Climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

by Keith Savage · 14 comments

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland’s Edinburgh is a city of disbelief. Incredible works provide the structure upon which everyday life occurs. There is a castle upon a hill and streets upon streets. There is an old town and a new town, both feeling like they’ve been locked in amber, both many centuries old. There are visible histories, hidden histories, and certainly forgotten histories down in the closes that tumble to where the old lochs used to be.

Above it all, however, are the views. Edinburgh is a city of vision. I have been along the wind-swept battlements of Edinburgh Castle and marveled at the city. I’ve been up to the precarious peak of the Sir Walter Scott Monument and noticed what, alarmingly, felt like swaying. I’ve been to the high mound of Calton Hill with its Grecian-esque folly. But trip after trip after trip I missed what is arguably Edinburgh’s greatest view: Arthur’s Seat.

Perhaps Edinburgh’s most unique feature (and that’s saying something) is the extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat. It sits amongst the city in the east and towers above everything at 251m in height (it’s classified as a Marilyn, part of Scotland’s interesting hill classification system that also includes Munros). Adjoining Arthur’s Seat are the Salisbury Crags, a series of canted sedimentary rock plateaus. Between the two, they are the parents of modern Geology as it was here that James Hutton developed his ideas.

Finally, on my fourth trip to Edinburgh, I seized a sunny day and decided to make the climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat.

You can begin climbing Arthur’s Seat from any direction: from the north near Holyrood Palace, from the west just off Dalkeith Road, from the south at Duddingston, or from the east and Dunsapie Loch. Ascent from the east is easiest as the incline is gentle grassland. However, I didn’t know this and I approached from the west. Everything turned out alright, though I did have to pull some moves I learned from Bear Grylls.

A wide grassy park leads toward Arthur’s Seat where I found a set of steps hewn into the earth. I followed this up, huffing and puffing in the brisk wind, and noticed other paths winding their way up both Arthur’s Seat and the nearby Salisbury Crags. I didn’t concern myself with being on the “right” path; I figured if I just kept going up I’d make it to the top. Not bad for a college graduate, right? Unfortunately, the steps I’d been climbing petered out and I was left facing an inclined patch of scree. Cue Man vs. Wild, but before I attempted this more adventurous leg I turned around for the view.

Even before reaching the pinnacle of Arthur’s Seat, I was able to see the Forth Road Bridge leading to the Kingdom of Fife and the southern edge of the Highlands in the distance. I scrambled up the red dirt and rock scree and imitated some fancy climbing techniques to haul myself up to the top. A fairly broad, flat, grassy top spread out before me, but I could see a slightly higher hillock further along. The wind whipped ferociously, bodily moving me along my course.

At the very top others milled about in their winter gear buffeted by the wind. It was seriously cold. The 360Ā° views of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth, and the Pentland Hills were incredible. How had I failed to do this on previous trips?

After filling my camera’s memory card to bursting, I eventually descended from the summit down the southeast slope. It’s true: much easier. The landscape is quite different on the other side of Arthur’s Seat and well worth a look. I tromped down into Duddingston where I enjoyed a celebratory pint at the 700-year old Sheep Heid Inn.

Don’t make the same mistake I did and delay a hike up Arthur’s Seat – this is a first-trip-to-Edinburgh activity. It’s a moderately strenuous hike, but if you ascend from the east most anyone without knee problems should be able to do it. Just make sure your camera battery is fully charged.

Stuart MurrayNo Gravatar February 22, 2016 at 9:27 AM

Hi Keith, great write up! Great photos too! I am going in two weeks time and found this very helpful. Hopefully the March weather cooperates with me (or I’ll be spending a little more time at The Sheep Heid). Cheers.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 22, 2016 at 9:44 AM

I did the hike in these photos in March. It was brisk and quite windy but well worth it. The Sheep Heid is fantastic!

JacelynNo Gravatar July 31, 2014 at 2:06 PM

While doing a semester in northern England, I went with a group of friends on a weekend trip to Edinburgh. A few of the girls convinced me to join them to hike up Arthur’s Seat to catch the sunrise. We left ridiculously early, but was it ever worth it!! The views were spectacular and we all agreed that was the best part of the whole trip. I was so glad I hadn’t stayed in bed that morning. šŸ™‚ I definitely recommend it to anyone who is visiting.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 31, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Sounds amazing, Jacelyn. I didn’t make it up there to watch the sun rise and it was still one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.

LucyNo Gravatar May 1, 2014 at 8:25 AM

How long it will take to climb Arthur seat if we just walk fairly and from which side the best climb should take … We gonna be there end of may, how will be the weather during those time. Thank you ..

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 1, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Weather in Scotland is impossible to predict. If you see the sun, climb the hill. Arthur’s Seat is quite steep and rocky, but the backside facing the firth is gentler (though you have to walk around the hill to get there). All in all it’s probably two hours up and down.

Ryan HoodyNo Gravatar June 10, 2012 at 1:37 PM

What gorgeous photos and breathtaking countryside. I can’t wait to get over to Scotland. It is my destination of choice for the British Isles. Do you have any recommendations outside of Edinburgh? I assume it’s best to go during the warmer months (May-August). I come from a similar climate and latitude, so rain doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure the views are better with clear blue skies.

Keep on traveling!


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 11, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Hi Ryan, I recommend you start with this post and read through the series. I think you’ll find it helpful:

BreeNo Gravatar June 9, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Love the lush green slope in the last photo, looks like a turtle head šŸ™‚ Edingburgh really has some very relaxing scenery and the Arthur’s Seat is among my top choices. Props to the magnificent photos!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 10, 2012 at 9:03 PM

Thanks Bree! Hanging on the side of Arthur’s Seat is a nice, chill way to spend the day. Maybe bring a picnic, some whisky. Perfect.

SarahNo Gravatar May 25, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Every single time I go to Edinburgh I always tell myself “I’m going to climb Arthur’s Seat” and I never get around to it. Your beautiful photos have finally convinced me to make it a priority next time I’m there!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 25, 2012 at 5:08 PM

I was the same way, Sarah. This hike has become one of my favorite things about Edinburgh.

MaryNo Gravatar May 22, 2012 at 12:32 PM

On my very first trip outside of the USA, in my first week or so of travelling in Europe, I went to visit a friend who was studying abroad in Edinburgh. She told me to go climb Arthur’s Seat – it was grey and rainy on the way up (and I went the same way as you did, huffing and puffing the whole time!) but as soon as I reached the top, the sun burst forth and it was glorious. That memory will stay with me forever…

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 23, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Glad it worked out for you. Nothing’s worse for views than the low-hanging clouds that commonly afflict Scotland.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: