Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere has been named among the 30 most exciting destinations to visit in 2024 by prestigious travel magazine National Geographic Traveller (UK).

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere (GSAB) has been chosen as one of the destinations that will be “making headlines in the year ahead” alongside the likes of Nova Scotia, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and the Andrefana Dry Forests in Madagascar. 

It is the only Scottish destination in the prestigious global Cool List for 2024, which identifies the top places around world “where tourism benefits communities and the environment as much as the visitors and locals themselves.”

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s listing celebrates the reserve’s natural heritage, its UNESCO designation and its recently extended boundary, which recognises the site’s cultural significance. 

The travel magazine said about GSAB: “From windswept slopes to dense forests threaded with streams, the richness of landscapes in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire region helped it become Scotland’s first UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2012. Just over a decade later, the reserve has further cause for celebration after being granted an extra 10 years of protection by the organisation. 

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“Its boundaries have also been extended, upping the area from 2,034sq miles to over 3,780sq miles. The expansion is culturally significant, as the village of Alloway now falls within the new borders. The birthplace of Robert Burns, it features in his epic poem Tam o’ Shanter. Budding bards can channel the poet on a writing retreat, or try one of the tours offered by the Biosphere Guides, a group of locals whose expertise ranges from creative writing to bushcraft. 

“The biosphere is also part of Scotland’s new UNESCO Trail, unveiled earlier this year. It connects all 13 of the country’s listed locations, from Glasgow, a City of Music, to the pine-covered hills and lochs of Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve on the northwest coast.”

Welcoming the news from National Geographic Traveller UK on behalf of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Partnership Board, Chair Melanie Allen, said: “We are thrilled that this year’s National Geographic Traveller (UK) Cool List recognises the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere for developing tourism as a force for good.

"This is fantastic recognition of southwest Scotland as an outstanding visitor destination and highlights the importance of the Biosphere’s collaborative approach – working with Biosphere Certified Businesses, strategic leaders and partners – to build a secure and greener economic future for Scotland and the UK.

“Thanks to this ethos visitors can truly enjoy Galloway and Southern Ayrshire safe in the knowledge that their visit is as good for our communities and environment, as it is for their soul. With its awe-inspiring natural landscapes, fascinating heritage, and culture, we already knew the Biosphere was ‘cool’ and now its official!”

The Herald: Part of the Galloway Forest Park is officially designated Unesco Biosphere.Part of the Galloway Forest Park is officially designated Unesco Biosphere.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Director, Ed Forrest said: “It is crucial that we all work together to find new ways of tackling the biggest interconnected challenges of our time.

"UNESCO Biospheres provide a blueprint for living in cultures all around the world, and the proof of their value is already being realised, as people begin to realise that sustainability in living, learning and leisure has to become our societal norm.

"So it is brilliant to see National Geographic Traveller has included the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere among the top places around the world where visitors can do this.

“Participation is at the very heart of the UNESCO Biosphere model and our success to date is absolutely testament to the incredible support our team has had from residents, community groups, business leaders, land managers, schools, local authorities, South of Scotland Enterprise, Dumfries and Galloway Council, South and East Ayrshire Councils, VisitScotland, the South of Scotland Destination Alliance, the Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance and more.”

Congratulating the Biosphere, VisitScotland Destination Development Director Gordon Smith said: “The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is an area of outstanding significance for its geological and scientific interest, as well as its stunning scenery.

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"Part of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail, the Biosphere has a key role in contributing to make Scotland a world-leading responsible tourism destination and it is fantastic to see the Biosphere included in National Geographic’s Cool List for 2024. This accolade will help shine the spotlight on the awe-inspiring beauty and diversity of the region as well as the invaluable work between the Biosphere and the local community.”

Other locations to feature in the 30 most exciting destinations to visit in 2024 include the Atacama Desert in Chile, Xi’an in China, Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Victoria in Australia.

The Cool List 2024 is published in full in the December 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

To see the full list online, visit: