Edinburgh is famous for its world-class architecture, the biggest arts festival on earth, and some of Europe's most outstanding parks, museums, and city walks. Less well known is that Scotland’s historic capital is also perfectly placed for exploring a wealth of local gems. From snooping around ancient palaces to sailing to an uninhabited island to go puffin-watching, here are some of the best days out from Edinburgh.
Search for clues in a world-famous chapel
Just seven miles south of Edinburgh lies the peaceful village of Roslin, home to the late Gothic Rosslyn Chapel, made world-famous by The Da Vinci Code. Often described as ‘a bible in stone’ thanks to its ornate carvings and detailed sculptures, the chapel sits on the fringe of Roslin Glen, a stunning gorge rising from the banks of the North Esk river surrounded by ancient woodland and the ruins of Roslin Castle.
Roslin is also famed for being the birthplace of Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep, created at Roslin Institute in 1997, and there’s a good gastropub, the Original Rosslyn Inn, for a post-exploring lunch.
Get there From Edinburgh city centre take the Lothian 37 bus from Princes Street or North Bridge. The journey takes around 45 minutes.
Experience engineering feats and mythical marine animals
The 30m-tall Kelpies, mythical water-dwelling, horse-like creatures, were created by Scottish artist Andy Scott and are the largest equine sculptures in the world. Surrounding these magnificent silver beasts forged in stainless steel is the Helix, a vast area of parkland featuring 500km of connected paths, a lagoon with canoeing and kayaking, an extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, a playpark, visitor centre and cafe. While you’re in the area don’t pass up the chance to see the Falkirk Wheel, a feat of 21st century engineering and the only rotating boatlift in the world.
Get there 25 minutes by train from Edinburgh Waverley to Falkirk High, then 40 minutes by bus 3 to the Helix.
The Falkirk Wheel is a masterpiece of engineering well worth the trip to Falkirk to see © Benedict Luxmoore / Arcaid Images / Getty Images
Check out the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots
One of the most popular days out from Edinburgh is Linlithgow Palace, where both Mary Queen of Scots (1542) and her father, James V (1512) were born. Now a majestic ruin overlooking an extensive park beside Linlithgow Loch, the royal palace was constructed over two centuries by Stewart kings before eventually being burnt by a great fire in 1746. Explore the palace and grounds, have a picnic by the loch, and enjoy the splendid views from Queen Margaret’s Bower to the Forth bridges.
Getting there Regular trains run from Edinburgh Waverley to Linlithgow. The Palace is ten minutes walk from the station.
Lochside ruins and a regal past at Linlithgow Palace © Florian Werner / LOOK-foto / Getty Images
Discover modern sculpture at an historic manor house
An outstanding sculpture park and art gallery set in the 100 acre estate of 17th-century Bonnington House, Jupiter Artland was a finalist for Museum of the Year in 2016 for good reason. The work is of international standing, with site specific pieces by Charles Jencks, Iain Hamilton Finlay, Phillida Barlow, Anish Kapoor, Cornelia Parker, Nathan Coley, and Andy Goldsworthy strewn across the landscape and hidden in the woodlands. A stellar day out, with a fantastic cafe to boot. Open from May to October.
Getting there Catch a First Bus 27 or X27 from Edinburgh Regent Road or Dalry Road, Haymarket, to Jupiter Artland. They journey takes 35 minutes. Get off at Coxydene/Jupiter Artland bus stop.
Even the gardens are works of art at Jupiter Artland © Helena Smith / Lonely Planet Images
Take a boat to an uninhabited island
Known as ‘the Iona of the east’ due to its similarity to the beautiful Hebridean island on the west coast, Inchcolm is just six miles from Edinburgh and four miles east of the iconic Forth Bridge. Considered the most beautiful of the Firth of Forth islands, it’s famed for its wildlife including seals, puffins, and many other seabirds, a beautiful 12th century abbey that is said to be the best preserved collection of monastic buildings in Scotland, and a fascinating collection of wartime fortifications.
Getting there Take the Maid of the Forth ferry, which runs 3 hour boat trips to Inchcolm including 1.5hrs on the island itself. Sailings depart daily from Hawes Pier in South Queensferry. To get to Hawes Pier catch the frequent train from Edinburgh Waverley to Dalmeny station (South Queensferry). The journey takes 15 minutes.
Atmospheric monastic ruins at Inchcolm Abbey are one of the draws of this picturesque island © alanfin / Getty Images
Enjoy quiet beaches and wonderful walks
East Lothian borders Edinburgh to the east and boasts forty miles of stunning coastline, rolling countryside, the Lammermuir Hills, and some of Scotland’s best links golf courses. Walk or cycle a coastal stretch of the John Muir Way, a 134-mile route starting from Dunbar, where the great conservationist was born in 1838. Beach lovers are spoilt for choice with exceptional sandy beaches at Yellowcraig, which looks out to the 1885 lighthouse on Fidra island that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Gullane Bents, and Tyninghame, accessed through woodland and perfect for wild camping. The seaside town of North Berwick is a must, with incredible views of the Bass Rock, home of the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets, quirky cafes, shops, and Lobster Shack, selling fresh seafood caught off the boats in the harbour.
Getting there Regular trains from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick take 33 minutes. Or hire a car and drive down the coast in 30 minutes, exploring the pretty villages and beaches of Gullane, Yellowcraig, and Tyninghame on the way.
Visit Scotland's other great city
Forget the old rivalry between Scotland’s two major cities: no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to Glasgow. Scotland’s biggest city, which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and won European City of Culture in 1990, is all about great art, music, style, shopping, and warmth. Marvel at the grand Victorian architecture, go shopping on Buchanan Street, eat out in hipster-ville Finnieston, and visit some of the best museums in Scotland: the magnificent Kelvingrove and the futuristic Transport Museum designed by visionary architect Zaha Hadid. It’s well worth staying overnight to experience some of the city’s famed nightlife and music scene too.
Getting there Trains from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street, every 15 minutes, taking 50 minutes.
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