Need a break from the throngs of people swarming Edinburgh in summer? Want to recharge your battery or step way outside darkened theatres during August’s Edinburgh International Festival or Fringe? Summer is the warmest time of year to experience Scotland (and the UK, who are we kidding?). Take day jaunts, beach strolls, island hops, road trips or a simple change of scenery.
Hire a Car—Steer Toward Open Roads and Beach Bliss
Head down the East Coast to Gullane and North Berwick, where the vistas will reward your escape from Edinburgh or the Fringe flocks. North Berwick is a vibrant and scenic harbour town in East Lothian, boasting great beaches, and an eclectic mix of shops, cafes and bars—not to mention world-renowned golf courses. If you fancy a long, sandy beach right outside of Edinburgh, Portobello is your tonic. Splash along the lapping waves or perch on a bench or stone and breathe deeply to refresh your spirit. Desire to get way off the beaten path? Steer north toward Scotland’s northwest coast with wee, wild and winding roads where locals dare to drive.
St. Andrews on Sunday
Most attractions are closed at St. Andrews on Sunday—a perfectly peaceful day to visit. Golfers and golf-curious alike can walk the Old Course and the largest public golf complex in Europe. Take your photo on the Old Course 18th hole’s Swilken Bridge, which traverses the infamous watery hazard, Swilken Burn. Jigger Inn, Scotland’s heralded 19th hole, serves Scottish beers, pub grub and golf memorabilia.
Wander along Cramond Island, one of 17 tidal islands that can be walked to from Scottish mainland. Stroll the causeway at low tide for a sandy, grassy, rocky uninhabited island jaunt. Study a tide chart and keep an eye on the tide. Don’t get caught before high tide submerges the causeway or your return to the mainland may be the next day. Coastguard recommends only cross to and fro during the two hours either side of low water. The 41 bus from Edinburgh to Cramond village is quick and inexpensive. Crave more island adventures? Explore Scotland’s other islands.
Scotch, Whisky, Distillery Tours and Tastes
Whisky sipping can be a holy quest (didn’t monks introduce Scots to distillation?) or pilgrimage goal for spirit connoisseurs. Tour distilleries old and new. Take a cocktail class and bring home a new drink-pouring skill. Or taste your way around Scotland. Plenty of whisky history and bottles dotting the land. Don’t leave without tasting Scotch in the motherland. Royal Mile Whiskies is an independent, Scottish-owned shop with a vast array of bottles—right in the middle of festival crowds, but a visit off season or off hours is worth it. Here’s a bit of whisky history and tips for how to drink the elixir of Scotland.
Glasgow Urban Adventure
Hop over to Glasgow, largest city in Scotland, for retail therapy. Buchanan Galleries offers a slew of shops to treat yourself or find gifts. Buchanan Street itself is one of the main shopping thoroughfares in the UK, but also replete with Victorian architecture, making it a walker’s paradise for urbanists. Make it a longer overnight getaway and attend a Glasgow arts performance or music event day or night. Since Glasgow is the UK’s only UNESCO Creative City of Music, chances are you’ll find something unique to fill your ears (and soul). Trains leave Edinburgh every 15 minutes and you can get a cheap day return ticket.
Research when Edinburgh’s quirky venues first open and you’re more likely to escape flocks of festival-goers who are still nursing their heads after a long night of debauchery. Don’t miss local favorites like The Caves and La Belle Angele or ask local Edinburgh residents where they recommend you go.
Picnic away from festival central atop Arthur’s Seat or Edinburgh Castle (both built on an ancient volcano). Hike up to Calton Hill with a bag full of food so you can drink in the sweeping vista of Edinburgh, Scottish coastline and stone-hued architectural delight.
Explore Outdoors in East Lothian
Biking. Hiking. Golfing. Water sports. Horse racing. Bird watching. East Lothian is near Edinburgh but a world away. Relatively flat, hugging the North Sea with green rolling hills and historic sites in tiny towns, it is a playground for nature lovers or those who crave physical activity. John Muir Way stretches 215 kilometers between coastal Dunbar and Helensburgh and is a walker’s paradise. Fringe by the Sea is an outdoor music and arts festival in North Berwick every August. East Lothian is known by golfers as Scotland’s Golf Coast with the highest concentration of golf courses, 22, on the planet. Play the links at Musselburgh, oldest golf course in the world, or St. Andrews, both open to the public. Print this East Lothian outdoor guide.
Hit the shore in Leith for some nice seafood and soak up the area’s rich history. Though Leith can be easily reached by bus, one of the best ways to visit is to take a leisurely stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway. This charming footpath borders the river from Balerno to Leith and emerges at the Shore, an upmarket area lined with bistros, stylish bars, traditional pubs and first-rate restaurants. The Leith Walk links the district with the east end of Princes Street and offers a shopping experience like no other in the capital—locals proudly boast that there is little to nothing you won’t be able to find on this street.
South Queensferry and Sea Cruise
Head to an island from the quaint town of South Queensferry. Get an ice cream, a bit of sea air and inevitably have your bag of chips attacked by seagulls. Worth every minute you spend there.
Skip August festival time completely. Visit Scotland and Edinburgh before or after August when you experience a quieter city, accommodation availability and cheaper prices. Discover for yourself if the old saying rings true: there’s no such thing as bad weather, merely wrong clothes.