HIKING THE SEVEN HILLS OF EDINBURGH

Image of April Bright hiking Arthur’s Seat for sunrise

Edinburgh is positioned within the seven unique hills that make up part of the city’s landscape, including the famous Arthur’s Seat. With breathtaking views, the hills are the best way to view the city from above and satisfy my needs for outdoor adventure. 

THE SEVEN HILLS OF EDINBURGH

Some visitors even like participating in the Seven Hills of Edinburgh race to challenge themselves. Still, after the delicious food and drinks, I’d been spoiled by during my time here, I decided a less intense and more scenic experience would be the better option.

Image by April Bright of Hiking Arthur’s Seat

The hikes combined are around 24 kilometres but breaking up the hikes or selecting a couple of the most popular is the way to go. Anyone who comes to Edinburgh, even for a few days, must climb three of what I would say are the best choice hills  – Arthur’s Seat, Castle Rock, and Calton Hill. All three are within walking distance from the CoDE Pod hostel, and I completed them in a day.

ARTHUR’S SEAT

The most iconic of the hills and a popular viewpoint of Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano thought to have erupted around 350 million years ago. Over time it has become a luscious bed of grass that overlooks the city. This unique lookout sits on the highest point of the extinct volcano and gives the perfect 360-degree view of Edinburgh. I had no idea what to expect, but to my surprise, there were people of all ages joining in the fun. From the elderly to families with young ones, it’s a hike for all those with a moderate fitness level. 

Leaving from CoDE Hostel on The Royal Mile was a 45-minute walk uphill one way. Depending on your route, there are many options with varying difficulties. Starting near Holyrood Palace, I followed the trail to the left and continued up what became a single dirt trail to the peak of Arthur’s Seat. I had heard this was undoubtedly the best trail to take, and the views on the way up and at the top were spectacular.

Image by April Bright of Arthur’s Seat
Image by April Bright of Arthur’s Seat

CASTLE ROCK

Castle Rock is home to the grand Edinburgh Castle. Anyone can walk up to the castle walls and see the views of the peak. Edinburgh Castle is at the top of the Royal Mile, almost a fifteen-minute walk uphill from CoDE Pod Hostel. I loved exploring outside the castle walls, as you get a good feel for the buzz of the city. Edinburgh Castle is the beating heart of the city and historically the reason it exists at all. It is a must-see. 

Image by April Bright of Edinburgh Castle

There is an entry fee and sometimes a line to explore the castle. I recommend putting aside most of the day and going on a guided tour. The tour includes the entry fee, and you’ll have a guide to show you around the castle. There are many treasures inside the castle walls, including the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh – St. Margaret’s Chapel. 

Image by April Bright of inside St. Margaret’s Chapel

CALTON HILL

I had many locals recommend Calton Hill as a great sunset viewpoint. After a big day of hiking, I made myself some dinner at the CoDE hostel and bagged it up to enjoy from the top. From CoDE, it was a 10-minute stroll along with Northbridge, onto Princess Street, and then to the lookout base. Following the steps to the top, it took me another 10 minutes. Great city views and an amazing sunset to top it all off!

If you’re after another series of hikes to complete in a day, I would recommend doing both Blackford Hill and exploring the Pentlands. It’s worth the walk to Blackford Hill and a short bus ride out of the city to the beautiful Pentlands.  

PENTLANDS

The Pentlands are not officially one of the Seven Hills but are just a 40-minute bus ride from CoDE and a great way to spend time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is hard to capture the rugged beauty of these uninhabited hills in words but imagine near-untouched rolling hills, lush moorlands, and clear freshwater streams. I felt like I could have walked and explored this countryside for days. 

Image by April Bright of The Pentlands

In terms of where to venture, I’d say anywhere and everywhere. If you have the time and the drive to explore, I’d recommend spending a few days here.

Image by April Bright of The Pentlands

BLACKFORD HILL

Visitors often say Arthur’s Seat has the best 360-degree views of Edinburgh City, although many locals argue that Blackford Hill is better. From Blackford Hill, you can view everything, including the more-famous Arthur’s Seat.

Image by April Bright of Exploring Edinburgh

The hike from the base to the summit is a short walk, and the views from the top included sights of Old Town, Arthur’s Seat, and the Pentlands. I started my hike from CoDE, which was roughly a 45-minute walk to the summit. Compared to Arthur’s Seat, the walk is through sweet suburban streets with a gentle incline to the top. From the base of Blackford Hill (at the end of Oswald Road), it is only about 15 minutes to the top. There is a viewpoint at the summit, the Blackford Hill viewfinder, which points to all the surrounding hills giving a great perspective of where everything is. At the base of Blackford Hill, you’ll find the Hermitage of Braid and the braid burn, a local nature reserve with plenty of other walks and wildlife to view. It’s an excellent spot for a morning jog, picnic, or just some fresh air. 

THE SEVEN HILLS RACE

The Seven Hills race is an option for those wanting to challenge themselves and run some of the most beautiful trails in the world. Both starting and finishing at Calton Hill; the 24-kilometre race can take athletes anywhere from 100 minutes to more than four hours. Although I haven’t run this race, it’s certainly on my bucket list when I return to Edinburgh.

Image by April Bright of Castle Rock

It can be a struggle finding peaceful hiking spots near cities (something that generally steers me away), but Edinburgh has proven the complete opposite. It has provided the most amazing hikes with some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen. It’s where nature meets the city and gives the best of both worlds. 

By Shae Maclean and April Bright