12 Easy Day Trips from Edinburgh

As hard as it might be to pull yourself away from the many wonderful things to see and do in Edinburgh, the area around this stunning city is equally worth your time. The region contains many wonderful attractions. A drive in almost any direction will unveil dramatic coastlines, magnificent mountains and countless incredible historic sites. Castles, grand homes and abbeys make up the bulk of the area attractions, and all waiting to be explored.

1 National Mining Museum and the Lady Victoria Colliery

National Mining Museum and the Lady Victoria Colliery
National Mining Museum and the Lady Victoria Colliery Robert Orr / photo modified

Part of the excellent National Mining Museum Scotland, the Lady Victoria Colliery near Newtongrange (10 mi south of Edinburgh) is a rewarding visitor experience. Dating from 1895, the mine is a showpiece for the once prolific Scottish coalfields. Of greatest historical interest is the Grant-Richie winding engine once used to lift coal from a depth of almost 1,640 ft. In addition to the winch, this four-acre site also includes a superbly preserved set of Lancashire Boilers and Europe's only extant timber dredger.

Other interesting mining-related attractions are Prestongrange Museum a few miles west of Edinburgh (its underground gallery offers a fascinating glimpse into the tough life of a miner), and the quaint former mining village of Roslin, just 5 mi south of Edinburgh.

Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £7.50; Children, Free (up to 3 children per adult)

Address: Lady Victoria Colliery, Edinburgh

2 Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle
Crichton Castle alljengi / photo modified

Perched atop a hill overlooking the River Tyne stands Crichton Castle (12 mi east of Edinburgh). Praised by Walter Scott in Marmion, the original 14th century tower house had three wings and an Italianate elegance with Florentine arcades. Its facade and brickwork were enhanced with diamond bosses. Mary Stuart and Lord Darnley stayed here during their honeymoon, and their initials (MSD) can still be seen carved into a stone over the two central pillars on the east side of the courtyard. Another nearby castle worth a visit is Lauriston Castle (4 mi northwest of Edinburgh).

Hours: Daily, 9:30am-5:30pm (Apr-Sept)

Admission: Adults, £4.50; Children, £2.70

3 The Enchanting Gardens of Little Sparta

The Enchanting Gardens of Little Sparta
The Enchanting Gardens of Little Sparta Ergonomik / photo modified

The official sign outside these fantastic gardens belonging to Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay refers to them as Stonypath. But Little Sparta is the name chosen by Finlay for this 4 acre cultural oasis near Dunsyre in the Pentland Hills, about 24 mi southwest of Edinburgh. Started in 1966 out of an abandoned farmhouse, it's a world of fairytales, myths and history. Throughout the property sundials, classical chapels and engraved stones are placed among the heather, lilies and lupines; exploring it all makes for a fun, fascinating day out.

Hours: Wed/Fri/Sun, 2:30-5pm (May-Sept)

Admission: £10

Address: Stonypath, Dunsyre, Lanarkshire

4 Dalmeny and Hopetoun: The Finest Homes in South Queensferry

Dalmeny and Hopetoun: The Finest Homes in South Queensferry
Dalmeny and Hopetoun: The Finest Homes in South Queensferry

Just 8 mi northwest of Edinburgh, Dalmeny House overlooks the Firth of Forth. It's famous for its Tudor Gothic style, valuable art treasures (portraits by Reynolds, Raeburn and Gainsborough) and French furniture from the time of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Other highlights include rare porcelain and tapestries, as well as silk curtains embroidered by Marie Antoinette. The Napoleon Room contains paintings and personal effects belonging to the Emperor, and a seat used by the Duke of Wellington. While in Dalmeny, visit St Cuthbert's church, which dates from the 12th century and is notable for its richly decorated south portal and some fine woodcarving. Also of interest in South Queensferry is 17th century Hopetoun House with its many splendid rooms decorated with damask wallpaper, tapestries, delightful stucco ceilings and fine furniture.

Hours: Mon-Wed, Sun; Guided Tours, 2:15pm and 3:30pm (June-July)

Admission: Adults, £8.50; Children (10-16), £5.50

Address: Dalmeny House, South Queensferry

Official site: www.dalmeny.co.uk

5 The House of the Binns and Linlithgow Palace

The House of the Binns and Linlithgow Palace
The House of the Binns and Linlithgow Palace

A still-inhabited country house between Linlithgow and Queensferry, the House of Binns is of particular interest for its stone chimneys and mid-17th century stucco ceilings in the High Hall. In the King's Room, tourists can see the heraldic emblems of England and Scotland joined in the decor.

Set in an attractive lakeside location, Linlithgow Palace is famous as the birthplace of Mary Stuart in 1542, and the gatehouse on the east front bears the royal coat-of-arms. The 100 ft long Great Hall gives some idea of the palace's splendor and has a 23 ft wide, three-part mantelpiece added in the 15th century. The village of Linlithgow is a pleasant side trip and includes historic St Michael Church, superb 16th century houses, and Cairnpapple Hill, a prehistoric sacred site dating to 3000 BC.

  • www.nts.org.uk/Property/House-of-the-Binns/
  • http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyoverview?PropID=PL_199

6 Haddington: Lennoxlove House, Great Golf, Dramatic Seascapes

Haddington: Lennoxlove House, Great Golf, Dramatic Seascapes
Haddington: Lennoxlove House, Great Golf, Dramatic Seascapes

Though converted into a grand country estate in the 17th century, Lennoxlove House has its origins in the 13th century. It was later connected to the court of Charles II and has been the seat of the Dukes of Hamilton since 1947. Of interest are the expensive presents the King gave the Duchess of Lennox in his failed attempts to woo her, as well as a rare piano once played by Chopin. Note also the portrait of the reformer John Knox, the porcelain collection and some memorabilia belonging to Mary Stuart, including her death mask.

The town of Haddington is also worth visiting due to its proximity to the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian. For golfers, North Berwick is a popular sporting destination. The Gullane Golf Courses, including 18-hole Muirfield, are a venue for the British Open and part of the world's oldest golf club (it's 10 years older than the Royal Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews). The nearby Heritage of Golf Museum traces the history of the small white ball from the 15th century to the present day. Also of note are the red sandstone ruins of 14th century Tantallon Castle and spectacular Bass Rock, which rises out of the sea as a breeding ground for Gannets. This spot is particularly popular amongst birdwatchers during nesting season (April and August).

Hours: Guided Tours only, Easter-Oct, Wed/Thurs/Sun, 1:30-4pm.

Admission: Adults, £5

Address: Lennoxlove Estate, Haddington, East Lothian

Official site: http://lennoxlove.com/

7 East Linton: Castles, Coastlines and Concorde

East Linton: Castles, Coastlines and Concorde
East Linton: Castles, Coastlines and Concorde Karen Bryan / photo modified

The Museum of Flight is housed in a former RAF airbase and includes over 30 vintage airplanes. Among them are a De Havilland Puss Moth (1930), a Weir W-2 (1934), a Supermarine Spitfire and a Sea Hawk. Also on display is the famous Concorde jetliner, a Nimrod and numerous displays related to flight during two world wars. While in Linton, be sure to visit 13th century Hailes Castle with its narrow dungeons. For some outdoor sightseeing, stop in the coastal village of Aberlady, noted for its fine sandy beaches and seabird reserve.

Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm (Apr-Oct); Sat/Sun, 10am-4pm (Nov-Mar)

Admission: Adults, £9.50; Children, £4 (under 5 free); Families, £24

Address: East Fortune Airfield, North Berwick

8 Melrose Abbey and the Eildn Hills

Melrose Abbey and the Eildn Hills
Melrose Abbey and the Eildn Hills

Many regard Melrose Abbey as the finest of the Borders region's four abbeys. Built from red sandstone for Cistercian monks in 1136, it was plundered and desecrated on several occasions. But what remains makes an impressive sight, including the ornate stonework and carvings on the capitals and sculptures, and a fountain in the form of a bagpipe-playing pig. It's said that the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried beneath the east window (a mummified heart was in fact found in the Chapterhouse in 1920).

Melrose itself is a pleasant little town and a good starting point for tours of the Borders region. Nestled between the Tweed and the Eildon Hills, it's famous for Scott's View - a favorite panoramic viewpoint for famous novelist Sir Walter Scott. On a small hill nearby stands a 60 ft tall 16th century rectangular peel tower famous for its appearance in one of William Turner's sketches.

Hours: Daily, 9:30am-5:30pm

Admission: Adults, £5.50; Children, £3.30

9 Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House

Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House
Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House

At the heart of "Scott's country", as the Borders are sometimes known, lies Abbotsford, a house by the banks of the Tweed where Sir Walter Scott wrote the majority of his poems and historical novels and where he died in 1832. The royalties from his highly successful novels went towards converting the farmhouse into the present Scottish-style mansion. The house is crammed full of reminders of the best-selling writer, including manuscripts, ballads, portraits and curiosities such as "Bonnie Prince Charlie's" scotch glass (quaich), the sword used by outlaw Rob Roy, and Scott's death mask. Another historic property in the area is Thirlestane, a 13th century border fortress converted into a stately home and boasting splendid wooden ceilings, a collection of old toys, and the Border Country Life Exhibitions.

Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm

Admission: Adults, £8.75; Children (under 17), £4.50 (under 5, free); Families, £28

Address: Abbotsford, Melrose, Roxburghshire

Official site: www.scottsabbotsford.com

10 Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey

The remains of Jedburgh Abbey, perhaps the most beautiful of the four 12th century Border abbeys destroyed by the English in 1544, consists of two Norman arches and the west front with its magnificent rose window (the St Catherine's Wheel). The arcades in the three-story main nave and the window tracery are also worth a look, while the Visitor Center has an exhibition explaining the day-to-day life of the monks.

Dryburgh Abbey (just 8 mi away from Jedburgh) is another of the Borders' former abbeys, and although little of it is left you can still visit the marvelous west portal, the rose window at the west end of the refectory, the chapterhouse and St Modan's Chapel.

Hours: Daily, 9:30am-5:30pm

Admission: Adults, £5.50; Children, £3.30

Address: Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh

11 Bowhill House

Bowhill House, the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, is situated 3 mi west of Selkirk. This Victorian country house contains a fine collection of paintings, including an enchanting child study of Lady Caroline by Reynolds entitled Winter (1777) and landscapes by Claude Lorrain and Ruisdael. Family portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds hang in the Drawing Room, while in the Entrance Hall there are seven Van Dyck portraits and works by Canaletto, Guardi, David Wilkie, Hans Holbein and Samuel Cooper. A plaid and other Walter Scott memorabilia can be seen in the study, together with a portrait of the writer by Raeburn (1808). Meissen and Sèvres porcelain, Flemish tapestries and some marvelous French furniture form other parts of the collection.

Hours: Guided Tours only (various dates)

Admission: Adults, £10; Children (3-16), £4; Families, £28

Address: Bowhill, Selkirk, Scottish Borders

Official site: www.bowhillhouse.co.uk

12 Kelso: Floors Castle

Kelso: Floors Castle
Kelso: Floors Castle

Walter Scott described Kelso as the "prettiest, if not the most romantic village in Scotland". The attractive market town (located 10 mi east of Melrose) has a Georgian market square that's fun to explore. The five-arched bridge over the Tweed was built in 1803 and offers views of the ruined abbey. But the most famous sightseeing landmark, however, is Floors Castle. This fairytale castle topped with small towers, ornate turrets and chimneys was built in Georgian style in 1721 and was later extended in decorative Tudor style. The castle's valuable collection of porcelain includes examples from Dresden and Meissen, Davenport tableware and items dating from the Chinese Ming dynasty, as well as portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds. It's also worth having a look at the collection of Victorian coaches, prams and bathing machines before taking a stroll through the beautiful gardens (one of the trees in the extensive parkland is said to mark the spot where James II was fatally wounded by a bullet during a siege of the castle in 1460).

Hours: 10:30am-5pm (Apr-Oct)

Admission: Adults, £8.50; Children (5-16), £4.50; Families, £22.50

Location: Kelso, Roxburghshire

Official site: www.roxburghe.net/castle

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