Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park are two of the highlights of any visit to Edinburgh, and the top of this ancient volcanic plug offers fantastic views of the city.
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Review of Holyrood Park
Walk a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle and you’ll find Holyrood Park – an outstanding area of natural beauty that offers visitors a haven of tranquillity amongst the hubbub of Scotland’s capital city.
This is a surprisingly big urban green-space and even though it’s situated in the middle of the city it offers over 650 acres of wilderness to explore.
Take a stroll through Holyrood Park you’ll quickly discover that it’s just like a miniature version of the Scottish Highlands, with wild meadows, peaceful lochs, mountainous peaks and swathes of gorse, and on a quiet day it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of the country’s capital city.
The most accessible route into the park is to head down The Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament Building and from there you can either walk around the perimeter to enjoy the scenic landscape along the ring-road or you can follow the paths that wind their way through the middle of the park.
While both options are enjoyable I recommend you head towards the centre to experience the dramatic views at the top of Arthur’s Seat if you really want to make the most of your visit.
Things to do at Holyrood Park
If you’re feeling adventurous you can climb up the 800-foot incline to Arthur’s Seat – the highest point in Edinburgh – to take in the views in a stunning 360-degree panorama.
Take note though, that although the path to the top is well used it’s also a hard climb, so anyone with a medical complaint might want to consider giving it a miss.
But for those adventurous visitors looking for the best views in Edinburgh the most straightforward route is to head east past Dunsapie Loch and follow the obvious, well-worn path.
There aren’t any signposts in the park but you’ll usually find a helpful local walking around who’ll be happy to tell you which direction to head in.
Arguably the best way to see Holyrood Park is to just start randomly exploring it and there are loads of interesting features to discover as you walk through it.
At some point you’ll more than likely come across one of the three lochs that are a haven for wildlife, and you might even stumble across the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel, one of the oldest buildings in the entire city.
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The chapel itself is a relatively small structure around 13 x 5.5 metres, with one metre thick walls built from locally sourced stone. Historians think the origins of the chapel date somewhere in the 14th or 15th centuries and there are records that show a grant for repairs was given by the Pope as far back as 1426.
The fact that the Pope authorised this grant seems to suggest that St. Anthony’s Chapel had some significance back then, and possibly had a connection to the nearby Holyrood Abbey.
Unfortunately, the chapel fell into disrepair after the Reformation in 1560 and today only the north wall remains standing alongside the remains of a stone storeroom just a few yards away to the south-west.
If you do happen to find the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel you might like to head north around a hundred metres to St. Margaret’s Loch, the man-made body of water created in 1856 under the instruction of Prince Albert as part of improvement plans to beautify the land surrounding Holyrood Palace.
It’s a great place to feed the ducks, geese, and swans that live there and the path that runs alongside it is a very popular route for joggers if you feel the need to join in and do some exercise yourself.
If you’re a day visitor to the city, my suggestion is to follow the path from Queen’s Drive near Holyrood Palace into the park and take a climb up Arthur’s Seat before returning to Queen’s Drive via Salisbury Crags. There’s a more in-depth overview further down this page, or just take a look at Google Maps to see where the paths run.
The history of Holyrood Park
There’s a huge amount of history to discover at Holyrood Park and it’s well worth learning a little bit about it before you go for a walk, just so you know what to keep an eye open for.
Take the pinnacle of Arthur’s Seat for example. Like the rock on which Edinburgh Castle was built, Arthur’s Seat was formed by a volcano that erupted around 340 million years ago, and over many millions of years the effects of weather erosion and glacier movements formed the rocky outcrops that we see today.
The study of the rocks in Holyrood Park has been instrumental in the development of modern earth-science and renowned geologist James Hutton formed many of his ideas about how the planet was created after studying the park’s lava formations. The site where Hutton conducted his research can still be seen as you wander around the path that runs alongside Salisbury Crags.
Google Maps will be your best friend if you want to find Salisbury Crags but you can’t really miss them because they form a sheer cliff-face – the bottom of which is where you’ll find the path built after the Radical War of 1820.
The ‘war’ was actually a week of strikes and unrest caused by Scottish manual labourers who were protesting against the terrible conditions in which they had to work, and after King George IV visited the city in 1822 the author Sir Walter Scott had a radical idea that unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland could be used to build a handy footpath around the park – hence its name, The Radical Road.
Heading further up towards the peak of Arthur’s Seat you can just about make out the remains of hill fort defences that were built at the time of the Votadini tribe, around 600 AD.
These Iron Age hill forts are some of the earliest known man-made structures in the city and they’re a popular destination for visiting history and archaeology students from all over the world.
If you want to find more attractions in the city check out my Edinburgh articles.
- It’s a haven of tranquillity in the middle of Edinburgh. Apart from Arthur’s Seat. Once you get up there you’ll have to fight your way through crowds of tourists. The view is superb though.
- The park is massive so there are lots of different paths to wander around.
- The view from the top of Arthur’s Seat is one of the best in the city, although Calton Hill is pretty good as well.
- I’d give Arthur’s Seat a miss if it’s been raining as the path gets really slippery – and it’s surprisingly steep.
- You can’t drive through the park at the weekend as they close the gates. I suggest walking instead as it’s not that far from the bottom of The Royal Mile.
- There are a couple of car parks around the bottom of the park but you can actually park inside it at Dunsapie Loch if you want easier access.
Holyrood park can be walked around in any direction and the paths are well laid out, although they’re not clearly signposted. A good starting point is to head onto Queen Drive away from Holyrood Palace, where the roadside path branches off into the park.
Turning right there’s a fairly steep incline up a rocky path that runs around Salisbury Crags, and this section of the walk will take you past the area where the world’s first geological studies were carried out.
Eventually, you’ll come to a section that heads back towards the road, but if you turn the opposite direction and head further into the park you’ll begin your ascent to Arthur’s Seat. There are various routes to get to the top but the most popular is easily seen from the well-worn tracks and rope handrails that have been installed by park wardens.
As you walk back down to the main pathway after climbing the summit you’ll follow the tracks that lead into the very heart of Holyrood Park, where steep slopes surround you on either side.
While you’re heading back towards the direction of Queens Drive be sure to stop and take a look at St. Anthony’s Chapel where the remains of one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh can still be seen. Following this, you’ll be able to follow the paths that lead back to your initial starting point opposite Holyrood Palace.
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Things to do near Holyrood Park
From St. Margaret’s Well on Queen’s Drive:
- Holyrood Palace. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8DX. A 6-minute walk from St. Giles Cathedral. Holyrood palace is HM The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. The palace is open to visitors who can explore the royal rooms on a self-guided tour. Tickets include a visit to The Queen’s Gallery and Holyrood Abbey.
- Scottish Parliament Building. Edinburgh EH99 1SP. 8-minute walk. The official location for the Scottish government. The ultra-modern building is open to the public for guided tours and the viewing area allows the public to watch live debates in progress.
- Dynamic Earth. Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AS. 7-minute walk. A family-oriented science-themed attraction that aims to educate and entertain visitors with a collection of displays and exhibits. There is a café on-site, a 360-degree cinema, a café and more.
- Dr Neil’s Garden. 15 Old Church Ln, Duddingston, Edinburgh EH15 3PX. 40-minute walk. A historic private garden that is open to the public. The garden is located next to Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park where visitors can walk through conifers, heathers and alpine plants.
- Calton Hill. Edinburgh EH7 5AA. 23-minute walk. One of the most popular free attractions in Edinburgh. Calton Hill offers superb views across the city and is home to the recently renovated observatory and restaurant. There are several monuments on Calton Hill that include Nelson’s Monument – a towering monument to Admiral Nelson that can be climbed – and the National Monument of Scotland.
More places to visit in Edinburgh
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- Camera Obscura and World of Illusions – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideCamera Obscura and World of Illusions – located near Edinburgh Castle – is one of the oldest purpose-built attractions in Scotland. Visitors can experience six floors of interactive displays with exhibits that showcase optical illusions including holograms, a mirror maze and a mind-spinning vortex tunnel.
- Princes Street Gardens – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuidePrinces Street Gardens in Edinburgh is one of the largest public spaces in the city. Originally a body of water called the Nor Loch, the gardens were designed in the 1770s but weren’t created until 1820 when the loch was drained. Today, the gardens are a popular recreational area that features a number of popular landmarks including The Scott Monument, The Ross Fountain and The Ross Bandstand.
- The Balmoral Hotel – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideThe Balmoral Hotel is a historic building situated in the heart of Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. The luxury hotel is located next to Waverley train station and was built in 1902 by the North British Railway Company. Today, it is a popular landmark that attracts visitors to its superb restaurants and bars.