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Did you know that Dunbar enjoys less rain and more hours of direct sunshine per year than most places in Scotland? Hence why this cute town in East Lothian is referred to as Sunny Dunny! Dry weather is ideal because many of the best things to do in Dunbar are outdoors!
In our Dunbar travel guide we’ve also included indoor activities for rainy days, where to eat, stay and how get to the town less than 30 from Edinburgh and 28 miles from Berwick.
Dunbar is a fun day trip but you’ll soon see that you could easily stay for 2-3 days, since there are so many things to do in this wee town.
You don’t need a car to get around Dunbar but if you are driving, we’ve included points of interest just outside of the town too.
Note: Do not confuse this south-east Scotland town with Dun Dunbar, the fictional castle in the Netflix movie, A Castle for Christmas starring Brooke Shields.
Disclaimer: This guide on what to do in Dunbar was commissioned by our partners, Scottish Hostels. As always, the ridiculously useful information has been created by Everything Edinburgh and any opinions expressed are our own.
Things to do in Dunbar
Harbors in Dunbar
Dunbar has three harbours which isn’t surprising once you learn that the town was once a happening herring and whaling port.
Many of the monuments discussed in this guide are associated with the town’s maritime connections.
The oldest harbour dates back to the 17th century, and today Dunbar Harbour still functions as a shellfish producer, lifeboat station, sailing club and rowing club.
Dive schools from outside the town make use of the many diving sites such as the four small islands near Dunbar.
While most people go for a walk around the harbour during the day to see the boats, former warehouses and granaries, the scene makes for an impressive sunset picture too.
We love the wall with the boating paraphernalia and Dunbar sign.
The Fisherman’s Monument
The Fisherman’s Monument is an arch honouring the fishermen of Dunbar.
It was first put up in 1856 by local benefactor, William Brodie of Seafield then re-carved in 1998 by Michelle De Bruin.
Its secondary function was a weather forecast using a mercury barometer!
Dunbar Battery on Lamer Island
From the outside, Dunbar Battery just looks like a ruin but once you step into the historic area you are met with modern metal sculptures and stairs with the terms used in shipping forecast reports.
The stairs lead you down to an amphitheatre which is the stage for public and private events in Dunbar.
Overlooking the harbour is Dunbar Castle which is now ruins and home to a Kittiwake colony.
Historically, the castle protected Scots from English invasion in the 13th century and in 1566 it sheltered a heavily pregnant Mary Queen of Scots, who was fleeing after the murder of David Rizzio, her private secretary, at the Palace of Holyrood.
Dunbar Castle ruins sit next to Victoria Harbour.
More drama than a Netflix film. Speaking of movies…
Dunbar Castle is not to be confused with Dun Dunbar, the fictional castle from the movie, A Castle For Christmas.
The village used in the festive movie isn’t Dunbar either, that’s Culross in The Kingdom of Fife.
However, East Lothian’s Tantallon Castle ruin was used during filming.
If you watch the movie, enjoy the entertaining taxi ride from Edinburgh Airport to Dun Dunbar (Culross is the east of Scotland) via Loch Fyne in the west.
We love Hollywood’s creative licensing!
can’t stop thinking about the taxi ride in A Castle for Christmas: from Edinburgh Airport to the quite vague “the highlands” via Inverary Castle and Culross, a truly chaotic and nonsensical route pic.twitter.com/DGUDVCYXN4— Heather Parry (@HeatherParryUK) December 17, 2021
Sammy the Seal
Sammy the resident seal was picked up by the press for flipping onto a fisherman’s boat for a feed!
The fisherman has been engaging with Sammy for a long time and is often asked about in Facebook groups.
The Creel Loaders
Where are all the monuments of women in Edinburgh?
A question we hear often.
The Creel Loaders (Victoria Street) sandstone monument celebrates the hidden members of the fishing community, the women.
As a part of the Herring industry, their jobs included baiting the lines and selling the catch.
In this public art piece, two men stand behind the strong 6ft fishwife as they carry the creel.
Dunbar Shore and Harbour Neighbourhood Group dreamed up the idea and Gardner Molloy created it.
The Creel Loaders is part of the Dunbar Art Trail which we’ll talk about more below.
Molloy’s work can be seen throughout Dunbar including the stone bench at Victoria Harbour and the John Muir Stone outside John Muir’s Birthplace which is the start/end of the popular John Muir Way hiking trail.
Cliff Top Trail
Connecting Old Dunbar’s attractions is a long stretch of nature called the Cliff Top Trail.
This relatively easy walk takes you by redstone cliffs, a golf course, the harbour and down the High Street where some of the most popular things to do in Dunbar are located.
You’ll also find Dunbar Leisure Centre around here which is one of the most popular things to do in Dunbar with kids.
Be prepared to line up before it opens.
There’s also a wooden park by East Sands Beach.
Dunbar Town House Museum and Gallery
Located in the High Street’s 16th century Town House, the museum displays changing historical and art exhibitions and local history display area and research room managed by Dunbar and District History Society.
The Town House is also home to the Council Chamber, which can be booked for meetings and civil marriages.
You can’t miss the Town House with its stark white tower and witches hat top.
John Muir Birthplace
One of the US’s most prominent figures in conservation, John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838.
At the John Muir Birthplace you can learn more about the farmer, inventor, botanist, geologist, mountaineer, writer, explorer and environmental campaigner who emigrated to the USA in 1849.
Muir is famous for shaping the national parks system that the US knows today and is closely linked with Yosemite National Park (Ahwanee) in California.
He is often referred to as ‘The Father of Our National Park System’ although this term doesn’t take into consideration that Indigenous People had cared for and landscaped many of the areas that Muir loved before the creation of the National Park Service.
However, the title does nod to the dedication Muir displayed to protect public rights to access natural spaces.
At the museum you can read artefacts, see photography and watch short films about his life.
The John Muir Birthplace is also the start or end of the John Muir Way.
When the tide is out, Belhaven Bridge (20 Shore Road) looks like a piece of history washed up but when the North Sea floods in it resembles a ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.
Photographers love this spot.
Our dog crossed the bridge but she wasn’t too keen on it so maybe let your four legged pals use the sand instead.
You’ll also get uninterrupted views over to Bass Rock, the huge block and nesting ground for gannets, from Belhaven Beach.
Many say that Bass Rock shines bright white when there is lots of bird poo splattered on it but others argue it is the birds that make the rock glow!
Surfing in Dunbar
Thurso in the northeast of Scotland on the famous NC500 road trip is one of the most recognised surf spots in the UK but Dunbar’s waves are becoming more well known.
Some of the Belhaven Surf Club members are progressing well at the Scottish Surfing Federation Junior Series events.
The Dolphin Inn, where we stayed in Dunbar, is a SSF affiliated business and offers a 15% discount to members.
They also have a large outdoor courtyard for board storage and drying rack for suits.
Just starting out?
You can book lessons, hire surfboards and paddleboards at Coast to Coast Surf School (Surf Centre, 36 Back Rd, Belhaven).
We’ve seen people paddleboard and kayak during late summer nights; one of the ideal things about Dunbar for fans of the outdoors is the hours of daylight it enjoys!
The Dolphin Inn has this handy map of SUP and surf spots around Dunbar.
Golfing in Dunbar
Dunbar is part of Scotland’s Golf Coast and is home to two golf clubs, Winterfield Golf Course and Dunbar Golf Course.
Winterfield is an 18 hole links course with views of the Firth of Forth, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May.
Dunbar Golf Course was first used in 1856, also has 18 holes and has played host to many national and international championships.
Rent a Bike
Renting a bike is a good way to get around Dunbar, along the Cliff Top Trail and out to Belhaven to dine at the Strawberry Barn or The Brigg & Barrel!
You can collect mountain bikes or e-bikes from Belhaven Bikes or choose the ‘One Way’ hire option if you require collection and/or drop off.
Click here for more cycle routes around Dunbar and East Lothian.
We did an hour tour around Old Dunbar with Barney Vaughan Knight who organises cycle tours in Scotland abroad through his company, The Overlanders.
Zero Waste Shop Dunbar
One person’s trash is another’s treasure at Zero Waste Shop Big Pick Shops Dunbar (Unit 2, Countess Crescent).
The self proclaimed ‘Aladdin’s cave’ is open seven days a week.
The Dunbar Art Trail
The Dunbar Art Trail is a multi-stop self-guided outdoor art tour that introduces to large sculptures, artefacts, tiles, and street art murals.
You can read about the individual pieces and also follow the art map stops here.
John Muir Country Park
Walk alongside over 400 species of plants and look out for kittiwake on the castle ruins at John Muir Country Park close to West Barns.
Proudly, it hosts the UK’s first ropes course over water.
Other water activities include wakeboarding and open water swimming.
Prefer to stay dry?
The activity park also has 60-minute Segway tours led by experienced guides.
This was my first time on a Segway and I felt comfortable after the 15-minute training course!
The wee machine is pretty powerful and can carry you along the off-road route through forests and to the beach.
You do need to look out for a few potholes and alpacas but your guide will keep you right.
It is possible to walk to Foxlake through John Muir Park if you don’t have a car.
The Dun Bear, Hallhill
If you see an 18ft bear walking towards you during the John Muir Way you might want to check your eyesight.
If you spot one just off the A1, it’s just Andy Scott’s Dun Bear sculpture at Spott Roundabout.
Scott is known for his large scale sculptures such as The Kelpies in Falkirk and Poised, the leopard in Aberdeen.
Dun Bear is a tribute to conservationist John Muir who was born in Dunbar in 1838.
You can find out more about Muir at his birthplace museum discussed above.
But why a bear and not a coastal sea mammal?
Muir emigrated to the USA and played a part in establishing the country’s national parks so the bear is a high paw to wilderness.
Food in Dunbar
Hector’s (32A High Street) is a cool industrial looking laidback restaurant serving artisan pizzas using locally sourced ingredients.
My partner likes to think of himself as a pizza expert and gives Hector’s pizzas 10/10.
Thanks to the owner, Nick, for the tips on how to make our own pizzas better, it’s all in the dough!
The menu features locally sourced ingredients within 30 miles of the pizzeria such as Crombies of Edinburgh, Doddington Dairy and The Scottish Bee Company in Livingston.
Drinks include beer, wine and unlimited Hector’s Soda.
Hectors is family-friendly.
There’s even a Street Fighter machine for big kids.
The Brig & Barrel
The friendly Brig & Barrel (8 High Street) is a homely pub located between the Belhaven Bridge to Nowhere and Belhaven Brewery.
The pub serves home cooked food such as burgers, chili con carne and roasts.
There’s a comfortable looking beer garden out the back for dry days.
Graze Cafe is a family-run coffee shop which serves home baking, trademark scones, soup, lunches, charcuterie graze boxes and award winning Giacopazzi Ice-cream.
We popped in for take out breakfast then returned to sit in for the Dream Hot Chocolate with strawberries and marshmallows.
Fish and Chips in Dunbar
Did you even go to the beach if you didn’t end the day with fish and chips?
There are two fish and chips shops in Dunbar.
You’ll find Adriano’s on the High Street and Cafe Central just off the High Street at 6 West Port.
Wishing By The Tree
Wishing By The Tree cafe is located in the heart of Lauderdale Park and sells homemade made soups, cakes and hot drinks including and lux hot chocolate.
Belhaven Smokehouse (Beltonford Roundabout) is an artisan food business selling deli counter produce including seafood and cheese.
Pick up some smoked salmon for your tea and check out the recipes on the website.
The Strawberry Barn
I’m salivating at the thought of The Strawberry Barn cafe and venue space at Thistly Cross Roundabout.
The cafe serves hearty breakfasts and lunches including gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan choices.
The shop sells craft cider and beer and you can pick your own fruit at the farm.
We were blessed that Denny’s Bakes cookies were in stock the day we popped in!
Jay Bird’s Larder
This 5-star award winning cafe with outdoor seating is located at Foxlake Adventures which you can read more about above.
Jay Bird’s Larder uses local produce and seasonal food to create superb breakfasts, soups, toasties and banging cakes.
Station Yard (Station Road) is a micropub serving craft beer, local gin, Scottish vodka, wine and whisky.
There’s a beer garden or a log fire for those who prefer indoor drinking.
There’s a selection of board games in the corner of the pub if you’re looking for some entertainment.
The Bear and Bull
The Bear and Bull (72 High Street) is a trendy cocktail bar that serves cocktails and mocktails.
Festivals in Dunbar
Thanks to the Lost Dunbar Facebook community for telling me about Dunbar’s Music Festival which takes place in September.
According to website, the Festival builds on a proud tradition going back 30 years to bring quality live music to Dunbar and to celebrate the town.
Some gigs are free while shows at the unique stage at The Battery are ticketed.
We stayed at The Dolphin Inn for two nights.
This was part of a campaign with Scottish Hostels.
The Dolphin Inn
The Dolphin Inn (2 Queen’s Rd, Dunbar) is a new budget hostel located in the centre of Dunbar.
It is independently run and owned by Jo who used to holiday in Dunbar with her family.
I asked Jo why she opened a hostel and not a hotel and she said ‘because we’re hostel people’.
Jo has travelled all over the world with her family, including when her children were young, so she wanted to created a safe, affordable space for young people and families to stay for a couple of nights while they either attend an outdoors event in Dunbar or visit the town to learn about the history and get out in its nature.
The Dolphin Inn is also dog-friendly!
The hostel building used to be The Railway Hotel and then it became The Dolphin Bar before the pub closed in 2013.
You can still see part of the bar at the hostel as the downstairs toilet urinal wall is the pub loo wall and some of the pub bar stools have been refurbished.
It’s these little pieces of detail that make The Dolphin Inn so unique.
The Dolphin Inn has family suites, double and twin en-suites and small dorm rooms.
Each room has wooden shutters that act as blackout blinds, beach-style towels which are in keeping with the Dunbar seaside theme and radiators, ideal if you are visiting for outdoor activities and need to dry your stuff!
There’s also tumble drying facilities.
There’s a big outdoor courtyard for dining at and space for bikes and boards if you are planning to cycle, surf or SUP.
The communal dining area is decorated with 70s pre-loved furniture and a record player; we gave Now 3 a spin while eating dinner.
Cereal, toast and hot drinks are provided free of charge for breakfast.
The mural in the communal area was created by King Listy and the boat is one of the most photographed things in Dunbar!
Free Wi-Fi is available throughout.
There is also free on-street parking and the hostel is less than a 5-minute walk from Dunbar Train Station.
So, if you are looking for a family-friendly hostel outside of the city that is attractive, affordable and very central to Dunbar attractions, consider The Dolphin Inn via Scottish Hostels.
Self-Contained Accommodation in Dunbar
Camping in Dunbar
There are a handful of campsites in Dunbar which offer camping spots and campervan hook ups.
Tantallon Caravan Park, Harvest Moon Holidays, Belhaven Bay, Dunbar Camping and Thorntonloch all have sea view campgrounds.
East Lothian campsites are really busy in summer so be sure to book ahead and if you can’t get a reservation do consider the Dolphin Inn even if you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you might just be surprised!
How to Get to Dunbar
Dunbar is located in the East Lothian region, 30 miles from Edinburgh along the A1.
Trains to Dunbar run frequently and take around 20 minutes.
Things to do Near Dunbar
We never had the chance to get to the following things to do near and around Dunbar but hope to return soon.
- Pressmennan Wood
- Woodhall Dean
- Barns Ness Lighthouse
- Innerwick Castle
- Pettico Wick Bay
Dunbar Activities Map
We’ve created this map for you to use. It includes all of the attractions and businesses we have mentioned in this Dunbar travel guide.
Thank you to Scottish Hostels for working with us to promote Sunny Dunny. Did this guide inspire you to visit? Tell us in the comments below.