Planning a trip to Edinburgh?

Then you’ll definitely want to rent a car.

After exploring Scotland’s beautiful capital city, we highly recommend taking a few day trips to the surrounding area.

From national parks to historic castles, there are so many excursions doable in just one day.

Continue reading to discover the 15 best day trips from Edinburgh by car.

Rent a Car in Edinburgh

1. Falkirk

Our first day trip recommendation is none other than Falkirk.

This Scottish Central Lowlands town lies in the Forth Valley, less than 45 minutes from Edinburgh by car.

It is importantly located in the heart of Scotland, between the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling.

There are plenty of fun attractions for the whole family in Falkirk.

The area has rolling countryside, cultural sights, as well as historic monuments, providing lots of options to visitors.

Falkirk’s top attractions include The Falkirk Wheel (pictured above), The Kelpies, Callendar Park, and Dollar Park.

Callendar House, Falkirk’s own French style chateau, is also a must-see.

  • Distance: 25.9 mi (41.7 km) via M9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 42 minutes

2. Stirling Castle

Just under one hour from Edinburgh is where you will find the city of Stirling.

Stirling is a very historic Scottish city that is home to the breathtaking Stirling Castle.

The castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland.

It sits atop Castle Hill and offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Stirling castle dates back to the 12th century, although much of what remains are buildings that were constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Today, Stirling Castle is open to the public year round.

Walk inside the castle and through its picturesque gardens.

On special occasions, it even holds open-air concerts, with past acts including R.E.M., Bob Dylan, and Runrig.

  • Distance: 39.1 mi (63 km) via M9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 56 minutes

Official site

3. The National Wallace Monument

Another must-see attraction in Stirling, Scotland, roughly 1 hour from Edinburgh by car, is the National Wallace Monument.

This monument is essentially a tower that was built to commemorate the 13th century Scot, Sir William Wallace.

The tower was constructed in the mid 19th century and is located on the hilltop of Abbey Craig.

220 feet is the height of the monument, which is made of sandstone in the Victorian Gothic style.

Visitors are invited to climb the spiral staircase that leads to the top and gaze out at the beautiful countryside down below.

From the top, you can see Ochil Hills and the Forth Valley.

Fun fact: William Wallace was depicted by Mel Gibson in the famous Hollywood movie Braveheart.

  • Distance: 39.9 mi (64.2 km) via M9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 56 minutes

Official site

4. Doune Castle

If you love medieval castles, then you won’t want to miss a trip to Doune Castle, just a one hour drive from Edinburgh.

Doune Castle is medieval fortress located in Central Scotland.

It is located on the River Teith and is less than 10 miles away from Stirling.

The stronghold dates back to the year 1400 and includes two tower houses and an inner courtyard.

The tallest tower, the Lord’s Tower, is 95 feet tall.

The original stonework of Doune Castle is still there, however, many of the roofs and floors were replaced and updated in the late 19th century.

Also, did you know that Doune Castle was used as a filming location in the Monty Python movie?

  • Distance: 44.1 mi (71 km) via M9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour

5. Glasgow

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and is just 1 hour drive from Edinburgh?

That’s right, Glasgow is only a stone’s throw away, which makes this a must-visit on a day trip from the nation’s capital.

It has been an important port city for centuries and is located in the Western Lowlands.

The city is known for its distinct dialect that can be difficult for people not from Glasgow to understand.

There is a mix of Victorian and art nouveau architecture, and you’ll see signs of the cultural prominence in the streets.

Glasgow is home to the Scottish Ballet, the Scottish Opera, and the National Theatre of Scotland.

It also has many museums, such as the Riverside Museum, Hunterian Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and Scotland Street School Museum.

Other attractions in Glasgow include Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow Science Centre, George  Square, and Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

  • Distance: 46.9 mi (75.5 km) via M8 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour

6. St Andrews & Fishing Villages in Fife

Visiting the quaint seaside town of St Andrews can’t be beat.

Northeast of Edinburgh is where you will find both St Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife.

St Andrews specifically is known for its world-renowned golf course, the University of St Andrews (which dates back to 1413), and the ruins of St Andrews Castle.

There are also plenty of charming cobblestone streets with cafes and pubs.

Public beaches are nearby for casual walks where you can breathe in the fresh air.

Meanwhile, the county of Fife is home to many small fishing villages, like Elie, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and Crail.

Each is set right on the water and is a picturesque spot to take photos.

  • Distance: 51.4 mi (82.7 km) via A92 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 17 minutes

7. Northumberland National Park

Enjoy nature in beautiful Great Britain at Northumberland National Park.

In less than one and a half hours from Edinburgh, you can be in this natural paradise.

Northumberland National Park is the northernmost national park in England, which means a visit here will have you leaving the nation of Scotland and entering its neighbour to the south.

The park covers over 1,050 square kilometres of land and extends all the way to the Scottish border.

It is one of the least visited national parks, which is what makes it such a great place to visit.

If you are looking to connect with nature and enjoy its serenity, this is the park for you.

There are plenty of maintained hiking trails of all lengths and for hikers of all levels, so if you’re looking to stretch your legs, be sure to visit Northumberland National Park.

  • Distance: 55.7 mi (89.6 km) via A68 & A697 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 21 minutes

Official site

8. Holy Island

Have you ever visited a castle in the sea?

Now is your chance!

Holy Island, which like Northumberland National Park, is also located in England, is a tidal island off the coast.

Holy Island has been a world heritage site since 1976 and is known for being one of the most important centres for English Christianity throughout history.

In fact, the island was first settled by Irish monks in 635 AD, who built a monastery.

The island is accessible by car, however, access to it varies with the tide.

Make sure you check the weather forecast and low tide reports before visiting Holy Island.

Once there, you can explore the ruins of the castle.

There are also multiple shops, cafes, and pubs nearby.

  • Distance: 70.6 mi (113.6 km) via A1 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 29 minutes

9. Loch Lomond

Loch (meaning lake) Lomond is one of the most famous lakes in Scotland – and for good reason.

This lake, which is just over one and a half hours by car from Edinburgh, is the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain.

The loch is considered a gateway to the Scottish Highlands and is at the heart of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

There are plenty of stunning walks around the lake that will take you through the rolling hills in the area and along the lake’s edge.

Visitors can also swim in the lake, although caution must be exercised as the cold temperature of the lake can be shocking, in addition to the many steep dropoffs at the lake’s bottom.

Lake Lomond is also a popular spot for cycling.

Finally, there is an aquarium and castle nearby worth visiting if time permits on your day trip.

  • Distance: 79 mi (127 km) via M8 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes

Official site

10. Alnwick Castle

Calling all Harry Potter fans!

If you love J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels, then a visit to Alnwick Castle is a must.

Scenes from both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were filmed at Alnwick Castle.

Even if Harry Potter isn’t your thing, the castle is a sight to behold and has a rich history.

The castle is located in the English county of Northumberland and was built following the Norman Conquest in the medieval period.

Construction on the castle began in 1096, making this one of the oldest sites in the United Kingdom.

Today, Alnwick Castle and the adjacent Alnwick Garden is open to the public year round and receives over 800,000 visitors each year.

  • Distance: 85.7 mi (138 km) via A1 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 39 minutes

Official site

11. Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park

A second opportunity to explore Scotland’s natural beauty is in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.

This park is less than two hours by car from Edinburgh, making it perfect for a day trip.

It is a scenic countryside park filled with hiking and cycling trails.

There is also the ruins of a Gothic church, the Castle Semple Collegiate church, in the park that history buffs will love checking out.

For the more active travellers, check out Castle Semple Lake, which is an ideal spot for kayaking, paddling, boating, and swimming.

There are plenty of spots to relax on the beach or have a picnic in the grass.

Ultimately, if the weather is in your favour, this is a fabulous spot to relax and enjoy a day away from the busy Edinburgh.

  • Distance: 70.4 mi (113.3 km) via M8 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

Official site

12. Glencoe

Glencoe is easily one of the most gorgeous parts of Scotland.

It is located in Glencoe Valley, in the Scottish Highlands, and is less than 3 hours from Edinburgh by car.

The area is famous for its natural beauty, which consists of waterfalls, grassy valleys, and dramatic mountain peaks.

There are multiple hiking trails that will take you to peaks such as Buachaille Etive Mor and Bidean nam Bian.

While in nature, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Glencoe’s resident wildlife, including majestic golden eagles and shy red deer.

The town of Glencoe is also worth checking out, as it features the Glencoe Folk Museum, as well as a few pubs and shops.

  • Distance: 117 mi (188.3 km) via A82 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 2 hours 42 minutes

Official site

13. Inverness

Inverness is the unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands and is a place like no other.

Roughly 3 hours from Edinburgh, Inverness is located on the nation’s northeast coast, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth.

The Old Town of Inverness is the most scenic part of the city, with many buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Attractions include Inverness Castle, Old High Church, and the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

There are also numerous shops, pubs, restaurants, and cafes in the city centre.

If you wish to stay overnight in Inverness, you will find plenty of hotels, hostels, and inns.

  • Distance: 156 mi (251 km) via A9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 3 hours 3 minutes

14. Loch Ness

No trip to Scotland is complete without visiting the infamous Loch Ness.

Loch Ness (or Lake Ness) is a freshwater loch in the Scottish Islands that is famous for – you guessed it – being home to the mysterious Loch Ness Monster.

Affectionately known to locals as “Nessie,” the Loch Ness monster is a mythical sea creature that lurks in the deep, dark lake.

The lake is extremely deep, with its deepest point being 230 metres.

By surface area, it is the second largest loch in Scotland, but by depth it is the largest in the British Isles.

Swimming is not recommended in Loch Ness, however, there are many boat tours that can take you out on the lake.

  • Distance: 169 mi (272 km) via A9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 3 hours 23 minutes

Official site

15. Ben Nevis

The last day trip we recommend taking from Edinburgh is to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.

The stunning mountain stands 1,345 metres above sea level and is located at the western end of the Grampian Mountains.

Ben Nevis is nestled in the Scottish Highlands and its nickname is “the mountain with its head in the clouds.”

If you’re interested in hiking the mountain, there are two main trails: The Mountain Track (most popular) or the Carn Mor Dearg Arête route (more challenging and for experienced hikers only).

Please note that it takes between 3.5 to 5 hours to reach the summit, and an additional 2 to 3 hours to descend back to the bottom.

  • Distance: 151 mi (243 km) via A9 from Edinburgh
  • Duration: 3 hours 23 minutes

As you can see, Scotland is brimming with incredible cities and national parks.

And Edinburgh is perfectly positioned to visit some of these amazing places.

We hope this list has inspired you to take a few day trips by car on your upcoming visit to the Scottish capital.

Also read:

Rent a Car in Edinburgh