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The Lothians is the collective name for the counties of Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian, plus Edinburgh city, in the Central Belt of Scotland. They're all lowland in nature, heavily populated around Edinburgh, and bounded to the north by the Firth of Forth, and to the south by the Lammermuir hills. In 2021 their population was 897,770.

Cities and towns[edit]

  • 1 Edinburgh is the Lothians' centre of gravity and the capital of Scotland. It's a must-see destination for its arts and entertainment (year-round, not just at the Festival), history and culture, and natural scenery, with the Castle crags and volcanic cliffs of Arthur's Seat looming over it.

East Lothian is the most scenic of the city hinterlands. The coast improves as you go east, with a "Costa Golf" of sand hills, ruined castles and pine woods, finally cliffs and craggy islets.

  • 2 Musselburgh is a commuter town just east of Edinburgh.
  • 3 Aberlady Aberlady on Wikipedia is an attractive seaside village. The salt marshes of the bay are a wildlife reserve.
  • 4 Gullane is a seaside village with a notable golf course and a nearby aircraft museum.
  • 5 North Berwick is a small harbour town, the usual base for trips to the Bass Rock.
  • 6 Dunbar is a small fishing port. Here the conservationist John Muir grew up, before moving to the US.
  • 7 Haddington is a pleasant market town with a whisky distillery.
  • 8 Tranent has an industrial museum at nearby Prestonpans.

Midlothian was a coal-mining area in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • 9 Dalkeith is the main town. Just south in Newtongrange is the Scottish Mining Museum.
  • 10 Penicuik is a commuter village and army base. Just north is the 15th century chapel of Roslin. For hiking and views head into the Pentland Hills.

West Lothian in the 19th century had the world's first oil industry, and in parts it's a post-industrial mess, but it has some gems.

  • 11 Livingston is a drab 1960s "New Town," yet near to a Bronze Age burial henge and a base for the medieval Knights Hospitaller.
  • 12 South Queensferry is an attractive small harbour town beneath the Forth rail and road bridges.
  • 13 Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • 14 Bo'ness has a heritage steam railway.

Other destinations[edit]

  • 1 Bass Rock is the volcanic islet off North Berwick.
  • 2 Pentland Hills Pentland Hills on Wikipedia stride southwest into Lanarkshire.


"Wa-hay, the tourists have gone home!"

The Votadini buried their princess in about 600 AD on what would become Edinburgh Airport. But the headstone (visible when taxiing) was already 3000 years old, and the crags they lived upon were the plugs of a line of volcanoes thrown up over 300 million years ago. They inscribed the headstone in Latin, acquired in the Roman era, and their battles were described in the saga Y Gododdin. All this reflected a region that was lowland and easy to reach, that became part of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom based in Northumberland. It was only in 973 AD that "Laudian" was ceded to Scotland: a Glaswegian might say that the handover has yet to be implemented. Medieval Scottish monarchs were scared of English control and used the "Queen's ferry" to move between their capital Dunfermline and Edinburgh, which only became the capital around 1360. The city stank, even by their standards, because "Auld Reekie" burned coal from the coalfields south and east. This was mined by monks, then from the 19th century ramped up into a grubby industrial belt when deep mines (such as Monktonhall) reached thicker seams. West Lothian also industrialised then, with the world's first oil industry based on shale. Edinburgh city until the 1760s huddled on Castle Rock, with sanitary arrangements little better than those of the Votadini, only with far greater population density. Altogether, the region was clearly destined to become a prime tourist destination.

A good start was made from 1760 when Edinburgh drained its middens and established the New Town on the ridge north of Castle Rock. Political power had drained south with the 1707 Union with England, but the "Athens of the North" became a counterweight with its neo-classical architecture, Enlightenment thinking, legal and financial institutions, and literature - great talents who couldn't afford to live there included Robert Burns and William McGonagall. In 1822 George IV visited, to be greeted by arrays of loyal Scots in clan tartans invented for the occasion and worn to the present day. From 1890 the Forth Bridge carried the railway north, but cars used the Queen's ferry until the Forth Road Bridge opened 1964. There was more development around Glasgow, so the Lothians don't have the degree of urban sprawl and post-industrial brownfield seen further west, but Livingston in the 1960s became an unattractive "New Town". The outlying towns are all commuterland but have mostly preserved their historic core. All this is set in attractive scenery between sea and hills that adorns a myriad biscuit tins, picture calendars and packets of porridge oats: the "brand" of Scotland is the imagery of Lothian, its least Scottish region.

Get in[edit]

All transport routes converge on Edinburgh.

1 Edinburgh Airport (EDI IATA) is 8 miles west of the city, with good UK and European flight connections. It has few North American or Asian direct flights, so either take a connecting flight or consider using Manchester then taking the train. There's seldom any advantage in flying into Glasgow.

Trains run frequently daytime to Edinburgh from London Kings Cross via Peterborough, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle, plus a nightly sleeper from London Euston. Trains run from southwest England and the Midlands via Sheffield, York and Newcastle (these also stop at Dunbar), from Manchester airport and city, and frequently from Glasgow and Stirling. Trains from Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee run to Edinburgh every couple of hours.

Buses run to Edinburgh from London Victoria, from Belfast via Stranraer, and frequently from Glasgow and the other major Scottish cities. These bypass the other Lothian towns, so you may have to travel into central Edinburgh and journey out again.

By road the east coast route from England is A1 via Berwick-upon-Tweed, Dunbar and Haddington to Edinburgh. This route is lowland and rarely blocked in winter. The west coast route is M74 via Carlisle and Abington towards Glasgow, then onto A702 via Biggar. This crosses Beattock Summit but is kept open in all but the worst weather. M8 is from Glasgow, M9 is from Stirling, and M90 from Perth soars over the Firth of Forth. All these routes are toll-free.

Get around[edit]

Gateway to Linlithgow Palace

There are trains from Edinburgh to Dunbar, North Berwick, Linlithgow and Livingston. Take the bus for other routes, including South Queensferry where the trains rumble high above the village on the Forth Bridge, and Dalkeith and the Mining Museum where the railway station is at some distance.

Bicycles are not allowed on the A1 between Edinburgh and Dunbar, on A720 the Edinburgh city bypass, on much of A90 from city's edge to South Queensferry, or on the Queen's Crossing over the Forth. There are workaround bypassed old routes for each, for instance bikes and pedestrians cross the Forth by the old road bridge A9000.


  • Edinburgh itself will absorb most of your time, with its Old Town clambering up to the castle.
  • A series of smaller castle ruins dot the landscape, with the most attractive at Linlithgow, but the most dramatic setting at Tantallon near North Berwick.
  • Hopetoun House near South Queensferry is the most imposing stately home in the area.
  • For wildlife follow the coast east to Gullane and Dunbar, with maybe a boat trip to the Bass Rock.
  • Highland Games are held each year at Edinburgh Ingliston, North Berwick, and Bathgate near Linlithgow.
  • "In Lothian? - no way!" Surprising sights include a nuclear power station at Dunbar, an original Concorde at East Fortune near Haddington, and a coal mine at Newtongrange near Dalkeith.


Beach and sandhills at Gullane
  • Walk: the East Lothian coastline is attractive, and Glencorse above Penicuik leads into the Pentland Hills. A canal towpath leads from Edinburgh to Linlithgow and Falkirk, thence to Glasgow.
  • Theatre: in August thousands of shows vie for your attention at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
  • Ski: there's a dry-slope at Hillend above Edinburgh.
  • Beaches: Portobello is Edinburgh's own cheap and cheerful strip. But you need to go east for the sands of Gullane and the crags and coves of Dunbar.
  • Football: Edinburgh has three pro soccer teams, best known being Hibs and Hearts. It also has a pro rugby union team, and rugby internationals are played at Murrayfield.
  • Golf: dozens of courses, those championship-rated are Dalmahoy in West Lothian and Muirfield at Gullane.


  • Edinburgh has a huge concentration of eating places in all price ranges.
  • Out-of-town standouts are La Potiniere in Gullane and Champany Inn in Livingston.


Bass Rock

Edinburgh and Dunbar are the main brewing centres in the Lothians. Edinburgh has a long tradition of brewing but now only the Caledonian Brewery remains, which brews Caledonian 80/- (eighty shilling), Deuchars IPA (India Pale Ale) and some McEwan's beers (most are now brewed in England). Stewart Brewing is a small brewery in Loanhead just south of Edinburgh. Dunbar is home to Belhaven Brewery and Thistly Cross Cider.

Grain whisky is distilled in Edinburgh for blending, and Glenkinchie Distillery in Pencaitland near Edinburgh distils malt whisky. Gin is distilled in Edinburgh and North Berwick.

Stay safe[edit]

  • Standard advice applies about dressing for a change in the weather, not leaving valuables on display in your car, and steer clear of the occasional Friday night drunk.

Go next[edit]

  • Southeast for the Scottish Borders, with ruined abbeys at Jedburgh, Melrose and Kelso. The cliffs of Berwickshire are very scenic.
  • North into Fife for Culross and Dunfermline, the East Neuk fishing villages, and St Andrews.
  • Northwest to Stirling for routes towards the Trossachs.
  • Glasgow is a major destination in its own right.

This region travel guide to The Lothians is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.