town in East Lothian, Scotland, UK

North Berwick is a town on the coast of East Lothian in central Scotland, with a population of 7840 in 2020. It's an attractive fishing port and beach resort, nowadays a commuter town for Edinburgh 20 miles west. Several uninhabited nearby islands are seabird reserves, the most prominent being the Bass Rock.

The tourist information centre is within the library on School Road, same hours.

Get in

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By train

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North Berwick is the terminus of a branch off the East Coast mainline. ScotRail trains run hourly, daily from Edinburgh Waverley, taking 35 min. Along the mainline these stop at Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry and Drem, but no other trains stop there; so coming from the south you have to go into Edinburgh, change and come back out again. The last train is around 11PM, and in 2022 you might pay as little as £3 for an offpeak single. The 1 railway station is quarter of a mile west of town centre. It's just a platform halt, with ticket machines but no staffed office or toilets. There is step-free access to the sole platform.

Your rail ticket gives you a discount on entry to the Seabird Centre.

By bus

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Lothian Buses X5 and 124 run from Edinburgh along Princes Street (close to but not into the bus station) then via Musselburgh along the coast road to North Berwick. They run daily every 30-60 min, taking 90 min. The last bus is around 11:30PM but a weekend N124 runs at 12:30AM and 3:30AM.

The 125 and 126 are school buses part-route between North Berwick, Aberlady and Musselburgh.

Eve Coach 120 takes 50 min from Dunbar to North Berwick every couple of hours M-Sa, with only two on Sunday.

There isn't a bus station. Buses traverse the town with several stops on A198 then turn around at Tesco supermarket.

By road

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North Berwick is on A198, the scenic loop road along the coast north of A1. Coming from the south, you need to exit A1 just west of Dunbar to join A199 the former main road, then continue west a mile or so for the A198 turnoff — the new A1 doesn't make a junction here. Coming from the west out of Edinburgh, follow A1 and exit onto A199 just beyond Haddington, then continue east to A198. Bicycles aren't allowed on the new A1 and the scenic route eastbound is to join the old road at Musselburgh and wind through the coastal villages.

Get around

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Eve Coach 120 runs past Tantallon Castle on its way to Dunbar. Eve Coach 121 takes 35 min to Haddington every couple of hours daily, via Drem railway station, the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, and Athelstaneford.

Law Cycles, 2 Law Road EH39 4PL (alley off High St), +44 1620 890643. M-Sa 9:30AM-5PM. Bicycle sales, repairs and hire. Hires must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Hybrid £30 a day.

 
The whale jawbone atop North Berwick Law
  • 1 Scottish Seabird Centre, The Harbour EH39 4SS, +44 1620 890202. Daily: Nov-Jan 10AM-4PM, Feb Mar Sep Oct 10AM-5PM, Apr-Aug 10AM-6PM. The Firth of Forth is an important area for nesting seabirds and migratory species. The centre has telescopes and webcams for viewing the thousands of gannets in their colonies on the Bass Rock and other islands. Common here are puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittwakes and eider ducks. The interpretive centre is well done, with lots to keep the kids entertained. Best times to visit are May-July for nesting birds, and Sept-Oct for the baby seals. Good cafe with sea-view terrace. Adult £11.95, child £7.95, conc £9.95, family (2+2) £34.
  • 2 Coastal Communities Museum, School Road EH39 4JU, +44 1620 894313. Apr-Nov: W-Sa 11AM-4PM. Volunteer-run museum with changing exhibitions. Donation.
  • Old St Andrews Church is a ruin in the park next to Kirk Ports. St Andrews Well here was a holy or healing-well but it's nowadays capped.
  • 3 North Berwick Law: in Scots a "law" is a prominent conical hill, which climbers would call a "Marilyn". It's the 613 ft / 187 m plug of an extinct volcano, with surrounding material swept away by glaciation to form a "crag-and-tail", very steep to the south and gentler to the east. From town follow B1347 Haddington Rd south, branching left onto the signposted path - please keep to this to reduce erosion. It's an easy stroll to the top, with vistas of the Forth islands, and of the chain of similar plugs stretching towards Edinburgh Castle; Traprain Law is the closest in view. There are remains of an Iron Age hill fort, and other defences from the Napoleonic to WWII. A mighty whale jawbone has stood on the summit since 1709, with at least three replacements as natural bones have crumbled. The present version (installed by helicopter in 2008) is a fibreglass replica, thanks to an anonymous local donor rather than to advances in cetacean orthodontics.
 
Tantallon Castle
  • 4 Tantallon Castle, Tantallon EH39 5PN (3 miles east of town), +44 1620 892727. Closed. A 14th-century fortress, spectacularly located on a headland, with Bass Rock to the north. A single massive curtain wall encloses the headland, with the other three sides defended naturally by cliffs. The site remains closed because of crumbling masonry.    
  • Auldhame Castle is the ruin of a 16th century L-plan tower house, half a mile east of Tantallon Castle along the cliff top. Small fortified dwellings like these became the style once gunpowder and cannons nullified massive wall defences such as Tantallon, and the Lothians and Borders are dotted with examples.
  • The Geghan is a rocky outcrop just east of Auldhame. Excavation in the 1870s revealed Roman foundations and artefacts. The cliff has since eroded so there's nothing left now, just enjoy the sea view, but the artefacts are in the National Museum in Edinburgh.
  • 5 Whitekirk on the road to Dunbar lay on a pilgrimage route to St Andrews and had a shrine and medieval church. St Mary's church was torched in Feb 1914 during the last violent stages of the campaign for votes for women: they resorted to arson in retaliation for force-feeding (including by rectum) of suffragette prisoners. Fanny Parker (1875-1924), a niece of Lord Kitchener, was the likely culprit, but no arrests were made and there was an amnesty and cessation of campaigning once the First World War broke out. The church has been restored, most recently in 2006.
  • 6 Dirleton Castle is a medieval ruin two miles east of town, see Gullane.
  • 7 National Museum of Flight is at East Fortune Airfield three miles south of town, see Haddington.

Forth islands

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Bass Rock
These were thrown up by the same volcanism in the Carboniferous era that produced North Berwick Law and the chain of outcrops to Edinburgh Castle.
  • 8 Bass Rock is the distinctive guano-streaked lump of an island off Tantallon, rearing up 107 m. It's variously been a hermit's abode, chapel, castle and prison, and Jacobite rebel stronghold, but abandoned from 1701. Lighthouse keepers lived here from 1902 until automation in 1988. See below for boat trips: most just circle to see the bird life, but a few land.
  • 9 Craigleith faces North Berwick. It's a bird reserve but (like Fidra) suffers from invasive mallow. Rabbits were somehow reintroduced in 2008 and are tolerated but the habitat would be better without them.
  • 10 Lamb is an uninhabited islet some 100 by 50 m in extent, flanked by its sheepdogs North and South Dog skerries, and easily reached by kayak. It's been owned since 2009 by Uri Geller, who declares that it holds ancient Egyptian treasure. The pattern of islets is identical to that of the Great Pyramids at Giza, d'you see, which in turn lie in the same pattern as the constellation of Orion, obviously the ancestral home of the architects. All that serious investigators ever found on Lamb was a solitary rat - the islet is within swimming distance of shore, and rats wreak havoc with ground-nesting birds so it was removed, not necessarily to a more congenial place. But Geller's schtick with the treasure wasn't drawing him enough publicity so in 2022 he declared Lamb to be a micro-nation, with its own flaky currency and national anthem. The Scottish Parliament is thought unlikely to agree to an Independence Referendum.
  • 11 Fidra is the island 2½ miles northwest - it looks like two from shore, as there's a low isthmus between the east and west outcrops. The name may be Norse for "feathers" and it's now an uninhabited bird reserve. Puffin numbers have soared since the lighthouse was automated and the sanitary arrangements were removed: the keepers grew mallow to use as toilet-roll (not for nothing is its botanical name Lavotera), and it overgrew the puffins' burrows.
  • 12 Eyebroughy marks the west end of the chain. It's only 200 m offshore and you can walk across at low tide.
  • 13 Isle of May lies at the edge of the Firth of Forth, 5 miles off the Fife coast. It's a National Nature Reserve owned by Scottish National Heritage. Seals can be seen all year round, whales can be spotted in late July and August. Puffins congregate in their thousands from April to July and are the island's main attraction. The island is usually accessed from Anstruther in Fife, but boat trips may also sail from North Berwick in summer.
 
St Mary's at Whitekirk was torched by suffragettes
  • Beaches are sandy both east and west, while the harbour area is rocky.
  • John Muir Way is a long-distance coastal trail. Eastbound follow the coast to Tantallon Castle; there are some ratty sections towards Whitekirk where you have to join the busy A198. At low tide you can return to the coast and splosh across the outflow of the River Tyne, otherwise follow the marked trail inland. You come into Dunbar past John Muir Country Park and the golf course. The trail continues, trending south, to Cockburnspath terminus of the Southern Upland Way, and along the cliffs to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland.
Westbound it's an obvious path along the coast through Yellowcraigs into Gullane, and onward to Luffness and Aberlady thence Musselburgh.
  • Golf: Tantallon GC is west edge of town, Glen GC is east edge. North Berwick Castle may have stood on the knoll on the east golf course, a simple motte-and-bailey of the 13th century. The townsfolk were sufficiently convinced to name it "Castle Hill" but excavations to lay utilities revealed nothing.
  • Boat trips sail April-Sept around the Forth islands. Operators are The Seabird Centre, Sula, Maid of the Forth and Blue Wild. For non-landing trips of an hour or two you can just turn up - they feed the gannets off the boat so you see them at close range diving in and "flying" underwater. Landing trips are longer and need to be pre-booked.
  • North Berwick Highland Games are next held on Sa 3 Aug 2024 in the Recreation Park. Extra buses may run from Edinburgh.
  • Fringe by the Sea is a week-long music and comedy festival in August, next held 2-11 Aug 2024.
  • Nisa is a convenience store on High Street open M-Sa 8AM-9PM, Su 8AM-8PM.
  • Aldi and Tesco supermarkets are on the main road east edge of town. Tesco filling station is open to 8PM.
 
Lamb island: no treasure here
Most eating places are on High Street and Quality Street, with more in Forth Street and Harbour area.
  • Bostock Bakery, 42 High Street EH39 4HQ, +44 1620 895515, . Daily 9AM-4:30PM. Good for breads, pastries and patisserie. Card payment only. They have another branch in East Linton.
  • Steampunk Cafe, 49a Kirk Ports EH39 4HL, +44 1620 893030. Daily 9AM-5PM. Slick quirky place for good coffee and bites.
  • Lobster Shack, Harbour Old Pier EH39 4SS, +44 7910 620480. Jun-Sep: W-Su noon-5PM. Great reviews for their crab, lobster and other seafood. The only seating area is outside but is covered and heated. They also do takeaway and have long queues at lunchtime.
  • Rocketeer Restaurant, 26 Victoria Rd EH39 4JL (At harbour by Seabird Centre), +44 1620 895577. Su-W 9AM-5PM, Th-Sa 9AM-9PM. Good offerings of seafood, fish and burgers, healthy portions. They're in the old coastguard station - the "rocketeers" launched lines by rocket to stricken ships, in a flurry of moustaches and derring-do.
  • Osteria, 71 High St EH39 4HG, +44 1620 890589. M-Sa 6-10PM. Cosy Italian with the usual fare.
  • The Grange is a steakhouse at 35 High St, open Tu-Sa 5-11PM and Sa noon-3PM.
  • Cucina Amore is a trad Italian place at 37 Quality St.
  • The Lawn is the restaurant in Marine Hotel and serves non-residents.

Drink

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  • Town bars include The Auld Hoose, Ship Inn, Golfers Rest and Herringbone.
  • NB Distillery are based at Halflandbarns, half a mile south of Tantallon Castle. They produce gin and vodka but have given up rum. Tours are available Tu-Sa at 5PM, £25.

Sleep

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A wintry North Berwick Law
  • B&Bs: over a dozen, mostly west of centre, but they didn't open in 2022.
  • 1 No 12, 12 Quality St EH39 4HP, +44 1620 892529. Pleasant town centre hotel with bistro. B&B double £160.
  • 2 Nether Abbey Hotel, 20 Dirleton Avenue EH39 4BQ, +44 1620 892802. Smart 12-room hotel in a 19th-century house, clean and friendly, good value. Dog-friendly. B&B double £170.
  • 3 Marine Hotel, 18 Cromwell Road EH39 4LZ, +44 1620 897300. 83-room hotel, much improved since refurbishment, a few areas are still tatty. B&B double £220.
  • 4 Tantallon Caravan Park, Tantallon Rd EH39 5NJ, +44 1620 893348. Clean well-run site a mile east of town, open Apr-Oct. Tent £24, hook-up £32.

Connect

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As of July 2023, North Berwick has 4G from EE, Three and Vodafone, but next-to-no signal from O2. 5G has not reached this area.

North Berwick Library, 13 School Road EH39 4JU, +44 1620 820700. M-F 9AM-1PM, 2-5PM (Th to 7PM), Sa 10AM-1PM. Tourist office and free internet access.

Go next

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  • Follow the coast road west past woodlands, sand hills, golf courses and crumbling old castles, through Gullane and Aberlady to Musselburgh, thence into Edinburgh.
  • Inland is the Museum of Flight near Haddington, the hill fort of Traprain Law, Glenkinchie whisky distillery, and the rolling Lammermuir Hills.
  • East is Dunbar, a fishing port embellished by a nuclear power station.
  • St Abbs, Eyemouth and Burnmouth are picturesque villages beneath the Berwickshire cliffs, then you cross the border to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland.


This city travel guide to North Berwick is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.