Most first time visitors to Edinburgh will find it hard to imagine ever wanting to leave the city, but for those who always like to venture a little further afield—or those arriving in August and simply seeking a little respite from the full-on festival fervor that swamps the city—there’s no shortage of day trips from Edinburgh to be made by bus or train.
Once you’ve mined Edinburgh’s rich seam of history, you might also want to compare Edinburgh Castle with Stirling Castle as one of your day trips from Edinburgh. Comfortably one of Britain’s finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings, extensive work has recently restored it to its full mid 16th century pomp, complete with James V’s colorful and elaborate Palace, festooned with hundreds of stone carvings and a fully functioning tapestry weaving workshop. Nearby you’ll find the William Wallace Monument, which you might notice bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Hollywood movie star who once immortalized the great Scottish warrior in Braveheart.
Taking a train further north into Perthshire will bring you through the heart of the ‘Big Tree Country,’ a key source of inspiration behind the Disney Pixar blockbuster Brave. Stop off at Dunkeld & Birnham station, which is just a few kilometers to the Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve. One of 120 Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves, here you can watch a pair of nesting Ospreys, see the beautiful mating dance of the Great Crested Grebes from the Hides or watch the red squirrels and dozens of woodland birds through the observation windows in the Visitor Centre.
Just a few stops from Edinburgh on a northbound train is South Queensferry. The coastal town’s landscape is dominated by the extraordinary feat of engineering that is the Forth Railway Bridge, the world’s first major steel bridge. Its construction in the 1880s claimed the lives of 57 men and it’s still an awe-inspiring sight today.
The town’s quiet streets reward wanderers but during the summer months you should definitely treat yourself to a boat trip across the Firth of Forth on the Maid of Forth to the 13th century Abbey on Inchcolm Island, Scotland’s best preserved Monastic building. You might even spot a curious grey seal, or schools of porpoise, dolphin or even minke whales on the journey.
Probably East Lothian’s most refined seaside resort, North Berwick is an easy 30 minute ride from Edinburgh Waverley, with the very elegant Victorian Lodge Grounds and War Memorial Gardens opposite the Esplanade and a maze of streets full of charming cafes and gift shops selling good quality local arts and crafts. The town’s star attraction is undoubtedly the Scottish Seabird Centre, from where you can spy on thousands varieties of seabirds and sea mammals remotely, without disturbing them, or take a boat out to the Isle of May or the Bass Rock, a popular fixture on BBC’s Springwatch programme, and home to a 150,000 strong colony of Gannets, the world’s largest.
Just a little way further down the East Lothian coast—and forty five minutes from Edinburgh by train—is Dunbar, a sleepy fishing village with an attractive working harbor. Dunbar has no major attractions as such, but the rugged coastline is reason enough to visit, being particularly unspoiled and great for long walks on a stretch of the John Muir Way and leisurely rounds of golf with a spectacular rugged backdrop. After all that, you’ll have earned yourself a great plate of fish and chips at the large beer garden of the Rocks Hotel with an enviable view directly overlooking the dramatic cliffs below—one of the many benefits of taking day trips from Edinburgh.
Whisper it, but while many Edinburghers may cry ‘sacrilege’, Scotland’s other city is well worth the 40 minute train ride. Glasgow feels significantly different from Edinburgh – brash, dynamic, teeming with great nightlife, live music, quirky independent shops, art students and other creative types.
It may not be as pretty, but there is enough handsome architecture if you look for it, being a major centre of British Art Nouveau, evidenced by Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art and the Lighthouse. It’s also home to possibly Scotland’s best museum and gallery, and a strong contender for even the British Museum’s crown, Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, which is well worth reserving a good half day to fully explore during one of your day trips from Edinburgh.