14 Top-Rated Day Trips from Edinburgh
As hard as it might be to pull yourself away from the many rewarding things to 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 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:
1 Stirling Castle
About 45 minutes from Edinburgh by direct train, the town of Stirling is a popular destination for tourists because of the spectacular 12th-century Stirling Castle. Standing above the town at the top of a 76-meter volcanic crag, Stirling Castle has played an important role in Scotland's history. Stirling is also the site of two major Scottish victories, the first in 1314 when Robert the Bruce defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. It was also where 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 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.
2 Loch Lomond and the West Highlands Castles
Legendary Loch Lomond is Scotland's largest freshwater loch, at the southern end of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. The 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 fat 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 mountains rising steeply from its banks. It's one of the loveliest places in all Scotland, and hour-long boat trips from Fort Augustus 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 Linlithgow Palace
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 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 walk the castle's ramparts and explore its towers. In the pleasant little village of Linlithgow, you'll find the 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.
5 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, using 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.
6 National Mining Museum and the Lady Victoria Colliery
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. The mine, which opened in 1895 and ceased production in 1981, 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 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.
Address: Newtongrange, Midlothian
7 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. 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).
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 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.
8 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. You can visit both these places easily in one day on the Holy Island, Alnwick Castle, and Northumberland Tour from Edinburgh, traveling 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.
9 Crichton Castle
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).
10 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.
11 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.
Address: Abbotsford, Melrose, Roxburghshire
12 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.
Address: Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh
13 Kelso and 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).
14 Museum of Flight
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.
Address: East Fortune Airfield, North Berwick