Gretna Green, located in the south of Scotland and on the border with England, is a unique place that you won’t find anywhere else.
There are many reasons why you should visit Gretna Green. For those who live in Great Britain you’ve probably heard of this place before, and you associate it with the traditional weddings that take place there.
Despite weddings being part of Gretna Green culture, there is more than that. And yes, I confirm it isn’t only a place for couples.
When visiting Gretna Green, I recommend staying there for at least one day. Of course, you can see the main attraction in half-day, but if you’re after an escape from the buzz of the city or a stop from road tripping, this place is for you.
Gretna Green is a tranquil place where you can connect with nature by exploring the countryside, learning about the history by visiting the museum, immersing in the culture by talking to the friendly locals and tasting the traditional food.
In this blog, I am going to tell you a bit of its history, things to do in Gretna Green as well as the reasons why you should visit it.
Couples under 21 couldn’t marry without the permission of their parents in England in the 17th century. Couples also couldn’t marry in places other than a church under the 1754 Marriage Act.
However, there was a place, just on the border with England, where love could conquer all, and that was Gretna Green. There the law did not apply.
The “anvil priests” were the ones marrying couples 300 years ago. Blacksmith Joseph Paisley realised he could make more money by marrying people than from his regular job.
There are many love and scandal stories behind this place – couples eloping all the way from London, couples who were chased by disapproving parents but luckily made it to Gretna, etc.
Nowadays, you can read many of these stories in the Famous Blacksmith Shop Museum, as well as contemplate marriage certificates dating back to 1754.
The legal age for marriage has changed several times over the years as you can imagine. The earliest legal ages for matrimony in Britain were 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Although this probably sounds crazy to you, the reason behind was the short life expectancy in the 17th century.
Since then, it has been a magical and popular place for weddings, and it has also been an inspiration for writers and filmmakers.
Gretna Green was first mentioned by Jane Austen in her early romantic fairy tale “Love and Friendship”, and then in her most famous novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. But it also appears in popular British soap operas such as Coronation Street, EastEnders and Downtown Abbey.
Visit the Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop Museum
If you’re into history, the Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop Museum is for you. Inside the museum, you can contemplate marriage certificates that date back to 1754, the original wedding room that has the traditional and popular anvil, old carriages, and replicas of wedding dresses.
What will amaze you the most is how intact the place is, which makes it such a unique place and explains why there are so many couples that still want to marry there.
Although the museum is going to go under some refurbishment to make the visitor’s experience more interactive, it’ll still preserve many of its features.
Go to the Foodhall in Gretna Green since 1754
If you’re passionate about local food and drink, the Foodhall in Gretna Green has everything you need.
Not only will you find high-quality products from Scotland and Northern England, but great tastings too.
The food hall has been recently refurbished and you’ll find anything from Scottish whisky and gin, local craft beers and ales and haggis to children’s favourite sweets, jams and ice cream.
This is also the perfect place to buy a souvenir for any foodie friends or family, as they have incredible hampers.
Buy a souvenir or shop at Gretna Green since 1754 shop
In the Gretna Green since 1754 shop, you can find a distinctive range of famous British brands as well as selected Scottish products including; Johnstons of Elgin, Barbour and The Cambridge Satchel Company. Not only do they showcase the best of British, but they also present a range of Gretna Green Cashmere, offered with love, direct from the home of romance.
It’s the perfect place to buy a souvenir for a loved one, friend or yourself, and find unique gifts such as an anvil charm (which I couldn’t resist buying).
On top of this, if you’re visiting Gretna Green with your boyfriend, partner, a special person (you name it), you can find locks with the shape of a heart to write your names in and put it on the famous love wall located at the back of the main buildings.
If you’re staying at the Smith’s hotel, you can provide your hotel room information card to get 10 per cent off all the products.
Don’t forget to visit the Gretna Green website here to discover more about the location and shop.
Take a photo by the LOVE wall
Are you looking for an Instagrammable place? Well, the LOVE sign in Gretna Green isn’t only a place for couples to put their locks, but also take photos.
Located at the back of Gretna Green main attractions and near the car park, you’ll find the love sign. It’s a great photo spot because the sign is just in the middle of the fields and is full of colourful locks.
Visit the Courtship Maze
The Courtship Maze is a great and fun attraction to visit during your time in Gretna Green. The idea of the maze is that two people enter the maze, each one from a different entrance and they need to find their way to the bridge located at the centre of the maze.
This is a romantic and unique activity for couples, but also fun for families and kids too. The maze represents all the different paths you take in your life until you find the right person, so it does have a meaningful message.
You can visit the maze every day from 10 am and there isn’t an entrance fee.
Go for a walk in the countryside
Gretna Green is surrounded by nature, and there are many fields and walks you can do in the area.
If you’re looking for a short but peaceful walk, I highly recommend walking from Gretna Green to Gretna. There are two different paths, but the best one is the one you walk towards Gretna Green’s Parish church.
Next to the church, you’ll see a path where you can occasionally see the cows laying and relaxing on the fields. As you walk, you’ll find a small tunnel – which looks very mysterious – that will lead you to a beautiful path in between the wildflowers and plenty of white butterflies.
Visit the Old Parish Church
If you love visiting churches, you must add this one to your list. The most interesting thing about this Parish Church is that part of the church dates back to the 17th century, however, it’s believed that the church was built much earlier, and this is seen in its medieval features.
Now it’s also a great setting for those who want to get married in Gretna Green but in a church.
You can also visit the church for free!
Find Gretna Green’s secret garden
I must admit that I spent some of my journey trying to find Gretna Green’s secret garden. I wish you luck in your quest to find it!
A 20-minute walk from Gretna Green brings you to the town of Gretna. Although it’s a small town, there are a couple of things you can do in Gretna in a day.
Where to stay in Gretna Green
Smith’s Hotel at Gretna Green
Disclaimer: My stay with the Smith’s Hotel at Gretna Green was a PR invite. However, all opinions shared in this post are my own.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Gretna Green, there is no better place than the Smiths at Gretna Green. This four-star hotel is just a footstep from the tourist attraction and offers excellent service.
The hotel has different types of rooms to suit everyone’s needs. But all of them are beautifully decorated in a modern style while being spacious and cosy.
I stayed in the suite with a balcony, and it was incredible – a comfortable double size bed, tea and coffee amenities, TV, two comfortable sofas by a cosy small artificial fireplace, and of course, the lovely views from the balcony.
You don’t need to leave the hotel to look for somewhere to eat, as they have a great restaurant that serves comfort food – from Indian curry to the nation’s favourite, fish and chips. However, if you’re vegetarian, they also have vegetarian options such as mac and cheese and chickpeas and sweet potato curry.
If you’re after some recommendations, the Indian curry served with naan bread, pickled tray and rice or the chilli con carne served with nachos, guacamole and sour cream won’t disappoint you.
When you book your room, breakfast is included, and you’ll be able to enjoy savoury as well as sweet treats. Would you love to try the traditional Scottish breakfast (bacon, sausages, haggis, tattie scones, fried egg, and beans)? You can do it at the Smith’s. However, if you prefer a lighter option, you’ll also find cereals, porridge, and fruit!
Although the dinner and breakfast options are delicious, my favourite meal was afternoon tea. The afternoon tea is beautifully presented in what looks like the half of a bird’s cage. Inside you find tasty, sweet treats that you won’t be able to resist – mouth-watering macaroons, lemon tart, rich chocolate eclairs, red velvet mini cupcakes and the traditional scones with cream and jam.
On the side, you’ll also get different types of sandwiches– ham and chutney, cucumber, smoked salmon and egg and mayonnaise.
If you do plan to get married at Gretna Green, the Smith’s hotel is a great place to stay. They will take care of any detail of your wedding, and they have several suites with all the luxury touches and are designed for brides and honeymoons.
You can also have your wedding at the historic Gretna Hall hotel that was built in 1710 as a mansion where weddings have taken place since then. The hotel has three unique marriage rooms and over 90 hotel rooms.
My favourite place of all is The Coach House, beautifully decorated with white flowers hanging down the roof, the traditional anvil and an old but beautiful carriage. It’s a fairytale and magical location.
The overall experience at the Smith’s is excellent, the moment you arrive at the hotel you’ll be welcomed by the friendly staff, and they’ll take care of you at any time.
Visiting Gretna Green is also a great opportunity to explore other nearby towns in South Scotland – Dumfries and Galloway. These destinations are less explored compared to the popular cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but they’re worth visiting too.
It’s perfect for you if you’re looking for authentic experiences – fewer tourists and crowds as well as more opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture.
Popular places around Gretna
At only 10 minutes from Gretna, you can visit the English city of Carlisle. If you’re travelling by train, it’s a common stop, so if you have the time, you may want to visit some of the main attractions in this town.
One of the best things to do in Carlisle is to visit the cathedral, which is free! The cathedral has spectacular colour-stained glass windows that you can’t miss as well as a unique ceiling in one of the rooms. Outside the cathedral, there is also a small, cute garden to explore.
In addition to the cathedral, you may want to check Carlisle Castle, and a unique place, if you love books, is the bookshop called Bookcase. They have a good collection of old books and CDs and new books.
Lake District National Park
Lake District is one of the most beautiful National Parks in England. At only a 37-minute drive from Gretna Green, it’s an amazing place to add to your road trip.
The Lake District is England’s largest National Park, and it’s also now a World Heritage Site. In this national park, you can find amazing natural features such as the famous Scafell Pike Mountain and Wastwater lake.
In there you can find plenty of activities such as cycling, taking a boat cruise, stargazing, and joining a guided walk or tour to learn about this special place.
Walking through Edinburgh is a unique experience as you can find many streets and alleys that lead to magical places. But a hidden gem located at a short distance from the city centre is Dean Village – a lovely area with gardens, a river stream, and half-timbered houses.
Edinburgh is the foodie paradise, there are many restaurants, cafes, and pubs to choose from.
As you can see Gretna Green is a charming and unique place that is worth visiting, and that isn’t only for couples who want to get married, but photographers and bloggers who want to explore hidden gem locations, nature lovers who are looking for a break from the city and people passionate about history!
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Frequently asked questions about Gretna Green
What is special about Gretna Green?
Gretna Green has always been famous for its anvil weddings. Couples used to elope and get married at Gretna Green as they could get married at the age of 16 in Scotland. Nowadays, Gretna Green continues to be a special place for weddings, but it’s also a great place to visit as a tourist who loves exploring off beaten track destinations.
What is Gretna Green in Bridgerton?
Gretna Green appeared in the popular Netflix series, Bridgerton. Gretna Green was a Scottish village where couples under 21 could marry in Scotland without parental approval.
Can you turn up at Gretna Green and get married?
No, the minimum period to arrange your wedding is 29 days. The reason behind this is that registers need to check all the documents and draw up your marriage schedule.