home baking and sandwiches bursting with flavour. I opted for the lentil and vegetable soup and a toasted ciabatta with roasted vegetables, mozarella and pesto.
Perth city centre is full of the usual high street names, but for something different head to George Street. This is where you will discover the city's independent retailers. I have highlighted the food and drink shops here, but you can also get your hands on clothing, jewelry, gifts, crafts and bicycles on this street.
The Bean Shop
The Bean Shop offers up the delightful retail experience of buying coffee that is ground whilst you wait. The smell of the black stuff enters your nostrils from the street and gets even better when you step inside. It's like going back to the Victorian era with the floor boards, chandeliers, ceiling rose, cornicing and big wooden counter. I was handed a menu of coffees so that I could make my choice. I noticed that the Gourmet Blend is the best seller, so I went for this.
It is a busy place with staff going to and from the store room, grinding coffee, weighing it on the scales and then packaging it up in the brown bags that have a picture of the shop on the front.
The bag of coffee is such a tactile object- Squeezing it, smelling the coffee inside and feeling the rustic material of the bag. It's just such a nice experience shopping for coffee in here. I am pleased to report that the Gourmet Blend was smooth and mellow and very easy to drink.
Provender Brown Deli
On one side of this shop there is a long refrigerated deli counter with cheeses, olives and charcuterie. On the other side there are shelves brimming with interesting treats like chutneys, jams, spices, biscuits and pasta.
In the rear room of the shop there is a great selection of alcohol, including whisky, gin and Scottish beers. There are also sweet treats, like these lovely chocolates that I purchased.
Casella & Polegato
What a treat to have an Italian bakery in the city! This is the place to come for artisan bread, pastries and more. I treated myself to a packet of hazelnut meringue. This was melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness, light, but with a nutty crunch.
Relax with some Scottish craft Beer at Brewdog's Perth bar. This company was one of the Scottish craft beer pioneers and it has grown into a huge brand, but retaining the independent streak beloved of beer fans. There is a neon sign on the wall that states 'fiercely independent. Forever craft.'
The interior has all of the hallmarks of an indie beer pub. There's the retro movie sign that lists the beers on tap, the exposed brick walls and the natural wood tables. The leather seats and cosy corners are a perfect accompaniment to a cool IPA.
The outside of this building, with its jagged edge on a corner street, reminds me somewhat of New York's Flatiron building.
Perth Museum and Art Gallery
Right opposite Brewdog is the museum, a grand Victorian building. Step inside the wonderful dome entrance and discover many fascinating items. I shall share with you some of my favourites.
The sculpture court has this gem- a vase that was made for Napoleon's first wife:
One of the rooms is dominated by this bronze age log boat, made from a hollowed-out oak tree, that was found in the River Tay in 2001:
I love these Neolithic carved balls. They look so tactile. They are 6000 years old, their funtion unknown, but possibly for ceremonial purposes:
There is a great display about the largest salmon ever caught in Britain. It was realed in from the River Tay by Georgina Ballantine in 1922. It weighed 29kg and was used to feed the staff and patients at the hospital. The museum has a copy of the plaster cast of the fish, but I think this photo gives you a much better idea of how massive it was:
Old Fashioned Sweet Shop Experience
Don't leave Perth without paying a visit to this wonderful shop. It's been here for over 100 years and retains a shop front with an Art Deco/1920s vibe. B.A. Kerrigan is both a tobacconist and a sweet shop. It can be found on Methven Street, about a 6 minute walk from the train station.
If you are a smoker they've got cigars, pipe tobacco and all the accessories. They have something like 120 different types of sweets and buying these is a nice little experience. The jars of sweets are on the customer side of the shop so you are asked to pick up the jar and bring it over to the shopkeeper. What kid (or adult) wouldn't want to pick up one of these big sweetie shop jars?
The shopkeeper then empties the sweets out of the jar to clatter onto the scales. You choose your weight or just do it by eye and your treats are then poured into a paper bag. What I am describing might sound like a normal everyday thing, but the reality is that with Internet shopping and supermarkets this has become a special and rare experience. Go and enjoy it!
Tea and Cake at Effies
If you haven't overindulged in the sweets and are in the mood for a traditional tea room experience then pop into Effies. It is a 2 minute walk from the sweet shop, on the High Street. It is a little piece of vintage joy with its Victorian parlour atmosphere of chandeliers, old portraits and silver tea pots. Cakes are light, fluffy and yummy and they have over 30 teas to choose from.
That's my suggestion for a day in Perth. For more ideas of things to see and do in the city check out perthcity.co.uk
How to get to Perth
The city is well connected by coach and train, but if you are bringing your bike then train is the way to go. From Glasgow it takes just over 1 hour and from Edinburgh it is around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Some services require a reservation to take a bike. See my guide to taking your bike on the train.
Suggested Cycle Routes from Perth
If you want to explore a bit further try these cycle routes:
A rustic stone exterior with windows overlooking fields of green, a Scottish flag on the tower fluttering in the light wind and a sprinkling of birdsong. This will be your first impression of Huntingtower Castle, just 3 miles from the centre of Perth. It dates from the 1400s and is one of the many Scottish castles to be associated with Mary Queen of Scots. The mostly traffic-free cycle route to the castle is alongside the River Tay and River Almond.
How to get there
The North Inch is a huge park with a golf course and playing fields. The cycle path runs through it, alongside the River Tay. This is not spectacular cycling, but certainly easy and relaxed.
The path turns away from the River Tay and then proceeds alongside the River Almond. This path is lined with wild grasses and pretty wild flowers. I spotted several butterflies.
This could be an ideal bike ride to try out some new cycling gear and I came across a great website with quality shorts, jerseys, jackets and more.
You will come across a sign for Huntingtower Castle that directs you away from the cycle path. This takes you onto quiet country roads.
The first sight of the castle transforms some rather ordinary fields and countryside into a special moment. On a bright sunny day it is quite a striking vision of towers and rustic stone.
From the outside you are given the impression that this castle must be relatively intact- just look at all the windows which are still glazed. However, on entering the building you will soon find that it is largely ruined with empty rooms and bare walls.
This emptiness does not prepare you for Huntingtower's greatest surprise. It has magnificent painted ceilings that are full of life and colour. See if you can spot the angel, rabbit, lion, dragon and deer in these ceilings. Speaking of deer- they still visit the castle's grounds, but I didn't see any this time.
The ceilings are not the only evidence of the former wealth of this castle. look out for the secret compartment within the thick walls, once a place to hide valuables.
The wealthy family that built this castle, in 1488, was the Ruthvens. They had a significant part to play in Scotland's history with the 3rd Lord of Ruthven hosting Mary Queen of Scots during her honeymoon.
Then there was the astonishing Gowrie conspiracy. In 1582 King James VI was kidnapped at the castle by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie. The King was let go, but the following year the Earl of Gowrie was beheaded. In 1600 James went to visit the 3rd Earl of Gowrie and claimed to have found an assasin lying in wait. Some sort of altercation occured and Gowrie and his son ended up stabbed to death. Their bodies were then tried for treason and then hung, drawn and quartered. The Ruthven name was then abolished by Parliament.
Huntingtower Castle has roof access. It is always exciting to stand atop a castle tower and survey the surrounding landscape. This is not a breathtaking view with sweeping vistas, but it is pleasant enough with an outlook of fields and woods. Bear in mind that this area of Perth is built-up with major roads a stones through away and you will have noticed the industrial estate alongside the cycle path.
The roof is the best place to let your imagination take you to another of Huntingtower's fascinating moments. When the castle was first constructed it consisted of two seperate towers with just a 3 meter gap between. The daughter of the 1st Earl of Ruthven had occassion to leap between these two towers!
The name of the daughter was Dorothea and one night she visited her lover who was staying as a guest in one of the towers. Her mother heard a rumour about this afair and went to investigate. When Dorothea heard her mum's footsteps approaching she had no choice but to take a leap over to the other tower and her own bed. Her mum later apologised to Dorothea for being suspicious, but the next night Dorothea married her lover.
In later years the Murray's took ownership of the castle and they filled the gap between the two towers. Another interesting historical connection is that Lord George Murray was Prince Charles Stewart's military comander at the 1745 Jacobite uprising.
It will not take long to explore this castle. Thirty minutes will suffice, but a bit longer is needed if you want to read all of the information panels. You could combine a visit to the castle with a trip to Branklyn Garden and Kinnoul Hill. Head to my blog page to find out more.
Coffee and Cake
There is no cafe at the castle, but being so close to Perth city centre means that there is plenty of choice. My recommendation is Effies on the High Street.
This vintage tea room has the atmosphere of a Victorian parlour. The walls are adorned with mirrors and old portraits and chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tea is served in large silver tea points and there are silver tongs in the sugar cube bowls. Cake is served on china with flower decorations. Tables are decorated with old postcards under a glass top. This is a place to take your time and enjoy the refined traditions of tea drinking.
I tried the coffee cake and I found it to be very light and fluffy, the lightest cake that I can remember having.
At the next table there was a woman with immaculate bouffant hair. She was talking to her friend. "We had a brilliant weekend!" We had another baby, well my nephew's wife did. It's her fourth. Only 6 pounds."
Effies is a special experience and I will be back the next time I am in Perth. If you are looking for something more substantial than cake they also do main meals like macaroni, scampi, baked potatoes, salads and sandwiches.
Head to my Perthshire page for more ideas of things to do in this region.
Kinnoull Hill provides one of Scotland's most spectacular views. The fact that it is in the city of Perth means it is easy to get to. Branklyn Garden, renowned for its collection of blue poppies, is on the way to Kinnoull Hill. And it has one of the cutest tea rooms I have ever seen.
How to get there
The walkway on this bridge is very narrow, so there is no way that you can cycle it. I pushed my bike across it and really had to lean in for people passing in the opposite direction.
This bridge provides fantastic views of the River Tay and the city. It crosses over Moncrieff Island where there is a golf course.
Once you are across the river you join a path that heads up to the A85 road. There are steps involved, so not great with a bicycle. Turn right to reach the entrance to the gardens- it is only a few steps away, so if you did bring a bike just push it along the pavement. The A85 is a busy road, so there is really no point in trying to pedal this short distance.
You will be able to pick up a garden guide and map at the ticket kiosk. The site is quite small, so it will not take you long to walk around.
A 1920s Garden
The garden is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It was created, in 1922, by Dorothy and John Renton. They were gardening enthusiasts with social connections to some of the most prominent plant collectors of the era. This meant that they were able to obtain seeds from around the world and they were particularly talented at recreating the ideal growing conditions for the plants you see today.
They also built a very fine Arts and Crafts style house which you can see from the outside, but it is not open to the public.
The Blue Poppy
One of the most noteworthy plants in the collection is the Himalayan Blue Poppy, from Tibet. When the Rentons began cultivating it the new colour of poppy was a sensation and people travelled from all over Europe to see it. It has won numerous horticultural awards and you can buy it from the plant shop.
It is a delight to walk around this place. You don't need to be into gardens to enjoy the colours, scents and landscaping. The birdsong and trickling water from the rock garden add to the peaceful atmostphere.
The rock garden is an impressive feature, especially when you consider the immense effort that went into creating it. The Rentons had to get rid of their tennis court to make space for it. Boulders were quarried from nearby Kinnoull Hill and gravel was dredged from the River Tay. It was worth the effort as many difficult to grow species flourished in this rock garden.
Time for Tea
The highlight of my visit was the very cute tea room at the gardens. You can either sit inside a pavilion, decked out in dark wood, or take a table outside. With the weather being so nice I took the outdoor option, facing the immaculate lawn. It is a basic operation with a menu limited to tea, coffee and scones, but that's all you need to enjoy this special place. It was bliss with the sun in my face, birds tweeting and gorgeous gardens for a view. This has to go down as one of my favourite tea rooms in Scotland.
Up the Hill
The footpath up Kinnoull Hill is adjacent to the entrance of Branklyn Garden. You can leave your bike locked up outside the entrance to the gardens and then take to the path. You can spend hours exploring the paths on the hill, but if you just want to reach the view shown in my photo it takes about an hour, but less if you go at a fast pace.
The hill is thick with trees and the path is steep in places. It is quite easy to get a bit lost as there are numerous paths with junctions, so I just tried to stick as much as possible to what I thought was the edge of the hill and looked for gaps in the trees so that I could check for a view.
The outlook from the top of the hill is breathtaking. The River Tay meanders towards the horizon where there is a line of hills. There are fields in different shades of green and brown. In the foreground there is a tower atop a steep rocky outcrop. This is a folly designed to replicate the castles of the Rhine Valley in Germany. The Earl of Kinnoull built it because it reminded him of his visits to the continent.
When I walked back down the hill I ended up somewhere different to where I had parked my bike. It is easy to get lost, so you should factor this into your timings. It meant a long, but pleasant, walk through the Perth suburbs to get back to Branklyn Garden.
If you did bring a bicycle and want to get some use out of it there is a lovely path alongside the river. Instead of going back across the railway bridge you can head north on the path by the River Tay. This will take you through some magnificent gardens the provide very pleasing views of the city skyline across the river.
The path ends at Perth Bridge. If you cross over to the opposite shore and take a left onto Tay Street you will be able to return to the railway bridge that you crossed at the start of the route and from there you can return to the train station. Perth Bridge is normally very busy with traffic, so I recommend just pushing the bike along the pavement. That way you can also enjoy the river views!
If you want to do even more cycling then cycle route 77 can also be joined on the other side of Perth Bridge, heading towards Pitlochry. You can take this route to Huntingtower Castle, just 5.5 miles away. Head to my blog to find out more about this castle and how to get there.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: