Strolling amongst the cobbled streets and steep wynds of Edinburgh, unless you're looking out from atop Arthur's Seat, it's easy to forget that the Scottish capital is also home to breathtaking stretches of silvery sands and dramatic coastal views which can give travelers a completely new perspective on the city.

Only a few miles to the northeast, where the Firth of Forth spills out into the North Sea, many a hardy traveler can find sterling sweeps of sand from Forth Bridge, all the way to North Berwick. These are the seven best beaches to visit from Edinburgh.

Colorful row of houses on Edinburgh's Portobello Beach. Scotland
Colorful houses on the beachfront at Edinburgh's Portobello Beach, a local favorite © Ulmus Media / Shutterstock

Portobello Beach

Best beach for activities

A 20-minute bus ride from the city center, Portobello Beach is the local's favorite. Located on the eastern outskirts of the city, the quaint high street drops straight down to the curved promenade via steep cobbled alleys. Enjoy a coastal stroll in between the soft sand and elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture that runs the full length of the seafront.

Brave Scots swim in the sea all year-round. There are also kayaks, windsurfing equipment and boats available to rent here. If the water is too cold for a dip, try the Portobello Swim Centre, a wonderful 19th-century swimming pool designed in a Scottish Renaissance-Queen Anne style.

Portobello is also renowned for some fantastic restaurants, so once you’re suitably exhausted, stop off at The Beach House for some homemade food – their ingredients are mainly sourced from their own vegetable garden – and a warming coffee. If the weather’s fine, snag a table on the promenade for unrivalled views of the bay that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Beautiful landscape with vegetation, sand shore, North Sea and dramatic blue cloudy sky. View from Cramond island, Cramond beach, Edinburgh, Scotland
Blessed with beautiful landscapes and dramatic North Sea views, Cramond Beach is a good spot for walking © denisa_lula/ Shutterstock

Cramond Beach

Best for coastal walks

If you’re looking for somewhere to stretch your legs, Cramond Beach is another coastal patch easily accessible via 45-minute bus routes from the city center. The beach, a former fishing village, is only 0.3 miles (0.48km) long, but it is backed by nearly 20 acres (8.09 hectares) of well-trodden paths zigzagging through grassy knolls and coastal dunes, offering a variety of routes to explore.

If you visit at low tide, when the beach’s rippled sand reveals wildlife that’s usually hidden beneath white-tipped waves, it’s possible to walk along a causeway to a tiny island that’s home to various species of seabirds and crustaceans. The rock pools teem with life here too. Look out for clams, crabs and oysters taking refuge amongst the seaweed-covered crags.

Check the tide times ahead of your visit as they come in quickly and can leave people stranded.

The boats is parked at the pier, North Berwick
Families will enjoy North Berwick a bustling seaside town with plenty to see and do © MooNam StockPhoto/ Shutterstock

North Berwick

Best for families

A 30-minute train from Edinburgh, North Berwick has plenty of activities to keep you busy for an entire day. From pitch-and-putt on the beachfront to a raft of independent shops and cafes found inside the whitewashed buildings, this East Lothian resort captivates visitors before they even reach the sand.

The beach itself runs the full length of the bustling seaside town, so you’re never far from the crashing waves. The variety of things to do makes it a perfect day-trip for families, with an interactive seabird centre to encourage them to learn about coastal conservation and delicious treats to keep everyone full of energy. For a proper seaside supper, stop off at North Berwick Fry for fish and chips where the whole family is welcome including dogs!

Yellowcraig Beach

Best beach for wildlife

At any beach in Edinburgh, you should be on guard for seagulls trying to steal your chips. However, it’s the wildlife you want to see, then get your cameras ready at Yellowcraig Beach.

Gannets can be seen diving at 90mph (145kph) overhead and there’s a protected puffin colony that’s growing every year at the nearby Bass Rock. Keep your eyes on the waves during their migration seasons and you might spot dolphins (MayOctober) or a rare pod of minke whales (JuneAugust).

Yellowcraig Beach is a 40-minute drive east of Edinburgh, just shy of North Berwick. You can also reach it directly using the 124 bus in less than 90 minutes, with a short walk down the flat, rock-strewn beach.

Seacliff beach near Edinburgh at sunset
A bit further afield, the smooth sands of Seacliff Beach make it a perfect spot for a beach picnic © Karen Deakin / Shutterstock

Seacliff Beach

Best beach for picnics

Nothing beats a beach picnic, so head to Mimi’s Little Bakery in Edinburgh for a cream tea to-go (and enough sweet treats to feed an army) and then to Valvona & Crolla for meats, pickles, and freshly-baked bread, before heading to Seacliff Beach. An hour’s drive from Edinburgh, this is one of the smallest and quietest coastal spots near the capital. The clear waters are sheltered by the hooked end of the beach, so the smooth sands are left free from seaweed and driftwood.

While here pay a visit to the ruins of Tantallon Castle, standing above Bass Rock’s jutting position off the coast. The grounds of the castle are free to visit, but paying the £3.60 to climb to the top of the 17th-century stone towers is well worth it for the 360-degree views of grassy cliffs and the foamy sea below.

Gullane Beach

Best for wild camping

Wake up to the sound of the waves by wild camping on Gullane Beach. Avoid the wind by bagging a spot protected by the sloping sand dunes, but don’t go so far that you don’t wake up to gorgeous views of the Firth of Forth to the west.

Although there aren’t any on-site facilities, the nearby village has public toilets that you can use for free to freshen up after a night on the sand. Of course it goes without saying, you need to be prepared to be a responsible wild camper. Leave no trace: take all your litter and properly extinguish any fires. The car park is just £2 for all-day and overnight parking, so you can keep your vehicle nearby with all your supplies for a worry-free camp under the stars.

Bass rock off North Berwick at end of September white colour is thousands of gannets.
Bass rock off North Berwick is home to thousands of gannets and a growing puffin population ©Bryan McComb/Getty Images

St Abbs

Best beach for boating

Film fans might recognize St Abbs as New Asgard from Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame when Professor Hulk and Rocket go to recruit Thor for their mission back in time, but there’s plenty to see in the quaint fishing village (even if you’re not there to find the God of Thunder). Boat trips head out several times a day, every day of the week, so you can see the Scottish coastline from the buffeting waves.

Get yet another angle by climbing to the top of St Abbs Head, a chalky cliff that looks out over the village below. It’s just a 30-minute climb from the village, offering you panoramic vistas of the chalk cliffs to the north that are home to hundreds of seabirds, or the colorful toy-like houses in the village of St Abbs to the south. 

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