When people first began to settle in the area that would become the city of Edinburgh, they did so for one major reason. The higher ground would offer protection against invaders. Something that might not have been at the forefront of their thought is the stunning views that the terrain—both man-made and natural—offered in several locations. While walking up the Royal Mile in Old Town or across Princess Street in New Town, it is easy to forget the city’s remarkable design. There are three viewpoints that let visitors take in more of the city and offer some memorable settings to capture the scenery.
The Once and Future King didn’t pick this spot lightly. Arthur’s Seat resides on the top of an extinct volcano. But that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this moderate hike to achieve arguably the best view in all of Edinburgh. Quite the opposite. Most days see both locals and visitors amassing on the sides of Arthur’s Seat to enjoy the hike. The hill offers several trails to claim the summit, each with a different degree of difficulty. The Salisbury Crags sit adjacent to the King’s Seat, an ideal location for rocking climbing (with the correct permit, of course). On your ascent, your route might take you by a pond or the Ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel. Both directions will take you to a 360 view of the area unlike any other. At the top lies a compass with mileage to various points across the United Kingdom. Be sure to dress in layers. The top always has a strong wind the makes it several degrees cooler than the bottom of the hill.
Approx. Time to Complete: 3 hours
Located in New Town, Calton Hill is the lowest of the three points, but don’t shy away from climbing it because of that. It is home to more than just the best view of the Firth and Leith, it also showcases the Collective contemporary art gallery, City Observatory, and the unfinished National Monument. A pleasant walk past the distant Salisbury Crags also shows Arthur’s Seat looming just behind them. Once atop Calton Hill, for five pounds you can climb to the top of the observatory to truly have an amazing view. It’s unnecessary if you want to save your money for a pint after the walk. Calton Hill is close to some pubs, bakeries and other local favorites. A casual walk—I wouldn’t consider this a hike—will have you looking out over New Town and Old Town basking in the city’s magnificence.
Approx. Time to Complete: 1 hour
The highest point off the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle delivers stunning viewpoints atop the rocky peaks of its foundation. In Medieval times, the bottom of the Royal Mile was known as the “end of the world”—a bar that you should visit now marks the location of where the city once ended. Edinburgh Castle must have felt like the top of the world. The walls and towers appear to have grown out of the rock they sit on, rising high above the natural landscape. Edinburgh Castle houses a rich history of Scottish nobles, eerie dungeons, and is still home to the Scottish Crown Jewels. Unlike Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, you will have to pay to enter the castle. Though the feel is more museum than castle, it is still worth the pounds it costs to take in all the Edinburgh Castle has to offer. If you can, try to be in the area around 1 pm for the firing of the canon. If not, there are plenty of other canons positioned around the castle walls, and nice prop to get a picture with that looks out over the city.
Approx. Time to Complete: 1-5 hours