With stunning views over the Firth of Forth, Bass Rock, and the East Lothian countryside at North Berwick, a day trip from Edinburgh to Tantallon Castle is not one you should miss. The ruins of this 14th century Scottish castle sit on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. And visitors can explore what is left of the fortress by climbing high up into the towers and down below ground into the prison.
Brief History of Tantallon Castle
Today, Tantallon Castle is in the capable hands of Historic Environment Scotland. But it was William Douglas who built the original castle in the mid-1300s. Among his claims to fame, Douglas was the first Earl of Douglas and the nephew of Sir James the Good, a trusted companion of Robert the Bruce.
Before the end of the century, the House of Douglas split in two: Black Douglases and Red Douglases. The Red Douglases held control of Tantallon Castle for the following three centuries. But that isn’t to say there were no challenges to their power. The Scottish castle was attacked in 1491 by James IV, 1528 by James V, and again in 1651 by Oliver Cromwell. It was Cromwell’s attack that was the most successful, destroying the castle to the point where it was abandoned. It took twelve days of bombardment and between 2000 and 3000 troops.
The ruins passed between hands over the following centuries until the British government took over in 1924.
Tantallon Castle is considered to be Scotland’s last great medieval castle. It’s easy to see why. Today, a green courtyard sits in front of the castle on the sea-facing side. The spot offers stunning views over the Firth of Forth. But during its time, a massive curtain well enclosed this courtyard with a thick, high stone wall similar to castles from a century prior.
Visiting Tantallon Castle
The castle is self-guided, which means you can really explore the ruins of this Scottish castle at your own pace. You can simply wander around the castle: up spiral staircases, down dark corridors. Of course, first, you have to cross a bridge (sort of) to enter the castle. It’s easy to get lost and, in this case, that isn’t a bad thing!
You can peer through narrow windows towards Berwick Law or get swept away in the windows facing the waterfront. You can even venture to the top of the tower for spectacular 360-degree views. Or, take a seat on one of the benches in the courtyard at the edge of the cliff.
The corridors and staircases are narrow and not always in perfect condition. So it’s important to take your time and be patient, especially if there are crowds. The signage, explaining what you’re looking at and its history, is there but can be minimal at times. But there could be more.
If you plan to visit additional castles during your visit to Scotland, consider buying the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.
Depending on your method of transportation, reaching Tantallon Castle can be challenging.
By car — whether driving yourself or via a taxi or ridesharing service — the castle is easily accessible. The site sits roughly three miles east of North Berwick, right on the A198. There you can find a medium-sized parking lot right along the road. From there it’s a short walk back to the visitor center.
Without a car, you have two options: your own two feet or the bus. If you opt for the bus, there is a stop directly in front of the parking lot on the A198. However, during my visit, there was no sign or indication of the bus stop. (Unless, of course, you count a broken signpost that I suspect is normally where the bus stop sign is.) The bus route is the 120 by Eve Coaches. The route runs, generally, once an hour so plan ahead and schedule accordingly. The bus will also only accepts exact change for the fare if you’re paying with cash. On this bus line, there are a number of centrally located stops in North Berwick. You can easily take the train to and from Edinburgh to North Berwick and then get the bus for the final leg.
Hiking to the Tantallon Castle
But the most spectacular way to reach the castle is by hiking from North Berwick. In roughly an hour, you cross the beautiful rocky beach, hike up the windswept cliff, briefly cross Glen Golf Course, and pick up the A198 to walk along until you reach the castle. In theory.
While I was looking forward to the hike, it didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. Specific walking directions that I could find online are, at best, spotty even with Google Maps. The paths up the cliffs are meandering and not clear cut with too many options forking off here and there. My husband and I must have crossed the gold course a half dozen times. And to reach the street I had to climb over a stone wall in one of the few sections not topped with razor wire. What started as an adventure, admittedly, ended a bit miserably. In short: prepare and expect the unexpected!
All photos, as well as all opinions, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.