By Craig Neil
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
I don’t really blame you, because those three places alone will give you a good taste of the best that Scotland has to offer.
But have you considered venturing beyond the crowded tourist areas to somewhere that offers some of the best outdoor activities in Scotland, yet is just a stone’s throw from the capital city?
In this article, I’m going to share with you a region that I consider a bit of a hidden gem – and it’s one that’s full of amazing tourist attractions.
Continue reading to discover the best things to do on a day trip to East Lothian as well as travel tips and information about the county’s weather.
Map of attractions in East Lothian
Scottish Seabird Centre & Bass Rock
Address: Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick, EH39 4SS
Contact details: Telephone: 01620 890202
Out About Scotland complete guide: Bass Rock
If you ever head to North Berwick you should try to make a point of visiting the Scottish Seabird Centre located near the harbour.
The attraction aims to entertain and educate visitors about Scotland’s marine wildlife and it does a great job of making facts about conservation interesting for adults and fun for children.
The bulk of the seabird centre is located downstairs where you’ll find information displays that tell you about Scotland’s coastline and the wildlife that lives on it, as well as aquariums full of living specimens collected from the sea.
Upstairs you’ll find a really good café (get a seat by the window or sit outside for great views of Milsey Bay) and a decent gift shop.
You’ll also be able to try some mega-powerful binoculars to look across the sea at the enormous Bass Rock.
The world’s largest colony of gannets live on the rock and watching them take flight as they go on the hunt for their next meal is a real spectacle.
But even better than watching them from land is the boat trip organised by the seabird centre that will take you to the rock to see these agile (and noisy) birds up close.
East Links Family Park
Address: Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1XF
Contact details: Telephone 01368 863 607
Out About Scotland complete guide: East Links Family Park
This farm-themed attraction near Dunbar is set on 20 acres of land and features lots of activities for children and their parents.
The great thing about East Links Family Park is that once they’re through the doors you can let the kids zoom off and run wild without having to worry about them because this attraction has been created from the ground up to be a safe space for children to play in.
All ages can go wild in a fort where they can race to the top on a web of nets before battering each other with foam balls, and there’s a race track where families can battle to the finish line on pedal-powered go-karts.
There’s also a giant bouncy trampoline where the more agile members of the family can perform all manner of mid-air stunts along with a selection of slides, swings, and zip lines.
Other highlights include enclosures with herds of deer, llamas and farm animals, and another go-kart track that circles the park where you can stop to feed the animals along the way.
Finally, there’s a train ride that puffs its way along the perimeter fence, a water park so you can soak each other to your heart’s content, and an on-site restaurant so hungry bellies can be recharged before heading back outside for more fun.
John Muir Country Park
Address: John Muir Country Park, Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1XF
Contact details: Telephone: +44 (1620) 827421
Out About Scotland complete guide: John Muir Country Park
The John Muir Country Park is situated near East Links Family Park so if you ever visit that attraction you may as well take the time to explore the beautiful nature reserve next to it.
The reserve was created in commemoration of the conservationist John Muir who went on to found many of America’s greatest national parks after falling in love with this part of East Lothian as a child.
Once you start exploring I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how diverse the scenery in the park is, with sweeping sand dunes next to wide mudflats and a thick forest of pine trees.
It really is a nature lover’s paradise and I’m sure John Muir would be proud to see that such a beautiful nature reserve is situated close to his hometown of Dunbar.
John Muir Country Park is a great place for walks and there are several walking trails running right through it, but if you’d rather just sit on the beach you’ll find it’s only a 2-minute walk from the car park.
There are also toilets, showers, a play park, and BBQ facilities which means the site is second to none for family day trips in East Lothian.
The National Museum of Flight
Address: East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, EH39 5LF
Contact details: Telephone: 0300 123 6789
Out About Scotland complete guide: National Museum of Flight
East Linton might not seem a likely candidate for the location of a national museum, but nonetheless, the WWII airfield just outside the village is home to one of the finest collections of aircraft in Britain.
This is one of those Scottish attractions that has something of interest for all ages, whether they’re a middle-aged mum and dad, a teenager, or a toddler.
The organizers of the collection have gone to great lengths to make the museum both educational and entertaining so you’ll find lots of display boards around the site that explain the history of aviation along with facts about each aircraft.
The aircraft are split into three sections with two enormous hangars housing military and civilian planes and several larger planes in the outdoor areas that are open for visitors to look inside.
The highlight is the museum’s very own Concorde which is housed in its own area along with lots of information boards plus a few interactive displays.
The National Museum of Flight also has a decent café so you can grab a bite to eat during your visit and the gift shop is a great place to purchase models and aircraft-themed toys.
Address: Dunbar EH42 1TG
Contact details: NA
Out About Scotland complete guide: Pressmennan Wood
There are many woodlands in East Lothian but this one near East Linton is recommended for a number of reasons.
First, it has a network of crisscrossing paths that allow visitors to explore it from corner to corner, and second, due to its remote location there are never more than a handful of people in the wood at any one time.
Pressmennan Wood is also the location of Pressmennan Lake (one of only four designated lakes in Scotland) which is full of wildfowl, and it’s a favourite hunting site for owls, otters and bats.
The site is managed by The Woodland Trust which has built a small car park near the entrance and they’ve done a good job of gravelling large sections of the paths so they’re easy to walk on.
That being said, visit in winter and you’ll find it’s a different story – especially if you take the lower path next to the lake as it turns into a muddy quagmire at times.
In autumn the broadleaved woodland becomes a vision of browns, reds, and yellows which makes a nice change from the evergreen pine trees that cover most of Scotland, and while it’s not exactly a rival to Perthshire’s Big Tree Country it’s equally as scenic.
In addition, Pressmennan Wood is close to two other wildlife havens that are worth visiting throughout the year.
Visiting Pressmennan Wood shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours but by combining a trip with either of those other attractions you’ll have a full day’s worth of nature-filled walks.
Address: North Berwick, EH39 5PP
Contact details: NA
Out About Scotland complete guide: Seacliff Beach
There are more than 40 miles of pristine beaches along East Lothian’s coastline which are renowned for their golden sand beaches.
Gullane, for example, is wide and long, while Yellowcraig has lovely walks through sand dunes that are part of the John Muir Way.
My personal favourite of them all though, has to be Seacliff beach located a couple of miles south of North Berwick.
It’s not the biggest beach by any means but it’s wide with a shallow bay that’s perfect for paddling about in and there are large areas of bedrock that are great places to let the kids explore a multitude of rock pools.
Tantallon Castle lies a mile to the north so it’s easy to combine a visit to both attractions in one day, and there’s a coastal footpath in the opposite direction that takes walkers on a very picturesque stroll to Tyneinghame beach which is even bigger.
The bonus of having so many rock outcrops in the bay is that they offer protection from the sea – handy if the wind is blowing from the east – making Seacliff beach one of the safest places to swim on the southeast coast.
The crescent shape of the bay also means sunbathers can tuck themselves away at the back and be almost completely protected from sea breezes.
To get to Seacliff beach follow the A198 a mile south of the turning to Tantallon Castle and then join a single-track farm road which has a barrier with paid entry and a grass parking area.
There are no facilities at Seacliff beach but you’ll find a cliff-top café a couple of miles to the north at Drift, or you can drive three miles to a Tesco superstore in North Berwick.
Address: Yellowcraig, North Berwick, EH55
Contact details: Tel 01620 827459
Out About Scotland complete guide: Yellowcraig Beach
Yellowcraig Beach is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon if you’re looking for a summertime day out in East Lothian.
It’s long enough that you can find always find a quiet spot and clean enough that you can let the kids run around without worrying they’ll step in something they shouldn’t.
The beach is entered via a decent-size car park that has a picnic area and public toilets on one side while the other has a children’s play park, and the surrounding area has lots of paths running through a combination of woodland, wild grassland, and sand dunes.
In fact, the surrounding area is so nice you don’t even need to step foot on the beach to have a good day out, especially if you follow the John Muir Way which runs through Yellowcraig from Prestonpans to North Berwick.
But it’s the beach that’s the main draw and I have to say it’s one of my favourite stretches of coastline in East Lothian – apart from bank holidays when it gets rather busy.
Unfortunately, this is one gem of an attraction that has seemingly been discovered by the entire county and when the holidays begin it gets quite hectic, so if I was you I’d try to visit mid-week instead of the weekend.
Just off the shore you can see the nature reserve of Fidra Island which was the inspiration for the book Treasure Island, while golf courses are situated to the east and west alongside fields of wild grasses that are a haven for birds and insects.
Behind the beach are wide sweeping arcs of sand dunes that make great picnic spots and a network of rough paths join the site together so you won’t have to go traipsing off-road too much to explore it.
The weather in East Lothian
You might be asking yourself why anyone should bother visiting a small, rural, relatively unknown part of Scotland when they could just as easily spend their holiday in the Highlands or the Isle of Skye.
Well for starters (according to the UK Met Office), East Lothian is one of the sunniest and warmest places in northern Britain.
The average minimum temperature drops to just 2 °C in winter compared to -2 °C in the Highlands, and summer temperatures rise to an average of 20 °C compared to less than 17 °C in most other parts of the country.
The reason why East Lothian gets such good weather is the fact that it’s situated quite far south (lying on the same latitude as Edinburgh) and is nestled on the east coast where it’s well away from the storms brought in by the Atlantic Ocean.
That’s not to say you won’t get long balmy days on the west coast (try telling that to anyone on the sunny Isle of Tiree), but East Lothian does tend to get more hours of sunshine than elsewhere in Scotland.
According to the Met Office, East Lothian bathes in an average of 1,400 hours of sunshine annually, although due to the haar (a sea fog that rolls in off the Firth of Forth) you’ll find some coastal towns and villages have a slightly lower average temperature than those further inland.
Travel in East Lothian
There are plenty of travel options if you want to explore East Lothian, but as someone that has spent a lot of time there I suggest using a car as your main means of transport due to the fact that the county is so rural.
There’s a train line that runs from Musselburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed but it follows the coastline quite closely so isn’t much use if you want to head inland.
There are also bus services such as East Coast Buses, but as they’re rather infrequent they can be a pain to use if you just want to hop on/hop off between tourist attractions.
If you have a car you’ll find that Edinburgh borders East Lothian on its eastern edge so it’s very easy to drive to the city if you want to combine both places in one holiday.
In addition, the county is in a great location to reach other parts of Scotland.
The Scottish Borders lie immediately to the south and Midlothian lies immediately to the west, and the roads joining them are in a good condition throughout.
Thanks to well-maintained link roads like the A1 and A697 you can drive from East Lothian’s main town of Haddington to the major English city of Newcastle in just under two hours.
Head west on the M8 and you’ll be able to reach Glasgow from Haddington in around 90 minutes while Stirling can be driven to in around an hour, all of which makes East Lothian a great place to use as a base to explore southern Scotland.
But what if you just want to stay in the county?
Well, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed as it’s spectacularly pretty in most parts and features a diverse range of coastlines, forests, rivers and countryside, with many areas being only lightly populated.
From Musselburgh in the west to Dunbar in the east, the East Lothian coastline forms a sweeping arc where some of the most scenic headlands and bays in Scotland can be found.
The big bonus, of course, is that because it’s not seen as an obvious choice for holidaymakers you’ll often find these areas are totally devoid of tourists.
Things to do in East Lothian – a summary
What is there to do in East Lothian?
Well for starters, there’s mile after mile of unspoilt coastline to enjoy, whether it’s the small stretch of beach at Musselburgh or the wide expanse of golden sand at Yellowcraig.
You’ll also find a stunning collection of nature reserves – with the John Muir Country Park being a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike – closely followed by Aberlady Bay and Gullane Bents.
Because it’s bordered by the sea on its northern and eastern sides you’ll also find some of the best bird-watching sites in the country.
The highlight has to be North Berwick where you can visit the National Seabird Centre perched on the town’s seafront looking out towards the Bass Rock which is home to one of the biggest gannet colonies on earth.
Looking to let the kids go wild and burn off some energy? Take them to East Links Family Park with its family-friendly rides, adventure playgrounds and farm animals.
Or how about looking at one of Europe’s best collections of aircraft at The National Museum of Flight, or seeing how Scotch whisky is made at the Glenkinchie Distillery?
You’ll find all these attractions and many more within a relatively short distance of each other in East Lothian, plus of course, it’s close to Edinburgh so you can always take a train or hop on a bus and be in the city centre within an hour of most stations.
Discover more East Lothian attractions in this article: Family Attractions in East Lothian.
Frequently asked questions
What is the weather like in East Lothian?
East Lothian is one of the sunniest and warmest areas of Northern Britain with average minimum temperatures dropping to just 2 °C in winter compared to -2 °C in the Highlands.
Summer temperatures soar to an average of 20 °C compared to less than 17 °C in most other parts of the country.
How can I travel to East Lothian?
Using the A1 and A697 you can drive to East Lothian’s main town of Haddington from the English city of Newcastle in just under two hours.
Head west on the M8 and you’ll be able to reach Haddington from Glasgow in around 90 minutes while the journey from Stirling takes around one hour.
Where are the main towns in East Lothian?
North Berwick is a seaside town on the eastern side of the county roughly 20 miles northeast of Edinburgh.
Dunbar is located around 30 miles east of Edinburgh and 30 miles north of the English border.
Musselburgh is the next settlement along the Firth of Forth from the Edinburgh suburb of Leith.
Haddington is situated approximately 17 miles east of Edinburgh.
What are the top attractions in East Lothian?
Yellowcraig beach, North Berwick Law, Hailes Castle, Dirleton Castle, The National Museum of Flight, Tantallon Castle, John Muir Country Park, The Scottish Seabird Centre, Bass Rock, East Links Family Park.