Walking in Edinburgh | 5 of the Best Hiking Routes in the Scottish Capital
There's an abundance of hiking walks in Edinburgh waiting to be discovered...
Walking in Edinburgh is a right of passage for any resident or aware tourist who’s looking to explore the city right.
The Scottish capital is the perfect blend of city and outdoor getaway. You can get from the ancient castle and historic old town to the middle of the wilderness in less than an hour, and the views that you’ll get in return for your efforts are well worth the trip.
From the best walking routes in the Pentland Hills on the outskirts of town to Arthur’s Seat right in the centre and the various options nearby the city, there’s a lot of depth to the hiking in Edinburgh. It’s the ideal set up for the urban adventurer and has been the subject of literary folklore for hundreds of years.
Of course, there is a lot more serious hiking in Scotland further afield from the capital, but if you're looking for one-day adventures from Edinburgh or something for a couple of nights in the wild, you've come to the right place.
Wondering where to start with your walking in Edinburgh? Here are a few ideas:
Walking in Edinburgh: Hiking Routes in the Pentland Hills
If you’re looking for a proper day out in your hiking boots in Edinburgh look no further than the Pentland Hills. To be honest, as far as hiking in Edinburgh city proper goes – the best walking routes in the Pentland Hills are the be all and end all for real enthusiasts. The hills are incredibly close, incredibly large, incredibly beautiful and incredibly accessible for walkers.
If you’ve got a car they’re a 20 minute drive from the city and you can drive to Flotterstone, Threipmuir or right up to the Harlaw reservoirs to get a head start if you want to.
If you’re on foot then grabbing the number 10 Lothian Bus from the city centre going towards Bonaly and getting off at the last stop is your best option. The bus won’t be any longer than 45 minutes and there’s plenty of options from Bonaly – on your way to the start of the hiking routes there you’ll pass an alpaca farm (!) as well!
There’s over 100km of waymarked routes in the Pentlands, so while it may be near the city, it doesn’t take long until you’re completely immersed in the wild. There are lochs galore, burns, waterfalls, endless forests, moorland with grazing sheep and beautiful views over both the hills themselves and back over Edinburgh. You could spend your entire stay in Edinburgh in these hills.
The highest peaks are Scald Law at 579m with Carnethy Hill at 573m, East Cairn Hill and West Cairn Hill at 567m and 562m, and there are plenty of other hills for walkers to climb too.
Sir Walter Scott, whose Waverley novels gave the name to the city's train station, wrote of Carnethy Hill: "I think I never saw anything more beautiful than the ridge of Carnethy against a clear frost sky, with its peaks and varied slopes. The hills glowed like purple amethyst; the sky glowed topaz and vermillion."
Get the full experience by grabbing a tent and spending the night. If you get a clear night you’ll be able to watch the sun set over Edinburgh as the lights of the city switch on. Remember – wild camping is legal in Scotland!
One of our favourite routes for hiking in Edinburgh starts at the base of Bonaly in Edinburgh and heads up to the stunning Bonaly reservoir, lined with high trees on every side but one. From there you can walk upwards and round to Harlaw reservoir and deeper into the Pentlands before heading back into town via Balerno, or following a different track around to Bonaly. It’s about a three-four hour loop.
Flotterstone to Balerno is also a nice 11km and entering via Hillend (get the number 4 bus to the final stop), going up Allermuir Hill and making your way over to Bonaly can also be a good option but be cautious that the army may be out their training!
An article on hiking in Edinburgh could easily be focused entirely on the Pentland Hills, but we’re all about variety, so there are a few options for you in the Pentlands - go out and find the rest by yourself! Here are some other options…
Walking in Edinburgh: Hiking Routes at Arthur’s Seat
If you’re looking for hiking and walking in Edinburgh even closer to home, the extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags are where to turn.
This is the thing that American tourists constantly mistake for Edinburgh Castle when they arrive on the train from London. Just to clarify people – Edinburgh Castle is a castle. Arthur’s Seat is a giant extinct volcano that looks a bit like a lion. The crucial clue is in the name of the former.
The base of Arthur’s Seat is just a 20-minute walk from the centre of the old town. You can even walk down the Royal Mile and find it on your right just past the Scottish Parliament and a little gathering of campers who are refusing to move from the grassy patch outside said Parliament until Scotland has independence (they might be there a while).
There are various hiking routes around the stunning crags and on Arthur’s Seat itself, some of which are paved and some gravel of which are dirt. You’ll find a lot of runners and cyclists training on the paved paths and a lot of walkers, tourist and sightseers climbing up the gravel.
This is hiking in Edinburgh 101, and there are three lochs that you’ll pass on your way as well as the ruins of an Iron Age hill fort which you’re, err, not allowed to climb (there are occasionally rangers here and there).
That’s not the extent of the history, either. Here’s something you won’t find out on your Ghost Tour down the Royal Mile – in 1836 five boys discovered a set of 17 coffins on Arthur’s Seat containing small wooden figures in a cave on the crags of Arthurs Seat. Their purpose has remained a mystery but contemporary belief is that they were made for witchcraft or connected to the murders of the infamous Burke and Hare in 1828.
Depending on which route you take you’ll either be climbing with a view over Edinburgh the entire time (it takes maybe 30-60 minutes to walk to the top depending on route and fitness), or be rewarded with one hell of a view at the top after a more rural ascent.
Again, the 251m peak is a great place to see the sunset over the city, with great views of Edinburgh castle, the Pentlands, Calton Hill, and the entire old and new town.
Treasure Island scribbler and Edinburgh native Robert Louis Stevenson called it "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design" and James Hutton, the modern father of geology, said that "from the top of Arthur's Seat I can see every form of geology in the world."
If you’re thinking that this isn’t quite adventurous enough for you, we think you’ll change your opinion when you see it in the flesh.
Walking in Edinburgh: Hiking Routes in Dalkeith Country Park
If you’re looking to get out of the city centre for a day but don’t want much travel, and are more concerned with scenery than you are a challenging climb, Dalkeith Country Park offers a great option.
You can catch the X33 bus from the city centre and you’ll be out there in about 30 minutes.
There you’ll find an array of walking routes made from mostly woodland tracks, with some ascents and descents but nothing too severe. You’ll pass through beautiful river-side forests and over stunning bridges around the impressive estate.
There are some working farms so best keep your dog on a lead but there's also plenty of spaces for dogs to go wild and run around and there is a nice cafe and shop as well.
These are some of the best walking routes for a family day out or a casual stretch of the legs in the outdoors in front of some lovely surroundings.
Walking Near Edinburgh: Hiking Routes at North Berwick Law
If you’re staying a little longer in Edinburgh and want to get out of the city for the day, head to Waverley and jump on a train to North Berwick. It’s a half hour trip – you can get the bus too but you’ll have literally, exactly 100 stops before you reach your destination, so get the train! – and once you’ve got there and tried some of the signature ice cream and fish and chips (freshly caught), turn your gaze to North Berwick Law.
The Law is a volcanic plug which has survived the scraping glaciers of the ice age. The summit boasts the ruins of an Iron Age hill fort and of a military building that was used as a lookout in both the Napoleonic Wars and in World War II.
A whale jawbone had stood on the summit since 1709, but collapsed in June 2005 after rotting away. It was replaced by a fibreglass replica the same size as the original in June 2008 and once again looks down over North Berwick now.
A hell of a view accompanies the jawbone, looking over the coastline of North Berwick, out to Bass rock, out to sea and back over to Edinburgh.
Walking Near Edinburgh: Hiking Route from Aberlady Bay and Gullane Point
Less than 6 miles from Edinburgh you’ll find Aberlady Bay. It’s half way between the city centre and North Berwick but naturally takes twice as long to get too because the trains are much faster and more frequent to North Berwick, so we’d recommend jumping on a bus this time – an 124, X5 or X24 will get you there within the hour.
Aberlady Bay was the first ever nature reserve in Britain when it became so in 1952 and it's renowned particularly as a great place to go bird watching.
This walk takes you through the nature reserve, across a beautiful beach and into the village of Gullane. It is worth noting though that dogs are not permitted on the nature reserve though.
You'll pass ruined defences from World War II, stunning ocean views, the ruins of Saltcoats Castle and much more on the relaxed route which takes approximately two to three hours.
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