Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh: Adventure City Guide

| February 21, 2013 | 29 Comments

Are you looking for an insider’s adventure travel guide for the best outdoor activities in Edinburgh?

As part of our Adventure City Guide series, we share with you our insider tips on the top adventure and outdoor activities to do in Edinburgh; including how to get there and costs.

Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle Braveheart Scotland

Why visit Edinburgh for adventure?

We think Edinburgh is one of the most liveable capitals in Europe. It has been our base for the last 2 years and is ideal for adventure travellers. While the weather may not always be the best, when the sun is shining, the Scottish capital comes to life.

The best part about the outdoor activities in Edinburgh, is that most can be reached within a few minutes by walking, biking or using public transport. Perfect if you are travelling without a car.

The Best Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh

Climbing Arthurs Seat

Our favourite outdoor activity in Edinburgh is walking up Arthurs Seat in Holyrood Park. This old volcano provides a spectacular backdrop to an already beautiful city. You won’t miss it either because Arthurs Seat can be seen from nearly every corner of Edinburgh.

Arthurs Seat from Salisbury Crags

From leisurely meandering paths to the lung busting, calf burning climb up the near-vertical stairs, there are a number of different paths leading up Arthurs Seat to suit all abilities. The quickest route will take approximately 20 – 30 minutes.

The views at the top of Arthurs Seat are truly spectacular. On a clear day you can see across Edinburgh city to the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth.

You can easily spend a whole day exploring Arthurs Seat with three different lochs, the ruins of Anthony’s Chapel and the Queens Holyrood Palace.

Arthurs Seat Walking Route Map by Geowalks

Getting to Arthurs Seat:

Arthurs Seat can be reached by walking from the city centre in 10 minutes. Car parking spaces are available within Holyrood Park if you are feeling lazy.

Cost of walking up Arthurs Seat:

Free!

Additional information for Arthurs Seat:

Read our Arthurs Seat walking guide to find out a little bit more about the walk. The Visit Scotland Edinburgh page also has lots of additional information about Holyrood Park.

Exploring the Pentland Hills Regional Park

The Pentlands Hills Regional Park are perfect for walkers and mountain bikers of all abilities wanting to escape the city for a few hours of outdoor activities in Edinburgh.

Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh

With over 100 km (60 miles) of signposted tracks running across the Pentlands, you are spoilt for choice. And even though the hills attract over 600, 000 visitors annually, it is uncommon to see another person.

Many of the trails and paths are multi-use so you will share them with cyclists, walkers, dogs and even the odd farm animal. So take care if you are careening down the hills on a mountain bike.

Getting to the Pentland Hills Regional Park:

Get to the Pentlands by cycling on dedicated cycle paths from Edinburgh city centre or catch local buses. These include bus routes 4, 10, 11, 15, 15A, 16, 27, 44 and 44A with Lothian Buses.

Cost of exploring the Pentlands:

Free!

Additional information for the Pentlands:

The Pentland Hills Regional Park website provides all the information you need including trail maps, advice and tips.

Pentland Hills Regional Park, Highland Cow and calf

It isn’t uncommon to see Highland Cows in the Pentlands.

Walking and Biking the Water of Leith

The Water of Leith is a river flowing from the Pentland Hills through the heart of Edinburgh to the Firth of Forth in Leith. Criss-crossing the meandering river is the stunning 20 km (12 mile) Water of Leith Walkway which provides a welcome respite in the city centre.

The Water of Leith walkway is perfect for family strolls, romantic couples or a morning run to burn off the haggis from the night before. The walkway is suitable for cycling and is accessible across some sections by wheelchair and even horseback.

After rainfall it can be quite wet and muddy along some of the pathways so you may need a change of clothes after mountain biking!

Getting to the Water of Leith Walkway

The Water of Leith walkway can be joined at hundreds of places up and down the river. These also link with other paths and cycle routes, including the Union Canal and Pentland Hills. The walkway is well signposted and you can buy detailed maps from the visitor centres for £2.

Outdoor activities in Edinburgh

Cost of the Water of Leith Walkway

Walking and cycling along the Water of Leith is free.

Additional information for the Water of Leith Walkway

The Water of Leith Conservation Trust provides lots of extra information including outdoor activities in Edinburgh, trail maps and details of any closures or detours.

Walking and Cycling the Union Canal

The Union Canal runs 51 km (32 miles) from Edinburgh city, over ancient aqueducts and through tunnels until you reach the Falkirk Wheel. It is a perfect route for getting out of the city to explore the Pentland Hills.

On a sunny day the Canal can be packed with others running, cycling and walking with their kids feeding the swans.

While it can be a little scary riding your bike along the narrow paths, as long as you do it slowly and use your bell frequently, you will have no problems with other users. Just be prepared to stop often and let other users pass you by too.

No point forcing one of you into the water!

Getting to the Union Canal:

The best place to join the Union Canal is in the city centre off Fountainbridge Road. You can also join from hundreds of linking pathways along the route.

Cost of exploring the Union Canal:

Free!

Additional information for the Union Canal:

Find out about what other outdoor activities in Edinburgh you can do along the Union Canal from the Scottish Canals website.

Outdoor activities to do in Edinburgh

Best time of year to visit Edinburgh for adventure?

We think the best time of year for outdoor activities in Edinburgh is during spring (May – June). There are not as many tourists clogging up the main tourist attractions and the weather is the most settled.

Summer can be great, especially if you time your visit with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. While winter often brings snow and freezing temperatures which will make hiking and biking hazardous. But the scenery can be spectacular when dusted in white.

I love Edinburgh for adventure because…

When the sun is shining the city comes alive. Within short walking and cycling distances you have some of the best scenery in Scotland to enjoy.

Do you have any outdoor activities in Edinburgh to add to our adventure city guide?

About the Author ()

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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  1. The Radar: Travel Lately – Intelligent Travel | February 27, 2013
  1. Edinburgh is indeed a very exciting place to go on holiday. I regard it the first stop to Scotland. The furtherest I have been to Newcastle but I do hope to visit Edinburgh someday hopefully very soon. I love those cows.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Facts about the Taj Mahal and and how to get thereMy Profile

  2. Jennifer says:

    Great guide! We haven’t been to Scotland yet, but this will certainly come in handy when we do make it to Edinburgh!
    Jennifer recently posted..A Chilly Adventure at Iglu-DorfMy Profile

  3. Thanks for the eye-opener about Edinburgh. Any place where I can “climb up Arthur’s Seat” is okay by me….Looking forward to getting active tips for other cities as well.
    Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey recently posted..Ocean to Ocean in One Day – Panama Canal, PanamaMy Profile

  4. Stephen S. says:

    Great guide to a great part of the world. Arthurs Seat give you such an amzing view of Edinburgh.
    Stephen S. recently posted..Giveaway: $100 off the “I Love Istanbul Tour.”My Profile

  5. Laurence says:

    You’ve missed off drinking copious amounts and trying to weave your way back home in the early hours of the morning. That particular one has caused me multiple bruises on various nights out in Edinburgh. Other than that, great round up ;)
    Laurence recently posted..Europe: the Next AdventureMy Profile

  6. Looks like an amazing and surprisingly assessable place. Ah, this summer maybe! I bet winter is quiet though.
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  7. Cheryl says:

    Love this adventure guide! I can’t wait to visit Scottland sometime. :)

  8. Arti says:

    The view from Arthurs seat must be a sight to behold! Thanks for the post and photographs.
    Arti recently posted..The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, JapanMy Profile

  9. Nico says:

    Some really great photos, you’ve more than done justice to one of my favourite cities in Britain.

  10. Dana says:

    I enjoyed your post! We went to Edinburgh several years ago and LOVED Arthur’s Seat. Just beautiful!! I hope we make it back there soon & can enjoy some of the other sites!

  11. This is an awesome guide. It’s exactly the way I like to travel when I visit a city. No matter where I go, I always find a hike or a park or somewhere that gets me outdoors. With that said, Edinburgh is a top city on my list of places to visit. I have a fascination with Scotland. However, the country is so beautiful and I love this approach to the city.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..An intimate California zip line video tour at Yosemite ZiplinesMy Profile

    • Edinburgh is definitely one of my favourite cities for living in because it is so easy to escape from haha. You can be in the hills within 10 minutes! Perfect for someone like myself and I am sure you would love the outdoor activities in Edinburgh too.

  12. Jenna says:

    I love how you are promoting outdoor activities around the world–a great way to really see a place while staying healthy, too. I haven’t been to Edinburgh but it’s high on my list.
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  13. Great new series. Perfect for my travel interests :-)

  14. I had no idea these places were so close to Edinburgh. Must check’em out next time I’m in town!
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