Edinburgh makes a natural starting point for those looking to explore Scotland since the city is packed to the brim with things to do. You can easily spend two days in Edinburgh visiting attractions like Arthur’s Seat, the Royal Mile, and Calton Hill. But if you allow a little longer in the Scottish capital, you then have time for all the other things to see in Scotland outside of Edinburgh, from castles and lochs to national parks. To show you why you should plan an extra day or two in your itinerary, here are some of the best day trips from Edinburgh that will no doubt be a highlight of your trip to Scotland.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Loch Ness
Loch Ness is one of the most famous places in Scotland and, as such, rightly one of the most popular day tours from Edinburgh. With a trip to Loch Ness, travelers can expect to see the beautiful scenery of the Scottish Highlands surrounding this deep Scottish lake and learn the mysteries of the infamous Loch Ness Monster. This is best done with a cruise on the tranquil lake, during which you can keep your eyes peeled for its elusive inhabitant. Visitors can also explore the romantic ruins of Urquhart Castle that overlook Loch Ness and that were once intimately involved in the Wars of Scottish Independence during the 14th century.
Getting there: Loch Ness is a little over three hours by car from Edinburgh but can also be visited as one of several stops on a guided tour of the Scottish Highlands.
2. Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
With gorgeous lochs, untouched forest, and mighty mountains, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is easily one of the best places to visit in Scotland. It was the first national park declared in Scotland, emphasizing its importance, and it’s the fourth largest in the UK. Many of the most popular things to do in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park are outdoor activities, like hiking, cycling, and rock climbing, aided by over 20 hills or mountains that reach 914 meters (3,000 feet) in elevation. But it’s also quite common to head out onto Lake Lomond with a cruise aboard the steamship Sir Walter Scott or independently with canoes and kayaks to see the park’s scenery from a different vantage point.
Getting there: You can reach Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park from Edinburgh by car in around 1.5 hours or hop aboard a guided tour that shows you the park’s most popular spots.
3. Stirling & Falkirk
If you’re just looking for a short trip from Edinburgh, then you really can’t pass up a visit to the nearby city of Stirling and town of Falkirk. Stirling is best known for its impressive castle that dominates the city skyline and is widely recognized as one of the best castles in Scotland. Other monumental landmarks around Stirling include the National Wallace Monument dedicated to the freedom fighter William Wallace and the beautiful medieval architecture of the Church of the Holy Rude. In Falkirk, you’ll find the fantastic modern horse-head sculptures of The Kelpies, the inventive engineering of the Falkirk Wheel, and several filming locations of the TV series Outlander, such as Callendar House.
Getting there: Both Stirling and Falkirk can be reached from Edinburgh by train or car in roughly 45 minutes. It’s also possible to stop at both during a guided tour to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
4. Rosslyn Chapel
Located in the small village of Roslin just south of Scotland’s capital, the gorgeous Rosslyn Chapel is a simple but rewarding Edinburgh day trip. Rosslyn Chapel dates from the 15th century when it was originally intended as a Roman Catholic family church, and it has a lot going for it despite its modest size. Stepping inside the chapel, you’ll find a gorgeous interior full of intricate carved stonework. However, what has really earned the chapel an international reputation are the legends and conspiracy theories tying it to the Knights Templar, the most famous of which is its role as home to the Holy Grail in the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. While visiting Rosslyn Chapel, don’t miss the chance to explore Roslin and see its moody castle ruins.
Getting there: Regular buses run from Edinburgh to Roslin and take 40 minutes, while driving there takes closer to 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can visit Rosslyn Chapel as part of a guided tour covering the Scottish Borders area.
Alongside Edinburgh, Glasgow is the other major well-known city in Scotland that travelers love to visit. Begin with a walk from George Square through the city’s Merchant City district to see how Glasgow differs in atmosphere from Edinburgh. Next, make your way over to the strikingly Gothic Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest building in the city. For a nice outdoor stroll, head to the nearby Glasgow Necropolis, a cemetery full of Victorian-era memorial stones and sculptures. Another great option for somewhere to wander is the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which is home to a wonderful array of plants and the gorgeous greenhouse, Kibble Palace. You can also take your pick of the city’s excellent museums, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Hunterian Art Gallery, and the Riverside Museum.
Getting there: Glasgow is an easy train trip from Edinburgh, with frequent trains making the hour-long journey. Alternatively, you can also visit by car or bus in roughly the same amount of time.
6. St. Andrews
The historic seaside town of St. Andrews is one of the best places to visit from Edinburgh if you want a restful day away. That’s because St. Andrews is famously the birthplace of modern golf and home to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which dates from 1754 and is one of the oldest golf clubs in the world. Besides hitting up the town’s various golf courses, the other golf-themed thing to do in St. Andrews is visit the R&A World Golf Museum, which explores the history of the sport. Not every attraction in this town relates to golf, mind you, with St. Andrews Cathedral and St. Andrews Castle being two fantastic historical landmarks that are not to be missed.
Getting there: Reaching St. Andrews from Edinburgh takes just over one hour by car or two hours by bus. Another option, however, is to go with a guided tour that visits the town among other places in the area of Fife.
7. Cairngorms National Park
For a great day out among Scotland’s epic wilderness, one of the best side trips from Edinburgh you can do is visit Cairngorms National Park. Located in northeast Scotland, the national park covers the impressive Cairngorms mountain range and is actually the current largest national park in the United Kingdom. Visitors to the national park have a wide range of outdoor activities to keep them entertained, from walks and hikes of all difficulties to mountain biking, skiing, and whitewater rafting. Naturally, there are less energetic things to do with a trip to Cairngorms National Park as well, like sampling whisky at the Glenlivet Distillery at Tomintoul or taking a ride on a heritage steam locomotive along the region’s Strathspey Railway.
Getting there: While it depends on where in the national park you visit, Cairngorms National Park is roughly 2.5 hours from Edinburgh by car.
8. Oban & Glencoe
Two destinations on the west coast of Scotland that together make a great day away are Oban and Glencoe. Oban is a small resort town that many pass through as they take ferries out to the islands of the Hebrides, but it also has plenty to entertain visitors. The town is most famously associated with the historic Oban Distillery, where you can sample its acclaimed malt whisky, but Oban also features some nice historic places like McCaig’s Tower and Dunollie Castle. As for Glencoe, it is a small village in the Scottish Highlands that gives visitors the chance to experience some classic highland scenery firsthand. Thanks to its valleys, waterfalls, and mountains, the area around the village is full of opportunities for hiking and photography. Between Oban and Glencoe, be sure to stop at Castle Stalker for a glimpse of this moody castle by Loch Laich.
Getting there: Both Oban and Glencoe are just under 2.5 hours from Edinburgh by car and 50 minutes from each other. For those who don’t want to spend the day driving, a guided tour is a more relaxed way to see the Scottish Highlands.
To get a taste of town life in Scotland, why not head to the pleasant Victorian town of Pitlochry north of Edinburgh by Perthshire. A day trip to Pitlochry will allow you plenty of time to discover the charms of this adorable destination and is best started with a walk past countless cafés along its High Street. Moving away from the town center, there’s the scenic River Tummel, on which you’ll find the sights of the Iron Suspension Bridge and Pitlochry Dam. Pitlochry is surrounded by picturesque highland scenery, best seen with a gentle hike into the nearby hillside. If you’re looking to sample some whisky during your trip to Scotland, the town is also home to two well-respected distilleries, Blair Athol Distillery and Edradour Distillery.
Getting there: The train trip from Edinburgh to Pitlochry takes just under two hours, while the town is a 1.5-hour drive away.
Although sunny Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland, many tourists overlook this coastal spot. That’s a shame because it’s a destination with plenty of culture and history to explore. Lending weight to its cultural importance is the fact that Dundee is a UNESCO City of Design and the first place in the UK to receive that honor. To explore this side of the city, head to the V&A Dundee, a design museum with free public admission. Other cultural landmarks include the McManus Art Gallery & Museum set inside a grand Gothic building and the far more modern Dundee Contemporary Arts museum. There’s also a strong maritime theme among the city’s main attractions thanks to the collection of historical vessels, such as the RRS Discover and HMS Unicorn, at Discovery Point.
Getting there: It takes just under 90 minutes to reach Dundee from Edinburgh by train and a little less by car.
11. Holy Island
With a name like Holy Island, who wouldn’t be curious about visiting this destination as a day trip? Also known as Lindisfarne, this small island off the coast of Northumberland is simply packed with medieval history. After crossing the small causeway that allows access to the island at low tide, head for the island’s tiny village to see its magnificent castle. There you can visit the ruins of the priory and experience the castle’s latest temporary art exhibit. Because of the small size of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, many travelers pair it with the nearby town of Bamburgh, where you’ll find Alnwick Castle. Fans of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey may recognize the castle since it’s been used as a filming location for many TV shows and movies over the years.
Getting there: Getting from Edinburgh to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne takes a little over 1.5 hours by car, or you can take the more relaxing approach and visit with a guided tour that will handle transport and show you around.
12. North Berwick & Tantallon Castle
You really don’t have to go far from Edinburgh to find beautiful places in Scotland as the seaside town of North Berwick proves. Found east of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth, North Berwick is a quintessential British coastal destination with loads of opportunities for fish and chips, ice cream, and chilly beaches. The most important attraction in the town, though, is the Scottish Seabird Center, a marine conservation center where you can use interactive live cameras to view wildlife on the local islands. While visiting North Berwick, make sure to also pop into nearby Tantallon Castle, one of the most stunning castles in all of Scotland thanks to its perfect cliffside locale.
Getting there: Getting to North Berwick from Edinburgh is easy as there are regular trains that make the trip in thirty minutes, although getting to Tantallon Castle is much easier by car and takes the same amount of time.
13. Fort William
Another great destination if you want to experience the Scottish Highlands for the day is the town of Fort William. Resting on the shores of Loch Linnhe, Fort William offers a tempting combination of history and jaw-dropping highland scenery. Historical sites here take several forms, from the 13th-century ruins of Inverlochy Castle to the 19th-century staircase canal lock called Neptune’s Staircase. Then there’s the famous Jacobite steam train that departs Fort William and can be seen from various viewpoints around town, as well as the famous Glenfinnan viaduct not that far away. The looming sight of Ben Nevis is also hard to miss while visiting Fort William. It’s the highest mountain of the British Isles and a popular local spot for hiking and mountain biking.
Getting there: The only real way to reach Fort William from Edinburgh is by car, with the drive there taking just under three hours.
14. Hadrian’s Wall
Just because you’re visiting Edinburgh doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do a day trip to somewhere in Scotland, does it? So why not head south of the border and visit one of northern England’s finest historical landmarks, Hadrian’s Wall. Started in 122 CE, Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans right across the island, with many sections of the wall still standing today. Visitors wanting to see Hadrian’s Wall have several sites to choose from, with the Birdoswald Roman Fort and Housesteads Roman Fort being two of the most popular. At Birdoswald, you can see the longest remaining stretch of the wall, while Housesteads features remains of a barracks and hospital from one of the Roman forts along the wall.
Getting there: Both Birdoswald Roman Fort and Housesteads Roman Fort are roughly two hours from Edinburgh by car. You can also visit sections of Hadrian’s Wall on a guided tour of the Scottish Borders.
Rounding out these excellent options for day trips is the small city of Perth on the River Tay. Believe it or not, Perth was once considered the capital of Scotland thanks to the presence of Scone Abbey, where the “Stone of Scone” or “Stone of Destiny” was used for Scottish royal coronations. Not so anymore, but Scone Palace, just north of the city where the abbey once stood, is one of Perth’s most popular attractions. Historical attractions closer to the city center include the Black Watch Castle & Museum and Kinnoull Hill Tower. But it’s really the modern cultural landmarks of Perth that win visitors over, like the Perth Museum and Art Gallery and the River Tay Public Art Trail.
Getting there: Regular trains run from Edinburgh to Perth and take a little under 1.5 hours, while it takes less than an hour to drive there.
With this list as your guide, you should have plenty of ideas for how to spend your time sightseeing from Edinburgh. The hard part is going to be deciding which places you do this visit and which will have to wait until next time.