From serene beaches and spectacular viewpoints, to cookery classes, whisky tours and alpaca treks, there are plenty of great things to do in East Lothian, Scotland.
I have a wonderful place to tell you about! My most recent trip was to East Lothian in Scotland. You’re thinking, “isn’t that region famous for golf?” Well, yes, it is, but you’ll probably know that unless we’re playing crazy golf and hole 12 involves a windmill, I’m not going to be getting my hands on a golf club!
Head east from Edinburgh’s vibrant centre and you’ll reach East Lothian. Known as Edinburgh’s coast and countryside, the county is home to miles of unspoiled beaches, historic castles and unique attractions. There’s plenty of delicious fresh produce on offer too. During my trip I was excited to delve into ALL of this and more.
Visiting in December I knew I couldn’t expect the weather to be on my side, but surprisingly, it was! Temperatures were mild for the time of year (8-12 degrees) and we enjoyed short days filled with low winter sun, that cast a magical light over the landscapes.
My personal highlights included walking along secluded beaches with sand that stretched as far as the eye could see, taking a bunch of fluffy alpacas for a walk around a pine forest, and staying in some of the quirkiest accommodation I’ve visited on my travels.
If this sounds like your kind of trip, I’ve got lots of tips for the best things to do in East Lothian. Ready? It’s time to dive into this beautiful corner of Scotland.
Where is East Lothian?
East Lothian lies to the east of Edinburgh in south-eastern Scotland, just north of the Scottish border with Northumberland. It’s a famous golfing region, with 21 golf courses in the county, as well as being the current home of the Scottish Open. You’ll even spot signs for ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’ (not to be confused with the Gulf Coast!) as you drive along the seaside roads.
While the county is close to Edinburgh, it feels worlds away from city life. Within fifteen minutes of leaving the city you can be following winding coastal roads or wiggling through pretty villages. If you live in Edinburgh, you’re lucky to have somewhere like this so close to home!
How to get to East Lothian?
Wherever you’re based in the United Kingdom, you need to start by travelling to Edinburgh. You could fly, take a train or drive. As I’m based in London, I hopped on the train from King’s Cross St Pancras, then hired a car from Edinburgh.
A car is essential if you really want to explore the region in detail. For a varied itinerary, I’d recommend spending a day seeing the sights in Edinburgh, before heading out to explore Scotland’s best kept secret – East Lothian!
Top Things to do in East Lothian, Scotland
Stay in unique accommodation at The Bus Stop
All aboard! How about staying on a converted bus in the Scottish countryside during your trip? The Bus Stop is home to several converted buses, each with comfortable interiors and chic touches. We were lucky enough to stay on the grey double decker luxury bus, which has three bedrooms upstairs and a comfortable lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. Outside is a wood-fired hot tub which really completes the luxurious experience. There are also 2-person single-decker options available.
I adored our stay at The Bus Stop! Sometimes quirky accommodation is all about gimmicks and isn’t particularly comfortable or doesn’t offer a relaxing escape. Our bus had a really comfortable double bed, we had hot showers, a working kitchen and as for the hot tub – that was SUCH a treat!
Another thing to mention is that the stars were some of the brightest I’ve seen in a long time! We sat in the hot tub one evening looking up, spotting several shooting stars zooming across the night sky. We then got into bed and peered out at them through the skylight of our room on the bus! This really added an extra bit of magic to our Scottish adventure!
Go on an alpaca trek with John Muir Alpacas
Jennifer launched John Muir Alpacas with just a few of the creatures, but she’s got such a big heart she now has 40 under her care. She’s alpaca mad, in the best way possible! Each of them has a fun name, she’s spotted various personality traits and she just loves being around them.
And so did I! We spent an hour taking a few of the alpacas for a little trek through John Muir Country Park, passing through farmland, forests and even along the beach. It was a gorgeous hour of mindfulness… of connecting with nature and learning about the beautiful creatures.
My alpaca Teddy stopped every few moments for a little chew on some grass or a pine branch. He seemed very content to wander through the landscapes on his daily exercise. After returning to the farm, we met the rest of the alpacas (including a few babies), fed them carrots, took endless photos and said our emotional goodbyes.
I think this alpaca trek is one of the top things to do in East Lothian! Kids will adore meeting the animals, but I think it’s an experience suited to adults too. You might have trouble leaving them behind!
Learn to cook at the Yarrow Cookery School
The last few years has been challenging for many, especially in the travel, food and hospitality industries. It’s been amazing to meet some shining lights from these industries on our recent travels, and hear how they’ve adapted their businesses.
After training as a professional chef and gaining experience at Tom Kitchin’s restaurant in Gullane (more on that later!) Richard launched the Yarrow Cookery School. He runs the school from his farmhouse in East Linton. His dishes always utilise local, seasonal and sustainable produce, and while some of his cookery lessons have shifted online over the last year, he loves nothing more than teaching people to cook delicious dishes they can recreate at home.
We cooked a spectacular three-course menu featuring lots of winter ingredients, mostly sourced from suppliers Richard knows personally. We kicked off with a salt-baked beetroot and goat’s cheese salad. It was great to learn about salt-baking – a technique I’d seen on Masterchef over the years but never dared try myself!
The main course was a roast pork belly and apple extravaganza, with an aromatic spicing, and hearty gravy. To accompany the main, we fried brussels sprouts with large amounts of crushed garlic. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever enjoyed a sprout! I liked them so much, I even offered to be on sprout duty on Christmas day!
For dessert we made raspberry soufflés – another dish I’d never have the confidence to try at home. They were light and airy, with a strong zing of raspberry. I couldn’t believe how well they turned out… and yes, we’ve made them again since and they were just as good!
We really enjoyed our time at the Yarrow Cookery School. Not only was the meal we prepared delicious, it added a few new dishes to our cooking repertoire and gave us a confidence boost in the kitchen!
Climb up North Berwick Law
Standing tall as the backdrop for North Berwick is North Berwick Law. This hill is 187m high and is a reminder of this part of Scotland’s volcanic past. Obviously, as soon as we heard about it, we wanted to climb to the top and see the views.
There’s a clear path most of the way up, which zig-zags a lot of the way, with some steep and craggy sections near the summit. It took us around 40 minutes to reach the top. Once there you’ll find the remains of a stone building which was used as a lookout during the Napoleonic Wars around 1800. If French ships were spotted, soldiers would light a warning fire there!
There’s also a pair of whale’s jawbones made from fibreglass, to replace the real pair that once stood at the summit.
Being the highest point for miles, the panoramic views from North Berwick Law are as incredible as you’d expect. On clear days you can spot Edinburgh Castle and the Forth Bridge to the west, the Firth of Forth and Fife coastline to the north and landmarks such as the Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle to the west.
Taste East Lothian’s whisky at Glenkinchie Distillery
You can’t visit Scotland without sampling a wee dram! Glenkinchie is a Victorian distillery offering a great introduction to whisky production and tasting. We had a really engaging tour guide who gave us the background to Glenkinchie and then explained the field-to-glass whisky process. There were lots of interactive elements, from identifying different scent profiles, to seeing the distillation process in action. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
I learned how Glenkinchie distils the Edinburgh Malt that is a vital component of Johnnie Walker whiskies, as well as creating their own Lowland style single malt whisky, which has notes of fragrant flowers, dried cut grass, and nutty cereal.
Our tour concluded with a tasting in one of the distillery’s chic tasting rooms. As well as a whisky cocktail, I sampled three different whiskies. As the distillery is in a remote location, there’s an option for designated drivers to take their tastings away to enjoy at home. A nice touch… if you can resist!
Enjoy a gourmet meal at The Bonnie Badger in Gullane
Tom Kitchin’s name is synonymous with Scottish gastronomy. The superstar chef has several restaurants in Scotland, including The Kitchin in Edinburgh which proudly holds a Michelin star. If you’re looking for fine-dining in East Lothian, I’d recommend booking a table at The Bonnie Badger in the pretty town of Gullane.
We feasted on a tasty three-course lunch, featuring countless local delicacies. My favourite dishes were the Highland beef tartare which had an Asian twist with added soy and sesame. The hand-dived Orkney scallops were also cooked to perfection! I also enjoyed a decadent main of North Sea halibut which came with roasted fennel and seaweed butter.
Around us were couples celebrating anniversaries and families marking special birthdays. It felt like the perfect spot for a meal to remember.
As well as the Stables Restaurant, there’s a bar, function rooms, garden area, pool room and 13 luxurious bedrooms. I’d love to stay here next time to experience a different side to the region!
Wander along East Lothian’s secluded beaches
You might not think of visiting beaches on a winter visit to Scotland, but it’d be a mistake not to explore some of East Lothian’s coast. There are so many to choose from, and each offers something unique. Here are a few of my personal favourites:
Yellowcraig Beach – A stunning wide beach with sand dunes, which looks out to a small island (Fidra Island). As a little aside, this was said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson famous book Treasure Island.
Gullane Beach – Sandy beach with hilly perimeter and views out onto the Firth of Forth. If you’re a walker, check out the popular route from Gullane Beach to Aberlady Bay.
Milsey Bay Beach – One of two beaches in North Berwick, this one has a huge swathe of sand with a natural lido and interesting rock formations around the harbour.
Fall in love with North Berwick
I really fell in love with the town of North Berwick on this trip. With its small harbour, pretty beaches and vibrant high street, it oozes charm and character.
If you’re looking for somewhere to pick up some gifts or are thinking about towns to base yourself in (where you’ll have access to lots of restaurants and cafes) this is the location I’d recommend. I’ll admit it’s getting rarer and rarer to find high streets filled with independent stores, but this is a town where people really do ‘shop local’. My favourite shops were homeware store Time & Tide and So & Co accessory shop. There were also some lovely looking cafes along the main street – I wished I had more time there!
Visit the Scottish Seabird Centre
This centre in North Berwick’s harbour is one of the top things to do in East Lothian for bird lovers. The centre features interactive exhibits and information about the amazing birds that call Scotland and its islands home.
The new Discovery Experience even allows you to control the live cameras on the world’s largest Northern gannet colony nearby on the Bass Rock.
Relax at Nether Abbey Hotel in North Berwick
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in North Berwick, this 4-star boutique hotel is a lovely choice. With large bedrooms (many with sea views), a smart restaurant, bar and bundles of friendly Scottish hospitality, it’s somewhere you’re guaranteed to be well looked after.
The food is great here too. Expect well presented dishes with a lovely mix of local ingredients on the menu.
We visited just before Christmas and WOW did the hotel take this seriously! The tree was spectacular, the lights everywhere added a lovely warmth, and the overall feel was like a big festive hug. I loved it!
Meet the Dunbear in Dunbar
The alpacas weren’t the only creatures I met on this trip to East Lothian! Just outside the town of Dunbar is the Dunbear, a five-metre-high steel sculpture of a brown bear standing on its hind legs.
It was created as a tribute to John Muir, a naturalist from the area who is known for helping establish National Parks in the US, and is considered a huge inspiration in this region. It’s an impressive creation, although I’ll admit its setting next to a supermarket, garden centre and main road felt a little underwhelming! It’s well worth a quick stop if you’re in the area, but not something I’d make a big detour for.
Go for a coffee with a view at Drift
We stumbled across this amazing spot by chance, while driving along the coastal road from Dunbar to North Berwick. Oh were we happy we did!
Located inside a large shipping container, perched on the cliff edge opposite the Bass Rock, with sweeping bays either side, this café probably has one of the best views of any in Scotland!
Not only that but the coffee was excellent and the cakes were moist and delicious! If you’re looking for a pick-me-up on your East Lothian road trip, definitely stop by Drift.
Visit East Lothian’s historic castles
Our visit happened to fall a few weeks after Storm Arwen, one of the worst storms to hit East Lothian in years. Sadly, this meant that a few key spots were closed for safety reasons.
On our next trip back to the region, I’d love to visit Tantallon Castle, a grand medieval castle which sits right on the cliff edge. We managed to catch a few glimpses of it as we travelled along the coast, but couldn’t get close enough to take in the mighty curtain wall, known as the best example of castle architecture from the 1300s anywhere in Scotland!
Another famous landmark in East Lothian is Hailes Castle, located just outside of Haddington. One of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, this one dates from the early 1200s. It’s associated with the Wars of Independence and Mary Queen of Scots time.
Or for something a little different, head to Dirleton Castle just outside of North Berwick. We spotted this one from the car and it was absolutely incredible! This medieval fortress dates back to the 13th century and sits in a quaint village. If only the village I grew up in had a castle!
If you’re a history buff, hopefully these castles will be open for your visit.
I hope this guide helps you plan your time in East Lothian! If you’re still looking for more ideas, there are a few other popular attractions I didn’t make it to, including the National Museum of Flight, East Links Family Park and Archerfield Walled Garden. Add these to your list if any of them take your fancy.
For more information and travel inspiration, check out Visit East Lothian’s website now. Also, a big thank you to the team there for inviting us to explore Scotland’s best kept secret! We look forward to returning again in the future.
You can also follow all the updates from the area on the region’s social media channels: Facebook Visit East Lothian, Instagram Go East Lothian and Twitter Go East Lothian, or by searching for the hashtags #eastlothian #noordinaryday.
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