Because Scotland's capital is right in the heart of things, you can find a lot to see and do near Edinburgh: wonderful scenery and outdoor adventures, lochs and forests, castles, scenic wonders, literary landmarks, and equally exciting cities. These 10 day trip destinations are among our favorites.
Loch Lomond is the biggest body of freshwater in Britain and a family-friendly destination. Balloch, on the southern end of the loch, is less than 70 miles from Edinburgh. Easy cycle and walking paths start at this village, and island-hopping cruises depart from there.
Getting There: Take the low road, as the song suggests, to the "bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond." Take the M8 out of Edinburgh and through Glasgow, after which you will need to follow the signs along the Clyde (A814 to A82). Stay on the A82 to Balloch, which is well signposted. The trip takes about an hour and a half.
Travel Tip: Balloch Castle and Country Park, a 19th-century baronial estate, comes with gardens and woodlands, and offers terrific views of the loch.
Glasglow is full of attractions. It has a brilliant new science center; one of the best transport museums we've ever visited; and the Kelvingrove, a huge purpose-built museum with a little bit of everything, from skeletons of prehistoric critters to Salvatore Dali's "Christ of St John of the Cross." Plus, there are several art galleries to pop into, a terrific dining scene, and good, affordable shopping all over the place.
Getting There: Hop on a train at Edinburgh's Waverley Station and you'll be at Glasgow Queen Street station in about an hour. Trains leave every 15 to 20 minutes all day long and off-peak roundtrip tickets are under 15 pounds.
Travel Tip: While you're in Glasgow, visit the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, an almost impossible-to-describe work of mechanical and robotic fantasies that is one of the city's recent runaway successes.
Loch Awe, at the base of mountain Ben Cruachan, is sometimes smooth as a mirror, while at other times it's wild and choppy. That's because Ben Cruachan conceals a huge hydroelectric plant within a hollowed-out vast chamber. When power is needed, water collected in a lake at the top of the mountain runs down through turbines in Ben Cruachan and into Loch Awe. Don wellies and a rain slicker and take a Cruachan bus tour into the turbine hall. There are also trails up the mountain to the reservoir at the top.
Getting There: It's 106 miles to get to Ben Cruachan, near Dalmally. If you're not hopping on a bus tour, make your way down the motorways to Stirling. Then, take the A84 and A85 the rest of the way.
Travel Tip: Go early and then take your time returning via the A85, enjoying the scenery of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park along the way.
On the west coast of Argyll is Oban, a lovely, seaside fishing village that sits on a small bay facing the Isle of Mull. Ruined castles are within reach, and the top of the town offers great views across the Western Isles. Hop on a boat for a short excursion around Oban Harbour; Argyll Sea Tours offer one-hour trips to the nearby seal colonies as well as two-hour trips further afield to visit sea porpoises and sea eagles. Oban bills itself as Scotland's seafood capital and their North Atlantic seafood is worth a try.
Getting There: It takes up to three hours to travel the 122 miles by car via the M90 and the A85—but it's a pretty journey well worth your time.
Travel Tip: Oban has a train station, but don't even bother. The trains are all local services and can take between seven and 10 hours. It's possible to cut the time down to four hours by changing at Queen Street in Glasgow—but that becomes a rushed and stressful way to do a day trip. Several tour companies include lunch in Oban in their West Highland excursions. Check Go Scotland Tours.
If you watched Braveheart, you may remember William Wallace declaring "They canna take our FREEDOM!" before leading his men into battle. The battle was for Stirling Bridge, below the castle. This 12th century fortress became a Renaissance royal palace and a symbol of Scottish resistance for centuries. Here, you'll find military and regimental museums, royal tapestries, the Great Kitchens, and a Great Hall built for James IV of Scotland (later James I of England). In the vaults and undercrofts, interactive exhibits and activities are designed to intrigue younger family members. This castle makes a good day trip excursion for families with younger children, but it has enough to entertain visitors of all ages.
Getting There: It's just under 40 miles from Edinburgh, taking less than an hour to get there on the M9. Or take ScotRail toward Dunblane from Edinburgh Waverley. The train ride is about an hour, followed by a 15-minute walk to the castle. You can find off-peak, roundtrip tickets under 10 pounds.
Travel Tip: While you're at Stirling don't miss the monuments for two of Scotland's greatest heroes. The monument to Robert the Bruce is within the castle walls while the statue of William Wallace is about two miles away on foot. If you do walk, you'll have a chance to cross the River Forth on Old Stirling Bridge. And find out why Stirling is one of Scotland's top 10 castles to visit.
St Andrews: The Home of Golf
The birthplace of golf, there are seven public links courses at St Andrews, run by a trust that protects these historic greens. In all, there are more than 700 acres of links courses and another 222 acres of the Castle Course. Even if you don't plan to play, you can take a guided walking tour of the Old Course—where the game of golf was first played 600 years ago—or explore a family trail.
Everyone from age 3 and up can have a go at the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club (also known as the Himalayas). The three-pound greens fee also covers equipment hire.
Getting There: It's a two-hour bus trip from Edinburgh bus station via the X59 bus route. Or take the 53-mile road trip, heading across the Firth of Forth at Queensferry on the M90 and then traveling east on the A92.
Travel Tip: The West Sands beach, parallel to the Jubilee Course, is where the famous opening sequence of the film "Chariots of Fire" was shot.
Northeast of Edinburgh, Scotland's fourth largest city has turned its history of whaling, textile manufacturing, and Antarctic exploration into a series of fascinating visitor attractions. Visit a jute mill to learn the stories of the workers, or stand on the deck of the Dundee-built ship that Captains Scott and Shackleton sailed on their first voyage to Antarctica. The first branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum outside of London has joined the Royal Research Ship Discovery on the city's waterfront. It all makes for a great day—or two or three—out.
Getting There: It's just a 64-mile drive; first take the M90 and then the A90.
Travel Tip: Don't overlook the McManus Gallery, where art, archaeology, and anthropology are well presented.
The Falkirk Wheel is the world's first—and only—rotating boat lift (it's like a ferris wheel that carries boats instead of people). The wheel was built to reconnect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. You can board a special vessel built just for visitors to take a ride on it yourself. In good weather, you can also have fun in the Visitor Centre's Splash Zone, where canoeing, pedal boats, stand-up paddleboarding, and bumper boats are available.
Getting There: It's just 23 miles from Edinburgh on the M9 to Junction 8. Or take a local train from Edinburgh to Falkirk Grahamston, Camelon, or Falkirk High Station and then taxi to the wheel.
Travel Tip: Hire a bicycle from the Visitor Centre for the five-mile ride to the Kelpies, a pair of horse head sculptures nearly 100 feet tall; they're the world's largest equine statues.
They say Sir Walter Scott almost singlehandedly invented Scotland as we know it. His novels, epic poems, essays, and non-fiction books—including "Ivanhoe," "Waverley," "Rob Roy," and "The Lady of the Lake"—created the romantic mythology of the Scottish clans. It was through his deductions that the Honours of Scotland—the Scottish crown jewels—were discovered hidden in a chest.
Scott's home, Abbotsford, is a remarkable fantasy castle full of the writer's treasures, tartans, gardens, and books. It was recently refurbished, and the beautiful walled gardens were restored as well.
Getting There: Abbotsford House is 41 miles southeast of Edinburgh, on the A7 between the towns of Melrose and Galashiels. Trains from Edinburgh Waverley Station take an hour to get to Tweedbank Station, which is roughly a mile from Abbotsford. During the summer and fall, a special mini-bus runs from the station to the house.
Travel Tip: While you are nearby, visit Melrose Abbey, where the heart of Robert the Bruce is said to be buried in a lead casket.
When 19th-century Utopian idealist Robert Owen took over his family's successful textile mill and village, he implemented radical ideas of benevolent paternalism that were way ahead of their time. Decent housing, education, and working conditions—plus overall cultural improvement—were all part of his model industrial village. Now placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, New Lanark is described as "a milestone in social and industrial history" with lasting influence. The mill continued in operation into the 1960s. Today it is a residential and small business site that welcomes visitors to its museums, model school, and workshops.
Getting There: The easiest way to get there is by car. It's 35 miles and about an hour's drive via the A70 or the M8, southwest of Edinburgh.
Travel Tip: The only waterfalls on the River Clyde form part of a circular walk that starts near the far end of New Lanark Village. The three-mile walk, The Falls of Clyde at New Lanark, passes an impressive group of falls, the tallest being 84 feet. Check the website for maps and details the waterfall walk.