North Berwick Visitor Guide

By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents


Summary

North Berwick is one of the top seaside towns in the south of Scotland.

Not only is North Berwick the home of the Scottish Seabird Centre which operates boat trips to the Bass Rock, but it also boasts golden beaches to the east and west along with an eclectic mix of artisan shops and cafés in the high street.

In addition, the town is surrounded by a number of noteworthy attractions which include North Berwick Law and Tantallon Castle.

North Berwick
Address:East Road,
North Berwick,
EH39 4LG
Opening Hours:North Berwick is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.
Admission Price:North Berwick is free to visit.

Parking:There are several car parks in North Berwick, but the 3 most-used by visitors are located at:

East Road (Pay & Display), North Berwick, EH39 4LG.
The Glebe (Free), St Andrew Street, North Berwick, EH39 4NU.
Quality Street (Free), North Berwick, EH39 4HJ.
Contact:N/A
Facilities:North Berwick has a wide array of facilities including a petrol station, car parks, cafes, restaurants, public toilets, supermarkets, independent shops and hotel accommodation.

The highlights

1: North Berwick is a real gem of a seaside town. As well as the two beaches on either side of the Scottish Seabird Centre there are scenic coastal walks, hikes up a nearby volcanic plug, boat trips to the world’s largest gannet colony, castles, golf courses, and much more besides.

2: The Scottish Seabird Centre is a superb tourist attraction that offers families a good few hours of entertainment no matter the weather. When combined with a boat trip to the Bass Rock it becomes one of the best attractions in East Lothian.

3: Berwick Law – located on the southern edge of North Berwick – is another superb visitor attraction, and it’s one that’s completely free.

This immense conical volcanic plug has a winding path from the car park at the bottom to the trig point at the top which has, without a shadow of a doubt, the best views in the county.

North Berwick

Visiting tips

1: The two beaches on North Berwick’s seafront are great places for a sunny beach day, but they also make good starting points for walks along the coastline. There are golf courses on either side of these beaches which have well-trodden footpaths running through the sand dunes.

Both directions offer a good walk but my personal preference is to head west along Milsey Bay as it’s possible to go as far as Yellowcraig Beach and back for a very enjoyable 5-mile hike.

2: Due to its coastal location there are several castles in this part of East Lothian. I mention Dirleton Castle in the ‘things to do nearby section’ later in this article, but another very worthwhile fortress that deserves your time is Tantallon Castle.

Tantallon lies 2.5 miles east of the seabird centre (postcode: EH39 5PN) and it’s notable for being one of the oldest curtain-walled castles in Scotland, as well as being positioned next to Seacliff Beach which is a lovely stretch of golden sand that’s home to Scotland’s smallest harbour.

3: Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to food in North Berwick as there are wee independent cafes and restaurants dotted along the entire length of the High Street.

However, if you’re after fast food I heartily recommend grabbing a bag of chips (and maybe a battered sausage or two) from North Berwick Fry near the East End car park which is one of the tastiest chippies in the region.


Overview

East Lothian is one of those counties that’s adored by the people that live there (on the whole) but is largely ignored by visiting tourists.

While Edinburgh attracts hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers each year the county next door tends to get overlooked, which is surprising considering it has some of the finest beaches in Scotland in addition to its attractive coastal towns and villages.

North Berwick

A personal favourite in this historic county is North Berwick, a small town that packs a punch when it comes to attractions and a destination that’s easy to get to from the capital city – if you have a car, that is.

As scenic as East Lothian’s countryside is, getting around it by public transport is rather laborious as most of the villages are spread far and wide.

Having your own wheels instead of relying on infrequent buses means that travelling from Edinburgh to North Berwick takes just 30 minutes via the A1, or around 40 minutes via the coastal route on the A198.

North Berwick

What you’ll find when you arrive is a fashionable holiday resort that’s home to around 8,000 permanent residents plus local visitors from the surrounding area, and no heaving crowds, unlike Edinburgh.

On the town’s northern end, visitors can take a short walk to the Scottish Seabird Centre and the two beaches on either side, while the southern end opens up to flat farmland and the mighty Berwick Law.

Golf courses are situated on both sides of the town (part of the reason why the region has the nickname ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’), and there are many more beaches between Dunbar to the east and Gullane to the west, along with several small islands in the Firth of Forth.

The town centre, meanwhile, is full of cute arts and crafts shops and independent cafes which concentrate around the High Street (the original medieval main thoroughfare of the town) but also spread out to Quality Street and Victoria Street which lead to the old red-brick harbour.

North Berwick Harbour

This is the high point of North Berwick in my opinion as it’s a real sun trap and houses the superb Lobster Shack which sells the freshest and tastiest seafood you’re ever likely to find in South Scotland.

Climbing the steps leading out of the harbour takes visitors over a narrow path to a rock promontory that has gorgeous views of Craigleith Island and the Bass Rock, while the seabird centre is just a stone’s throw away.

Finally, the two bays on either side of the seabird centre have superb stretches of golden sand and sea that is clean and shallow enough to let the kids paddle around without having to worry about currents, high waves, or polluted water.

North Berwick

Things to do

North Berwick is a small town but if you’re unfamiliar with it the best attractions are all too easy to miss.

As someone that has visited many times over the years I have a few recommendations that I think will interest the majority of visitors which I’ll list in the following section.

1: Scottish Seabird Centre. Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS. Distance: 0 miles.
The seabird centre is one of the top attractions in East Lothian and is a real treat for anyone with a love of wildlife.

Scottish Seabird Centre

The centre does a fantastic job of keeping both adults and children entertained thanks to a Discovery Experience that features a North Sea aquarium, a viewing platform with high-power binoculars, and a remote-control system that links to cameras on the Bass Rock.

There’s also a cafe with an outdoor terrace that serves delicious home-baked goodies, an excellent gift shop, and organized tours to the Bass Rock (coming up next).

2: The Bass Rock. Address: Boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Centre.
Landing on the Bass Rock without permission is forbidden due to the fact that it’s a managed nature reserve, but that doesn’t mean visitors can’t see it close up.

Bass Rock

The Scottish Seabird Centre runs organized daily cruises to the rock using a RIB (fast and fun) and a catamaran (slow and leisurely).

Personally, I recommend the catamaran for the majority of people as it sails around nearby Craigleith as well as the Bass Rock and it’s a much more stable platform for snapping away with your camera.

Once at the Bass Rock visitors are guaranteed to be mesmerized both by the size of it and the swooping cacophony of seabirds that live on it – so many, in fact, that the rock has turned white from their droppings!

3: West Bay and Milsey Bay beaches. Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS. Distance: 0 miles.
These beaches are by no means the biggest in East Lothian but their location on the shore of the town means that accessing them is supremely easy.

Milsey Bay North Berwick

To date, I’ve never arrived on either of the beaches and found them crowded so they’re highly recommended for a summer beach day, but if you find yourself there outside of the summer season you might like to take a walk along them instead.

Footpaths wind their way along the edges of the Glen Golf Course near Milsey Bay and the North Berwick Golf Course near West Bay, both of which are easy-going and can be completed in a couple of hours, and both of which are highly recommended for dog walkers.

An alternative walk can be enjoyed slightly further inland from the beaches thanks to the waymarked trail of the John Muir Way which stretches coast-to-coast but passes through North Berwick.

4: North Berwick Law. Address: North Berwick, EH39 4DP. Distance: 1.5 miles from East Road car park.
You wouldn’t think there would be an extinct volcano in this part of East Lothian considering it’s so flat, but there is, and it’s situated right on the edge of North Berwick.

Berwick Law

The car park can be a wee bit tricky to find so I recommend firing up Google Maps or a sat-nav (postcode: EH39 4DS) to get there. Once you’re on the site you’ll immediately see a single path that winds its way around the western side of the hill to the summit.

At a little over 600 feet it’s not a difficult climb by any means, but visitors should be aware the final section is rather steep.

Once at the top you’ll see the remnants of a WWII observation post, a trig point, and a replica whalebone that commemorates East Lothian’s (thankfully) long-gone whaling industry.

5: North Berwick Harbour. Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS. Distance: 0 miles.
North Berwick is home to an attractive red-brick harbour which overlooks West Bay and Milsey Bay beaches.

The harbour has seating within its protective walls which makes it a sun trap no matter the time of year, but it really comes alive in the summer when the pop-up Lobster Shack opens for business.

6: Dirleton Castle. Address: Dirleton, East Lothian, EH39 5ER. Distance: 3 miles from the East road car park.

Dirleton Castle

There are a surprising number of castles in East Lothian, but this one in Dirleton is a firm favourite of mine.

Dirleton Castle features large gardens and is famous for having the world’s longest herbaceous border as well as one of the largest gatehouses of its age.

The castle is located a short drive from Yellowcraig Beach so a joint visit to both attractions is easily done within a single afternoon.

Discover more places to visit in North Berwick with: Things to Do in North Berwick.


Accommodation

Booking.com

Tourist map of Scotland

East Road,
North Berwick,
EH39 4LG

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Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Dunbar & North Berwick – 351 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.


Frequently asked questions

What is North Berwick like to visit?

North Berwick is one of the top seaside towns in south-east Scotland and is worth visiting for a number of reasons.

First and foremost it’s home to the Scottish Seabird Centre which operates boat trips to the Bass Rock where the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets lives.

The town also boasts golden beaches immediately to the east and west, it has an eclectic mix of shops and cafés in the high street, and it’s surrounded by attractions including North Berwick Law and Tantallon Castle.

Is North Berwick Law hard?

North Berwick Law is no more than moderately challenging for anyone with average fitness levels.

The footpath to the top of the 600-foot summit is composed of well-trodden dirt and grass which winds its way around the southern side of the hill.

There are numerous level areas to stop and take a break on the way up if needed. It will take an average of 30-40 minutes to complete the walk from the car park to the summit of North Berwick Law.

Is North Berwick the same as Berwick?

North Berwick and Berwick are different towns. Berwick (also known as Berwick-upon-Tweed) is a town in Northumberland, England. North Berwick is a town in East Lothian, Scotland.

In the Middle Ages, Scots called Berwick-Upon-Tweed South Berwick and gave North Berwick the ‘North’ title in order to differentiate it.

How old is North Berwick harbour?

North Berwick harbour is believed to have been built around 1150, but the first documented record of the harbour dates from 1177.