Edinburgh’s huge benefit is the city's perfect location in the southeast of Scotland. If you’ve already discovered all the nooks and crannies of this city, maybe you want to take a look outside its borders.
Edinburgh’s location is made for using it as your trip base.
There are so many things to see and do around Edinburgh within a two-hour drive that not even a week is enough to see it all. It must be said that I recommend you rent a car (check out our article on driving in Scotland for the first time), because nothing beats the comfort of being in charge of your own timing.
Hotel tips: We stayed at the Leonardo Edinburgh City and I’d stay there again. The hotel of the best value in Edinburgh in my opinion. The Virgin Hotels Edinburgh is the hotel I’d stay at if I wanted something fancy (read “expensive”). See photos of both hotels further down in this article.
And now...do you have your car ready? Perfect. Now let’s go on an adventure!
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Don’t forget that Edinburgh itself has tons of things to do for a solid 2 days of exploration—these are the top spots to visit in Edinburgh.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 64 km (40 miles)
Driving time: 1 hour
Parking: Striling Castle Car & Couch Parking
Starting off strong with what I consider the best day trip of them all, Stirling Castle. This beautiful and historic castle is situated on the top of a volcano. But don’t worry, no second Pompeii here. It is long extinct.
It is outstanding not only by the exterior but is also worth checking out on the inside. It literally took my breath away (not because of the hike, of course) and Stirling Castle also topped my 13 best castles to visit in Scotland list.
The iconic scenery of its view is well known in the pop-cultural world from many music videos. But the most famous is its history. It took part in lots of Scottish wars including the Wars of Scottish independence; many rulers lived there.
If you want to learn more about its historical part, you should definitely visit the interior exhibits full of fun facts and interesting information.
Stirling Castle is big enough that you can explore it for the bigger part of the day, it took us 5 hours. If you also visit the nearby William Wallace Monument you can call it a day.
Tip: Stirling Castle is a stone’s throw away from Trossachs National Park, which is one of the best scenic drives I recommend in Scotland and the next point on this list. You can make Stirling a side trip from there as well.
There is a big parking lot and you need to buy your tickets in advance. We of course didn’t but were very lucky to get in. Tickets are time-slotted and cost GBP 16.50 when bought online and GBP 18 at the gate (when available).
The exhibits inside are modern and interactive. All information is to the point, with no long-winded novels about historical events.
The castle is divided into different areas, each showcasing a different exhibit. For example, there’s a section that explains all about the Scots kings and their mistakes and how they ruled.
Another exhibit is dedicated to the most famous and probably the most important Scots king, Robert the Bruce, and the Battle at Bannockburn of 1314 (check out the nearby monument).
There’s also a great museum dedicated to the Argyll Highlanders, one of the most important regiments of Imperial Britain.
Then there’s the kitchen, the tapestry exhibit, the royal chapel, the gardens… I told you, the place is huge! The Unicorn Café is onsite and serves simple food and drinks. Not open during winter months.
Tip: If you like large palaces filled to the brim with interesting information, read about our visit to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. That also ate up a huge part of our day. It was so good!
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 92 km (57 miles)
Driving time: 1.5 hour
Parking: Ben Aan Car Park
The Trossachs National Park is close to Edinburgh. It's only a 1.5-hour drive from Edinburgh. Its holiday lake Loch Lomond lures many tourists every year with its beautiful beaches and water sports possibilities.
For me, it was the awesome hiking. For some reason, the nature and scenery reminded me of Krkonoše National Park in the Czech Republic. The mountains look very similar (except for all the lakes).
Tip: The Trossachs is huge, so exploring solely on foot isn’t an option if you want to see it all. Luckily, there’s a perfect scenic drive circling the park. Check out my article on the best road trips in Scotland to figure out the route and the best stops on it. The article also mentions driving tips for Scotland in general.
For the best hike in Trossachs, I recommend Ben Aan. It is one of the closest peaks to Edinburgh and it has a pretty large car park nearby so you can easily find a spot for your car there. It cost GBP 3 and you can pay by card.
Needless to say don’t forget to pay for parking. We of course forgot and prayed for the last three hours that our car would still be there when we come back.
Ben Aan hike has an elevation of about 350 meters (1148 feet) and can be steep at some points, but the great views totally beat that. The path is also in very good condition, so I think it is a right fit for almost everyone – even the unfit.
The whole hike took us about 2 hours. What we appreciated the most was the spectacular view right from the beginning until the very end of the hike. The surrounding mountains and lakes are truly picturesque.
Another hike that we did and really enjoyed was along Loch Katrine. You can walk one of three possible trails, though the middle one is not maintained much. The scenery reminded us of Lake Como in Italy.
The hike will take you about 2.5 hours, but don’t forget to add some time to take a few pictures from the top.
There are literally hundreds of possible hikes and paths in this park.
We have also taken the Conic Hill hike which is also very popular. But to be honest we were quite disappointed. The length is about 5 km, took us 1.5 hours to get to the summit and the views were not as breathtaking as the Ben Aan ones. It felt really underwhelming so I would not recommend hiking this one.
Last but not least, Loch Lomond is one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the whole Britain, so it provides plenty of room for paddling (in a rented boat) and other water sports.
As it is easily accessible from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, plenty of people visit this place, so don’t forget to reserve your kayaks before you go.
If you are craving food after a hike—as I am pretty much every time, you should visit The Old Mill restaurant nearby.
I ordered really delicious lamb and even tried their own brewed beer. If you make a reservation, there make sure you get a table in the garden. The stylization into a 17th-century mill just adds something special to the experience.
The Leonardo Edinburgh City is where we stayed when we visited Edinburgh and I would stay there again. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in Edinburgh as far as bang for your buck.
Room size was large for Scotland and the exterior was so typically Scottish with its stone façade.
The location is great, about 800 m (0.5 miles) from Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, and breakfast was good. Not great, but satisfactory. They did a great job with packing us a takeaway breakfast when we had an early morning flight out.
Not to be confused with at least 2 other hotels in Edinburgh under a similar name.
Prices for two start at GBP 140 (USD 160) per night including breakfast.
My top tips for Scotland:
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 64 km (40 miles)
Driving time: 1 hour
Parking: Wallace Monument car park
You can combine the visit of the Wallace Monument with the visit of Stirling Castle, or perhaps with some of the Trossachs National Park. It’s only 64 km (40 miles) away from Edinburgh.
Wallace Monument is 60 meters tall tower with 3 educative floors full of interesting facts about Sir William Wallace.
The staircase inside the tower is pretty steep and narrow so it can be a bit challenging for some people. But after you climb them up you will be an expert on this Scottish national hero, so it is totally worth the exercise.
You will also enjoy some really spectacular views on your way up as the tall tower is situated on the hill. It will take you at least 2 hours and the entrance is GBP 10.75.
The tour inside the tower is full of historically accurate information accompanied by fun facts and interactive activities.
You can also design your own shield that you will especially enjoy if you are a kid or me aka a 90s kid literally addicted to watching Braveheart growing up.
Every floor is dedicated to a different topic from not only the historical field.
Naturally, there is a room about the Battle of Stirling Bridge where Sir Wallace led his men and defeated invading English army.
My personal favorite was The Hall of Heroes which honors great men and women of Scotland. You can find there sculptures of David Livingstone, James Watt or Mary Slessor.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 207 km (129 miles)
Driving time: 2.5 hours
Parking: Car Parking in Cairngorms
The second of two Scottish national parks on this list is the Cairngorms. This huge area of more than 4500 km2 in northeast Scotland is the largest national park in the whole UK.
Tip: If you’re after jaw-dropping Scottish scenery, take a look at the Northern Highlands, Glencoe, or the Isle of Skye. The best out of all three locations are included in my 7-day Highlands itinerary.
It offers so many hikes that I was just on cloud nine. I tell you guys, if you are hiking freaks like I am, there is no better place in Scotland for you.
You can choose from easier paths that take you a few hours to truly challenging whole-day hikes. For example, the famous Glen Feshie which starts in Cairngorms is 40 km (25 miles) long trail with very rough terrain and even water crossings. Will you dare?
We choose to hike around Loch an Eilein and Loch Gamhna. The route took us about 2 hours and even if you are not that fit you could do it without breaking a sweat.
The views of the lakes and surrounding mountains are just the thing. Be sure to look out for Loch Eilein Castle at the end of the walk, it would be a shame to miss it.
And if the weather is nice pack a towel with you, a dip in the Loch is so refreshing!
In the Cairngorms, you can explore paths not only on foot but also on mountain bike or horseback.
In summer you can try various water sports activities on lakes such as kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing and much more. Worth visiting is also Balmoral Castle which was the private holiday home of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s also where the Queen passed away in September 2022.
The current castle replaced the original one, which was just too small for the royals, in 1856, just a few years after they bought the property. You can find a commemorative stone where the front door of the old building used to stand.
If you visit Balmoral Castle, you will see mainly the grounds and garden, which are lovely in the springtime. The formal area will be full of flowers in bloom, and the trees of the surrounding forest lush and green. A visit in the fall could be disappointing for the lack of color (and leaves).
There is only one room set up in the castle itself for tourists to visit. The ballroom is a long rectangular room that probably isn’t as fancy or decorative as you might hope. It contains display cases showing some of the royal family’s collections, such as china and figurines. Nothing too exciting.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 75 km (47 miles)
Driving time: 1 hour
Parking: Car Park Waterloo St Glasgow
Glasgow is largest city in Scotland and has so many things to offer, that it can feel impossible to fit everything into one day.
It is filled with art galleries, museums and monuments, so if you want to visit more of them you should maybe consider staying a night in the city. But for me—being not exactly a museum type of a guy—it was actually not that hard.
Mostly we walked around the city just enjoying the atmosphere and street art. The whole city gives you a gothic vibe mainly thanks to its gem, the Glasgow Cathedral.
A visit to Glasgow University is also worth a small time sacrifice. It was founded in the 15th century, and you will feel like you are in the Harry Potter movies. Well, that’s maybe because a rumor says that J. K. Rowling was inspired by this place when writing the books.
Right across the river from the university there is scientific Kelvingrove park with its famous green beach. It is the park's main hill which with nice weather is the perfect spot for a little picnic.
And of course, food. I just had to try some of the traditional Scottish food, so I got haggis—sheep’s stomach filled with onions, liver, heart and lungs all mashed together with oatmeal and blood. I know, I was pretty grossed out too upon reading the description, but this nightmare of a vegetarian was actually really good!
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 124 km (77 miles)
Driving time: 1.5 hour
Parking: Parking at the castle.
Blair Castle is a historical seat of the Dukes of Atholl, nineteen generations of Atholls have already lived there! Even Queen Elizabeth II used to visit the place sometimes.
But what I consider the most interesting thing about this place is that it is home to the only private army left in Europe, the Atholl Highlanders.
The castle has a rich history. Its 30 rooms are filled with historical weapons, furniture and objects from throughout the times.
The entrance is GBP 16 and it is self-guided. So you won’t be bored to death by some underpaid guide and you can actually enjoy the atmosphere of the castle at your own pace.
Even though we were amazed by such a monumental and beautiful castle, the gardens we enjoyed even more. The entrance is half the price of the castle’s, but we were amazed twice as much!
I especially enjoyed walking through the adjacent woodland including Diana’s Grove. It’s in this part of the castle grounds that the oldest and tallest trees in Britain grow, including my personal favorites, Sequoias and Douglas Firs.
The journey from Edinburgh to Blair Castle is 1.5 hours and very smooth thanks to the highway you drive basically the whole time.
The castle is also close to the Cairngorm National Park so you can again combine these two trips into one, but the castle is large enough to keep you busy for the whole day.
Hotel tip: As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I think one of the two best places to stay in Edinburgh is the 5-star Virgin Hotels Edinburgh. I didn’t stay there due to “budget differences”, but the cool style and service the reviews mention cannot be beaten.
Breakfast is supposed to be spectacular, and the location is, obviously, unbeatable. It’s on the Edinburgh Castle end of the Royal Mile. (If you have no idea what those names mean, you’ve obviously not read my Edinburgh Guide yet!)
Prices for two start at GBP 320 (USD 365) per night with breakfast.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 14 km (9 miles)
Driving time: 0.5 hour
Parking: Chapel parking lot.
Rosslyn Chapel is just half an hour drive from Edinburgh and the place is so magical you should definitely find some time to visit.
And are you a big fan of Dan Brown novels? So read carefully because this place is just right for you.
Rosslyn Chapel is connected to countless theories and legends. Its symbolism and ornate stonework bring many visitors to the place.
And after it played a significant role in The Da Vinci Code even more enthusiasts are coming to try to untangle the mysteries and secrets of this magical place.
Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie you will appreciate the glory of the chapel anyways.
Some of the stories even say that Rosslyn Chapel is a gateway to other worlds. It is the symbolism and geometric patterns that people suggest are too beautiful to be from our world.
But the most famous story is about what's beneath the chapel. The legends say Knights Templar escaped from persecution to Scotland with something that made them powerful. Maybe Holy Grail or even the remains of Jesus. And that is supposed to be hidden in a secret chamber in the chapel.
Unfortunately, there are not many facts supporting this theory. But if you are a fan of conspiracies, you will certainly enjoy a visit of the place.
Booking of the tickets is necessary before going. Time slots for visiting are 90 minutes long.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 180 km (112 miles)
Driving time: 2 hours
Parking: Dunnottar Public Car Park
Dunnottar Castle is a fortress ruin that sits up on a cliff surrounded on three sides by the North Sea—want drama? You got it!
What used to be an impenetrable fortress is now a visitor’s paradise, all thanks to the amazing scenery. There isn’t much that remains from the castle, but even the empty shells of the buildings that used to stand here are enough to put a picture in your mind.
Tip: If you love visiting castles, I have a whole article for you! Read about The Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.
Dunnottar wouldn’t be the same without the rocks and sea in the background, that’s for sure. The views are the main draw. Come here for the epic Scotland scenery, ideally by walking from nearby Stonehaven for an extra dose of staring out to the sea over the rocks.
You can visit Dunnottar Castle either directly—there is a parking lot about 8 minutes on foot from the castle grounds. This walk already gets you spectacular views (and a bit of a workout—stairs).
If you’re up for a longer walk, leave your car at Stonehaven harbor (free parking) and take the Dunnottar Cliffs Trail to get to the castle. It’s 2 km (1.3 miles) of walking along an easy path during which you get views of Dunnottar Castle as you come closer and closer.
The castle grounds themselves have more to see than you’d probably expect at ruins, including lots of information written on signs by the individual buildings.
You’ll need an hour for the visit to Dunnottar, more if you add the walk to and from Stonehaven.
Note that if there’s very bad weather, Dunnottar stays closed. Check their website before you go if you’re not sure what constitutes very bad weather.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 84 km (52 miles)
Driving time: 1.5 hours
Parking: Bruce Embankment Parking
Want to feel a bit younger? Visit St. Andrews. This university town is full of young people; it made me feel like a student again!
The University of St. Andrews is the third oldest university in English-speaking countries, and it is ranked as the third best in the UK—watch your back Oxford and Cambridge!
But education is not what St. Andrews is famous for—it’s golf.
In St. Andrews you can find the oldest golf course in Scotland known as Old Lady or Grand Old Lady—home of The Open Championship which is the oldest major golf championship in the world.
Maybe you’ve heard St. Andrews is referred to as the Home of Golf. That’s because St Andrews Links is the largest public golf complex in Europe with its seven world-class golf courses.
Are you a golf player? Amazing! Choose one of the golf packages and run to the green. Will you conquer the Swilcan Bridge?
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 95 km (59 miles)
Driving time: 1.5 hours
Parking: The Hermitage Car Park
Now let’s go back to nature for a bit. When I talk about Scotland, I can’t not mention the beautiful Hermitage hike.
It is approximately 2 hours long with an ascent of 140 meters (460 feet). You start in the wooded glen of Hermitage and continue to Black Linn waterfall which is astonishing. The whole trail is about 7 km (4 miles) long.
Right next to the waterfall you can see Ossian's Hall — a folly created as a wild garden by the son in law of the second Duke of Atholl.
Just about half of the way you will reach Falls of the Braan.
The hike around the River Baan and through open land is where your heart truly falls for Scotland. At least mine did.
It is close to Blair Castle or Cairngorms National Park so if you head there, don’t forget to stop by the Hermitage.
There is a car park beside the River Baan where your can leave your car and set off.
Driving distance from Edinburgh: 42 km (26 miles)
Driving time: 1 hour
Parking: Kelpies Hub Car Park
I lied a little bit in the headline. This last tip is not even a tip in the true sense, because I wouldn’t recommend going to the Kelpies. But of course, I leave it up to you.
Helix Park has the largest equine sculptures in the world—The Kelpies. It is basically two big horse heads made of steel. And that’s it.
The large parking lot is close but pricey for your 15-minute visit. It costs you GBP 5 for the whole day and hourly pay is not available.
It is highly visited, maybe thanks to its location. It is right on the way from Edinburgh to Stirling, Glasgow or Trossachs. You will also drive through if you are heading to Fife coastal drive which starts close by.
So if you are on your way to any of these locations, you can go visit The Kelpies and see yourself if it is overrated or I am just a nitpicker.
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In this article, I focus on day hikes, meaning no overnight treks. Some are only a couple of hours long, some will take all day but all deserve their spot on this list… except for the last one. That one is more of a warning.
Some hikes you might know aren’t on this list. Why? Because if I haven’t been there, I won’t be writing about it, pretending to review something I have no clue about. So here is my list of hikes that I've experienced.