Welcome to your guide to the best of East Lothian! When we lived in Edinburgh, we absolutely loved going on day trips to the coastal area of East Lothian. Think large sandy beaches, coastal walking trails, picturesque fishing villages, historic sites, nature and more. There is so much to see and do that it would be easy to spend a week here, exploring everything that this area has to offer, but if you are a little short of time, think about a day trip from Edinburgh. The Scottish capital is only around 45 minutes away by car and there is a fast train to North Berwick which takes only 30 minutes from Waverley train station.
North Berwick & The Scottish Seabird Centre
This is hands down one our favourite, go-to places in East Lothian – the pretty seaside town of North Berwick. This lovely coastal town is considered the jewel of East Lothian as it combines everything that is glorious about being by the sea in Scotland. The architecture is Victorian, the sandy beach is vast, the view to the island of Bass Rock is sublime and there is a great selection of restaurants (check out the Rocketeer restaurant and the Lobster Shack) and shops to explore. And don’t miss out on the Scottish Seabird Centre which is located right next to the beach.
Address: The harbour, North Berwick, EH39 4SS
Bass Rock Tours
Why not combine a trip to North Berwick with a Bass Rock Tour – an unforgettable experience that brings you up close and personal with the fascinating world of Scottish seabirds. The boat tours are run by the Scottish Seabird centre which means a local expert will provide commentary during your trip. There is an excellent choice of tours that range from a 1-hour trip on a 55-seat catamaran, to a 3-hour photography tour on a 12-seat RIB that includes landing on the Bass Rock.
To ensure a place on a boat, we recommend booking online prior to your visit. It’s definitely worth researching all the tour options first, as adult prices range from £32 to £135 depending on the length of tour.
Address: The harbour, North Berwick, EH39 4SS
This lovely sandy beach is located a stone’s throw from the town of North Berwick. The beach is popular with movie makers, with the Outlaw King (Netflix), Mary Queen of Scots (starring Margot Robbie) and Under the Skin (Starring Scarlett Johansson) being filmed here. And you can see why, it’s remote, rugged and beautiful, with spectacular views of Bass Rock.
But for us, the most interesting features are the various ruins scattered around, they really give the place a special and unique character. First off, somewhat hidden by the trees are the ruins of Seacliff House, a once grand property that unfortunately caught fire in 1907. If you venture a little deeper into the woods, you will discover what’s left of Auldhame Castle, a building that dates back to the 16th century. Lastly, high on the clifftop overlooking the harbour are the impressive remains of the once mighty fortress that is Tantallon Castle.
The beach itself is exceptionally clean and ideal for children who enjoy playing in the sand and hunting for marine life in the many rockpools. Don’t miss the incredible tiny harbour and its narrow access channel, carved in the 19th century out of sheer rock.
Good to know: the site is privately owned and there’s a small charge for parking.
Address: Seacliff, North Berwick, EH39 5PP
The castle is located only 5 km from North Berwick and is well worth a visit. The first thing to hit you is the setting – it’s breathtaking – the massive stone fortress sits high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Today, it lies in ruins but starting in the 14th century this was an historically important fortress. It was besieged by King James the V/IV and defended Scotland during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion.
The castle features a “curtain wall” design, the only example in Scotland. The wall stands over 15 meters high and is constructed of local red sandstone. Once you are inside, there are a number of rooms to explore, along with spiral stair cases, vaulted ceilings, and of course the infamous pit prison.
Good to know: The site is child friendly, with lots of outdoor space for playing in. There is a large car park, shop, toilets and tickets are available to be purchased online. If you plan to use public transport the X5 bus leaves from Princes Street in Edinburgh.
Address: Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, EH39 5PN
Built in the 13th century, Dirleton castle is located in the picturesque village of Dirleton, about 3km from North Berwick. By the end of the 17th Century, it was completely abandoned and although in ruins today, the castle keep is both substantial and imposing.
The highlight for many visitors will be the beautiful and extensive gardens. Depending on the time of your visit, expect to see a range of stunning flowers in well-kept formal beds. The Victorian walled garden and Arts and Crafts herbaceous border are really impressive and are in fact, the world’s largest. The ancient stone doocot dominates the northern part of the garden standing at 7.6 meters tall and containing 1000 pigeon nesting boxes.
Good to know: The site is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland, with an adult ticket costing £6 and entrance for a child weighing in at £3.60. There are also toilets, free parking and a small gift shop. If you’re feeling peckish, we recommend a visit to the excellent Castle Inn pub in the village square.
Address: Dirleton Castle and Gardens, North Berwick, EH39 5ER
This beach is one of our favourite beaches in Scotland, it’s a huge wild sandy space with amazing views of the islands in the Forth. It’s a pleasant walk to beach from the car park and parking only costs £2 for the day.
The beach itself comprises of mostly sand with a few rocky areas and away from the shore, there are extensive sand dunes which are bordered by established pine woods. If you are visiting with children then don’t miss the pirate themed play park and if you are based locally, the ice cream van which visits in the summer months.
Good to know: The beach is part of the John Muir trail and there is plenty of marked trails available in the woods that are perfect for dog owners.
Address: Ware Rd, North Berwick, EH39
Archerfield Walled Garden
This extraordinary green oasis has everything – beautiful gardens, a superb farm shop and an excellent café/bar. Archerfield is located about 40 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh, and there is plenty of parking, making it an ideal day trip from the capital.
There is so much to do here for all of the family – kids will love the magic of the fairy trail and the excitement of the play park while active adults will enjoy the willow walk and running trails. Everyone will be impressed with the culinary offerings in the café which erves refreshing drinks and delicious cakes supplied by Mimi’s Bakehouse of Edinburgh. If you are lucky enough to be visiting at lunch time then you are in for a treat, the simple menu is seasonal and ingredients are locally sourced.
Address: Archerfield Estate, Dirleton, East Lothian, EH39 5HQ
Seton Collegiate Church
This church, or chapel as it is sometimes referred to, is located a little south of Port Seton. The site is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is classed as a monument. The structure was completed in 1478 making this the finest medieval collegiate church remaining in Scotland today. Check out the impressive male and female effigies carved from stone, that date from the 15th century.
Address: Longniddry, East Lothian, EH32 0PG
Musselburgh Race Course
It’s a famous 5-star racecourse that makes for an ideal day out and is located only six miles from Edinburgh. There are special Family Race days (free entry for under 18s) as well as the glamorous Ladies’ Day, so make sure you look out your favourite hat. The facilities are outstanding – you can choose from the top-class Bistro, the newly refurbished café or the ultra-swish Pommery Champagne bar. If the weather is kind, why not enjoy your cocktail on the lawn area. There are 27 race days a year and it’s possible to book online.
Address: Linkfield Rd, Musselburgh, EH21 7RG
National Museum of Flight
You don’t have to be a mega fan of all things aviation to enjoy this superb museum, but if you are then welcome to heaven. The museum is fittingly located on an old airfield that was used during the 2nd World War, and some of the original buildings have been restored. For example, the popular Aviator café is housed in an old war building and you can discover the fascinating world of the parachute store in a restored Nissen hut.
When it comes to musts-see attractions, we recommend the Concorde Experience where you can actually explore the interior of this legendary aircraft and discover its history. Next, climb onboard a 1962 Comet or join the jetset by exploring the luxury cabin and cockpit of a Boeing 707. There are loads of interactive displays for kids to get their hands on including finding out how to build a plane, testing your pilot skills and learning about why planes fly.
Good to know: It’s about a 40-minute drive to Edinburgh and there is lots of free parking. Travelling by bus is possible but you will need to change buses at Haddington. The number 121 will take you from Haddington to the Museum of Flight.
Address: East Fortune Airfield, EH39 5LF
East Links Family Park
This has to be one of the best family days out in Scotland. Located close to Dunbar, it’s an easy 40-minute drive from Edinburgh along the A1. The 20-acre park is open for fun from 10am to 5pm, a family ticket costs £56 and there is loads of parking available.
Kids will love the outdoor and indoor activities – highlights include feeding the farm animals and riding the unique narrow-gauge railway. The huge Fortress play area and the Ball Blast Arena, were definite favourites with our kids, but there is so much more to enjoy. The impressive soft play barn and indoor animal handling area are ideally suited to younger children.
If all the activity leaves the family tired and hungry, don’t fret, there is an excellent onsite café that serves delicious cakes, soups and hot rolls. A fun and educational day is guaranteed and after trying out all of the 15 attractions, the kids will be ready for bed. Not to be missed…
Address: Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1XF
Inveresk Lodge Garden
This stunning hillside garden run by the National Trust is located in the peaceful village of Inveresk and is an easy 20-minute drive from Edinburgh. Seasonal highlights include the amazing snowdrops and tulips in spring and the impressive scented rose display in the summer. However, it’s not all formal gardens, there is a fabulous wild meadow area to wander through complete with wooden areas. My favourite area is down by the pond where kids can discover all types of watery nature – even more fun with a fishing net.
There are self-guided tours and children’s activities to keep everyone happy. Expect to see swans, ducks, kingfishers, and herons. Be prepared to stay a while and bring a picnic to enjoy in this tranquil setting.
Address: 24 Inveresk Village Road, Musselburgh, EH21 7TE
If you’ve read our post on best day trips from Edinburgh, you’ll already be familiar with this distillery! A classic lowland single malt distillery that has the advantage of being only 15 minutes from Edinburgh. You don’t need to travel miles north to experience the world of whisky. We recommend taking a tour (which includes a delicious dram) to learn all about the highly skilled craft of whisky making. There are 5 to choose from, ranging from £10 to £100, and children over 8 years are also welcome.
The distillery produces two highly acclaimed malt whiskies, the most prestigious being the Distillers Edition which is matured in Amontillado wood cask. Glenkinchie even have a shuttle bus that runs from the capital direct to the distillery, pre book on their website or by phoning 01875 342 012.
Address: Pencaitland, Tranent, EH34 5ET
Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve
If you arrive by car there is a dedicated carpark for the nature reserve. Back in 1952 Aberlady Bay became the first local nature reserve in the UK. The bay is a great mix of sandy beaches, bird filled marshes, grassy sand dunes and meandering nature paths. On a clear day there is fabulous panoramic view that takes in Arthurs Seat and the Pentland Hills.
To get to the main area cross the raised wooden boardwalk that takes you over an estuary, this is the start of an 8.9k circular walk. One of my top highlights is the wreck of a submarine that dates back to the 2nd world war, its only visible at low tide.
Address: Aberlady Village, EH32 0SB
Dunbar Town House
This historic townhouse was built in the 16th century and is open to the public. It is now a small museum, gallery and has exhibition space that displays interesting local history. Entry is free.
The external architecture is impressive and includes a dramatic stone turret, with a tall spire style roof. The interior benefits from a recent refurbishment, during which it was found that the structure made use of elements taken from Dunbar castle. Some fascinating historic graffiti was also discovered which dated back to the 1700s, photographs of this are displayed within the museum.
Address: High Street, Dunbar, EH42 1ER
Dunbar Leisure Pool
If the weather is less than desirable, then this pool complex is an excellent choice. This is a great place for kids to burn off some energy. There is an interactive beach area for younger ones, a fun wave machine, an exciting flume that times you and powerful water jets. If travelling by car, there is a large free car park and if you are looking for refreshment, try the poolside café for tasty drinks and snacks. It’s also clean, with family changing rooms and the staff are very friendly.
Address: Castlepark, Dunbar, EH42 1EU
This open-air mining museum is a great place for both kids and adults to explore, you will enjoy learning about the life of an industrial worker. This interesting site has been many things over the past 400 years, including a glass works, brickworks and a colliery. Today you can still the enormous brick kiln, an impressive Cornish beam engine and a winding machine from the mining days.
Entry is free and you can also pick up an audio guide from the little visitor’s centre, which also has a dedicated play area for kids. The audio guide brings the site to life, but even better are the guided tours which last 90 minutes and cost £2.80. The Pithead café has friendly staff that serve tasty coffee and cake.
Address: Morrisons Haven, Prestonpans, East Lothian, EH32 9RY
Fox Lake Adventures
The ultimate destination for all things water sports in East Lothian. Located on a purpose-built lake just 25 miles from Edinburgh, it’s so easy to spend the day here. The range of activities on offer is incredible – how about wakeboarding, ziptrail, ringo, segway or foxfall? Foxfall is unique to the UK with its massive network of ropes suspended above water rather than trees.
Even the most hardcore adrenalin junkie will appreciate a visit to the Boardside café, where you can enjoy lunch or just a coffee next to the water. It’s around £20 per session depending on the activities you choose. All instructors are fully qualified and are great at working with both kids and adults.
Address: Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1XF
The estate consists of a 300-year-old ornate Palladian mansion and 34 hectares of beautiful forest and gardens. Inside the main house there are many rooms to explore including the stunning dinning room complete with its Italian marble fireplaces and unusually decorated Chinese themed sitting room. The highlight for me, however, is the spooky old kitchen, which has been untouched for many years and there is even a servant’s tunnel to discover. The tunnel was built so that staff could not be seen in the garden by the owners of the estate.
If you have children, then the new Weehailes playpark is unmissable. It costs £5 per child, but there is so much to do inside with numerous tree houses, suspended path ways and climbing ropes.
A guided tour brings the whole place to life, it’s easy to imagine a “Downtown Abbey” drama unfolding here. It’s only 6 miles from Edinburgh, parking is easy and there is a little café and a shop.
Address: Newhailes, Musselburgh, EH21 6RY
Myreton Motor Museum
This lovely little museum near Aberlady houses a selection of classic/vintage cars and motorbikes together with an interesting array of motoring memorabilia. It was established in 1966 by Willie Dale, whose personality acquired most of the exhibits rather than to see them destroyed.
The oldest vehicle dates back to 1899 and newest examples are from the 70s and 80s. If you are into old bicycles and model cars then you will also be impressed by the eclectic mix on display here. Exhibits include an original Fiat 500, a Fiat X19, a 1950 Citroen, a vintage Rolls Royce, a Rover P6 and so much more.
There is lots of free parking available on site and the entry is a very reasonable £7 for adults and £3 kids.
Address: Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland, EH32 0PZ