I’ve put together this guide to things to do in North Berwick, Scotland, a pretty seaside town a short train ride from Edinburgh. Visiting North Berwick as a day trip from Edinburgh is one of my favourites because it only takes 30 minutes from the city centre on the train but feels a world away. But I love North Berwick so much that I decided it deserved more than a day trip this time. So this summer, I booked to stay in North Berwick for 3 nights and really got to know it (and did Edinburgh as a day trip from it!).
Here’s my favourite things to do in North Berwick for a short break, featuring lots of food, sights, drinks and shopping…
The beaches of North Berwick
North Berwick’s coastline is split into two bays – one next to the golf course (the West Bay) and another on the other side of the harbour where you’ll find a Victorian swimming pool built into the shore (the East Bay).
The first thing we did when we arrived (aside from dumping our suitcase at our AirBnB) was get onto the sand to frolic like two cooped-up dogs being let off the lead for the first time. We were staying near the swimming pool, so we walked all the way round past the harbour to the other bay.
North Berwick’s famous Bass Rock
This was the first thing we ever heard about North Berwick back in… 2011? I think. We were staying in Edinburgh and thinking about where we could go out for a day trip away from the city. This girl working in the hotel suggested North Berwick because we said we liked the coast. And her description was: ‘It has a big white rock out to sea. But it’s not really white. It’s just covered in shit.’ We were sold.
Bass Rock is an old volcanic rock but is now home to a shitload (pun intended) of gannets. They are the chaps responsible for its pleasing colour. You can watch them live on webcam until the end of October when they wisely leave for warmer climes.
If you’re that way inclined, you can go on a boat trip out to Bass Rock through the Seabird Centre (more on that further down). Chris does not get on well with boats and neither of us can swim so I always feel like anything of that ilk would be a Bad Idea. But I do love the idea of seeing the birds close up, especially for the photo opportunities.
If you want a nice view of Bass Rock from the mainland, these were taken from a walk we did through The Lodge Gardens.
Lunch at Steampunk Coffee, North Berwick
We ended up at Steampunk Coffee twice in three days because savoury muffins. THE DREAM.
Also just look how lovely it is inside. I know we always end up in hipster places but I think we’re at peace with that now. They tend to be good quality and have plenty of veggie/vegan options so it’s inevitable. This was no exception. Delicious stuff.
There’s also a ruined church just across the road from Steampunk Coffee. This was apparently built as a replacement for the little chapel outside the Seabird Centre (see below).
It was eventually left to be a pretty ruin (not unlike Sweetheart Abbey on a mini scale) when the congregation outgrew it.
They were probably too fat from savoury muffins.
North Berwick Law
The Law is North Berwick’s answer to Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat.
It’s a volcanic rock towering over the town and you can walk up it to get some panoramic views across the coastline and to Edinburgh and the Forth Road Bridge. We didn’t walk up it this trip because (despite only using sunny photos in this post), the weather was quite wet and we were tight for time.
But even if you don’t get a chance to go up it, it’s impressive just as a backdrop to the town when viewed from the beaches. And it improves your photos tenfold.
The Seabird Centre in North Berwick
Right, onto the good stuff. I LOVE this kind of thing.
The Scottish Seabird Centre is a big deal in NB and is really well done. They have loads of cameras on all the different islands that birds and seals hang out on around North Berwick. You can move the cameras around and zoom in or out. I didn’t take any decent photographs inside because of indoor lighting making everything yellowy, but it’s really nicely done. There’s all sorts going on inside it but my favourite thing was a tidal tank with hermit crabs in. They’re the cutest type of crab. In case you were wondering.
The centre also has plenty on conservation and all the depressing things humans are doing to the planet. We watched their 3D film about cetaceans (whales and co), and for once Chris didn’t fall asleep the second the lights went down. It was really sad – all about how everything is struggling due to climate change – but beautifully done.
The gift shop, as ever with little museums/centres like this, was an absolute treat. Puffin-themed teatowel, anyone? Don’t mind if I do.
The Seabird Centre is next to the harbour and just outside it is the little chapel ruins I mentioned above, a very stationary figure looking out to sea, and some amusing seabird statues.
The town centre and shopping in North Berwick
Over 1,000 words into the post and I’ve not even mentioned the town of North Berwick itself.
What an absolute cutie it is though. SO many hanging baskets, SO many amazing homeware shops.
I wanted to buy loads and was gutted our suitcases were already overpacked (we’d got the train straight to NB from a friend’s wedding in Perth so we were laden with outfits).
There was a really nice food/market type shop called Why Not? where Chris went and got our breakfast goods from on one morning, but other than that, we didn’t really look at any food shops. It was all about the homewares. Some good ones we found were:
- Westgate Galleries – prints, gifts, retro North Berwick themed things. I think we may have got our NB fridge magnet from here on our very first trip, too.
- Fidra Fine Art – okay, this is a gallery more than a shop but you can purchase the local art.
- Time & Tide – there’s one of these in Edinburgh too. It sells all the gorgeous homewares you could ever dream of. There are two separate shops in NB. One has bigger stuff in and the other has candles and little bits that you can take home more easily.
- Rock and Bird – good for cards to use or frame. Loads of notepads and similar goodies for if you have a stationery collecting problem.
Other than burning a proverbial hole in your purse, the town centre is lovely just for a mooch round.
There’s a street called Quality Street – amazing (for our US readers, this is why). Flowers everywhere. A model lighthouse. Pastel-coloured houses. A little tiny cottage. All the things required for us to love somewhere.
Taking in the sea views on a walk (with gelato)
Just opposite where the above photo was taken on Quality Street is Alandas Gelateria.
I’m a die-hard Mr Whippy fan but you can never say no to a gelato, especially when they seem to have scooped (yes) up a wall-full of awards for it.
We ate them on our aforementioned walk up through The Lodge Gardens.
North Berwick harbour
This is one of my favourite bits of North Berwick. There’s something very Scandinavian about it. During our last trip there a few years ago, we had a really windy day and all the boats were clinking and jingling – one of the best sounds ever. I actually have a v short video clip of it. SO cosy.
The harbour is also home to the famous Lobster Shack, which we always want to go to, but always happens to be resoundingly shut throughout our visits.
You can hop around on the rocks on the edge of the harbour too, like some kind of coastal mountain goat.
Herringbone restaurant for delicious tea and cocktails
Over the course of the three nights of our stay, we ate in Edinburgh one night, had fish and chips in North Berwick the next, and finally had our best meal of the trip at Herringbone. Oh and probably the best cocktail I have ever had (and that is HIGH praise).
We were drawn to Herringbone last time we came but we didn’t have a chance to go in.
This time, we decided to test its waters by coming just for a drink to see what it was like (while already mildly drunk after eating tea in Edinburgh). We fell in love with the gorgeous interiors – I wish I’d taken a photo because it was serious kitchen-diner goals. Exposed brick, whitewashed chairs, geometric designs. And the cocktails were amazing. I had a gin-based one with thyme in it. I can’t remember the exact thing now but it was perfect.
So we ended up booking for a meal the next night and it was lovely. And I had the amazing cocktail again. Followed by several more. A nice end to the holiday.
Sunset at North Berwick
We wandered along the beach every night as it went dark but this particular sunset was on the last night so I thought it’d be a good photo to end this post on.
Our three nights in North Berwick were lovely – I really love that we’ve found somewhere so easy to get to that ticks all the UK-based holiday boxes: beach, no car required, cute shops, and nice grub. Kirkcudbright/Dumfries & Galloway will always be my most precious bit of bonny Scotland but it doesn’t do well on the old trains front, so when we want to relax and avoid the horrors of driving a car, NB is perfect. It’s also the first little town we ‘found’ together without someone recommending it so will always be a personal favourite.
Useful information: Things to do in North Berwick, Scotland
How to get there (and away)
Get the train to Edinburgh and change at Waverley to North Berwick. The last leg takes about half an hour. The journey is pretty, too. Lots of nice countryside.
Where to stay
We stayed at this AirBNB, which had sea views. It was on the expensive side and a bit chilly, but you couldn’t fault the location. You could even hear the waves crashing at night. Ultimate cosiness. I think staying anywhere along the seafront is great if you want a view, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter because you’re out and about most of the time anyway.
When to go
We’ve been in autumn and winter. This particular trip was in September and the weather was mild but cloudy, with one sunny day. Oh and it wasn’t too busy at all. I imagine it can get quite full though – it’s well known and popular. If you’re allergic to children like me, maybe avoid school holiday time.
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