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Article contributed by Tracey Hastie of Travel, Linger, Relax
Edinburgh. From the castle at the top of the Royal Mile, down to the palace at the bottom, every cobblestone has stories to tell. The grey stone of the old town is soaked through with years of history.
But what happens if you’re in Edinburgh for more than a few days, or you’ve visited a number of times before, or you just want to get away from the crush of the festival for a wee while? You may want to venture further afield to soak up more of Scotland’s charms.
What you need is a day trip out of the city. This guide will take you to 3 day trips from Edinburg, Scotland for easy to access locations to introduce you to more history, a deeper experience and some local hangouts you would never find on your own.
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Day Trips From Edinburg #1: In Search of Castles
Love your castles and Scottish history? Then you will love Stirling. Easily accessible by train from Waverly Train Station, in the town centre, it will take you only about 40 mins and cost just over £10 per adult for an off peak return.
Stirling Castle is like Edinburgh Castle in miniature. Just like Edinburgh, it towers above the town, standing on a high promontory, known as Castle Rock, looking out over the flat fields that surround it. You may need to take a breather after the steep hike up the cobbled lane leading up to the Castle.
Once inside, Enjoy the grandeur of the Hogwartseque Grand Hall, restored into its 16th Century glory, the largest of its kind ever built in Scotland. As you continue the tour enjoy the fun costumed interpreters who will fill you in on the history you are seeing.
Before you leave enjoy a stroll around the gardens and don’t forget to look over the wall down to the Kings Knot Garden. Known by locals as the teacup because of its 3 metre raised centre knoll, the garden was actually designed for King Charles 1st, and formed part of the Royals hunting grounds since the 12th century. These days it’s a favourite spot of local dog walkers.
If you like old graveyards there is a pretty cool old one next to the castle, have a wander on your way back into town.
Where else can you get your history geek on in Stirling?
Well, not one, but TWO of the most famous battles in Scottish history took place here. After lunch head out to the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, only 2 miles from the city centre and a number of buses go past: the 24, 54A and X39.
Battle of BannockBurn
The famous Battle of Bannockburn took place on the 23rd and 24th of June 1314 and was a victory for Robert the Bruce over the English. Learn all about it in the heritage centre. Entry is £11.50 per adult.
The museum is super cool. It uses interactive digital technology to bring the battle to life, including a 3D projection of the actual battle.
You can try your hand at being a commander as you take charge of the battle, interact with various knights and soldiers before watching Robert the Bruce’s victory over the English. You can then take a walk in the grounds, no doubt reliving all you have just seen.
After that, head back into town to the Wallace Monument. Here is a tribute to William Wallace – yes, he of Braveheart fame. However, don’t quote the film to locals. Deciding factors for the Scots defeat of the English that day were the river crossing, the bridge collapse and the difficulties of a mounted cavalry amidst copious mud! For reasons known only to himself, director Mel Gibson left out this crucial information in the blockbuster film!
The monument is a 19th Century tribute to the 13th Century Scottish hero. Climb the 246 stairs to experience a panoramic 360 degree view of Stirling. Cost to enter is £10.50 per adult and includes a museum which houses the sword of Wallace himself. Pretty cool!
And lastly on this trip into Scotland’s violent history, you can hop off the bus on the way back to town and walk across the new old bridge. Built to replace a succession of timber bridges, including the one that collapsed during the battle of Stirling Bridge, this ‘new’ model was built between the 15th and 16th century. Stand and take a photo on the spot where history was actually made.
Day Trips From Edinburg #2: In Search of History
A day out to St Andrews will delight you in that it is the cutest little town, filled with boutique shops and enticing places to eat. But it is also crammed full of Scottish history. Just over an hour by train to the nearest stop at Leuchars, then an easy bus ride into town, St Andrews is easily accessible from Edinburgh.
Most people associate St Andrews as the home of golf. Home to the world’s oldest championship golf course, aptly named ‘Old Course,’ if golf is your thing you will love a day trip here. There are 7 golf courses to choose from. A word of warning though, you can’t just turn up and expect to play.
If you want to play the Old Course be prepared to book up to a year in advance. Because of the staggering amount of people who want to play, half the tee times go in a ballot and you will be notified 48hrs beforehand if you win!
Also, it’s not cheap. Playing the oldest course in the world will set you back around £180. But worth every penny if you are an enthusiast who wants to walk in the very steps of golfing legends.
And if you’re not an avid golfer, it’s still a lovely walk over the course.
St Andrews is also known for it’s university. Founded in 1412 it is the oldest university in UK and 3rd oldest in English speaking world. It found more recent fame as being where the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge met whilst attending uni here.
Be aware that it is still a university town and therefore you may find a different vibe depending if you visit in or out of the uni year. As a student town you won’t be short of a pub or 2 to choose from.
St Andrews Castle has a mixed and violent history. It was central to the struggles of the reformation, has been a place for archbishops and a state prison! It also has a secret tunnel that is still open for you to walk through – fun! Though it’s not recommended if you get at all claustrophobic.
Entrance fee is £9
It seems like St Andrews has almost as many ruins as Rome, walk around a corner and stumble across yet another.
Stroll around the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, free to enter (£5 if you want to go into the museum). The cathedral was once the seat of bishops and has been a site of worship since as far back as the 8th century.
Get your Instagram on with the iconc photo of the ruins viewed through St Rule’s Tower. You can still climb the 33 m high tower for incredible views out over the town and the North Sea.
For more atmospheric ruins to wander on to find Blackfriars Chapel. Directly off one of the main streets in St Andrews, the chapel is a rare remnant of an example of a Domincan Friary, built in the 1520’s it barely lasted 40 years before being destroyed in the Reformation struggles of the era.
If that’s enough history for one day, it’s time to stop for an ice-cream. But not just any old ice-cream. Multi-award winning ice cream at Janetta’s Gelateria. Every guide to St Andrews raves about this place and quite rightly so. A local institution since 1908, go try out the variety of flavours on offer. You won’t be disappointed.
Take your ice-cream and head over to West Sand for a final walk of the day. The long sandy beach was the location for the opening scenes in the film, ‘Chariots of Fire’. At 2 miles long when the tide is out you can let any cobwebs be blown away.
Day Trips From Edinburg #3: In Search of Beaches
If you don’t want to venture far out of Edinburgh to get your beach on, you can head to Portobello. Once a day tripping destination for Edinburgh’s elite, it now forms an outer suburb. You can easily get there by bus, numbers 126, 26 and X15 frequently leave from the town centre, taking only around 15 – 20 mins to arrive.
It has the traditional UK promenade, complete with tacky slot machines and candy floss stalls, but the sand is award-winning and clean. Expect it to be very busy on warm, sunny days – everyone else in Edinburgh probably had the same idea as you.
The beach often holds events so check out before you travel in case anything is on. You wouldn’t want to miss the Big Beach Busk for example, which is usually at the end of Edinburgh Festival in August, (their FB page will have details).
Beaches you can access by train
You can easily get to North Berwick by train from Edinburgh Waverly station. It takes approx. 30 mins and only costs £7.30 return.
North Berwick is a lovely town, with a great mix of independent shops and cafes. It also has a great little harbour and a good long stretch of beach that extends beyond the town and houses.
The East Beach is dog friendly at the far end year round, but by the town only out of season. There is a natural paddling pool for little ones that is formed during low tide. West Beach has houses that back onto the beach, a number of them have stairs down to the sands which are only accessible at low tide.
You can take a boat ride out to Craigleith Island, home to the ‘Puffin Project’ and Bass Rock which is home to the world’s largest Gannet population. Sit David Attenborough has described Bass Rock as ‘one of the wildlife wonders of the world.’
The Seafari is the best fun. For £32 they provide the waterproofs as you take a high speed ride out and back, slowing to view the birds at each destination. The boat hugs the shore on the return journey to give you a unique view of Tantallon Castle (yes, more castles!)
Hire a Car
To get to the best of the best beaches however, you would be best to hire a car for the day. Local hangouts aren’t always as easily accessible by public transport and it can take a while to get there. The following beaches are fantastic and definitely worth checking out. Bear in mind they are all dog friendly year round.
Scottish Beaches with Dunes
If you want a better experience of Scottish beaches, complete with sand dunes though, you are going to have to head a bit further.
If you do want to venture to Gullane by bus, take the 124 or X24 from the town and get off at Goose Green and turn to walk down Sandy Loan to reach the beach. Expect the bus to take approx. 1 and ½ hrs and cost £7.50 return. There is no train station at Gullane.
Driving will take just over half an hour.
Gullane is another golf town famous for its links courses. However, it also has a great beach.
There is a carpark in Gullane Bents at the top of the beach with a wooden walkway leading down through the dunes to reach the beach. There is a toilet block and a water pipe. In the good weather you will probably find an ice-cream van selling cold refreshment.
The beach is popular for windsurfing, kite flying and the odd sandsurfer too. All of which suggest it could get a tad breezy here.
The beach is backed by dunes along its length for that traditional Scottish feel. The water is super clean. Gullane is a good solid choice for a great beach day out.
If you would like a walk tagged onto your beach day, there is a lovely walk along the coast to the next village: Aberlady. It even sounds cute doesn’t it! On a clear day you will be able to see the Forth rail Bridge and Arthur’s Seat in the distance. The distance is roughly 6kmm one way.
If you took the bus to Gullane you could walk the whole distance and pick up the same bus in Aberlady for your return to Edinburgh.
There’s not much in the choice of eating options in Gullane, heading back into town before dinner would be a good idea.
Yellowcraigs Beach is a hidded gem. Lots of locals know about and love this beach, so don’t expect it to be quiet on a busy day. It’s very popular with families as it has great facilities. Along with a toilet block you will find a BBQ area, a nature trail and a woodland walk.
Access by car to Yellowcraig beach is by the A198 coastal route through Dirleton, a visitor car park lies 270 metres south of the beach. Keep change to pay for the carpark.
The beach itself is beautiful soft yellow sand bordered by dunes in a natural bay. It has views over Fida Island, rumoured to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic ‘Treasure Island.’
Just over an hour south of Edinburgh, on the A1, is the tiny hamlet of Coldingham with the award winning beach Coldingham Bay. This idyllic spot is a natural bay lined on the north side by colourful beach huts and on the south by towering cliffs ideal for walks.
Coldingham is very popular with families, it has toilets a café during summer season and lots of rockpools to explore at low tide.
The village itself has a good choice of eateries for somewhere so small with lots of local pubs.
The last beach on this extensive list is Cocklawburn. No longer in Scotland, it is just over the border, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It should take approx. 1hr 15mins to drive there along the A1. Follow signs for the turn off on the left just after the 2nd roundabout at the bottom of the Berwick bypass.
This is the beach to head for is you want complete tranquility. There are no facilities at this beach, though you could stock up easily in Berwick.
When you turn off follow the road until the very end. As in until you can go no further. You will pass cross over a railway line and see lots of little parking spots and think you are passing the beach. You aren’t.
At the very end of the road is a small parking area. Walk through the kissing gate and over the field to the stile. Hop over and descend to the beach. Walk around the bluff and Cocklawburn beach will spread before you in all its glory.
The beach literally runs for miles along the east coast. You could walk as far as Bamburgh or to Holy Island.
Because it’s a little further to carry everything you need for a family day out, you tend to get very few of them. You may be lucky and find that you have the beach to yourself – this is not an uncommon experience and even on the busiest of days, the beach is vast enough not to feel crowded.
One thing to be wary of if you walk a good distance: the tide. It comes right up to the dunes for quite a way along the beach. You can walk back along the top of the dunes, but it is quite hard going. So better to keep an eye out and be safe.
British Fish ‘n’ Chips to End the Day
The only way to end a day at the beach is to have a take-out of traditional British fish ‘n’ chips. If you are travelling back up from Cocklawburn, pop into Eyemouth and follow the road to the harbour. There you’ll find the excellent chip shop, Giacopazzis, (20 Harbour Road), that also sells great ice-cream – bonus! If you walk up to the end of the harbour to eat there’s often a large seal hanging about. He’s obviously worked out tourists = food and is often to be found at high tide.
So there you have it: 3 great days out around Edinburg
If these don’t appeal there are many tour companies that will head north for the day. Rabbie’s Tours include a wide range of days out and come highly recommended. Choose between an epic drive up past Loch Ness and into the Highlands, whisky or gin tours, or go south into the Scottish Borders.
It’s sure, wherever you choose to roam, you’ll continue to be charmed by the delights and welcome that Scotland has to offer. What are you going in search of? Let us know in the comments!