As the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie and the final resting place of Robert the Bruce, among other notables, Dunfermline, Scotland’s newest city, is steeped in lore and awash with culture

CROSSING the great Victorian leviathan spanning the Forth is always a joy, but this time something is different. Within minutes I’m in a city. Not Edinburgh, but Scotland’s newest city: Dunfermline. If I was in any doubt, a shiny new sign at the renamed station proudly proclaims "Dunfermline City". Delving back into Scotland’s "Ancient Capital" it’s immediately clear that the change is not just a semantic one.

“We were already a city in all but name,” smiles Mark McLeod, general manager of the Carnegie Birthplace Museum, as he warmly welcomes me to a hub that in May 2022 graduated from being Europe’s fastest-growing town. King Charles ventured north to officially crown the award later that year and Dunfermline has scarcely looked back since. “City status has given Dunfermline a real shot in the arm and many new visitors are coming to see what all the fuss is about in Scotland’s ‘Ancient Capital’,” adds McLeod.

Dunfermline certainly deserves that Ancient Capital moniker. If you’ve never explored Dunfermline’s bijou old core, you must. It’s a Harry Potter-esque collage of cobbles, topped with perhaps Scotland’s finest abbey, the graceful New Abbey Church and a deeply historic palace that dates to the days when the Stuarts ran Britain from this bluff overlooking the Forth. It’s like Edinburgh’s old town rolled into just a few streets. History oozes from every pore: Bruce lies here, as does Dunfermline’s seminal Saint Margaret and even William Wallace’s mum is said to be buried in the graveyard. The ill-fated Charles I was born in Dunfermline Palace too.

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Dunfermline may swim in a rich web of royals and ecclesiastical figures, but perhaps its most famous son is an industrialist: the ultimate local boy made good. McLeod shows me around Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace. This weaver’s son blossomed after emigrating to America in 1848, growing rich investing in the railroads – it was his steel that built the Brooklyn Bridge.  Carnegie is best remembered – very proudly in Dunfermline – for his transformation from the world’s richest man into its first global philanthropist. McLeod is proud too: “Carnegie said ‘The man who dies rich dies disgraced’ and he lived that adage to the full, giving away his fortune.” says McLeod.

Carnegie also gave Dunfermline its baths and other civic buildings and – most impressively for me – Pittencrieff Park, a former winner of Scotland’s best urban park. Banned from playing here as a child, he triumphantly returned to snap up the estate and gift it to Dunfermline so that other local boys and girls could run free, as they still do today, in "The Glen". I wander this green lung swathed in my own memories of childhood visits to see the cave where William Wallace is said to have hidden. Pittencrieff is a life-affirming joy for adults and kids alike, awash with walkways, strutting peacocks and gushing waters.

Today within Pittencrieff, I also visit a memorial to a more recent hero from Crossgates on the outskirts of Dunfermline. Bono once said that Stuart Adamson of Big Country wrote the songs he wished he could write and he was truly one of our greatest rock songwriters, tragically taken too soon. The romance of his big-skied lyrics still runs wild in Carnegie’s wonderland. It runs too with thoughts of other famous Dunfermline alumni, from rock band Nazareth and The Skids, through to Barbara Dickson and new Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa. There must be something in the local water. And we’ve not even mentioned Jim Leishman, once Dunfermline FC’s mercurial manager, now Fife’s Lord Provost.

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It is Carnegie, though, who is omnipresent, and he would be proud today as he always felt Dunfermline should be a city. I walk from his statue east through the Louise Carnegie Gates and down to the original Carnegie Library. There are now more than 2500 Carnegie Libraries across the world, all as a direct result of Carnegie’s philanthropy. The site is now known as the Carnegie Library and Galleries after a magical modern rebirth added a spectacular glass and stone extension that houses exhibition space and a permanent civic museum. Like all cultural attractions in Dunfermline, it’s free. Tracy McCafferty, venue manager at the Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries, impresses with the stats: “We had the Covid recovery boost, but year on year our numbers reflect the city status. We are 100% up. It’s remarkable.”

The new Granary Cafe at the Carnegie Library isn’t free, but it’s worth it with superb baking and local produce, served with views of the abbey complex. From the Granary Cafe you can also see strikingly pink Abbot’s House, the oldest remaining dwelling in Dunfermline after most of its buildings were lost to the Great Fire of 1624. Dunfermline is used to picking itself up off the floor, as it had to do again when Thatcherite economics brought serious hardship to Fife in the 1980s.

At the Abbot’s House, I feel more of the current civic positivity. “City status has given us all a new confidence. We’ve got the oldest building in Dunfermline, but as a visitor attraction, it teetered on bankruptcy. Now we’ve rented out spaces to creatives, who produce work we sell in our shop. Today, 50% of our products are local,” explains the Abbot House’s Louise Hutchison. There are plans for a museum room upstairs as visitor numbers rise.

Dunfermline’s drive and fierce spirit has continued to burn no matter its travails. Take the Outwith Festival. It is no newbie, first staged in 1947 to spread the Edinburgh Festival vibes beyond the Forth. Today in this collaborative city, it spreads its rich cultural tentacles across seven venues. I hear more about it from Michelle McWilliams, who I meet in the Fire Station Creative, an inspiring arts centre, cafe and the place to take Dunfermline’s creative pulse. McWilliams was involved in the city bid and sees culture as central to Dunfermline’s appeal: “We are a historic city, but also a very cultural and creative one, with the Outwith Festival a testament to that.”

I don’t need much convincing of Dunfermline’s active cultural life. Earlier this year, I took my kids to a show at the grand Carnegie Hall and I’m soon seeing Arab Strap at the raffishly cosy PJ Molloys. Then there is the lavish Alhambra Theatre, which sports Scotland’s fourth-largest theatre stage and a mural by the artist Celie Byrne, daughter of the late Scottish playwright and artist John Byrne. Like most things in Dunfermline, these three cultural hubs lie within easy strolling distance.

I end my city break standing in front of the landmark abbey at an information board that marks the new Fife Pilgrim Way, which sweeps through Dunfermline en route to St Andrews. It is a marker that shows both Dunfermline’s grand history and the continuing dynamism and ambition of Scotland’s newest city, our Ancient Capital. 

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Foodie Dunfermline

Jack ‘O’ Bryan’s

A swish modern Scottish "bar and kitchen" that casts its net around the east coast’s finest fresh seafood, with the bravery to dip into Iberia and Asia for inspiration too. A highlight is the chargrilled Picanha steak topped with a lobster tail and served with skin-on fries and a garlic aioli.


After the devastating fire at Kushi’s last year, this creative, bright and welcoming bolthole is the undoubted king of Dunfermline’s Indian restaurants. Attention to detail is key, with the owner and chef both making regular visits to the subcontinent in search of inspiration and ingredients. Superb.


Bright, airy pan-Asian restaurant that swirls around the continent. Kick off with generous portions of sushi, then move on to well-cooked gyoza and sweet teriyaki salmon or chicken. They do a mean ramen too.

Bed down in Dunfermline

City Hotel

An apt name for an ambitious hotel that boasts a heritage back to the 18th century. The cool, contemporary vibe is a contrast to the historic streets around. Restaurant and cocktail bar on site too.

Garvock House Hotel

Peer out over the city from the lofty perch of this stately four-star hotel. Swathed in 200 years of history and offering both lush grounds and candlelit dinners, it's ideal for a romantic escape for two.

DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh – Queensferry Crossing

Book a room overlooking the Forth and you might not make it into Dunfermline. A spectacular base close to the city where everything you do is dominated by the unique trio of Forth Bridges.