Walking in Edinburgh: Great Spots to Visit
Scotland‘s capital city has many faces, and walking in Edinburgh gives you an insight into its varied personality.
From the busy tourist hot spots to lesser-known pretty pockets that invite you into a calmer world.
Climb Edinburgh’s extinct volcano, find the best spots for amazing views of the city and discover plenty of Edinburgh’s past along the way.
This post takes you on a visual feast of sights you’ll see on walks around Edinburgh.
All of the places we recommend to go walking in Edinburgh are within reasonable walking distance of each other.
We’ve also included a map to help orientate yourself throughout the city, with all highlights marked.
Walking in Edinburgh Map
Six Super Places to Walk in Edinburgh
- The Royal Mile (Red markers on the map)
- Grassmarket Area (Grey markers on the map)
- Arthur’s Seat (Dark turquoise markers on the map)
- Calton Hill (Brown markers on the map)
- Duddingston Village (Purple markers on the map)
- Dean Village & Water of Leith Pathway (Orange markers on the map)
1. Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
Where better to start a walk in Edinburgh than along the famed Royal Mile. Normally busy with tourists, it has plenty of shops full of tartan, whisky, shortbread, cuddly highland coos and everything Scottish.
You’ll also find traditional Scottish Taverns dotted along the mile, where you can try hundreds of types of whisky, and sample good old Scottish favourites such as Haggis, neeps and tatties (Haggis, mashed turnip and potatoes), and of course, you have to try Scotland’s favourite… a deep-fried Mars Bar.
The Royal Mile is punctuated at the eastern end by Holyrood, where you’ll find the modern architecture of the Scottish Parliament Buildings, alongside the rather more historic, Holyrood Royal Palace.
At the other end of the Royal Mile, at the top of Castle Hill, Edinburgh Castle woos the crowds with its tales of soldiers, battles, and the kings and queens that once walked its halls.
Although named the Royal Mile, the mile refers to the old Scot’s Mile, used in the 18th century, which is equivalent to 1.8 kilometres. Nowadays, the shorter English mile of 1.6 kilometres is used.
When walking along the Royal Mile make sure to take little detours off into the various wynds, closes, courts and alleyways branching off the main route. You’ll find hidden gardens, historical paths, cemeteries and even filming locations from Outlander.
As you walk up the hill, you’ll come to a hidden garden, Dunbar Close Gardens, a quiet place of solitude off from the busy street. From here you have great views across to Calton Hill and its Grecian style buildings.
A little further on, just past the Edinburgh Museum housed in a 16th-century house, you’ll find Bakehouse Close. Fans of the hit series Outlander will recognise this close because it was here that Claire was reunited with Jamie in his Print Shop.
We visited at night, so we could soak up the ambience without any tourists. It’s also easier to take shots without waiting patiently for others to move out of the way.
Opposite Bakehouse Close, is Canongate Kirk and its graveyard. The cemetery is rumoured to house the body of Mary Queen of Scot’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio, who was brutally murdered in front of her. Adam Smith, the 18th-century famous economist, known as the ‘Father of Capitalism’ is buried here too.
The church was completed in 1691, at the request of King James VII using funds left by a local, Thomas Moodie. A plaque at the church tells us about this. However, by the time the church was built, William of Orange had taken the throne, with King James in exile, so it is his coat of arms that grace the church instead.
Remember to look up as you stroll along the Royal Mile to see many of its quirky signs, interesting embellishments and curios.
In the top part of the Royal Mile, just off Lady Stair’s Close, you’ll find The Writer’s Museum. The pavers in the close are full of quotes from various writers, so remember to look down too. The museum itself highlights the lives and works of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Admittance is free
Continuing your walk along the Royal Mile, you’ll come across the World’s End Pub. Back in the 16th Century, Edinburgh Castle was fortified with walls that stopped here. Therefore, to the community, whose whole world existed within the castle walls, this boundary was the “World’s end”.
The final destination at the top of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle. You can walk up to its forecourt and admire the views of Edinburgh from here, but you will have to pay if you want to go inside the castle.
2. Grassmarket & Old Town Area
Just to the south of the Royal Mile, you’ll come across the historic Grassmarket area. Cafe and pub tables line the cobbled market square. While we were there, Scottish tunes from one of the local kilt shops jollied the air.
From 1660, Grassmarket was the official spot for public executions, the last execution being in 1784. However, nowadays it’s used for public markets and festivals.
Unsurprisingly, a couple of the pubs here claim to be haunted. The White Hart Inn which dates back to 1516, is the oldest pub in Edinburgh and claims it is also the most haunted.
One of the most attractive streets here is West Bow (continuation of Victoria Street), a sloping road with coloured facades on its 19th-century buildings. Its olde world ambience has led to its nickname of Diagon Alley, the cobblestoned wizarding alley in Harry Potter.
Look out for the Bow Well which was the first piped outlet of running water for the area in 1681, at the bottom of the street.
One of the best viewpoints of Edinburgh castle is from a narrow alleyway off Grassmarket Square. Find the ‘Vennel’ and climb to the top of the stairs. From here, Edinburgh Castle is framed beautifully above the old houses lining the Vennel. (See map)
Greyfriars Church and graveyard, just a few metres from the Vennel, also has a connection to Harry Potter. JK Rowling is said to have been inspired by the graves in Greyfriars with many of the stories and characters in the Harry Potter series reflecting clues you find here.
In fact, Harry Potter fans were on a walking tour while we were there. After performing some type of incantation, with sticks as wands, the group scuttled off with the guide to find all the links to one of the most popular book series and movies of all time.
Greyfriars is also famous for its little Skye Terrier, Bobby. When his owner, John Gray, died, Bobby guarded his grave for fourteen years. This little pooch became so famous, that Disney immortalised his devotion in the 1961 movie, Greyfriars Bobby.
While you are walking around the old town and the Grassmarket area, stop at the National Museum of Scotland. Spread over seven levels, the museum is packed with galleries, exhibits and museum trails to follow. While there, go to the top level to get a fantastic view out across the rooftops of Edinburgh.
3. Walk Arthur’s Seat
Another fantastic place, and probably the best, to have a panoramic view of Edinburgh is at the summit of Arthur’s Seat.
Did you know that Edinburgh sits on an ancient volcano? Well, that extinct volcano is now an icon of Edinburgh and perfect to include in your Edinburgh walks. The reward for climbing this hill is a 360-degree view over the city. On a clear day, you can see the Bridge of Forth.
You can easily access the walk to Arthur’s Seat from the eastern end of the Royal Mile, near Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park.
4. Calton Hill
But Arthur’s Seat isn’t the only high point in Edinburgh. As you’re walking around Edinburgh, you’d be forgiven if you looked in the direction of Calton Hill and suddenly thought you’d been transported to Greece.
Sitting high on the top of Calton Hill, resembling the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens, sits the National Monument of Scotland. This grand statement is a memorial to the Scottish servicemen who fought in the early 19th century Napoleonic War.
The architecture in Britain at the time was inspired by ancient Greece. Indeed, Edinburgh was touting itself as the Athens of the North, emphasizing its increased importance and influence. The New Town part of Edinburgh was being built with classically inspired buildings and homes appealing to the fashionable society of the day.
Think Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
The replica Parthenon project began in 1836. Due to lack of funds, however, only 12 columns were ever erected and the monument has remained unfinished since 1839. According to The Scotsman newspaper, locals call this half-finished monument Edinburgh’s disgrace‘.
The fact it was never finished does seem somewhat disrespectful, given the fact it was intended to honour those who’d lost their lives. But it is an impressive sight on Edinburgh’s skyline, and if the idea was for it to be noticed, then it is doing its job.
The contrast between the Old and New Town of Edinburgh architecture, add to the unique character of Scotland’s capital. Indeed, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh are one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland.
The monument you can see in the foreground in the below photo is a memorial to the Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart. Born in Edinburgh in 1753, Stewart was renowned for his interesting lectures and writings on moral philosophy and his scientific approach to philosophy.
5. Duddingston Village and Lake
On the lower southeast slopes of Arthur’s Seat, nestled next to Duddingston Loch is the historic village of Duddingston. It’s a tiny village but has a big heart. One of the most surprising and exquisite gardens of Edinburgh is tucked away here. On what was once grazing land for sheep, two doctors, the Neils, painstakingly grew the magnificent haven that we see today.
You will also find Scotland’s oldest pub, the Sheep’s Heid, a community garden, Duddingston Kirk and the Duddingston Loch filled with birdlife.
6. Deans Village & Water of Leith
Another fantastic place to walk in Edinburgh is Deans Village, a gorgeous pocket near the city’s New Town. The Water of Leith flows through its heart, and if you’re keen, you can walk from here all the way along the river to Leith, on the coast. If you are looking for places to capture the pretty and quaint side of Edinburgh, Dean Village is a sure bet.
Take a walk along the Water of Leith to the old well, guarded by a greek goddess and along the way, you’ll pass some old grinding millstones. These are just one of the clues you’ll find in the village that hint at Dean’s Village’s past as the milling hub of Edinburgh.
READ MORE HERE: Dean Village Edinburgh — A Delightful Detour
Is Edinburgh easy to Walk around?
Edinburgh was named the UK’s most walkable city by a Living Streets survey in 2017 and because it is a compact city, it’s easy to visit all of these areas that we’ve mentioned, on foot. There are a few hills but nothing too taxing – apart from the climb to Arthur’s Seat.
In fact, walking is probably the best way to explore Edinburgh as you avoid traffic jams and parking fees.
Walking in Edinburgh… That’s a Wrap
Wow, that post ended up being bigger than Ben Hur. Not that I know who Ben Hur is … I could google it, but to be honest I’m googled out from researching my facts on Edinburgh. There are just so many interesting stories and historical facts about Edinburgh. This article started out as a quick few pics of our few days walking in Edinburgh and …. well done you if you’ve got this far!
I’ll finish with the royal wave from the queen – little models of Her Majesty, which caught my eye on our walk along the Royal Mile. It is the ‘Royal’ Mile after all.
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You May Also Like to Read:
- Scotland Travel Guide
- Moving to Aberdeen: The Scottish Chapter
- The Delightful Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire
- Robbie Burns and The Birks of Aberfeldy
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