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Things to do outside in Edinburgh

Date posted 30/03/2021

With the promise of Scotland re-opening for tourism in the very near future, it goes without saying that (for travellers and locals alike) the conversation around social distancing in the capital will remain an important one. Fortunately for everyone, our compact city is not short of an outdoor attraction or two! As visitors begin to prepare for their summer getaways, we hope to make planning that little bit easier with this helpful guide to things to do outside in Edinburgh, highlighting some of the most popular Edinburgh attractions, alongside a few of our favourite hidden gems …  

Edinburgh old town tourist attractions

Edinburgh’s old town is full of hidden staircases and alleyways just waiting to be explored! A non-stop walk up the cobblestones of the Royal Mile can be quickly achieved, but what a lot of visitors don’t realise is that the skinny closes branching from it are packed with quirky gems. A detailed exploration of these lanes is a wonderful way to learn more about Edinburgh’s history and can easily fill up an empty day. 

Pull up your Google maps and search for the 17th-century garden in Dunbar’s Close, the century old tombs in the Canongate Kirk graveyard, and the secret heart-shaped vines of Chessels Court. For tales behind some of the smaller camouflaged jewels of the Old-Town, we love 100 Free Things to do in Edinburgh, by Edinburgh blogger My Veggie Travels. We’re especially fond of the untold story behind Heave Awa Hoose.

Edinburgh off the beaten path

The well-trodden paths of the Edinburgh canal system and the famous Water of Leith are a must for any visitor, but there’s an arrangement of lesser-known walkways frequented by the locals: The Edinburgh Cycle Paths. This network of cyclist routes and walkways are a great for those looking to cover the city whilst avoiding the usual tourist landing points. 

Trinity path is particularly beautiful, winding explorers through a heavy canopy of foliage and under pretty stone bridges. It’ll also lead walkers down to Newhaven Shore, where you’ll find a 19th century lighthouse and, if you follow the road East, the Marine Parade Graffiti Wall (the UK’s longest wall of graffiti).

Adventurous things to do in Edinburgh

A visit to Edinburgh’s old volcano, Arthur's Seat, often solely consists of a determined hike to the summit for views across the capital city (and we recommend you do that too!) However, we also advocate a half hour detour up the hillside that overlooks St Margaret's Loch, where you’ll come across the ruined remains of St Anthony's Chapel. The old structure, often mistaken by travellers for a castle, is thought to date back to as early as the 1300’s. Its impressive North wall guard over the city and make for a mysterious detour. 

If the scramble to the top of Arthur’s Seat hasn’t left you desperate for a coffee stop, ramblers can add an additional adventure to their day with a visit to the Innocent Railway line. Its entranceway is bizarrely located at the end of an unassuming housing estate at the foot of Arthur’s Seat. Read about the 520-metre-long tunnel and how it got its named in this Scotsman article

Edinburgh tours for free

Like most major cities, Edinburgh has an abundance of free walking tours: a pleasant way to fill a late morning. Most of them cover a similar route, starting in the Old Town and providing key stories behind some of the cities most popular sites: Edinburgh Castle, The Grassmarket, St Giles, and Greyfriars Kirkyard & Greyfriars Bobby (to name a few). 

Some of the most popular free tours:

  • Edinburgh Free TourA fun and informative introduction to the main tourist points of the city
  • The Potter TrailThe inspiration behind Lord Voldemort’s gravesite, the original Diagon Alley and all of your favourite Harry Potter locations. 
  • Orange Tours Free: Ghost Tour: Hidden closes and creepy graveyards: uncover the most gruesome legends and terrifying mysteries of Edinburgh
  • GPSmyCITY: 17 expert-designed self-guided walking tours to explore Edinburgh on foot at your own pace. 

It’s worth noting that, although they are advertised as free, most of the city walking tours suggest a guide fee at the end of the tour. This is operated on a pay-what-you-want system and you are not obliged to pay anything. That being said, the tour guides are very often nothing short of fantastic! 

Where to stay after a day out in Edinburgh

You’re never far from hilly walk in Edinburgh! The towering buildings of the Old Town and the pretty streets of the Georgian-style New Town are separated by multiple staircases and inclines, providing a forever interesting, but somewhat physical, day out. 

Accommodation close to the centre is often preferred, allowing sightseers an easy return to the comfort of their room without the trouble of additional travel each day. The Bonham Hotel is conveniently located in a central area of Edinburgh’s West End location. Only a 10-15 min walk to the city’s primary Princes Street, it offers a safe and quiet experience on the doorstep of the capital’s main outdoor attractions. 

Our concierge team can arrange taxis, tickets, and sight-seeing advice for guests, and our restaurant and bar is a sophisticated setting to finish the day with a classic Scottish cocktail. 
Explore our rooms.

Please note: Government guidelines currently prohibit travel in Scotland. A full lockdown is currently being adhered to, with guidance to stay at home, except for essential purposes. As a result, many of the activities listed in this post are currently unavailable and readers should visit individual websites for further information. 

Things to do outside in Edinburgh