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Day Trip from Edinburgh... Recommendations?

Hey all! My fiance (soon to be husband) and I will be traveling to Edinburgh on our honeymoon. We will be there for 4.5 days. We want to explore the city, but we'd also like to see the countryside outside of the city. I've looked at a variety of tour companies, and while they seem to "hit" many major Scottish sites, they also have you sit on a bus for hours and hours. I'm not sure if I am thrilled about seeing Scotland through a bus window.

Any recommendations for day trips? My fiance and I are up for just about anything. We want to get a feel for the Scottish countryside (or even just Scottish culture outside of Edinburgh). We are fairly novice European travelers -- I did a post-college Europe trip with friends and he traveled with his family in high school -- so the day trip would need to be something that we could navigate without too much stress or drama. The more information you can give me, the better!

Thank you so much for all of your help!

Posted by
5546 posts

hi Jill, I think you're on target. I totally with you about the bus time. There are some shorter tours you could take, or you could rent a car for a couple.

First, by train, my favorite spot is Dunkeld. It's just north of Perth and you can take an early train and be there mid morning. Birnam is the train stop and you walk over the Telford Bridge to the other side of the Tay River. You can go for a walk in the countryside, tour the Cathedral, walk Birnam wood, have a lovely lunch at the Tay Bank.

The Trossachs are also very close. But you either need a car or you need to find a tour. There is a steam boat on Loch Katrine that is fun. You can rent bikes, take them on the boat and then bike back from the other side. If you've got a wee bit of Macgregor in you as I do, this whole area is interesting as this is where Rob Roy Macgregor is from. Balquhidder is where he is buried. Take the road to the west from the village and explore the glen. There are some walks at the end. I didn't explore them. Stop for a drink and or a sandwich at Monachyle Mhor. I sat outside watching the loch and a crazy dog play with a rock. I took a picture of my cider with the loch in the background. When my ship comes in and I find a companion worthy of it I will stay at this hotel.

Another easy day trip, that's in town is to go to Stirling. You take the train. I love Stirling Castle. They have been restoring it for many years with careful archaeology. You can spend several hours there. Also just a short walk away is Argyll's Lodging. You can take a bus out to Bannockburn. It's a city bus. I'm sure that the TI can point you to it. Of course, it's the big anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

You can take the train almost to St. Andrew's. You actually take it to Leuchars where you can catch a bus. Of course there is the golf course, but there is also the castle which has all sorts of wonderful bits. If you do have a car, you could drive out there and then come back via the Fife Coast and the wonderful fishing villages in East Neuk.

Pam

Posted by
4861 posts

I went to Glasgow for the day. I targeted the art school, the McIntosh tearoom, and the modern art museum and had a leisurely day. I think I saw a ruined castle on the way.

Posted by
1273 posts

Don't get me wrong, Stirling is beautiful and well worth a visit, but if you are on a short timescale can be a wee bit Edinburgh in miniature. I'd say Glasgow, into the Borders, Fife or even Dundee. There is the Discovery Centre near the railway station with heritage from Britain's various Antarctic expeditions, esp Scott of the Antarctic. Also the chance to see the location that inspired one of the 'so bad its great' poems - the Tay Bridge Disaster by William MacGonnagle.

Posted by
5546 posts

MC you're never going to talk me out of Stirling. As someone who loves history the work that they have done on that castle and the geography that surrounds it makes it really different from Edinburgh Castle. I've enjoyed several visits and I while it's different in the way that the Trossachs or the Perthshire countryside is, it's got it's own charm. And, it's easy to get to.

Probably should have mentioned Linlithgow which is even closer to Edinburgh. It has a great castle ruin and also has good history. You can go by train, but if you go by car, take the time to visit a less visited castle on the Firth or Forth, Blackness. As the description points out, this is no Royal Castle, but rather a defensive one. The views of the Forth are wonderful.

And now I've got another idea--Culross. I really enjoyed exploring this town which gives a glimpse of 16th and 17th century Scotland. Google maps show that you take the train or bus to Dumfermline and then transfer. I had a car when I went so no direct public transit experience.

Posted by
2775 posts

What about Dunbar? Maybe a half-day? Is it pretty there? I would love to see John Muir's birthplace.

Posted by
1273 posts

Pamela, never planning to try and convince you otherwise! I love Stirling. One of my favourite views in Scotland is going along the M9 with the castle on its rock over looking the valley, and in turn the view from the castle across the the valley below. My highest qualification is history and Stirling has a lot of it. Even house hunted there a couple of times. It is just for a lot of guests we tend to mix Edinburgh one trip, Stirling another to avoid the overload.

I agree with you about Linlithgow. Been to a few Historic Scotland events there over years and the castle and town are almost too perfect. One thing I always think of Linlithgow is that if it were not for the union of the crowns in 1603 Linlithgow would now be Scottish for Versailles.

Posted by
5546 posts

Interesting idea about Linlithgow. They had just restored the fountain when I visited. It was also the time of the petrol strike and all eyes were on Grangemouth just down the road. :)

Posted by
484 posts

I want to reply to Sasha above about Dunbar. I had a brief stop in Dunbar once. Problem for us - it was late in the day and most of the town was closed up. Plus, it was raining hard. Keeping all that in mind, my family and I didn't see much reason to visit Dunbar at all. (I am a John Muir fan as well.). There is a seagull colony on a large rock formation on the water. The birds were nesting. That was the most interesting thing. Perhaps, I would have been more satisfied if I could have toured the Belhaven brewery. So, spend your limited travel time elsewhere.

Posted by
5546 posts

Dunbar is the birth place of John Muir. The big Rock is Bass Rock and iIf you are birder it is prime place to visit although the Sea Bird Centre is in North Berwick. Tantallon Castle looks good too. But I think it might just as well to go to North Berwick?

Posted by
72 posts

Take a look at Rabbies Trail Burners tour group. They have several day trips and while you do sit on a 16 passenger bus they make a lot of stops. They may have a tour that you'd like.

Posted by
16 posts

My friend and I took the Rabbies day tour (booked through Viator.com it's called Loch Ness, Gelncoe, and the Highlands small group day tour) and loved it! We got to see so much of the country side and they did stop a lot for you to get out, walk around, and take pictures. We stopped at a few small towns, one on the way to Loch Ness to grab a crossaint for breakfast, and Pitlochry on the way back. We took a different way to and from Loch Ness so we weren't seeing the same thing again. We had about an hour or so to walk around Fort Agustus, the town when Loch Ness is, and have lunch on our own. You could also do the optional (additional cost) boat tour to search for Nessie. We were both in our mid twenties and were the youngest, but still had a blast. It was a good mix of people and our tour guide Shelby was awesome. It is an all day trip however, I think it was 12 hours.

Posted by
468 posts

Hi Jill -- focusing on the "not too much stress or drama" of your original post, I would second the Rabbie's recommendation. Driving can be wonderful, but if you are limited to just a few days in all, a full day bus tour can be a really good way to get to see a lot (especially since you can focus on the scenery rather then driving or navigating!). My family took the same Rabbie's tour mentioned above several years ago. We were on our own the rest of the trip, and it was a nice break to let Rabbie's take over for a day. Our driver/guide was amazing -- she had majored in Scottish History in college and knew so much! Yes, we were on the bus a great deal, but the scenery was beautiful. Some day I'd like to return and take a long leisurely drive -- over many days -- through Scotland. But for a one day trip, the bus tour was a wonderfully stress free way to travel.

Posted by
1273 posts

If the Highlands appeal then do one of the tours, but I would say leave them for another visit. You will have a good reason to come back. If my friends and relatives came to stay and wanted a visit to the Highlands I would probably tell them where to go. Admittedly the Highlands are in Highland, Perth and Kinross, Argyll and Bute and Stirling council areas and can be gotten to from my door in about an hour by car.

If you don't have a car I would recommend get a pair of compasses and extend to about 50 miles / 80 km according to the scale of your map. Draw that circle. Then get a good tour guidebook (I have no idea what the Rick Steves books are like, I know the people who post on here seem to be nice and I initially came on to see what people were saying about my country, but by experience of the people the books are probably good ones because good people do not recommend bad guide books). Within that 80 km of Edinburgh you have the Glasgow, Stirling, Perth, Fife, the Borders, Linlithgow and probably Dundee.

That 80 km is about an hour by train. A country is prettier by train than by bus when out of the outskirts, and then gives a good day out.

And you then have a reason, the Highlands, to come back and visit us again.

By the way, come to Glasgow. Scotland's Greatest City.

Posted by
4841 posts

MC, Glasgow certainly fits inside your 50 mile/80 km perimeter from Edinburgh. We still hope to see a bit of Galsgow on our too-short, two-week trip this August, but we may have to save The Greatest for a return trip -- still planning things out.

Rick's guidebooks are definitely the best for Europe, although he deliberately doesn't include every place. His "back door" travel philosophy encourages visiting the worthwhile big "front door" sights of Europe, plus a selection of little-known "back door" gems. Over the past 30 years, his back door locations have often been swarmed by his readers, and there are reports of going to a recommended restaurant and sitting amongst only English-speaking people toting his teal-blue guidebook. Years ago, the back cover of his books said to not worry if his book was thinner than other travel guides . . . his readers liked them that way. The maps used to be exclusively hand-drawn, but useful. Now full-color, correct-to-scale maps are included along with the old standbys, so Jill could get an accurate bead on a 50 mile radius. Rick has added more destinations, too, but still recommends what he feels are the best destinations for someone with limited vacation time. The books have grown accordingly.

He also has filmed over 100 shows on travel in Europe, which show on the American Public Broadcasting network. A lot of the rest of PBS programming is quality British programs.

Posted by
1273 posts

Hi Cyn. My house is in the 80 km radius from Edinburgh but would not recommend it. The entry fee is too high and you'd only get to see a couple of the rooms. But most of the central belt is within the same 80 km from Edinburgh.

One of the reasons I was lured to look on this site was that I had never heard of the company. The books are not available in our book shops etc so reading the forums I am getting a better feel of what North Americans think of our country and our continent. I think the programmes are on some of the satellite or cable channels here, but not PBS. Well not our PBS, PBS America which is mainly Ken Burns documentaries of which I am an addict. They don't seem to have shown the one on baseball which is a shame as I am a fan of the NY Mets having seen them at the Shea Stadium.

The most important thing as a Scot is I want you, Jill, Pamela and all our visitors to have a great time in Scotland. Spend lots of money. And then go home and plan the next visit and tell your friends to do the same.

Posted by
4841 posts

MC, we were originally considering a trip to Alaska this summer, but decided it would be cheaper to spend lots of money in Scotland rather than spending even more in the expensive and expansive 49th State. So we'll face midges rather than mosquitoes this August. As for Ken Burns' baseball documentary, it begins with recalling pedestrians in Brooklyn, N.Y. dodging trolleys, inspiring the name of the baseball team the Dodgers (later relocated to California). The Colorado Rockies are off to a promising start this season, and even recently bested the Mets 2 games out of 3.

We're hoping to catch a shinty match while in Scotland - but don't know whether Jill and her new hubby will be looking for any sporting events while on ther honeymoon. Are there main shinty towns, and are games held throughout the week?

Another Burns series, from 2009, is on American National Parks ("America's Best Idea"). Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado, is celebrating its Centennial in September of this year. I was surprised to see that Scotland's first National Park (Loch Lomond & The Trossachs) began just 12 years ago!

Posted by
312 posts

@Cyn .. do you know the "father" of our national park service? A Scot! John Muir http://www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm

Love my visits to Scotland. I saw a brief look at Glasgow this last trip, last month, and can recommend a good meal at http://thesparklehorse.com

For Jill (thread opener) .. I've enjoyed a couple Rabbies tours (I like leaving the driving to someone else :-) I've also done day trips on my own, planning a destination using train and or bus. From Edinburgh, I used the bus to visit the http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum_of_flight.aspx (some of those drivers go fast - makes for an exciting trip!). I used the train to see the Falkirk Wheel and someday I'll go to Stirling Castle, good chance via train from Edinburgh.

Posted by
1273 posts

The shinty season is over the summer months, the governing body (The Camanachd association, www.shinty.com) has fixtures on its website. The heartland of the sport is the Highlands, so you might be able to find a match near where you are going.

Posted by
16847 posts

Looks like you have plenty of ideas to Mull over. Happy planning!

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you to everyone for all of the incredible ideas. I have no much to think on, but am so looking forward to my trip! I may even need to come back a second or third time to fit everything in!

Posted by
4841 posts

Jill-have a great trip. It's taken us 15 years to plan our second visit to Scotland, so it'll still be there for you for a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th visit! Regarding Laura's Mull pun, I should add that regarding destinations in Scotland, it appears the Skye's the limit, and you "otter" go.

Betsey-Muir sure started something! Ironic that his homeland didn't designate parks until more than a century after U.S. parks had begun with his urging , but now Scotland has two national parks.

MC-thanks for the Shinty link! Cheers!