There are three Lothians in Scotland – west, mid, and east. They lie around the capital city of Edinburgh. The historic county of East Lothian’s major attraction is its stunning 40 miles of coastline between Musselburgh and Dunbar. Due to its proximity to the English border, many bloody battles and royal landmarks have taken place here, and all three of the Lothians have played an important part in Scottish history.
With this part of the country so easily accessible from Edinburgh, there are many day trips in East Lothian which means you won’t just see the city. In this post, we’ll show you nine of the most impressive castles in East Lothian.
9 castles to visit in East Lothian
1. Dirleton Castle
The ruins of Dirleton Castle showcase some of the oldest castle architecture in Scotland. The De Vaux towers were built around 1240 to highlight the status of the family who owned the castle.
The castle was abandoned and left to ruin in the 1600s, but Victorian gardens were added in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Guinness Book of World Records recognises the herbaceous border as the longest of its type in the world.
While exploring the gardens and castle, you should always look out for one of the best-preserved pigeon houses in the county – with the capacity for more than 1,000 birds!
Where: Dirleton, North Berwick
When: 13th century
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. 10:00 – 16:00 from October to March
2. Dunbar Castle
What’s left of Dunbar Castle can be seen from the town harbour. It was once one of the mightiest sea fortresses in Scotland, and the remains you can see today are thought to be from the 11th-century incarnation of the castle.
However, there have been defences on the site since Roman times, and evidence that it was a Northumbrian stronghold in the 7th century AD. In more recent times, parts of the castle have collapsed into the sea due to coastal erosion.
Therefore, it’s not safe to enter the castle and visitors are forbidden. The best view is from the nearby leisure centre.
When: likely to be the 11th century
Open for Visit: No. The ruins are considered dangerous, and you can’t go inside what remains.
3. Fa’side Castle
Also known as Falside, Fawside, and Fauxside – as well as a host of other names – this L-plan tower house is now a bed and breakfast. It’s one of the few castles in East Lothian where you can spend the night!
Just two miles southeast of Musselburgh, it’s an ideal base for exploring Edinburgh without being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
The castle has panoramic views not only of the Firth of Forth but of Edinburgh and the hills of Fife too. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Dunbar!
When: 14th century
Style: L-plan Tower House
Open for Visit: The castle operates as a bed and breakfast and is open to paying guests
4. Fenton Tower
Another of the castles in East Lothian where you can stay overnight, Fenton Tower is a five-star luxury accommodation that is open to small groups. It also hosts weddings.
The castle sits atop Kingston Hill, with the hill having historical importance before the construction of Fenton Tower in the 16th century. There has been a fortification on the hill since the 11th century, as well as the remains of one of the earliest Scottish chapels. This castle is a Category A-listed building and a listed ancient monument.
Where: Kingston, North Berwick
When: 16th century
Style: Tower House
Open for Visit: The castle is private luxury accommodation and is open to guests who book
5. Garleton Castle
The remains of Garleton Castle lie about 1.5 miles north of the town of Haddington. It was built for the Seton family in the 16th century and has since been owned by the Lindsays before falling into disrepair.
Most of the stone from the castle was used to build the farmhouses and cottages that lie to the north of the castle. Garleton is a category B listed building and scheduled ancient monument.
Where: Near Haddington
When: 16th century
Style: L-Shape Courtyard Castle
Open for Visit: You can walk to the ruins of Garleton Castle.
6. Hailes Castle
This fortified manor house has over 800 years of history. It’s not only one of the oldest stone castles in East Lothian, but the whole of Scotland. Despite construction beginning in the 13th century, most of what you can see today was added later on.
The castle is heavily associated with the Scottish Wars of Independence and Mary Queen of Scots. However, its destruction was sealed when Cromwell invaded in 1650. Now, Hailes Castle is open to the public at all reasonable times. There is no charge for visiting.
When: 13th – 16th centuries
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. 10:00 – 16:00 from October to March.
Nowadays a private home, but with limited opportunities for the public to visit in summer, Lennoxlove is one of the earliest examples of Palladianism in Scotland. This stately home is packed with history and art – with artworks by Raeburn and Van Dyke on display.
It’s not only the home that is breath-taking though; the surroundings are too. You have panoramic views of the Lammermuir Hills, while the historic park surrounding Lennoxlove is home to rare White Park Cattle.
When: 14th century, with multiple extension since
Open for Visit: Tours are given every hour from 12:30 – 15:30 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays during the summer months.
8. Preston Tower
Now a ruin, Preston Tower stands in the village of Prestonpans and is surrounded by gardens. It’s unclear whether the L-Plan tower hails from the 14th or 15th century, but what is certain is that two towers were added in the 17th. The tower was burned down in 1650 but shown on a map of the battle of Prestonpans in 1745. The tower is said to be haunted by the ghost of a green lady.
When: 14th – 15th century
Style: Pele Tower
Open for Visit: Gardens open from dawn to dusk all year. Visitors are forbidden to enter the tower.
9. Tantallon Castle
Looking out over to Bass Rock, Tantallon Castle is not only one of the most impressive medieval castles in East Lothian, but all of Scotland. The castle looks as it does now because it was heavily damaged by Oliver Cromwell and his forces in the 17th century.
Tantallon Castle is not only known for its rich history, but also for its paranormal stories. Photos from as recently as 2009 show what is thought to be a ghost in 17th-century attire. However, no solid proof has been offered up.
Where: North Berwick
When: 14th century
Open for Visit: Yes. 09:30 – 17:30 from April to September. 10:00 – 16:00 from October to March. On weekends in July, the castle is open until 20:00.