Edinburgh Outdoor Activities – A Weekend in the Capital

For a Glasgow lad to sing the praises of our big rival as often as I do is quite disturbing. I sometimes catch myself doing it and think ‘good God man, where’s the loyalty?’ but, in truth, I can’t help myself. I’m just a big, big fan of Edinburgh. For the record (and to save me getting lynched on my return to the west) I’m also nuts about Glasgow, it’s the Kansas to my inner Dorothy. But with my tourism-loving hat on, our sister in the east has very few equals in this world. An endless list of great activities for all types, this weekend my focus is on Edinburgh outdoor activities and how to spend an active couple of days in this great city.

Climbing Arthur’s Seat

Well, it had to be didn’t it? Swarming with tourists in peak season, climbing this rock is to take full advantage of Edinburgh’s astonishing geography. An extinct volcano, the jaggy shards of rock that loom over the city make for as iconic a backdrop as any city could hope for. Surrounded by the Salisbury Crags, the distinctive mound of Arthur’s Seat is begging for a closer look. And, with the summit a mere hour’s hoof from the city centre, it’s an obvious one for exercise lovers. Start with a wander into Holyrood Park and take the very obvious route from the Scottish Parliament building. Here’s the full walking route on a digital map to keep you right.

st margaret's loch holyrood park

edinburgh outdoor activities arthur's seat

summit arthur's seat edinburgh outdoor active

Wear decent shoes (I’ve seen folk do this in flip flops, and look perturbed in the process – what did you think it was going to be like I wonder?) and take provisions for the top. It’s a prime location to kick back and gawk at your panoramic surroundings, tuna sandwich in hand. North Berwick and the North Sea to the east, the River Forth and its swanky bridges to the north west, the Ochil Hills further north still….Not to mention, the sprawling mass of Edinburgh in the foreground, including an unbeatable perspective of the Old Town and the road to the magnificent castle. If you follow my hiking chatter, you’ll be aware of my oft-referenced effort-reward ratio – Arthur’s Seat rakes in full marks here. If you can get there towards either the beginning or end of the day when the crowds have dissipated, all the better.

edinburgh outdoor activities arthur's seat view


Scaling the Vantage Points

Scott Monument

From almost anywhere in the very centre of Edinburgh, you’ll clap eyes on the Scott Monument. A jagged Gothic shard screaming upwards, icicle-like from Princes Street, it is a spectacular memorial to the great Sir Walter Scott. The legendary writer’s heart may have been very much in the Scottish Borders, but Edinburgh was where much of his professional life was spent. There is a small exhibition within the narrow monument to Sir Walter, but most visitors today are here for the views. And they ain’t bad.

view from scott monument calton hill east

edinburgh outdoor activities best views

This is not a spot for the claustrophobic or those with bad knees! The spiral staircases are about as narrow as they could be and bags and any unnecessary attachments should be left behind. The 287 steps to the top will test your stamina – but the views are more than worth it. Counter the condensed exertion with a gentle stroll in surrounding Princes Street Gardens afterwards.

edinburgh castle and old town from scott monument

Calton Hill

Standing guard over the eastern end of Princes Street comes another great urban vantage point in the form of this 100 metre mound. Accessible from a steep series of stairs just off Waterloo Place (connected to Princes Street) this has long been a favourite for photographers in particular. Views of Arthur’s Seat, Princes Street (particularly the distinctive clocktower at the Balmoral Hotel) and out to sea in the east make a great panorama. While the focus is primarily on the bizarre National Monument – it was never fully constructed due to lack of funds – Calton Hill also offers various snaking routes for wanders as you take in all that surrounds you.

calton hill view edinburgh outdoor activities

Calton Hill is also a great spot for watching the fireworks at Hogmanay. It is here that the famous Torchlight Procession concludes with a dramatic blaze of fire. Or, just pop up here on any given day for a sunset or sunrise moment.  An exceptionally early start for me presented an ideal aerial photography moment on this occasion.

calton hill drone aerial edinburgh things to do

edinburgh outdoor activities calton hill above drone


Strolling in Dean Village and Stockbridge

While all of the above will have increased your heart-rate a little or a lot, you will also very likely have had to contend with quite a lot of company. In summer, there is a relentless kerfuffle to the heart of town as the narrow streets struggle to accommodate the droves of demanding tourists. If some space is what you’re after, head north-west into the New Town and seek out Dean Village. While it is certainly no longer the case that it’s a secret, there is an undoubted change of pace as you leave the mania behind.

Beneath the massive Dean Bridge, this astonishingly cute little settlement tends to leave an indelible impression on those who branch out this far. While Harry Potter fans and the romantically-minded will drift off wistfully into their own wee worlds, those looking for more outdoor exertion can continue along the Water of Leith Walkway, which runs for several miles. I suggest following it at least as far as Stockbridge, probably my favourite residential area of Edinburgh. Grab a coffee, lunch or just admire the different architectural styles going on with the highly-desirable housing. From here, either continue on to the relaxing Royal Botanic Gardens or weave your way back to the heart of the action.

dean village famous house harry potter edinburgh

edinburgh outdoor activities dean village

Allow at least a couple of hours for this wander, no need to follow any set route, and see a very different side to Edinburgh’s eclectic appeal.


Edinburgh Outdoor Activities – Where to Stay

While you’re charging around, it’s always nice to have the assurance that you’ll have a comfy and convenient base to retreat to. This is especially the case if the weather has been misbehaving. Unsurprisingly, Edinburgh is not short of fabulous hotels, B&B’s, Guest Houses, you name it. When making my accommodation decisions though – when city breaks are involved certainly – I usually veer towards self-catering apartments. The flexibility and the informality make for an easy transition and the capital has numerous options in this regard.

princes street suites edinburgh lounge

edinburgh princes street suites bedroom

On this occasion, I was a guest at the Princes Street Suites. Bang in the centre of things, the location could not have been better as both the Old and New Towns were equidistant. The best of the city is within your immediate reach when you fall out the door. Given my line of work, I’m fairly hard to please when it comes to where I stay but the apartments here are ideal. Offering numerous apartment sizes (great for families or groups of friends), comfortably furnished and with your own cooking and lounge area, straight away you’re looking at a more homely feel than a hotel. As a nice added bonus, the views from the rooftop terrace are amongst the best in town and perfect for an east coast sunset. Big thumbs up from me.


While I was invited to stay as a guest at Princes Street Suites, my positive comments above are based soley on my honest opinion of the stay. I would only ever recommend businesses of high quality that I feel would add to my readers’ experience of a place.


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