It’s not in every city you find a 650 acre slice of the Highlands right slap bang in the middle, but as you’ll find, Edinburgh is not like every city! Holyrood Park is a must for visitors, even those just on a brief stay, because it shows the beauty and the diversity of the Scottish landscape, and yet it is only a 10-15 minute walk from most landmarks in the city centre.
Most people who come to Holyrood Park make a beeline for the summit of Arthurs Seat, and with stunning panoramic views of Edinburgh and beyond, who can blame them? However, there is much more to this gorgeous urban park than the 251m peak. If you have a little more time, it’s worth spending the afternoon to discover all the hidden treasures not usually found by the masses of tourists at the top.
Having said that, you really can’t get away from the big ol’ extinct volcano that’s situated right in the middle of the park. If you haven’t done it before, conquering the summit of Arthur’s Seat really is a must-do. The trails up to the top are well maintained and the ascent only takes about half an hour or so, making it a relatively easy climb. Once you are at the top, you are rewarded with the most spectacular views in the city, which extend over the Firth of Forth and around to the Pentlands on a good day.
However, expect the peak to be blustery and full of fellow ramblers and tourists . Once you’ve got your obligatory 360 panorama photos, start heading down and explore the other areas of the park that are a little more off the beaten track.
A good strategy is to circumnavigate the park along Queen’s Drive, which is the ring road that goes around Arthurs Seat. By sticking to this path, you’ll come across a lot of the lovely features that Holyrood Park has to offer, including Dunsapie Loch and St Margaret’s Loch (but more on those later!).
If you do choose this route, then try going on a Sunday afternoon if you can, when the road is closed to vehicles, so you can wander around without a care in the world (although do keep an eye out for cyclists!).
St Margaret’s Loch
You’ll find St Margaret’s Loch to the North of Arthur’s Seat, near the Meadowbank entrance to Holyrood Park. Its only half a kilometre from Holyrood Palace so if you’re visiting the nearby attractions such as the Scottish Parliament or Dynamic Earth, it’s really easy just to pop over for a wee walk.
This once soggy marshland was transformed into a man made loch in 1856 by Prince Albert, and its now home to lots of wildlife such as ducks, geese and swans.
The loch is also under the shadow of the ruins of St Antony’s Chapel, which makes a dramatic silhouette against the skyline and makes for some pretty spectacular pictures (see my attempt of demonstrating this in the photo above!).
Follow the road to the left from St Margaret’s Loch and after a gradual climb you’ll come to Dunsapie Loch, which is another man made haven for ducks and swans. Perched between Arthur’s Seat and Dunsapie Hill, this is a very scenic point in Holyrood Park. However, a lot of visitors come here to use the nearby car park and start their ascent to the top of Arthur’s Seat from the east side, which is probably the easiest way to tackle the summit.
As you follow Queen’s Drive around towards Pollock Halls, you begin to see Salisbury Crags appear on your right. Along with Arthur’s Seat, the Crags are visible from most of the south side of Edinburgh. If you fancy an alternative climb that is slightly easier and also provide fantastic views, then Salisbury Crags is a good bet. You’ll also find this area heaving with people on the last night of the festival and New Years Eve, as it offers a great vantage point for seeing fireworks at the castle.
To the south of Queen’s Drive you’ll find Duddingston Loch – the largest body of water in Holyrood Park. Unlike St Margaret’s Loch and Dunsapie Loch, Duddingston Loch is completely natural and is teeming with fish including carp, roach and pike. You’ll also find lots more ducks and swans here.
You’ll also be able to see the beautiful Duddingston Kirk, which is nestled on the shore. If you can, follow the Duddingston Road up to it and into Duddingston Village, which is outside of the parameters of the park but bloody lovely all the same.
After all that walking, you’ll be dying for a pint, so head to the Sheep’s Heid, the oldest pub in Scotland, for a well deserved drink and some traditional pub food!