On my first visit to Edinburgh, I spent a lot of time getting familiar with the city, but after a while I began to crave more and decided to branch out. One of the great things about Edinburgh, or really any big city in the UK, is their railway system. It’s very easy to hop on a train and take a daytrip!
Although Edinburgh is amazing, I highly recommend going beyond Scotland’s capital if you have the time. Here are six charming towns, close to Edinburgh, which I think everyone should visit. All of these places you can easily get to by public transport in 1 hour or less. I’ve left the more obvious choices like Glasgow, or the faraway gems like Aberdeen, off the list. This is by no means the end-all list of places to visit in Scotland but just a few of my personal favorites.
Train: about 30 mins
I’m starting with the place I couldn’t bear to leave behind on my last trip to Scotland. North Berwick is a cute seaside town, located north-east of Edinburgh, surrounded by gorgeous pastoral countryside. What makes it especially stunning is the beautiful coastline with the winding trail that hugs the edge of the cliffs, sometimes dipping towards the sandy beaches.
There is a strange-looking island near North Berwick called Bass Rock, which sits like an iceberg on the horizon and serves as a bird sanctuary for thousands of gannets. In my opinion, you can get the best views of the island from the tall ruins of Tantallon Castle, a 14th century fortress. Also, make sure not to miss the Berwick Law, a huge hill overlooking the town, which is home to a group of free-roaming ponies.
Train: about 50 mins
Stirling is a little bit further away but definitely worth a visit, as it has one of the most important castles in Scotland. Stirling Castle was where several Scottish Kings and Queens were crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s fun to explore all the different connecting halls and passageways, or take in some of the beautiful views from the parapets that look out onto the rest of the town and countryside. Stirling Castle is probably one of my favorite castles in Scotland. Be sure to also check out the medieval old town that leads up to the castle!
Train: about 30 mins
Aberdour is a quiet escape, right across the water from Edinburgh. Your first stop in Aberdour should be the ruins of Aberdour Castle, which date back to the 12th century. You can explore the beautiful terraced grounds, walk through the apple orchards, or relax in the flower garden courtyard — if you brought lunch, the grounds are a great place for a picnic. Don’t miss the nearby St.Fillan’s Church on your way out, which is just as old as the castle.
One of my favourite walks was along the coastline, starting at Silver Sands beach and going to the Black Sands beach. You pass through a wooded park, over a cliff with amazing views onto the waters of the Firth of Forth, past the harbour and into the town. Give yourself a little bit of time to wander around the town as well, its got some fun and quirky shops — my main regret was not having a chance to visit a shop called “Mystique Moments and The Green Witch”!
Train: about 20 mins
The strange metallic spires of St. Michael’s Church can be easily spotted from afar. Beside the church sits Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Exploring the palace ruins is like wandering around a maze — so much of the 14th century palace is still intact, the hallways and spiral staircases, and the amazing fountain in the middle of the courtyard. At the foot of the palace is the Linlithgow Loch, where you can stroll along the water and see all kinds of birds. If you like biking, you can rent a bike from the train station and checkout the pathway along the Union Canal, which stretches from Edinburgh to Falkirk.
Train: about 30 mins
Dunfermline is one of the larger towns on this list, but it still retains a relaxed charm. There’s a lot to see, from the ruins of the Dunfermline Palace to the Abbey where Robert the Bruce, one of the most famous Kings of Scotland, is buried. To get to the Palace and Abbey from the train station, I highly recommend walking through the river glen part of Pittencrieff Park, which is full of fairy-tale imagery — tiny grottos, waterfalls, arched bridges and winding steps.
The town itself is nice to walk through, especially the pedestrian High Street, but for a unique lunch experience I recommend circling back towards the Abbey. Beside the Abbey is a bright pink heritage building called Abbot House, where you can have lunch while sitting in their quiet garden courtyard.
Train and Bus: about 1 hour
The last town on my list is the royal burgh of Culross, which you can get to by taking the train to Dunfermline and then hopping onto a bus. I think the extra bit of travel is well worth the effort because Culross is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen. Stepping onto the cobblestone streets of Culross feels like stepping back in time. The town is best known for its mustard yellow 16th century Culross Palace. Several parts of the Culross were used as filming locations for the show “Outlander”, a story about a woman falling back in time to the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. It’s not a big town, but there’s plenty to see and I recommend taking one of the walking tours offered by the National Trust of Scotland.