Wherever you are in the world, everyone has their own ideas and vision of Scotland – the welcoming cities, the mountainous highlands and our miles of golden sandy beaches. I would, however, imagine very few of you have put down ‘must visit West Lothian’ on your dream travel itinerary.
This is the area I grew up in, not far from Edinburgh, and I took it as a personal challenge to show Yvette some fun things to do in West Lothian, who was previously advised “it’s not a nice place to visit.”
There are actually lots of cool things to do in West Lothian and it has a rich and varied history. I’ve listed 24 of my favourite places to visit in West Lothian that I think you may just want to take a detour or day trip from Edinburgh and Glasgow for.
Getting to West Lothian
Please note this isn’t a top ten list of the things to do in West Lothian. This is just the things I personally enjoy as a local.
Livingston and Linlithgow are both easily accessible by public transport. There are two train stations in Livingston- Livingston North and Livingston South which makes it easy to get here from Edinburgh or Glasgow, however both stations are located out of the town centre. If you just wanted to explore Linlithgow, the train station is in the centre of the town which makes things a lot easier.
I do recommend hiring a car to make the most of your visit to West Lothian, especially if you want to experience everything on this list.
Be warned – the town centre in Livingston has roundabouts. Many, many roundabouts. Driving in Scotland might be very different compared to what you are used to. It’s also worth remembering that the majority of roads here were built after the towns and villages were constructed so they can be a bit windy and narrow.
Spending some time exploring our backyard
Cool Things to do in West Lothian
1. Linlithgow Palace
If you are interested in Scottish history the town of Linlithgow is well worth a visit.
Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and James V. The palace dates from 1424 and the town centre has some wonderful closes, pubs and shops.
The Linlithgow Loch is also nice to walk around and shouldn’t take more than an hour at a leisurely pace.
2. Go hunting for…witches and aliens?!
Whilst there are several colourful characters residing in West Lothian, this isn’t quite what I was hinting at.
West Lothian is part of the ‘Falkirk Triangle’. This area is supposedly a hotbed for UFO activity stretching from Bonnybridge, Gorebridge and West Lothian. The most famous alien encounter is “The Robert Taylor Incident” which took place in 1979.
When Mr Taylor returned home from a trip to Dechmont Law dishevelled, his clothes torn and with grazes to his chin and thighs, he claimed he had encountered a “flying dome” which tried to pull him aboard.
Due to his injuries, the police recorded the matter as a common assault and the incident is popularly promoted as ”the only example of an alien sighting being the subject of a criminal investigation.”
My father worked with Mr Taylor at the Livingston Development Corporation and swears that he believes he was telling the truth. I’m sceptical however as my dad also told me all clouds were made by planes which I believed until I was 14.
There is now a stone plaque on the site of the supposed abduction close to the M8 motorway.
The village of Mid Calder is also home to the site of the ‘Witches Knowe’ or Cunnigar Hill as it’s known nowadays, where many supposed witches were burned.
The most famous ‘witch’ was a woman called Elizabeth Bryce who was an elderly woman who, along with her widowed daughter, took in orphans from Edinburgh to care for.
Unfortunately, in her old age she became senile and generally unpleasant and the local children started rumours that she was a witch. Whilst she was never burned at the cross, she is remembered throughout the area – an area of land known as Lizzie Bryce’s strip, and even has a roundabout with a witches hat statue named after her.
If you’re looking for cool things to do in West Lothian, you can’t miss visiting these areas off your list.
3. Cairnpapple Hill
Cairnpapple Hill is a hill with views from coast to coast across the central belt of Scotland.
The summit lies 312 meters above sea level and is about two miles outside of Bathgate. It was used and re-used as a major ritual site over 4000 years from the Neolithic period and into the bronze age.
You thought Edinburgh Castle was old? Pah!
It’s a very short walk from the parking area to the top of the hill and there is a small fee to visit during the warmer months, but it’s well worth checking out the views from the top if you are lucky enough to get a particularly clear today.
The last time myself and Yvette visited we were able to see from the Isle of Arran in the West out past North Berwick law on the East coast.
4. Five Sisters Zoo
Nestled under five huge shale bings, a by-product of the areas mining past, lies the Five Sisters Zoo.
I genuinely rate this as better than Edinburgh Zoo. The pricing is much cheaper, the parking is free, there is a soft play for the kids, and they have real life lions and bears. At a zoo! In West Lothian!
The zoo has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2005; even after a devastating fire in 2013 which destroyed the reptile house and sadly killed dozens of animals.
I’ve taken my 86 year old gran and my friends kids to the zoo on separate occasions all have enjoyed it, especially the leaping lemurs play area. It took the best part of forty minutes and a bag of Werther’s originals to coax my gran out of the ball pit.
A visit to Five Sisters Zoo is definitely one of the most fun things to do in West Lothian for all ages.
5. Almond Valley Heritage Centre
For a long time this was the place that every kid had their birthday party in West Lothian.
Almond Valley Heritage Centre is a family-friendly museum with farm animals, a working watermill and tonnes of play areas for kids to enjoy including playgrounds, pedal karts and trampolines. There is also the opportunity to take a trip by tractor and ride the narrow-gauge railway which has been a key feature since 1992.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting unless you have kids but the shale oil museum itself is excellent if you can get half an hour away to explore. West Lothian was the site of the world’s first ever oil boom. The replica of a mine shaft still gives me the heebie jeebies.
6. Beecraigs Country Park
Beecraigs Country Park is a 4-star visitor attraction and comprises around 900 acres of upland forest, woodland and open country. There is a range of amenities including walks and trails, play areas, a skills area, mountain bike trails, BBQ hire, and a caravan and camping site.
There are different animals around the Country Park including Red Deer, Highland Cattle, Belted Galloway Cattle, and Shetland Sheep. There is also a fly fishery, visitor centre and cafe.
The reservoir, now known as Beecraigs Loch, was built by German Prisoners of War. They were based in a work camp and had been sent from Stobs Camp near Hawick. By 1918 the 8-hectare reservoir began serving as a local water supply to the surrounding areas.
Different areas of the country park offer scenic views across Edinburgh and the Lothians including the road and rail bridges extending across the firth of forth.
7. Bangour Village Hospital
This is one of my favourite walks in West Lothian but unfortunately it might not be around for too much longer as the current rumour is that the historic old buildings will soon be knocked down for redevelopment.
Bangour Village Hospital was a psychiatric hospital located west of Dechmont and officially opened as the Edinburgh District Asylum in October 1906.
The hospital was requisitioned by the War Office during the First and Second World Wars but reverted to psychiatric work between 1919 and 1939. After general medical services transferred to the newly-opened St John’s Hospital in nearby Livingston, Bangour General Hospital closed down in the early 1990s.
There are a few buildings that you can still walk around which includes a power station, workshop, a bakery, a store, a kitchen and a laundry.
There is obviously a lot of history here and there is a real atmosphere around the buildings. If you are a keen photographer, I definitely recommend a visit as some of the architecture is outstanding and a lot of the buildings are astonishingly well preserved considering how long they have been left derelict.
Adrien Brody and Keira Knightly even filmed part of ‘The Jacket’ here in 2005.
The haunting abandoned buildings at Bangour Village Hospital
8. Livingston Designer Outlet and ‘The Centre’
If you are keen to do some retail therapy on your trip to West Lothian, the Livingston Designer Outlet might be just what you are looking for.
Shopping in Edinburgh and Glasgow can get pretty expensive on the high street but the designer outlet has some excellent bargains.
Some of my favourite discount shops include Adidas, Nike, Vans, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger. I still dress the same as I did in my twenties. We’re not quite at the stage where Yvette does my clothes shopping for me but watch this space.
The Designer Outlet also houses a cinema, two mini-golf courses and several eateries and fast food places. The Centre houses a Primark, aerial adventure course and a variety of other shops. It’s worth a wander round on one of our many wet weather days.
9. Livingston Football Club
I want to set the record straight here. I am a Hibernian Football Club supporter.
If you are Scottish generally your family will decide which team is bestowed upon you at birth. I will also never forgive Livingston FC for beating us in the Scottish League Cup final in 2004. The reason I have listed ‘The Livi Lions’ is that it’s the club closest to my home and my friends and I sometimes go along to support them and have a few beers together.
Livingston FC were officially playing in Livingston from 1995, although they were originally formed in 1943 as a work team. They have had a colourful past from finishing third in the Scottish premiership in 2002 to almost being liquidated in 2009.
It’s generally easier to get tickets for Livingston games compared to the bigger teams in Scotland, and cheaper too. At the time of writing this article they are currently fifth in the Scottish Premiership and worth a watch if you are a football or ‘soccer ball’ fan.
10. Go Hiking
Make sure you wear sturdy walking shoes you don’t mind getting dirty- there are some boggy/muddy patches!
More Fun Things to do in West Lothian
I would like to reiterate that this list is just some of the things that I like about West Lothian and is in no way exhaustive. There are plenty of other things to do which may pique your interest such as:
- Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway
- Linlithgow Canal Centre
- Hopetoun House
- The Scottish Owl Centre
- New Hopetoun Gardens
- Hiking in the Pentland Hills Regional Park
- Howden Park Centre
- Jupiter Artland
- Explore the grounds at the House of the Binns
I hope I’ve made West Lothian sound interesting and not like a film set from the twilight zone. There is genuinely something for everyone no matter your age or circumstances.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment and Yvette will forward these on to me.
And, yes, we have plenty of old school pubs.