Edinburgh is one of Britain’s greenest cities. In its parks you’ll find rugged peaks, great picnic spots and botanic glasshouses. There are cutting-edge skateparks to ride, art galleries to explore and even otters to spot. Visitors may come to hilly Edinburgh for its urban charms, but it’s often in its many parks – by turns lively, bucolic and utterly epic – that the city’s life finds its greatest expression.
Here are just a few of Edinburgh’s biggest and best parks. A great part of the pleasure of exploring this city is digging out its surprising corners, the little spots of wild tucked behind hills and railway tracks, the playgrounds nestled in residential areas, the grassy patches that echo with the shouts of five-a-side football. Start with the parks here, and just keep walking – you’ll find some gems of your own.
Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh has two historic hearts: the medieval Old Town, with its cramped alleys and towering castle, and the Georgian New Town, where elegant streets run between grand squares. Between them is the clipped green valley of Princes Street Gardens. It’s a glorious place for a stroll, a picnic or a break from sightseeing.
The gardens were created in the 1820s after the foul-smelling Nor Loch was drained. It’s actually made up of two sections. East Princes Street Gardens is home to an annual Christmas market and the Scott Monument, while the larger West Princes Street Gardens features the Ross Bandstand (which hosts open-air concerts and is the centerpiece of Hogmanay), the ornate Ross Fountain, and a bright floral clock.
There are plenty of nearby attractions, including the neighboring Scottish National Gallery, but many folk are happy to just laze beneath trees and feast their eyes on the bright flowerbeds or the great bulk of the castle.
Holyrood Park rises from the base of the Royal Mile, past basalt crags, small lochs, glens and great stretches of gorse up to the rugged peak of Arthur’s Seat. This former royal hunting ground feels like a wilderness in miniature, and it's a wonderful place to blow away the cobwebs (or a hangover).
Car parking is available, but it’s an easy walk from the Old Town, and it's possible to make a day of it by heading across the park to the Sheep Heid, a 700-year-old pub with a country feel and a skittle alley.
Other walks take you around its western edge (via sights including the Dynamic Earth and the Palace of Holyrood House), along the Radical Road at the top of the Salisbury Crags, or up paths to Arthur’s Seat itself. This 251m (823ft) ancient volcano once held a prehistoric hill fort and offers the finest views in the city.
Inverleith Park and the Botanics
Two of Edinburgh’s finest green spaces sit next door to each other just north of the city’s New Town. Inverleith Park is popular for its pond and excellent sporting facilities, while the world-leading Royal Botanic Garden is packed with almost a quarter of a million plant species. The Botanics is the older of the two and has been collecting species since 1670. There’s no charge to stroll through its landscaped acres, where you may pass rhododendrons, azaleas and countless rare species, although there’s a small fee to enter the elegant glasshouses.
Inverleith Park is a more everyday space, with football, rugby, tennis courts, cricket, petanque and a children’s playground, plus runners galore. Edinburgh looks distinctly green from here and there’s an impressive swan population.
South of the Old Town, the ground dips towards the expansive Meadows. Cherry-tree-lined paths cut across grassy stretches that are often packed with casual games of football at the weekend. When the sun’s out local students gather in gaggles to toast it with beer and chatter. Summer also sees events occupy part of the space, including fairs and temporary venues for the hugely popular Edinburgh Fringe.
Bordering the Meadows to the southwest are the Bruntsfield Links, which contain more open space, plus an enjoyable (and free) pitch and putt golf course – you can hire clubs and balls at the nearby Golf Tavern.
Saughton Park and Gardens
An £8 million restoration, completed in 2019, made Saughton Park one of the finest green spaces in the city. Walled gardens, orchards, a glasshouse and bright blossom in season give it a bucolic feel – you may even spot otters in the neighboring Water of Leith. But this is also a very modern space, with a swish kids’ playground and a smart cafe that runs on hydroelectricity.
Its extensive skate park was designed by local skaters and is one of the finest in the UK, with street-style zones and a bowl section. There are also playing fields for team sports. It’s in the suburb of Gorgie in western Edinburgh, which isn’t known for its sights, although Murrayfield rugby stadium is only a stone’s throw away.
Home to wonderful city views and a half-finished acropolis, Calton Hill is not a typical Edinburgh park. It rises above the east end of Princes Street, passing several Scottish government buildings on the way. The brisk climb to the top brings you to the National Monument, a pillared homage to Athens’ Parthenon that was never finished and has since became known as “Scotland’s folly.” You’ll also find a temple-style monument to Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, and an art gallery housed in a former observatory.
The views stretch right down Princes Street and across to the Firth of Forth, and a few times a year, the hill is the focus of events – notably Beltane, a wild, fire festival celebrating the coming of summer.
Other great parks in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has many other excellent green spaces. In the north of the city, Leith Links and Victoria Park offer play spaces and great spots for breezy walks. From here, you can follow the Water of Leith, a river lined by parks and wooded stretches, past Inverleith Park and the New Town to Saughton Park.
Out west, Corstorphine Hill is a large, appealing wooded hill that borders Edinburgh Zoo. South of the center, the Hermitage of Braid is a beautiful reserve, its green valley rising up to the slopes of the Braid Hills.
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