15 Top-Rated Day Trips from Edinburgh
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As hard as it might be to pull yourself away from the many rewarding things to do in Edinburgh, the area around this stunningly attractive city is equally worth your time exploring. The region contains many wonderful attractions and historic places to visit. 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 tourist attractions in the area, and all are waiting to be explored.
Plan your adventures with this list of the best day trips from Edinburgh.
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1. Stirling Castle
About 45 minutes from Edinburgh by direct train, the town of Stirling is a popular destination for tourists for its spectacular 12th-century castle. Stirling Castle stands above the town at the top of a 76-meter volcanic crag and has played an important role in Scotland's history. Highlights include the Great Hall, built for James IV in 1503 and an impressive medieval structure. Be sure to also allow time to explore the lovely Queen Anne Gardens adjacent to the castle.
Stirling is also the site of two major Scottish victories over the English, the first in 1314 when Robert the Bruce defeated them at the Battle of Bannockburn. It was also here that William Wallace defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Both battles are explored at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, and Wallace is commemorated by the impressive Wallace Monument just outside of town.
You can visit the castle and enjoy a guided nature walk in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park on the full-day Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh.
Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling
Official site: www.stirlingcastle.scot
2. Loch Lomond and the West Highlands Castles
Legendary Loch Lomond, Scotland's largest freshwater loch, is situated at the southern end of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. This beautiful loch is a center for boating and other water sports, and the gateway to the beautiful West Highlands. Here, among the hills and rugged Breadalbane Mountains, you'll find a number of historic castles, including Inveraray Castle. The seat of the Dukes of Argyll, Inveraray was built in the mid-18th century on the foundations of a medieval fortress.
Movie buffs may recognize Doune Castle as the filming location for Monty Python and The Holy Grail. You can see these and the romantic ruins of Kilchurn Castle, along with Loch Lomond, Loch Awe, and several others on the West Highland Lochs and Castles Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh. As you travel by coach, your guide will relate the history and legends of the area, along with details about the castles and the families that have lived in them.
3. Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands
By far the best-known of Scotland's fabled lochs is Loch Ness, reputed home of the sea serpent, Nessie. Filling the deep geological fissure known as the Great Glen, Loch Ness is 37 kilometers long (with a depth of 227 meters), with mountains rising steeply from its banks. It's one of the loveliest places to visit in all Scotland, and hour-long boat trips from Fort Augustus and Inverness reveal magnificent views of the Scottish Highlands' rocky peaks, as well as views of the romantic ruins of Urquhart Castle.
Tours to Great Glen, such as the 12-hour Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Highlands Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh, stop in atmospheric Glencoe, scene of the massacre of the MacDonald clan in 1692. The tour promises a day of exceptional scenery through the Highlands, a region of high mountains and rock-strewn ridges.
4. Outlander Film Locations Day Trip
A popular organized tour for day-trippers and TV-viewers alike, the Outlander film locations day trip is a great option for Edinburgh-based tourists. Departing Highland Explorer Tours' central Edinburgh office at 8:45am, your adventure takes in some of the area's most spectacular scenery, as well as top places to visit that starred in the hit TV show.
Along the way, a professional guide shares not just the real history of these locations, but anecdotes about the fictional locations they represent, along with stories about the show's imaginary characters.
Tourist attractions you'll see along the way include Doune Castle, a well-preserved medieval fortress that stood in for Castle Leoch. Also included are the quaint village of Culross, called Cranesmuir in the series, and the town of Falkirk, which was used to film the wartime scenes of Inverness. Other highlights include visits to Linlithgow Palace, Aberdour, and Midhope Castle. A souvenir map and free Wi-Fi on the coach are included.
5. Linlithgow Palace
Set in an attractive lakeside location, Linlithgow Palace — a star of the hit Outlander TV series — is famous as the birthplace of Mary Stuart in 1542. The gatehouse on the east front still bears the royal coat-of-arms. The long Great Hall gives some idea of the palace's splendor, and guides can point out the location of the room, far above, where the future queen was born. You can also walk the castle's ramparts and explore its towers.
In the pleasant little village of Linlithgow, you'll find historic St. Michael's Church and some lovely 16th-century houses. Nearby Cairnpapple Hill is a prehistoric site dating to 3000 BC. 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.
Address: Kirkgate, Linlithgow
6. St. Andrews and Fife
Although the name St. Andrews is hallowed to golfers, you don't have to play golf to appreciate this old university town in Fife, north of Edinburgh. Along with several courses and the British Golf Museum, there are the haunting ruins of the 12th-century cathedral and the picturesque St. Andrew's Castle on a promontory overlooking the North Sea. Parts of it date to the 13th century, when it was home to the archbishop.
On the St. Andrews and Fife Small Group Day Trip from Edinburgh, you can travel here by minivan with a guide and have plenty of time to explore St. Andrews. You can also use your complimentary card for discounts at local restaurants, shops, and attractions. On the way back to Edinburgh, the tour visits the fishing villages of East Neuk and Falkland, where you'll see the imposing Falkland Palace.
7. National Mining Museum Scotland
The National Mining Museum Scotland is located about 16 kilometers south of Edinburgh at the Lady Victoria Colliery, one of the best preserved Victorian Collieries in Europe. Considered one of the best mines to visit in Scotland, it opened in 1894 and ceased production in 1981.
The museum traces the developments in mining the prolific Scottish coalfields over several generations. Of greatest historical interest is the Grant-Richie winding engine once used to lift coal from a depth of almost 1,640 feet. 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. Fun pithead tours are available.
Another interesting mining-related attraction is Prestongrange Museum a few miles west of Edinburgh. Its underground gallery offers a fascinating glimpse into the tough life of a miner. Another great place to visit is the quaint former mining village of Roslin, just five miles south of Edinburgh.
Address: Newtongrange, Midlothian
Official site: http://nationalminingmuseum.com
8. Melrose Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel
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. What remains makes an impressive sight, including the ornate stonework and carvings of gargoyles 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).
A day trip to Melrose Abbey is easily combined with a visit to the fascinating and enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel, brought to wide public attention for its role in the hit movie, The Da Vinci Code. The unusual stone carvings are the subject of a lot of speculation, and the chapel is reputed to have strong association with the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. Whatever its true history, the chapel is a beautiful place.
You can visit both the abbey and chapel, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hadrian's Wall, on the Rosslyn Chapel and Hadrian's Wall Small Group Day Tour from Edinburgh. Built almost 2,000 years ago to defend the northern border of the Roman Empire from the warlike Picts, the wall stretches for 73 miles. The tour visits the best preserved of the wall's forts, at Housesteads Fort in Northumberland National Park, where you can walk along one of the wall's most photogenic sections.
Address: Abbey Street, Melrose
9. Holy Island and Alnwick Castle
Edinburgh is close enough to the English border to make a day trip along the beautiful coast of Northumberland possible. The highlight of this rugged coast is Holy island, a mystical place with a long history, reached from the mainland only at low tide across a narrow sandbar. Sitting at the top of a steep hill is Lindisfarne Castle. The castle was built in the 1500s, using stones from the priory that was founded here in 635 by Saint Aidan, who came from the Scottish island of Iona.
The Holy Island is not far from Alnwick Castle. Often called the "Windsor of the North" for its imposing towers and opulent interiors, it was used as a location for scenes from Downton Abbey and the Harry Potter films. Along with the sumptuous interior, you can tour the magnificent gardens, among the finest in England. The most unusual features here are the poison garden and the beautiful cascade fountain. (Check for opening times during the shoulder season, as the castle does close over the winter months.)
You can visit both these places easily in one day on the Holy Island, Alnwick Castle, and Northumberland Tour from Edinburgh. This exciting day trip includes travel by coach from the city with a guide who can explain the history of both sites. The nine-hour excursion offers plenty of time to explore Lindisfarne and Alnwick Castle and gardens.
Address: Alnwick, Northumberland
Official site: www.alnwickcastle.com
10. Crichton Castle
Perched atop a hill overlooking the River Tyne and just 12 miles east of Edinburgh stands Crichton Castle. 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. If visiting, be sure to keep an eye out for the castle's ghost.
Another nearby castle worth a visit is Lauriston Castle, located just four miles northwest of Edinburgh. Highlights of a visit to this picturesque tower house dating from the 1500s include its beautiful gardens. This is one of the top free things to do in southern Scotland. You'll find here a delightful Japanese garden, along with spectacular views over the Firth of Forth.
There are also a number of easy woodland trails to follow, a special treat in spring when the bluebells are in bloom. The on-site café is also worth visiting.
Address: Crichton, Pathhead
11. Dalmeny House and Hopetoun House
Just eight miles northwest of Edinburgh in Queensferry stands Dalmeny House. Set overlooking the Firth of Forth, it's famous for its Tudor Gothic style, valuable art treasures — including 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, as well as 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.
Address: South Queensferry
Official site: www.dalmeny.co.uk
12. Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House
At the heart of "Scott's country," as the Borders are sometimes known, lies Abbotsford. Located on the banks of the Tweed, it was here 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. Guided tours of the home and gardens are available, while those wanting to experience a night's stay can do so in one of its luxury accommodations. There's also a great tearoom on-site.
Another historic property in the area is Thirlestane. This 13th-century border fortress was converted into a stately home and boasts splendid wooden ceilings, a collection of old toys, and the Border Country Life Exhibitions. Luxury stays are also available at this castle, too.
Address: Abbotsford, Melrose, Roxburghshire
Official site: www.scottsabbotsford.com
13. 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. Guided tours are also available.
Dryburgh Abbey, just eight miles away from Jedburgh, is another of the Borders' former abbeys. 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.
Address: Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh
14. Kelso and Floors Castle
Walter Scott described Kelso as the "prettiest, if not the most romantic village in Scotland." This attractive market town 10 miles 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 fairy-tale 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. It's also home to a number of important 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. Afterwards, be sure to reserve a spot of tea in the tearoom (book at least 24 hours ahead of your visit).
Address: Roxburghe Estates Office, Kelso
Official site: www.floorscastle.com/
15. National Museum of Flight
The National 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.
Address: East Fortune Airfield, North Berwick
Official site: www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-flight
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Scotland Travel Ideas: Scotland's other big city, Glasgow, also makes a great base from which to enjoy fun day trips. Places to visit in Glasgow itself include its lovely cathedral, its historic school of art, along with its many museum and art galleries. Farther north is the attractive city of Aberdeen, known as the "Flower of Scotland" for its many gardens and parks. The cities of Ayr and Dumfries are also worth including in your Scotland itinerary and are best known for their connections to the country's most famous poet, Robbie Burns.