5 Things to do in East Lothian with Kids

Tantallon Castle, East Lothian. Sunset. HDR images. Credit: Historic-Environment-Scotland-scaled

If you haven’t been before, East Lothian is the region to the East of Edinburgh – easily accessible from the A1 and also good links into the capital (trains / airport).  It’s a mainly rural area, with miles of coastline, lots of beautiful beaches, championship golf courses, nice quiet roads if you like a pedal and when I started to add them up; lots and lots of things to do with kids. 

If your children are anything like ours and love an action-packed itinerary for their holidays with lots of time outdoors (and the occasional ice cream or hot chocolate break), then East Lothian is the perfect choice. 

With life not exactly normal at the moment, we took the chance over the September long-weekend to spend a bit of time exploring our home region – and what a treat it was.  We were blessed with stunning weather, blue skies and sunshine all the way through and it felt great to be reminded that you don’t always have to travel far to have lots of fun.  That said, nothing beats staying in a hotel or self-catering and properly getting away from it all (especially escaping the ironing mountain), so for all the Mini Travellers who don’t live near in East Lothian – here’s our guide on what to see and do:

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Tantallon Castle

Despite living close to this beautiful landmark, for one reason or another I hadn’t been before, I promise I’ll certainly be back.  It’s a fantastic fortress perched on the cliff-tops.  It’s partially ruined, but you can climb internal steps up to the ramparts to what I would argue are the best views in East Lothian.  We enjoyed stunning views out to the open sea and across to Bass Rock, which is a tiny island made from volcanic rock, which juts out of the sea just off the pretty town of North Berwick.  Bass Rock is home to a massive colony of gannets and from our vantage point we could spot them flying in and out in swarms like confetti.  And then the highlight of our day: a pod of dolphins passed by resurfacing from time to time as the made their way along the coast, it was magical.  After a good look around and a chance for the kids to lark about on the grass while we chilled and enjoyed the view, I questioned one of the friendly guides about the ghost story involving Tantallon.  There is an infamous photograph taken about a decade ago which shows a ghostly figure – the kids were enthralled.  Feeling a bit spooked we moved on.

tantallon castle

Dirleton Castle

The pretty little village of Dirleton lies between Gullane and North Berwick on the coast, the castle is a real surprise tucked in behind a wall.  It’s set in lovely gardens and you enter by the side gate and make your way around the castle and over the draw bridge. First we visited The Doocot (Dovecot) – a well-preserved pigeon house, with more than 1,000 nesting boxes, then we headed over the impressive drawbridge into the castle.  Although a lot of it is in ruin, you can visit the various rooms and get a good idea about what life would have been like here.  The kids enjoyed exploring the castle and the gardens were beautiful.

There is a handy playpark adjacent to the castle, but if you have time, it’s worth jumping back in the car and heading down to Yellowcraigs, where there is an excellent play park in the wooded area and a vast sandy beach.  Alternatively head back along the coast to the Archerfield Estate where you’ll find a café, playpark, walks and Fairy Trail, it’s a great spot for families.

dirleton castle

National Museum of Flight

One of the highlights of our holiday at home was visiting The National Museum of Flight.  The site consists of a long drive way through to an airfield and group of hangers which date back to the First World War.

It is home to Concorde, which sits majestically in the main hanger.  It’s amazing to see up-close and you can climb on board (one family at a time) to experience luxury travel without the supersonic speed.  I found out the Queen always had the same seat when she flew Concorde (Seat 1A of course!) but surprisingly it was no different for any of the others, everything was equalitarian on Concorde with everyone paying the same for a ticket.  The aisles were narrow as of course the whole objective was to be as aerodynamic as possible.  It was really interesting to see the old menu cards and fine china from which inflight meals were served and we watched a film about Concorde’s story.

In the same hanger was a retired Red Arrow Hawk, which really impressed us, it looked very small in the shadow of the Concorde, but amazing to see this icon of the skies up close.   

After a coffee and cake break in the sunshine, we headed to the park and then on to the other hangers (covering military and civil aviation).  They contained a massive selection of every kind of plane imaginable, notably a Spitfire and a Bristol Bolingbroke.  The staff at the National Museum of Flight were really friendly, helpful and full of interesting insights. 

There is plenty of space to stretch your legs and for the kids to run around and in the September sunshine we nearly forgot we were in the midst of Covid-19 regulations.

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Heading East we visited Dunbar; a harbour town set on the coast.  Our first port of call was Belhaven with its vast sandy beach on the way into Dunbar.  Coast2Coast have a surfing centre there and they take private and group lessons in coasteering, surfing and SUP.   Poppy and Jonah had a surfing lesson which they enjoyed immensely.  The water is fairly shallow (and surprisingly warm) and it’s an ideal bay in which to learn to surf.  While they were getting to grips with the boards, we spotted dolphins further out to sea and we were told the surfers are sometimes joined by seals. 

We moved on to Lauderdale Park, hidden within a walled garden just off the High Street.  It’s a brilliant play park, well equipped to keep all ages from toddlers to pre-teens busy.  It has a superb café Wishing Tree by the Sea, which has a great all day menu of home-made food and goodies.

Foxlake Adventures

Feeling daring, we pushed on to Foxlake to try the FoxFall, which is a ropes course over water (no harness needed if you fall, you get wet!), it has four routes which include balancing, climbing, and swinging (and sometimes falling into the water).  The routes vary from easy – hard (Jonah wants you to know he did them all), they all looked pretty challenging to me, but the peals of laughter and screams of excitement confirmed that everyone was having a ball. 

Meanwhile, Merle was busy at the playpark, which was perfect fun for littles ones.

At Foxlake they also do wake boarding, segway and have a forest zip-trail for those with a head for heights.  It’s a popular place, so I’d recommend booking in advance.

Thank goodness for the café on site for a warming hot chocolate to heat us all up when Poppy and Jonah finally emerge from the water grinning from ear-to-ear.

foxlake photo credit Foxlake
Photo Credit: Foxlake

“Have you had a lovely long weekend?”  I asked them over breakfast on the Tuesday morning as they got ready to head back to school.  “YES!” was the resounding answer and we really did.

In our travels around East Lothian, we didn’t get the chance to visit the Seabird Centre at North Berwick or East Links Family Park – both good options to entertain the kids.  It’s also worth considering basing yourself in East Lothian and combining a country and city break visiting some of Edinburgh’s amazing attractions.   

And I came across this great film that takes you inside some of the places I’ve mentioned

For more information and to check out accommodation options, go to www.visitEastLothian.org

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