North Berwick is one of the top seaside towns in southeast Scotland and it’s worth visiting for a number of reasons. First and foremost it’s home to the Scottish Seabird Centre which operates boat trips to 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 top attractions including North Berwick Law and Tantallon Castle.
Discover this attractive East Lothian town with this complete guide to the best things to do in North Berwick for families which features a list of the top places to visit as well as lots of useful visiting advice.
Scottish Seabird Centre
East Lothian is one of the best places in Scotland for wildlife spotting thanks to its unspoilt coastline which is a haven for seabirds, so it’s unsurprising that the county’s busiest coastal town is home to a national centre of wildlife study and conservation.
The Scottish Seabird Centre is a joy to visit for both children and adults thanks to a number of exhibits that cleverly weave together fun and education.
Visitors can see the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets on the Bass Rock, stroll through exhibitions that showcase Scotland’s diverse wildlife, watch informative nature films, listen to talks by wildlife experts, and much more.
Conservation is a big deal at the Scottish Seabird Centre and they’ve done a great job of explaining the harm humans are causing the environment while offering suggestions on how we can all make a difference to protect our beloved coastal places.
The educational talks carried out by the staff are genuinely interesting and the nature films are way more enjoyable than you might expect, but both are overshadowed by the remote-controlled cameras that let you zoom right in on the birds on the Bass Rock as they make their nests and fill the skies above.
There’s also an excellent gift shop in the main building, a birdwatching platform with binoculars, and a café serving home-baked treats with outdoor seating, all of which make a visit to this attraction an absolute must-do for anyone visiting North Berwick.
- Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS
- Website: Scottish Seabird Centre
Boat Trip to Bass Rock
If you visit the Scottish Seabird Centre mentioned above you’ll learn a great deal about the Bass Rock which sits a mile off the coast of North Berwick.
It’s impossible to miss this enormous slab-sided pinnacle of volcanic rock as it towers 350 feet (107 metres) above sea level and is almost completely white due to the number of birds that nest on it.
While viewing the rock from the cameras in the Seabird Centre is rather interesting, it pales in comparison to taking a boat trip to see this natural wonder close up.
The Scottish Seabird Centre is the only organization that runs official boat trips out to the Bass Rock, and they have three options. The first is a leisurely cruise on a catamaran that sails around the outcrops of Lamb, Craigleith, and Bass Rock.
The second is a much faster and wetter boat trip to the Bass Rock on a RIB, and the third is a landing trip where you can actually step foot onto the rock, which is a must-do for wildlife photographers.
Having personally done the RIB and catamaran trips I can confirm that both are fun, but the RIB is definitely more exciting.
That being said, you’ll get a good soaking thanks to the constant water spray so anyone that prefers staying dry should book the catamaran instead (which is better for taking photos anyway).
The landing trip is expensive, lasts for around 3 hours, and is for over-16s only.
All boats trips depart from North Berwick harbour which is located immediately behind the Scottish Seabird Centre.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: The Bass Rock
- Address: (Scottish Seabird Centre) North Berwick, EH39 4SS
- Website: Scottish Seabird Centre
North Berwick Harbour
North Berwick harbour is a bit of a hidden gem as it’s located out of sight behind the Scottish Seabird Centre and is in no way advertised as a tourist attraction, but I’m including it in this list as it’s a personal favourite place to chill out on a sunny day in this busy seaside town.
It’s not the biggest harbour in Scotland by any means but it’s a great place to sit and watch the wee flotilla of boats that bob up and down against their moorings – as long as you can grab a spot on one of the bench seats.
In summer, North Berwick harbour becomes the place to go in the town due to the pop-up Lobster Shack which serves the freshest, tastiest seafood you’re ever likely to encounter.
In fact, the Lobster Shack is so popular the queue winds its way along the entire length of the harbour wall, so you might consider taking my advice and heading there midweek instead of the crazy-busy weekend.
As a top-tip, instead of heading home after munching on lobster and chips, take some time to explore the northwest side of the harbour instead.
As well as offering lovely views of Milsey Bay and West Bay (coming up next), there are rocks where children can clamber about and there’s a wee path leading to the far end which is as close as you can get to Craigleith island without taking a boat.
Craigleith is another hotspot for seabirds and you’re pretty much guaranteed a great view of them if you take binoculars with you (link to recommended budget optics).
- Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS
- Website: North Berwick Harbour Trust
West Bay & Milsey Bay Beach
From the harbour mentioned above it’s impossible to miss the two golden sand beaches that sweep away into the distance on either side.
To the west is West Bay and to the east is Milsey Bay, both of which are long and clean. Milsey Bay is twice the size of West Bay, but the latter joins the coastline heading out of North Berwick so it’s possible to walk along that beach for 3 miles all the way to Yellowcraig (see further down this page).
As a frequent visitor, I couldn’t place either beach above the other as they both offer slightly different but equally enjoyable experiences.
Milsey Bay is usually the busiest as there’s roadside parking right along the seafront, plus there are ice cream vans that set up shop on the junction of Victoria and Melbourne Roads in front of the Scottish Seabird Centre.
Milsey Bay also has a Victorian Lido where visitors can safely swim in the sea behind sheltered walls, and there’s a lovely footpath at the far eastern end which joins several smaller but much less-visited beaches behind the Glen golf course.
West Bay, meanwhile, is slightly more protected from the North Sea on its eastern side due to its position against North Berwick harbour, and there tends to be fewer tourists compared to Milsey Bay.
The highlight of West Bay is the fact you can walk for miles around the coastline which makes it one of the top things to do in North Berwick with a dog.
For an extended walk with your canine pal head to Broadsands beach (one of the best beaches in East Lothian) and continue west to Yellowcraig beach which has a large car park, a children’s play park, public toilets, and a snack van.
- Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS.
North Berwick Law
Visitors looking for outstanding views as well as one of the best free things to do in North Berwick need to head to the top of North Berwick Law.
This ancient plug of volcanic rock rises 600 feet above the surrounding low-lying countryside and features a winding footpath that finishes at a trig point on the summit.
An expanse of fields sweep away to the horizon on the south, east and west sides, while the twinkling waters of the North Sea face the northern side.
I think I can confidently say the view from the top of Berwick Law is the finest in East Lothian.
To get to the Law, head along the B1347 out of the town centre and follow the signs. There’s a car park at the bottom which is just 5 minutes from the Scottish Seabird Centre, so combining both attractions in one visit to North Berwick is easily done.
Once at the foot of the hill you’ll find a well-trodden grass track that zigzags its way to the top which eventually passes the remains of old WWII bunkers before the final scramble to a fairly flat plateau where you’ll find a trig point and a sculpture of whale bones.
Why are there whale bones up there, you ask? Well, it’s actually in commemoration of one of North Berwick’s oldest (and thankfully long-gone) industry’s – whaling – which saw the animals hunted to near extinction in the Victorian era.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: North Berwick Law
- Address: Law Road, North Berwick, East Lothian
Coastal Communities Museum
If you’re looking for things to do in North Berwick in the rain you won’t go far wrong with a visit to this wee hidden gem.
As with most museums of its type, the Coastal Community Museum is run by an ultra-enthusiastic team of volunteers who aim to educate visitors about the history, culture, and geology of the area.
Inside, visitors will discover the history of North Berwick from the volcanic eruptions that created the Bass Rock and Berwick Law to the tourist industry that has firmly planted the town on the map in modern times.
There are exhibitions that showcase local art, displays that explore the natural history and wildlife of the region, and artefacts from North Berwick’s past including paintings, photographs, and even a lighthouse optic.
To find the museum, follow Melbourne Road along Milsey Bay and turn up School Road. The museum is impossible to miss as it’s located inside an enormous former schoolhouse. Entry is free but please note the museum is closed during the winter.
- Address: School Rd, North Berwick, EH39 4JU
- Website: Coastal Communities Museum
The John Muir Way
The John Muir Way is a 134-mile (215 km) walking and cycling route between Dunbar in East Lothian and Helensburgh in Argyll and Bute.
It was named after the conservationist John Muir who was born in Dunbar but later emigrated to America where he set up several national parks including Yosemite Valley and Sequoia.
The route is without a doubt one of the best outdoor activities in North Berwick, passing over rolling hills, through wild moorland, and beside beautiful coastlines – as you’ll see for yourself when you walk the John Muir Way around North Berwick.
The last two sections join the historic village of Prestonpans with the endpoint at Dunbar, with North Berwick more-or-less in the middle.
Both directions will reward walkers with stunning views, but in my opinion, the route between North Berwick and Dunbar (15 miles) is the pick of the two thanks to the drop-dead gorgeous scenery and attractions which include Berwick Law, the serene farmland of East Lothian (also known as ‘Scotland’s larder’), and the fascinating Preston Mill.
The route towards Prestonpans (16 miles), meanwhile, closely follows the coastline and is a great way to see East Lothian’s quaint coastal villages and scenic beaches, as well as a couple of nature reserves.
Whichever direction you decide to go, start at the roundabout in the centre of North Berwick at the junction of East Road and Quality Street and keep an eye open for the John Muir Way route markers. Or better yet, hop on over to the John Muir Way website and download PDFs of the route to your phone.
- Website: John Muir Way
See East Lothian in 360° with – Virtual Tours of Attractions in East Lothian.
Best family attractions near North Berwick
Although Scotland is best known for its whisky, there’s another spirit that’s fast becoming one of the country’s biggest exports – gin.
In total, there are 70 distilleries making gin in Scotland and one of the highest-rated is NB Distillery located just outside of North Berwick.
NB Distillery has won a number of awards in recent years but it’s their NB London Dry Gin which takes centre stage having been voted the world’s best London dry gin in 2015.
The distillery itself is a teeny-tiny affair that’s situated in an industrial estate in the middle of farmland, but they’ve recently opened the site up to visitors with gin tours that explain the gin and vodka-making process followed by samples of 5 different gins in an on-site tasting lounge.
Due to the amount of alcohol on offer it’s recommended to take a taxi from North Berwick to the distillery (international visitors – note that Scotland has a zero drink-drive policy), or you can book a non-drinking tour which has soft drinks and a bottle of gin to take home.
In addition, if you find you really like NB Gin, you can purchase a bottle or two from their shop, as well as refill empty bottles at a discounted price.
- Address: Halflandbarns, North Berwick, EH39 5PW
- Website: NB Distillery
As mentioned earlier, Yellowcraig lies three miles west of North Berwick and can be walked to along the coastline from the town.
What makes this beach stand out above the ones in West and Milsey Bays are the facilities which include a large paid car park, a children’s play park, toilets, a designated BBQ area, and a snack van, plus it’s further away from the town so it’s quieter.
Personally, I place Yellowcraig above any of the other beaches along this stretch of East Lothian’s coastline because there’s more to it than just the beach. Directly behind Yellowcraig is a large area of grassland that’s crisscrossed with footpaths, and behind that there’s a small woodland.
On either side there are golf courses (which beach visitors are requested to avoid for their own safety), and there’s the much larger beach of Broadsands which joins Yellowcraig on its eastern end.
Immediately offshore is Fidra island which is noteworthy as it was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island.
It’s possible to kayak out to it on a calm day as it’s only around a third of a mile from the shore, but disembarking onto the island is discouraged as it’s a designated RSPB reserve.
The only negative I have about Yellowcraig is that on weekends in summer it gets very busy, so it’s best avoided by anyone looking for peace and quiet. Midweek is fine though.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: Yellowcraig Beach
- Address: North Berwick, EH55
East Lothian is home to lots of castles, but the two nearest North Berwick are Tantallon (coming up next) and Dirleton.
Dirleton Castle is located just one mile south of Yellowcraig so it can be driven to from the beach in five minutes, or less than ten minutes from the centre of North Berwick.
The castle is situated in the attractive village of Dirleton just off the A198 and it’s best known for having the longest herbaceous border in the world, which attracts as many visitors that are interested in gardening as those that are actually interested in the castle.
To be honest, the castle is as ramshackle as they come, consisting of the outer walls, gigantic entry towers, and some underground vaults.
It’s an interesting place though, and as it’s under the management of Historic Environment Scotland there are plenty of information panels to tell you the castle’s history as well as who the owners were and why it became so badly damaged (blame Oliver Cromwell).
There’s a small exhibition and a shop inside, but really the highlight is the garden which features manicured lawns, lots of flower beds, and a wee arboretum.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: Dirleton Castle
- Address: Dirleton, East Lothian, EH39 5ER
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Tantallon Castle is the oldest example of a curtain-walled fortress in Scotland, originally consisting of an enormous outer wall with smaller buildings hidden safely behind it.
The fortress dominates the coastline two miles east of North Berwick where it overlooks Seacliff Beach (coming up next) and is less than half a mile from the NB Gin distillery.
Tantallon was the last (and one of the largest) curtain-walled castles built in Scotland, and it’s unusual because it’s built from a rather soft sandstone.
This locally-sourced red stone has seen serious erosion over the last 700+ years due to being battered by North Sea winds, and coupled with a crippling bombardment by Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s only a small part of the original castle survives.
Even so, Tantallon Castle is quite a sight and its size makes it one of the top attractions in the county. Visitors can explore the interior of the main courtyard as well as climb up the remaining curtain wall onto viewing platforms which present gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside.
As it’s a Historic Environment Scotland site there are loads of information panels that explain everything from the life of the people who worked in it to the politics of the Red Douglas’s who were the last owners until Cromwell’s cannons left it in ruins.
Getting to Tantallon Castle is a simple job of following the A198 out of North Berwick for 1.5 miles, after which you can park in the on-site car park and enter via the pay kiosk and souvenir shop.
There are toilet facilities but no food and drinks in the shop, so if you need food I recommend heading to the Drift café half a mile back toward North Berwick on the A198. The café serves delicious homemade meals and has great views over the cliffs of Canty Bay.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: Tantallon Castle
- Address: East Lothian, EH39 5PN
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
I’m including the last attraction in this list purely because it’s close to Tantallon Castle and is a must-do for anyone wondering what to do after they’ve walked around the old castle walls.
Seacliff beach is a wide strip of golden sand located to the southeast of the castle, just past the rocky Oxroad Bay. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches in East Lothian, but this is one of the best.
Access is via a long private road from the A198 which leads onto a paid car park in the middle of woodland, after which there are steep steps down onto the beach.
Although it’s not particularly long it’s very wide and the water is shallow, so it’s a popular place for swimming (well, in summer) and it’s a favourite place for families due to the crescent shape of the bay which offers some protection from the otherwise choppy North Sea.
On either side of the beach are large rocks where children can spend hours guddling about in rock pools, while a small outcrop on the western side has a hill with great views and a tiny man-made harbour that’s officially the smallest harbour in Scotland.
- Out About Scotland visitor guide: Seacliff Beach
- Address: North Berwick, EH39 5PP
Find more things to do in the area around North Berwick with – The Complete Guide to Things to Do in East Lothian.
Accommodation in North Berwick
- Marine & Spa North Berwick. Address: 18 Cromwell Road, North Berwick, EH39 4LZ. Facilities: swimming pool, spa and wellness centre, fitness centre, facilities for disabled guests, non-smoking rooms, restaurant, Wi-Fi available in all areas, bar, breakfast included, beachfront views.
- Nether Abbey Hotel. Address: 20 Dirleton Avenue, North Berwick, EH39 4BQ. Facilities: pets allowed, free parking, Wi-Fi, tea/coffee maker in all rooms, bar, breakfast included.
- Greywalls Hotel & Chez Roux. Address: Muirfield, Gullane, EH31 2EG. Facilities: bar, breakfast included, a 3-minute walk from a beach, close to a golf course, large gardens, Wi-Fi, tennis courts, and restaurant.
- Bayswell Park Hotel. Address: 16 Bayswell Park, Dunbar, EH42 1AE. Facilities: free parking, family rooms, tea/coffee maker in all rooms, bar, breakfast included, sea views.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is North Berwick worth visiting?
North Berwick is one of the top seaside towns in southeast 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 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?
For anyone of average fitness levels, North Berwick Law is nothing more than moderately challenging. The footpath to the top of the 600-foot summit is composed of well-trodden dirt and grass which winds its way around the northern 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 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 them.
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.