Edinburgh is nothing if not picturesque. The city is quite hilly, which makes for some wonderful views from the hilltops and the cobbled streets beneath them. These are some of the best places from which to enjoy Edinburgh’s most wonderful sights and views.
At one end of Princes Street, you’ll find the monument-filled Calton Hill. As one of the highest points close to the city, it offers the best views of Edinburgh including Old Town and Edinburgh Castle. The top of the hill is deceptively large, not just containing a series of monuments, but full-sized buildings. As you make your way around the structures up there, you also get a complete 360-view of the city. Some of the notable structures include the National Monument of Scotland, which are a series of massive columns, and the Nelson Monument. If you want to get an even higher vista, you can climb up the tower of the Nelson Monument for 5 pounds.
The City Observatory on Calton Hill is now a contemporary art space known as Collective. There’s a suggested donation of 5 pounds to enter. At the cafe, you can also get some refreshments after the tiring walk up to Calton Hill.
Another popular hike in Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat. This former volcano sits about a mile from city center and can be seen from all over the city. It takes up most of Holyrood Park, so if you visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Queen Elizabeth’s home in Scotland, then Arthur’s seat is basically the backyard. The palace is 15 pounds to enter and includes the royal apartments, the gardens, and the ruined remains of Holyrood Abbey.
Just past the palace compound, you can easily reach Arthur’s Seat on foot. There are many different hikes you can take on the hill, some easier than others, which is something I wish I had known ahead of time. The visible edge most dramatic cliffs on the edge of the hill, which people have historically used for rock climbing, is not the point you’ll walk to if you use either Google Maps directions or the signage on the hill. Instead, it takes you up to the highest point on the hill, which is somewhere in the middle and has a very steep rocky path when you’re close to the peak. It’s kind of terrifying and easy to lose your footing if it’s a little wet. Nonetheless, many people of all ages and their dogs were going up and down without a problem.
To walk along the Salisbury Crags, which are less steep (and also less crowded), you can turn right on the flat-path when you see a sign indicating the Arthur’s Seat hike that points left. You’ll see more of the city and less of the ocean from that side. If you do head toward Arthur’s Seat, you can also take a short hike to the ruin of St. Anthony’s Chapel. It’s the only building in Holyrood Park, though there’s barely anything left of it.
Edinburgh Castle sits on an extinct volcano, so it’s a perfect perch to enjoy the city sprawling beneath it. Entrance to the castle ranges in price depending on the time of year you’re vising, between 17 and 20 pounds. Booking online ahead of time can save you on the cost and the time you’ll spend in line waiting to buy a ticket.
The castle is massive, like a small city, and your ticket grants you entrance to all of its nicest rooms and a few exhibits. Here you can tour the Royal Apartments of the residence, the Great Hall used for ceremonial purposes, the castle prisons, and see the Scottish Crown Jewels. If you’re visiting in the early afternoon, you’ll want to stick around for the firing of the one o’clock gun off the edge of the castle walls.
Over the castle walls, you’ll also be able to see many of the city’s major landmarks like the Scott Monument (itself climbable for views), Calton Hill, and the Ross Fountain in the West Prices Street Gardens. You can even see as far as the North Sea.
Another magical place to simply enjoy your surroundings is Dean Village. It’s a former traditional milling village that sits on the Water of Leith. The river runs through a gorge, where you can sit and see the currents flowing along. There are beautiful stone houses that line either side of the river, making for some adorable views.
Navitagion Tip: If you look up Dean Village on Google Maps, it’s going to take you to a random elevated point on Dean Path. To save yourself the trouble of walking down to the riverside, you can begin your walk at the Water of Leith Viewpoint which is a small pedestrian bridge. From there, you can walk toward the stone bridge of Dean Path and then through the little park where you’ll find St. George’s Well and a few spots to sit and rest. Some flat rocks jutting out of the middle of the Water of Leith allow you to get on the river itself.
Supposedly the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, this curved two-tiered street is full of places to eat, drink, and shop. The bottom row is lined with painted buildings, where you can buy whiskey, have a Scottish roast pork sandwich at Oink, or pick up some Harry Potter goodies at Diagon House. Some of the businesses span both levels of the street. In fact, some pubs and restaurants even have an entrance on the street behind the upper terrace. For instance, the top floor of The Castle Arms pub can be accessed on Johnston Terrace, which is the street facing Edinburgh Castle, while its bottom floor is accessible by Victoria Street.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you might also be interested in The Elephant House, just two streets away from Victoria Street, where she supposedly wrote part of the first book. I don’t know if she did or not, but the place is kind of a tacky peach color with elephants everywhere and a ton of tourists. The fame most definitely ruined this place as an enjoyable place to actually eat or write.