The city of Edinburgh is Scotland’s top visitor destination, and quite understandably so. Whether it is its history, cultural hotspots or beautiful locations, the capital has so much to offer. However, Edinburgh is also within a short distance of many more attention-grabbing attractions that deserve a visit.
In this post, we are going to concentrate on five of the best day trips from Edinburgh that are easily accessible via a short car journey and/or by public transport. Equally suited for either a visitor to the capital or to locals looking to do something a little different.
Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating these Edinburgh day trips, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.
Fording the Forth
This trip is a great chance to explore what lives below the ocean’s surface and the magnificent feats of engineering above it. Start your day at the family friendly Deep Sea World, then take a fifteen-minute walk up and onto the old Forth Road Bridge. It will take you a further 30-minutes or so to walk from the north part of the bridge to the south, crossing the Firth of Forth as you go. You will get spectacular views of Forth Rail Bridge and the newly opened Queensferry Crossing. If you are feeling particularly fit, why not drop down into South Queensferry and explore this quaint small town, full of historic buildings.
Deep Sea World
Deep Sea World is the national aquarium of Scotland and has one of Europe's largest collections of sharks, housed in one of the world's longest underwater tunnels. You can also see piranhas and seals and even hold creatures from the rock pools!
Forth Road Bridge and its views
The Forth Road Bridge, with a main span of 1006 metres between the two towers, was the fourth longest in the world and the longest outside the United States when it opened. In total, the structure is over 2.5 km long. A staggering 39,000 tonnes of steel and 125,000 cubic metres of concrete was used in its construction. "Guid Passage" was the fitting motto given to the bridge when it opened on 4 September 1964. Since the opening of the Queensferry Crossing as a motorway, the Forth Road Bridge is now a Public Transport Corridor, which continues to be the route for walking and cycling across the Firth of Forth. With general traffic removed from the Forth Road Bridge, the experience for pedestrians and cyclists is greatly improved.
You will get some unique views of the Forth Bridge, a Scottish icon since 1890, that is recognised the world over as the most famous of cantilever designs. The world's first major steel structure, the Forth Bridge represents a key milestone in the history of modern railway civil engineering and still holds the record as the world’s longest cantilever bridge. In July 2015, UNESCO inscribed the Forth Bridge as the sixth World Heritage site in Scotland. The overall length of the Forth Bridge is 2,467 metres, with the main structure (portal to portal) measuring 1,630 metres. 53,000 tonnes of steel and 6.5 million rivets were used to construct the Forth Bridge. At the height of its construction, more than 4,000 men were employed, however, 57 lives were lost during the construction of the Forth Bridge.
The Queensferry Crossing opened to traffic on 30 August 2017. The 1.7 miles (2.7km) structure is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world, with 23,000 miles of cabling being used in its construction. Laying out all the wire used to support the bridge deck would very nearly stretch around the entire planet Earth.
South Queensferry derived its name from the ferry service established by Queen Margaret in the 11th century. A number of historic buildings can be found along the High Street and Hopetoun Road, with the Tolbooth, being especially eye-catching. This building dates from the 17th century, with the clock-tower being built in 1720.
Tailor-Made Top Tip:
If you are driving to Deep Sea World, there is ample parking at the aquarium to allow you to leave your car and start your walk over the bridge. It takes just over half an hour to drive from the centre of Edinburgh to North Queensferry. Taking the train to North Queensferry is also an option. Regular trains depart from Waverley and Haymarket stations, taking around 15-minutes to cross over the Forth. It then takes around a quarter of an hour to walk from the station to the aquarium. If you wish to take the public bus, there is a frequent service, with buses usually leaving every five to ten minutes from Edinburgh City Centre, running to Ferrytoll. From there, you can change to a local bus, which would take you to just outside the aquarium.
Castles & Stately Homes
When you think of castles and stately homes in Scotland’s capital, you immediately think of Edinburgh Castle and perhaps the Palace of Holyroodhouse. But the area surrounding Edinburgh is bursting with grand houses and imposing defences all waiting eagerly to welcome visitors from the city and beyond.
Hopetoun House has been home to the Hope Family since the late 1600’s and the present Lord Hopetoun and his family still live in Hopetoun House. Hopetoun House, a remarkable and beautiful stately home, is filled with stunning collections and sits in majestic grounds with nature trails and scenic walks. Hopetoun House is often referred to as Scotland’s Finest Stately Home. Designed by William Bruce and then altered and extended by William Adam, Hopetoun House is one of the finest examples of 18th century architecture in Britain. The magnificent interiors which have remained virtually unchanged for three centuries reflect the elegance of the Georgian era and are decorated with the best period furniture, paintings, tapestries and clocks, with beautifully crafted finishes of carving, gilding and plaster work.
First mentioned in 1458 Midhope Castle is located on the Hopetoun Estate near Hopetoun House. Midhope Castle dates back to the 15th Century and although the exterior is relatively intact the castle is derelict inside. The exterior of the castle may be viewed and can be visited by purchasing a vehicle pass to from Hopetoun Farm Shop or at Hopetoun House. The castle may be familiar to many, since it is the location for fictional Lallybroch, the family home of character Jamie Fraser in the popular TV series Outlander.
House of the Binns
The House of the Binns is set in beautifully landscaped parkland overlooking the River Forth. This house near Linlithgow has been the home of the Dalyells for 400 years. The present house was built in 1612 by Thomas Dalyell, an Edinburgh merchant who made his fortune at the court of King James VI and I in London. Thomas’s son, General Tam Dalyell, formed the legendary regiment of Royal Scots Greys. There are many mementos of him in the house, as well as colourful legends about his dealings with the Devil to discover.
Blackness Castle's mighty fortifications make this 15th-century castle look like a ‘ship that never sailed’. Blackness was built as a Royal castle in 1453. By 1537, James V began to convert the castle into a state prison and artillery fortification. His ambitious project was driven by the looming threat from Henry VIII’s Protestant England. Work completed in 1542, just before the Wars of the Rough Wooing. In 1650 Oliver Cromwell’s heavy guns devastated the defences, forcing the garrison to surrender. The scars remain today.
Tailor-Made Top Tip:
To visit the four properties in one day requires the use of a car, and the sites are not easily accessible by public transport. It takes a 40-minute drive from central Edinburgh to get to Hopetoun House. It is then a further 20-minute drive to Midhope Castle, then 10-minutes to the House of the Binns, and then a further 10-minutes to Blackness Castle. This trip would be a full day out, so could easily be split into two more leisurely separate trips.
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Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, was an international best seller in 2003 and captured the imagination of the public. This fast-paced adventure was full of ancient conspiracies and intrigue, and spawned a highly successful film starring Tom Hanks. Rosslyn Chapel was a central focus of the story and was also used as a filming location, and it is only just outside of Edinburgh. Not only that, the chapel is located by a scenic country park that can explored, complete with old castle.
Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 as a place of worship and services continue to be held here weekly. The Chapel has also been a popular destination for visitors for generations. By the late 18th-century, it was starting to appear on itineraries and this was in no small part due to its enigmatic carvings and speculative links to the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. Dan Brown said of the Chapel, ‘When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth — Rosslyn.’
Rosslyn Castle is a partially ruined castle near the chapel. There has been a castle on the site since the early 14th century, when the Sinclair family fortified the site. The oldest part of the Castle is the remains of the ‘lantern’ or ‘lamp tower’ by the bridge and this was probably built around 1304, after the Battle of Roslin. Following destruction during the War of the Rough Wooing of 1544, the castle was rebuilt. This structure, built into the cliffs of Roslin Glen, has remained at least partially habitable ever since. The castle is accessed via a high bridge, which replaced an earlier drawbridge. It was renovated in the 1980s and now serves as holiday accommodation.
Roslin Glen Country Park
Roslin Glen Nature Reserve is a semi-natural ancient woodland of oak, ash, hazel, cherry and hawthorn growing along the steep-sided banks of the River North Esk. The natural beauty of Roslin Glen has attracted the interest of many writers and artists and was a particular favourite in the 18th and early 19th centuries. One of the most famous artists to have drawn inspiration from Roslin Glen was JMW Turner. Dorothy Wordsworth, along with her brother William, stayed in the village in 1803 and Dorothy wrote that she ‘had never passed through a more delicious dell than the glen at Roslin’.
Tailor-Made Top Tip:
The village of Roslin can be easily driven to within half an hour from the centre of Edinburgh. There is also a regular bus service from the city, which takes around 45-minutes. The chapel, castle and park are then just a 5-minute walk from the village.