9 ways to get out & about in Edinburgh

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton

The Scottish capital is one of the UK's most visited cities, and understandably so. It's a captivating mix of history and heritage immersed in a changeable urban landscape speckled with public parks and nature reserves, period gardens, beaches and rolling hills that ignite a desire to explore more.

Ways to get out and about in Edinburgh © Shaiith - Adobe Stock Image
Ways to get out and about in Edinburgh © Shaiith - Adobe Stock Image

While the mighty castle is the number one attraction and the Old Town, a sea of tourists after a flavour of medieval Edinburgh, warts, grave robbers and all, there's no better way of experiencing the real Edinburgh than by getting out and about in its green spaces and wild places.

Thankfully, as a relatively compact city with an excellent network of trails, paths and reliable public transport, this is easy to do. What's more, you don't have to go too far to find peace and fresh air while getting to know Edinburgh* that wee bit better.

Getting to Edinburgh: book your city break with Travel Republic*, which offers deals on holidays, hotels and more to destinations worldwide.

Arthur's Seat

Looming up alongside Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the historic Royal Mile is the rocky mound of Arthur's Seat.

Located within the royal grounds of Holyrood Park, this extinct volcano, which rises some 824 ft (251 m), is the finest free viewing platform in town. And you certainly earn the quite-literally breathtaking 360° views from the top as it's a good thigh-burning trek to the peak.

Look out for the ruins of a prehistoric hill fort, the remains of 15th-century St Anthony's Chapel, the many ducks and birds that congregate at Duddingston Loch and the sheer cliffs of Salisbury Crags. A stop to refuel at The Sheep Heid Inn is always a good idea.

Hermitage of Braid & Blackford Hill

Tucked to the south of Edinburgh you'll find the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Local Nature Reserve.

Start your walk at the western edge, following the Braid Burn to the visitor centre in the 18th-century Hermitage House, where a small exhibition delves into the local history. Look out for the doocot (dovecot) and the walled garden, which can also be visited.

From here, you follow on through the ancient woodland of the Hermitage of Braid and up onto the more open grassland, often speckled with the bright yellow of gorse in bloom, of Blackford Hill. Meanwhile, the views northwards offer a different perspective on the city's familiar skyline.

It's also where the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh resides. The super organised out there may want to plan a walk that coincides with one of the public talks and tours.

Getting around: Edinburgh has a good, reliable bus service and every place we've mentioned here can be accessed by public transport. Check out the Journey Planner from Lothian Buses or download the Citymapper app.

The Pentlands

The Pentlands is a range of hills that reaches some 20 miles southwest of Edinburgh. Although the highest peak of Scald Law, some 1,900 ft (579 m), falls just short of mountain status (2,000 ft), the hills offer plenty of heart-pumping activities.

The Pentlands, just a few miles from the city centre © Philip - Adobe Stock Image
The Pentlands, just a few miles from the city centre © Philip - Adobe Stock Image

With more than 60 miles of waymarked paths, hillwalking and mountain biking are big business, while skiing down the Midlothian Snowsports Centre's artificial slope is possible year-round.

The landscape is a mixture of farm and forest peppered with reservoirs where wild swimmers are often seen enjoying the refreshing waters. A good walk for first-timers can be had around Threipmuir Reservoir, loved by humans and four-legged companions alike.

If you plan to get out among the Pentlands, do your research; find a route that suits you, pack a picnic and prepare to reap the rewards.

Water of Leith

See behind the scenes of the city along the Water of Leith Walkway. Follow the river 13 miles as it winds its ways from Balerno in the southwest through vibrant neighbourhoods and places teeming with wildlife and historical intrigue before spilling out into the Firth of Forth at Leith.

The Water of Leith Walkway passing through desirable Dean Village © Rowan Art Creation - Adobe Stock
The Water of Leith Walkway passing through desirable Dean Village © Rowan Art Creation - Adobe Stock

While the river begins in the Pentlands, the walkway has been lovingly developed to showcase the many sights that line its banks from the suburbs to the sea.

Learn all about the industries which once thrived here at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, Slateford.

Visit the Gallery of Modern Art before stopping to consider those lucky people who live in the desirable Dean Village and calling by Stockbridge for some of the city's best cafés and independent shops (there's also a market here on Sundays).

It's a wonderful way to snake through the city, getting to know the different areas while keeping eyes peeled for kingfishers and otters. A celebratory drink at Teuchters Landing in Leith is essential.

Portobello

If the sun is shining (it happens more than you might think!), you can't beat a day trip to Portobello and its gloriously long, sandy beach. Just three miles east of the centre, this lively coastal neighbourhood was once an independent town before being swallowed up by the swelling city in the 19th century.

Today, it retains its own character with a lively local community and an unmissable whiff of seaside nostalgia. While some of the vintage attractions have been lost (the near-criminal demolition of the lido, for example), many others have remained.

The long sandy beach at Portobello © Duncan Hale-Sutton - Alamy Stock Photo
The long sandy beach at Portobello © Duncan Hale-Sutton - Alamy Stock Photo

Think ice cream parlours, beach cafés and occasional funfair-shaped activities along the promenade, not to mention the old baths (now Portobello Swim Centre, which still houses one of the only three public Turkish baths left in Scotland).

The award-winning beach is as soft, sandy and gently sloping as they come, making it safe to swim, paddle (by foot or board) and play. Unfurl your towel and dip your toes in.

Cramond

If you're looking for history, adventure and a good intake of fresh sea air, you can't beat a trip to Cramond. The pretty village, from its enviable abodes down to the waterfront white-washed cottages, is a great starting point from which you can explore in multiple directions.

Head west and you'll follow the path through the shaded woodland along the River Almond. This walk can take you to Cammo Estate Park but a gentle pootle to the weir and back may well suffice.

Enjoy views across the firth between Cramond and Silverknowes © Kenny Lam - VisitScotland
Enjoy views across the firth between Cramond and Silverknowes © Kenny Lam - VisitScotland

If you go north, straight across the causeway at low tide, you'll land on Cramond Island. From prehistoric man and the Romans to its strategic importance in both world wars, this small island has seen it all. But please, don't make the news headlines like so many by not checking the tide times, which are clearly displayed on the foreshore.

Alternatively, go east to get your toes sandy on Cramond Beach before walking along the promenade towards Silverknowes and the Boardwalk Beach Club, where a reviving cuppa or ice cream will set you up for the return journey.

Whichever direction you choose, don't miss the low-lying remains of Cramond Roman Fort. Finds from the area, including the magnificent Cramond lioness sculpture, can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in the city centre.

Union Canal

Much like the Water of Leith, Edinburgh's Union Canal is a thread of peace and tranquillity from within the heart of the city. Opened in 1822, it was built to help facilitate Scotland*'s industrial revolution across the Central Belt between the capital and Glasgow.

The Bridge Inn at Ratho on the Union Canal © Grant Paterson - VisitScotland
The Bridge Inn at Ratho on the Union Canal © Grant Paterson - VisitScotland

It runs for 31 miles from Edinburgh to Falkirk, where it connects with the Forth & Clyde Canal, linking east and west via the impressive Falkirk Wheel. While a cycle to the wheel is a good trip in itself, you don't have to venture that far.

Although the canal starts at Fountainbridge, just south of the West End, it's an artery enveloped by nature, history and wildlife.

Whether you hire bikes, paddleboards, take a boat trip or simply walk alongside, you'll soon find yourself a world away with the swans and willows rustling in the breeze.

Jupiter Artland

Art and nature collide within the whimsical grounds of the open-air gallery and sculpture garden that is Jupiter Artland. This award-winning riot of woodlands, meadows and ponds takes you on a journey along its expertly woven trail of thoughtful habitats, landscapes and installations.

There's something to see at every turn with both permanent and temporary exhibits on display across its 100 acres. Don't miss the dazzling amethyst grotto or the chance to spiral up the swirling grassy mounds interspersed with mirror-flat ponds.

Life Mounds by Charles Jencks at Jupiter Artland © Paul Tomkins - VisitScotland
Life Mounds by Charles Jencks at Jupiter Artland © Paul Tomkins - VisitScotland

Unlike the other activities mentioned here, there is an entry fee for Jupiter Artland. However, the hours of outdoor exploration and its rural location around 12 miles southwest of the city ensure it's worth every penny. What's more, you'll be supporting a local charity that aims to promote and protect the arts.

Edinburgh the Walk

Whether you're a first-time visitor or virtually a local, be sure to get your hands on a copy of recently published Edinburgh the Walk* that charts a brand new trail around the city.

Written by Elizabeth May and Roddy McDougall, it details a 43-mile-long circular route that takes in the city's hills, beaches, rivers, reserves and parks.

While determined trekkers may well complete the entire route, it's also handily broken down into eight sections, enabling those with less time or inclination to pick and choose which bits of the city they'd like to see more of. Get your copy today.

Weather in Edinburgh

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The above shows the weather in Edinburgh. You can find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in Scotland.

Ready to start exploring? For great deals on holidays to Scotland, the UK and much further afield, be sure to check out the latest online savings from Travel Republic, which offers everything from breaks and hotel stays to extras such as car hire and airport transfers.

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Friday 19th August 2022 in: City Excursions Nature UK

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