Edinburgh is such a busy cultural hub, many visitors overlook the fact that it is also a great base for day trips.
“A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again” (Alexander McCall Smith).
Scotland’s capital is such a lively, historic and culturally rich city to visit, so much so that day trips from Edinburgh can be easily overlooked. To quash that, here are our top day trips from Edinburgh by rail to places that are so beautiful they will break your heart but also soothe the soul.
To start exploring the 70km stretch of East Lothian coastline, one of Scotland’s 32 council areas, head to North Berwick. It’s a short 30 mins hop from Edinburgh’s Waverley station to North Berwick. This is an affluent and bustling seaside Edinburgh suburb. Its Milsey Bay Beach is a 20 mins walk from the station. The beach isn’t usually too crowded and the walled, tidal swimming pool is a favourite with strong swimmers. Just 2km offshore, and accessible by boat trips, Bass Rock is a striking sight and home to the world’s largest populations of gannets.
For a quieter beach, head to Seacliff estate, an 8km bus journey from North Berwick. It’s £3 to access the grounds but this private, and therefore quiet beach offers views of Tantallon Castle, a 14th-century ruin that sits at the very edge of the coastal cliffs. The main house burned down in 1909, and you can see remains of it from the beach through the trees, but the laird’s own tiny harbour still remains.
It’s easy to venture west to Scotland’s biggest city as part of a day trip from the capital, with a journey time of only 50 mins between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Glasgow is a sprawling mix of contradictions, and although you need a long time in Glasgow to get a true feeling for the city, there are some great starting points on a day trip. For many people, the best part is Glasgow’s West End. The fine architecture includes Glasgow University, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The West End is where’ll you’ll find Glasgow Botanic Gardens and many of the city’s trendiest shops, and finest food. The Ubiquitous Chip (‘The Chip’) is one of the city’s finest restaurants which has been a pioneer in raising the quality of restaurant food in the west of Scotland and is a hub of Glaswegian food culture.
Another more contemporary architectural site is world-renowned Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum has brought a modern twist to the former shipbuilding area on the banks of the River Clyde.
Dunbar is another jewel in East Lothian’s coastal crown. It takes just under 30 mins from Edinburgh’s Waverley station to get to Dunbar, another North sea town where wispy grasses, soft sands and clear waters of Belhaven Beach make it one of the finest Blue Flag beaches in all of East Lothian. It is part of the John Muir Country Park, named after one of the town’s most famous residents, a world-famous conservationist and national parks pioneer. Accessible on foot from the town centre, it comprises 6km trail of protected, pristine coastline. For a longer walk, the John Muir Link is a 16.5km stretch between Dunbar and Cockburnspath. This longer route offers a varied taste of East Lothian’s dramatic coastline. At the end, you’ll be able to catch a bus back to Dunbar.
Closer to the town, whilst gazing out on the small harbour, surrounded by rocky cliffs, you’ll see the remains of the Dunbar Castle, a sight to behold for a history buff or Instagrammer alike.
It’s a slightly convoluted route to get to Peebles by rail but you travel on the new Borders Railway, closed in 1969 and only reopened in 2015. To get from Edinburgh to Peebles by train, hop onboard the 50 mins ride to Galashiels before changing for a short bus connection to Peebles. The town has some serious charm. Set on the banks of the River Tweed, Peebles also enjoys the green surroundings of the Peeblesshire countryside. Within the town, the walled Kailzie Gardens have rosebeds and fountains galore, and you may even catch sight of ospreys overhead. Peebles and its surrounding area have some good hiking trails to choose from such as the Neidpath Castle and Tweed walk. On this 6.5km route, you’ll walk upstream from the town centre along the banks of the Tweed. Neidpath Castle is closed to the public but you’ll get a good view of the 12th-century ruin from the path. Descend through the woods back towards Peebles.
As we look again west of Edinburgh, it’s hard to ignore the fine town of Linlithgow. It’s a short 20 mins journey on the Glasgow bound train to Linlithgow from Edinburgh. West Lothian’s county town is a place rich in history. The main attraction is undoubtedly Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. The 15th-century palace is packed with information on Scottish history. A stone’s throw from the old palace walls, Linlithgow's large loch offers the chance to try out some boating. Beyond the palace and loch, it’s worth taking the 4km walk to Beecraigs Country Park for a healthy selection of woodland walks and good chances of spotting red deer.
Photo credits top to bottom: Bass Rock from Glen Golf Club iStock ©witchywoo, South Portland Street Bridge, Glasgow ©theasis, Druridge Bay and Dunbar Burn near sunset iStock ©daverhead, Peebles HDR ©SilvanBachmann, Linlithgow Palace iStock ©SJVictrix