The original medieval harbour lay a couple of miles west, where the Biel Water flows out: that was "Belhaven" where the brewery now stands. Oliver Cromwell was unimpressed by its muddy creek and ordered construction of the harbour in Dunbar that bears his name. This in turn was outgrown by the 19th century, when the Victoria Harbour was created alongside. This necessitated cutting through the red sandstone of the headland, so it's a striking harbour entrance, with what's left of the castle teetering above it.
Dunbar was the birthplace of the conservationist John Muir (1838-1914). Local natural features and wildlife had already fascinated him by age 11 when his family moved to the USA. There he was to discover the wilds and set about their preservation through the agency of the United States national parks.
By road: Dunbar is on A1087, a loop north of the A1 London-Newcastle-Edinburgh road. The town is 30 miles (48 km) east of Edinburgh and 28 miles (45 km) northwest of the English border at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Cyclists may use the A1 at this point, but from Edinburgh must use the old road A199 alongside until Dunbar.
By bus: East Coast Bus X7 runs along A1 between Edinburgh and Dunbar, every 30 min M-F and hourly Sa Su, taking 80 min. Borders Bus 253 also runs hourly from Edinburgh via Haddington to Dunbar, and every two hours continues to Cockpurnspath, Grantshouse, Eyemouth, Burnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Night bus N106 runs after shortly midnight F Sa from Edinburgh to Musselburgh then same route to Dunbar.
There isn't a bus station, buses stop along Belhaven Rd and High Street then terminate at Asda south side of town.
By rail: Dunbar is on the East Coast Mainline from London King's Cross to Edinburgh, but those trains just flash through. You need to change at York or Newcastle for the Cross-Country trains coming up from the Midlands and stopping at Dunbar every couple of hours on their way towards Edinburgh. There's also a local train between Dunbar and Edinburgh, so this connection is hourly, taking 20 min.
1 Dunbar railway station is 100 yards south of High Street. It has a staffed ticket office and machines, toilets and a waiting room. There is step-free access to the single platform.
- The town is compact, but you need wheels to reach Torness and explore the scenic coast.
- Taxi firms in town are Torrance (+44 1368 862612), Redline (+44 1368 864640) and WB (+44 1368 862333}.
- Belhaven Bikes do repairs and bike hire. They're at Rigg Service Station on Belhaven Rd, open Tu-Sa 9AM-5:30PM.
- 1 Dunbar Town House Museum, High St EH42 1ER, ☏ . Apr-Sep: daily 1-5PM. Photographic displays of the history of the burgh. Local historic documents can be researched here. Free.
- 2 John Muir's Birthplace, 126 High St EH42 1JJ, ☏ , email@example.com. Apr-Sep: M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 1-5PM; Oct-Mar: W-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 1-5PM. This museum in the house where John Muir was born describes the life, work, and achievements of the renowned environmentalist. Free.
- Lauderdale House at the foot of High Street was a mansion of 1730, extended by the Adams, and converted to a barracks in 1855. It's now private apartments.
- The harbours are scenic. A drawbridge spans the channel between Cromwell and Victoria harbours - vehicles may use this for unloading, but don't park on the outer pier, and the bridge is usually agape in winter. The battery was built in 1781 to repel privateers.
- 3 Dunbar Castle. 24 hrs. Stump of what was once among the strongest fortresses in Scotland. After various assaults it was "slighted" in 1567 to prevent use by rebels, and the construction of the Victorian harbour carved through it. The miniature cod-castle at its foot was built in 1913 to measure mean sea level, the reference point for Ordnance Survey maps. It's now the Harbourmaster's office. Free.
- 4 The Dunbear is a five metre steel mesh sculpture of a brown bear rearing up on its hind legs. Erected in 2019 at the south edge of town, it commemorates Yosemite and other US wildernesses protected by John Muir, but it looks like it's minded to raid ASDA supermarket next door.
- 5 Torness Nuclear Power Station, Torness EH42 1QS (on A1 five miles east of Dunbar), ☏ . M-Th 9AM-4PM. Twin Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors, pushing 600 MW apiece into the National Grid since 1988, and planned to continue to 2030. You can simply drop into the visitor centre, but you'll get much more from joining an organised tour (minimum age 8), which needs to be booked 3-4 weeks in advance. Free, but there ought to be a £50 spot penalty for anyone making Homer Simpson jokes, which by now have half-decayed to lead.
- 6 Innerwick Castle is a gnarly stump 5 miles east of town. It was built in the 14th century; in the 17th the Covenanters used as a base to harry Cromwell.
- Bass Rock is the bird-limed lump out to sea northwest. Sail around it, and perhaps even land, on boat trips from North Berwick. Due north on a clear day you can also make out the cliffs of the Isle of May, a bird sanctuary. It's usually reached from Anstruther in Fife but there are summer boat trips from North Berwick.
- West Beach beyond the Biel Water outlet is sandy. It's reached at low tide by the "bridge to nowhere" but is cut off from town at high tide. C2C Surf School is based by the bridge.
- John Muir Way is a long-distance coastal trail starting outside his birthplace. Westbound it's an easy scenic stroll past Winterfield Park and golf course to Belhaven Bay and John Muir Country Park. "The Bridge to Nowhere" crosses Biel Water; at high tide its approaches are inundated, so it's an odd sight. The recommended route then swings inland, but at low tide you can stay on the shore and splosh across the outflow of the River Tyne. All routes then trend north via Whitekirk and Tantallon Castle to North Berwick, but there are some ratty sections where you have to join the busy A198. The original trail ended at Edinburgh, but in 2014 it was extended all the way to Helensburgh on the west coast.
- Berwickshire Coastal Path or "John Muir Link" is nowadays the name of the coastal trail eastbound, soon trending south. It used to be considered part of John Muir Way. As you leave Dunbar, Torness looks like an obstruction, but there's a walkway that takes you through it. (A surprising number of anglers come here, as fish are drawn by the warm reactor coolant outflow.) You stay in low-lying country to Cove near Cockburnspath, eastern terminus of the Southern Upland Way. It's then a very scenic but rugged hike along the cliffs and coves through St Abbs, Eyemouth and Burnmouth; then the terrain calms down and the border near Berwick-upon-Tweed is an anticlimax.
- Scuba divers: boats can be launched 2 hours before or after high tide. Shore divers can enjoy the harbour wall and the J-hole, where squat lobsters and other beasties wave their claws at you. Some 200 m offshore are The Yetts. You need to be self-sufficient on kit, there are no hire, repair, or air facilities here. And try not to haul ashore at Fool's Beach, to be mocked by tourists sitting on the harbour wall above.
- Dunbar Leisure Pool, Castle Park EH42 1EU (by harbour), ☏ . M-Th 9AM-9PM, F-Su 9AM-5PM. Council-run swimming pool with flumes and wave pool. Also has a sauna, steam room and gym.
- Dunbar Golf Club, East Links EH42 1LL (A mile east of town), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Established 1856 and open all year, this links course was designed by the renowned Old Tom Morris. 18 holes from yellow tees 6196 yards, par 71. It's busy whenever the Open is held at nearby Gullane, as it's used for qualifying rounds. Visitor round £145, day £200.
- Winterfield Golf Club, St Margarets, North Rd EH42 1AU (Northwest edge of town), ☏ . On the coast west side of town, yellow tees 4817 yards, par 65, visitor £33.
- Lammermuir Festival is classical music in Dunbar and other venues across East Lothian. It's held in mid-September.
- Traditional Music Festival is held in late Sept, with the next 22-24 Sept 2023.
- Co-op Food have a small store at 118 High St and a supermarket at Countess Cres, both open daily 7AM-10PM.
- 1 Asda, Spott Rd EH42 1LE. Daily 7AM-11PM. Large well-stocked supermarket on the main road south edge of town. Filling station prices here are about the best you'll get in East Lothian.
- Town centre offerings are The Creel by the harbour, Shapla Tandoori on High St, Hector's Pizza top of High St, and 1902 Grill within Dunmuir Hotel on Queen's Rd.
- Thistly Cross Cider is made nearby at West Barns from Scottish apples. They don't do tours but if you've got good quality apples, they'd love you to get in touch.
- 1 The Volunteer Arms, 17 Victoria St EH42 1HP, ☏ . Daily noon-11PM, food served until 9PM. Lovely traditional bar overlooking the harbour, with an upstairs restaurant and an outside seating area for sunny days.
- Bear & Bull and Eagle Inn are on High St by the museum.
- Station Yard is a microbrewery with beer garden next to the station, open M-Th 3-11PM, F Sa noon-midnight, Su noon-11PM.
- 2 Brig & Barrel, 8 High St, Belhaven EH42 1NP, ☏ . W-M noon-11PM. Welcoming dog-friendly bar and restaurant: it's an independent "free house", close to Belhaven Brewery but not associated with it.
- 3 Belhaven Brewery, Brewery Lane, Belhaven EH42 1PE, ☏ . Tours M-Sa, booking essential. A large brewery dating from 1719 and owned since 2005 by Greene King, it brews a range of cask, draught and bottled Scottish ales. Tour £15.
- Belhaven Bay camping & caravan site, open March-Oct, is on A1087 at the west edge of town. They also run the site near Tantallon Caastle.
- Camping & Caravan Club site is a mile east of town beyond the golf course.
- B&Bs: lots in town, open in summer.
- Dolphin Inn, 2 Queen's Rd EH42 2JZ (next to Hillside Hotel), ☏ . Great reviews for this smartly renovated place in town centre. B&B double £70.
- 1 Hillside Hotel, 3 Queen's Rd EH42 1RB, ☏ . Simple friendly hotel. Meals W-F evenings, Sa, Su all day. B&B double £110.
- 2 Bayswell Hotel, 16 Bayswell Park EH42 1AE, ☏ . Pleasant trad small hotel near castle. B&B double £120.
- 3 Dunmuir Hotel, 11 Newhouse Terrace, Queen's Rd EH42 1LG, ☏ , email@example.com. Welcoming, well-run hotel in Victorian building, with 1902 Restaurant. B&B double £100.
As of July 2023, Dunbar and the A1 have 4G from all UK carriers, with a patchy 5G signal from EE.
- North Berwick 10 miles northwest has the Scottish Seabird Centre and Tantallon Castle. Stay on this scenic A198 coastal route for Edinburgh rather than dash along A1.
- Eyemouth southeast is a fishing harbour, and the last town in Scotland before you cross the border at Berwick.
- Berwick-upon-Tweed is a historic border town, with well-preserved walls and old centre.
- Edinburgh, Scotland's spectacular capital city, is only 30 miles west.
|Routes through Dunbar|
|Edinburgh ← Haddington ←||W S||→ Berwick-upon-Tweed → Newcastle upon Tyne|