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The Out About Scotland complete guide to the V&A Design Museum in Dundee
Category: Art gallery, Exhibition, Museum
Suitable for ages: 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 8 out of 10
About the V&A Design Museum
Think of Dundee and what springs to mind? Images of Desperate Dan scoffing down a cow pie perhaps (Dundee is home to Scottish publisher DC Thomson), or maybe a big fat dollop of marmalade on your morning toast (Dundee is also the birthplace of the first commercially-made marmalade in Britain).
But perhaps your only recollection is looking at it from a train window as it trundles its way across the Tay Rail Bridge and you’ve never actually stepped foot into Scotland’s fourth-largest city, and maybe you’ve got no intention of ever doing so.
Well let me tell you there’s more to this city than breakfast condiments, comics, and bridges, and thanks to the ongoing rejuvenation of the Dundee waterfront this once-maligned city is currently undergoing something of a renaissance when it comes to tourist attractions.
Chief amongst Dundee’s attraction highlights has to be the V&A design museum located on the £1 billion transformed waterfront next to Discovery Point and the restored sailing ship RRS Discovery.
The V&A museum is a building that makes no sense when you first see it set against the backdrop of the River Tay. It’s ultra-modern – all sharp corners and weird angles – and if you didn’t know better you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be the location for one of NASA’s new research facilities.
But take the time to wander inside and you’ll find a collection of some of Scotland’s best contemporary design artworks as well as galleries that showcase Scotland’s relationship with design over hundreds of years.
Your journey into the world of design begins even before you step inside the galleries though, because the main entrance hall is an architectural mind-boggler. It’s incredible. For starters, the Tardis-like space is enormous and it kind of makes you think it must be a creation straight out of Doctor Who.
This building looks pretty big on the outside, but it somehow manages to look even bigger on the inside. Cathedral-like even. That’s the power of good design right there.
I guess it’s the effect the world-renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was going for and his modern design slaps you in the face as soon as you walk into the building with its huge curved concrete walls and multi-layered wood panelling. I can’t imagine a better way to get visitors in the mood for what the rest of this museum has to offer.
Moving upstairs from the cafe and gift shop you’ll find a hall that houses a restaurant, outside viewing platforms, learning studios and two exhibition areas with one housing the frequently-changing paid exhibitions and another hosting the free-to-enter Scottish design galleries.
These free galleries are fascinating and you’ll find something of interest whether you’re an avid fan of design or just have a casual interest in it, and across the collection of 300 exhibits you’ll find 15th-century manuscripts, 18th-century pistols, 20th-century bookcases and 21st-century technology.
It’s these wide-ranging displays that really bring home how important design is as it affects every part of our lives, and it’s good to know that Scotland has been at the forefront of international design throughout the ages.
Things to do the V&A Design Museum in Dundee
Getting to the V&A is easy thanks to it’s location near the city centre. There are a couple of paid car parks nearby but if you want to take the train then Dundee South Union Street station is just a few minutes walk away.
Once at the museum you’ll probably want to go for a walk around it as it really is an amazing building (get your phone ready for a quick Instagram selfie next to the V&A sign), and once you walk through the arch near the entrance you’ll get a great view of the River Tay.
If you fancy a stroll before visiting the V&A there’s a riverside walk and cycle path running past the museum for around three miles to a nature reserve, while heading into the city centre will lead you into its shops (nothing to write home about) and McManus museum (brilliant place).
Next door to the V&A is the Discovery Point attraction and it’s faithfully restored 1901 sailing ship while the Dundee Science Centre is around a 10-minute walk away on the other side of the train line. Suffice to say you won’t get bored with an afternoon visit to this city.
The highlight of The Waterfront though is the V&A museum and you’ll find plenty of things inside it to keep a family occupied for most of an afternoon.
There’s a really good artisan cafe in the enormous downstairs space of the main hall with a gift shop next to it that features lots of cleverly-designed gifts (well, they would be, wouldn’t they) for the home, but if you’re after a good read you’ll find plenty of art and design-themed books in there as well.
Moving upstairs (either via the staircase or the lift) you’ll step onto the upper floor where you’ll see the Tatha Bar and Kitchen to one side and a viewing terrace on the other.
The terrace offers a good view across the River Tay but I recommend spending some money and sitting in the Tatha Bar instead. There’s another viewing terrace in there with riverside views and it’s a brilliant place to grab a coffee and a bite to eat at the end of your visit to the museum.
There are toilets and learning studios next to the restaurant but it’s the exhibition halls that are the main draw for tourists.
The biggest (and I guess, best) exhibitions are the paid ones and you can get tickets from the exhibition shop in the area outside the entrance.
These exhibitions change during the year so there’s no point in me detailing what they’re all like but as of May 2019 there’s a video game-themed exhibition that’s absolutely fantastic if you’re an overgrown child like me.
Ticket prices are reasonable at around £9 for an adult although you can get them cheaper if you’re a student or eligible for a concession, so I’d check the V&A website for each exhibition to see if you can get a discount before heading to the till.
The free Scottish Design Gallery permanent exhibitions are on the other side of the hall and they’re choc-a-block full of gizmos and gadgets from Scotland’s history and you’ll discover display cases full of beautiful artworks, furniture and clothes as well as specially commissioned pieces by Scottish artists.
The free galleries are separated into different sections like The Story of Scottish Design and Design and Society, and you’ll find an entire Charles Rennie Mackintosh room in there too. It’s genuinely interesting stuff and I really enjoyed looking at the displays but I think you’re going to struggle to keep young kids entertained in there.
That being said, if you’ve got youngsters you’re probably better off taking them to the free family-oriented design workshops that are held every Sunday, and the V&A team also run frequent family and community programmes that aim to inspire kids to get interested in the world of design.
To my mind Dundee is a vastly underrated city that has loads of really good visitor attractions, with the V&A museum being my personal pick of the bunch. I reckon if you’re ever in the city you could do a lot worse than head down to The Waterfront to go check it out.
What I liked about this attraction
- The museum is in a great location. It’s next to the RSS Discovery and close to the town centre.
- There’s a fascinating collection of exhibitions and displays in the V&A, and you don’t have to be a design nerd to enjoy them
- They’ve gone to great lengths to make design accessible to all ages and the facilities on offer are first-class
My top tips
- Combine a visit with the RSS Discovery next door to experience the two best attractions in the city in one day
- Or head to the McManus museum in the city centre for even more history and culture
- The Tatha Bar on the top floor is a bit pricey but the views from the panoramic windows across the River Tay are lovely
Photos and video
Address and map
1 Riverside Esplanade,
Prices and opening times
Admission to the V&A museum is free but some exhibitions have an entrance fee.
Museum opening hours:
Saturday to Thursday: 10.00 – 17.00
Friday: 10.00 – 21.00
Closed: 25 – 26 December
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Car park nearby, Train station nearby
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access, Stairs
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Restaurant or cafe, Snacks, Toilets