Guide to Scotland’s East Coast

Scotland’s East Coast offers a gentler beauty to the dramatic West, with its rolling hills, cliff paths, castles, and bustling cities. Spot colonies of seals and puffins as you explore the dunes and wetlands, with your pockets full of Edinburgh oat cakes (a must-try nourishing walker’s snack!)  

Adventuring on the East Coast is great on foot with a backpack, by train, car, motorhome, or campervan. At Zoom Motorhome Hire we have put together an in-depth campervan route to Fife and the North-east Coast, but read on here for our top East Coast recommendations, suitable for travellers using any choice of transport.

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“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”

So wrote Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith of his home city. This is such a popular destination that we have written a whole blog on visiting Edinburgh, but we had to include it here on our journey up East. 

Apart from the many popular attractions listed in our blog, Edinburgh has many fascinating and lesser-known places to discover. Find out the captivating story of loyal little Greyfriars Bobby, discover the homage to Scotland’s landscapes in the Scottish Parliament Building, and taste a new Edinburgh legend: the secret-recipe vegan cinnamon bun!

North Berwick

There is a lovely easy cycle route to North Berwick along the coast from Edinburgh. North Berwick is a charming town with two beautiful sandy beaches: West Bay and Milsey Bay. On a summer’s day you can join many locals taking a refreshing dip in the clear waters.

Take a boat trip out to Bass Rock to view the populations of nesting seabirds, including the strikingly yellow-headed Northern Gannets and black legged kittiwakes. Or, if you are interested in Scotland’s turbulent political history, discover the magnificent ruined fortress of Tantallon Castle.

Tantallon Castle was the medieval stronghold of the Douglas family, who were besieged in the castle by the forces of King James V in 1528. The formidable defence wall still stands, and you can climb winding staircases to get a sense of this dramatic history while enjoying wonderful views of the surrounding coastline.

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Pentland Hills

The Pentland Hills lie just south of Edinburgh; they are a popular peaceful escape for the city’s residents. The area is very well signposted with a range of trails and hikes. Wildlife is abundant; you can’t help but be moved by the captivating calls of the skylarks and carpets of wildflowers, including heather, bluebells and orchids. 

The travel writer Bob Paterson wrote that “the Pentland’s are not Scotland’s most spectacular hills, but they are probably the most intriguing”. These hills are known for their ancient burial cairns, witches, ghosts and for the 17th century uprisings of the “Covenanters”: adherents of the Presbyterian movement which played a crucial role in Scotland’s history.

Scotland’s East Coast Golf Courses

For those who enjoy golf, the East Coast is a legendary holiday destination. The area offers both championship links and picturesque parkland courses. 

A local favourite is the North Berwick Golf club, which has an exceptional seaside location, but other popular sites include St Andrews Links, Carnoustie Golf Links, and the sand dune based Cruden Bay club north of Aberdeen. Make sure to make tee time reservations in advance, as these sites can be very popular.

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St Andrews

St Andrews is home to the oldest university in the world, and lovers of medieval architecture will be in their element, wandering its cobbled streets between chapels and gatehouses. The dramatic ruins of St Andrews Castle overlook the sea, and you can even visit the bottle dungeon where prisoners were kept. 

In fact, the history of this castle offers a real panorama of Scottish history. Prisoners include prominent figures in the 1500s Protestant Reformation including Cardinal David Beaton and John Knox, Covenanters and Jacobites, who were Catholic supporters of the Stuart monarchy.

For a taste of a more recent drama, head to the West Sands beach, which is famous for its appearance in the film “Chariots of Fire”. This beach offers an easily accessible place to try a range of watersports, including stand-up paddleboarding, coasteering and sailing.

The Cairngorms

Slightly inland from the East Coast, the Cairngorms is a mountain range that is truly not to be missed on any visit to Eastern Scotland. In fact, National Geographic labelled the Cairngorms as “One of the Top 20 places to visit in the world”.

The Cairngorms National Park has something for every traveller, from castles to distilleries to family attractions to skiers — yes, the Cairngorms are one of the UK’s very few skiing destinations! 

Braving Scotland in winter takes some planning, but these magical landscapes are worth every extra woolly jumper packed. Apart from skiing, other winter adventures include the famous Zip Park, (where you can speed through the snowy forests on a zip wire), quad biking, and sledging.

For a totally unique Scottish cultural experience, try a Strathspey Story Walk; a guided walk led by a professional storyteller who will lead you through the park accompanied with stories of witches, fairy folk, and highwaymen. 

If you plan very carefully, and follow the Cairngorms park authority top sighting tips, you may even see the Northern Lights. The Cairngorms lie on the same latitude as Norway and Alaska, and the peaks of Tomintoul and Glenlivet have been awarded gold tier “Dark Sky Park” status by the International Dark Sky Association, which works to protect skies from light pollution.

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Scotland Campervan Travel

At Zoom Motorhome Hire, we have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland in many styles. We have learned that this beautiful country is best explored right up close to nature – but with some protection from Scotland’s turbulent elements! Our answer: campervans and motorhomes!

The East Coast is particularly well suited for campervan travel, because it allows for the flexibility to stay longer at a particular spot (to catch the elusive Northern lights, for instance).It also boasts beautiful scenic coastal driving routes and a wide range of excellent campsites.

Travelling in one of our Scotland campervans or motorhomes offers the luxury of a self-catering cottage with minimal cost or advance planning, and it will save you money to stock up on essential Scottish provisions! 

For instance, no campervan or motorhome should be without a tin of top-quality Edinburgh shortbread, and a packet or two of buttery tablet to keep you going on the hikes. Our vehicles are even equipped to cook up a majestic Burns Supper — haggis and all.

Please do get in touch to learn more about why our campervans and motorhomes provide a great way to explore Scotland.