Although a capital city, Edinburgh is only minutes away from some of the most delightful beaches on Scotland‘s East Coast. Its accessibility and relatively small size means quiet country beaches, surfing havens and tiny harbours are all within easy reach. Here are Culture Trip’s top picks to explore near the Scottish capital.
Yellowcraig Beach lies along the East Lothian coastline, about a 50-minute drive east of Edinburgh city centre. A popular spot for dog walkers from the attractive neighbouring towns of Dirleton, Aberlady and North Berwick, Yellowcraig also plays host to local swimmers in the summer. Its barbecue area, nature trail and expanse of woodland make it a great summer hangout, but its real draw is the view. From the beachfront you can spot the old lighthouse on Fidra Island, which was the inspiration for Treasure Island, a tale made famous by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson.
Despite being just a 20-minute drive from the city centre, Cramond’s whitewashed houses and homely pubs give it a distinct fishing-village feel. It’s small, sandy beach and promenade are perfect for a relaxing stroll or cycle. If you’re careful of the tide, you can also walk to Cramond Island, whose colourful history includes a stint as a Roman outpost and a defence post in both world wars. From its highest point, you can also see the all three of the Forth bridges.
With its beachside cafés, art galleries and long, sandy beach, the suburb of Portobello – or Porty as it’s known locally – is a popular spot. Just 20 minutes’ drive from the centre of Edinburgh, Portobello’s old-fashioned promenade is home to independent gift shops, restaurants, B&Bs and original Victorian swimming baths. Stretching for 3.2km (2 miles), the beach draws large crowds in good weather and is ideal for longer walks or runs. Many popular events are also hosted here, including the annual summer Big Beach Busk (a free, all-day event of music and performance), international volleyball competitions and triathlon events.
Located in a corner of East Lothian, about 50 minutes by car from Edinburgh, Seacliff Beach is coveted by dog walkers, swimmers and surfers thanks to its sparkling waters and impressively clean shoreline. Walking along this stretch of beach will take you to a tiny sandstone harbour, thought to be the smallest in the UK. You can also enjoy views of local landmark Bass Rock, and the ruins of Tantallon Castle. This largely unspoilt beach is less popular with tourists and doesn’t have any nearby cafés, so bring food and water if you’re spending the day here. There’s also a £3 entry fee, so don’t forget coins.
Further south of Seacliff Beach lies Belhaven Bay. Part of John Muir Country Park, Belhaven Bay stretches from Belhaven, around 30 miles east of Edinburgh, to the north of the River Tyne. Its large size makes it popular for dog walkers, but the beach is also a great picnic spot thanks to its low sand dunes and spectacular views across the Forth Estuary. Belhaven Bay also caters for its more adventurous visitors, with local companies offering surf and paddleboarding lessons and equipment hire. It’s a private beach, but nearby public parking costs £2.
Silver Sands is perched on the opposite bank of the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. Only a 40-minute drive from the city, the Sands is based in the historic village of Aberdour in Fife. Looking out over the islands of Inchmickery and Inchcolm (the latter of which is famous for its 13th-century abbey), visitors can enjoy the views along the shore, or join the Fife Coastal Path for a longer walk. Afterwards, you can pop into the lovely beachfront café for a rewarding cup of coffee or slice of cake.