What to do in Edinburgh in spring 2019

Edinburgh in springtime is beautiful, even if the weather at this time of year can still be a touch temperamental. The city’s world-class parks and gardens become a riot of colour and activity as both residents and tourists descend after the long, dark Scottish winter, while some of the best festivals outside of August spring up across the capital.

Edinburgh Castle with some spring cherry blossom in the park beneath it.
Edinburgh Castle looks magnificent whatever the season, but is especially appealing when surrounded by signs of spring in Princes Street Gardens © Bob Douglas / Getty Images

For lovers of parklife and lavish flower displays

It doesn’t get more Edinburgh than strolling through Princes Street Gardens in springtime. Nestled in the shadow of the city's 12th-century castle and divided into eastern and western sections by William Playfair’s monumental galleries on the Mound, the gardens have flower displays that are legendary – and for good reason. The world famous Floral Clock was first planted in 1903, with an annually changing design, and the impeccably maintained flower beds boast more than 30,000 plants. For a brief glorious period the abundant cherry blossom trees lining Princes Street provide shoppers with a carpet of petals through which to stroll. For more cherry blossom fun, the Meadows in Edinburgh's south is an absolute must, with avenues here lined with heavily laden trees. Over at the Royal Botanic Garden, the season is heralded by banks of daffodils and snowdrops sprinkling the lush grass, as well as impressive displays of magnolia, camellia, and early flowering rhododendron.

Costumed characters celebrate Beltane in Edinburgh by a huge fire.
Fire and strangely (un)dressed people on Calton Hill can only mean one thing – Beltane Festival © theasis / Getty Images

For families and festival heads

Edinburgh’s annual International Science Festival (6-21 April), one of the largest of its kind in Europe, is brilliant for older children. Packed with fun, interactive and educational events, exhibitions, workshops and talks, some of which are free, 2019’s theme is Frontiers, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. Highlights for children include a whopping five floors dedicated to hands-on science at City Art Centre; for adults, the popular Gastrofest returns exploring the science of food. Cheeseology, anyone?

At the end of the month (30 April), Beltane Fire Festival descends on the city’s iconic Calton Hill to welcome in the turning of the seasons with drumming, dance, acrobatics and, clue in the name, fire. Although it's ostensibly a family event, it does take place after dark, on a steep hill, and gets pretty wild.

For younger children, or those who prefer more mellow entertainment, Gorgie City Farm is a delight, with a petting area, greenhouses, a sensory garden, cafe and play park. Plus, entry is free. For mini culture vultures, Imaginate Festival is a top-class event for children, attracting more than 11,000 yearly, there to see theatre and dance from all over the world. This year the festival celebrates its 30th anniversary (25 May-2 June) with another ambitious programme, including an interactive piece by world-renowned company Punchdrunk and four Scottish productions.

A boat in the water at Edinburgh Quay on the Union Canal.
Edinburgh Quay is the starting point for some exploration of the Union Canal © Karol Kozlowski / Getty Images

For sports lovers and outdoorsy types

The Edinburgh Marathon (26 May), the largest in the UK after London, has a route that is exceptionally beautiful and varied, leading more than 16,000 runners through the heart of the old town before heading down the rural East Lothian coast. One of the flattest marathon courses (surprising considering its location in hilly Edinburgh), it makes an excellent option for first-timers or those seeking a personal best. Elsewhere, the towpath along the Union Canal is lovely for cyclists: the eight-mile route from Edinburgh Quay, in the heart of the city, to Ratho takes in peaceful tree-lined paths and aqueducts, and finishes at a pub. Continue on to historic Linlithgow and you can catch a train back to the capital.

People walk around stalls at Stockbridge Farmers' Market.
Stockbridge Farmers' Market is a popular destination for food fans at the weekend © georgeclerk / Getty Images

For foodies

Edinburgh offers a feast for foodies in all seasons but there’s no better time to eat your way around its range of high quality farmers’ markets than spring. The most famous, established, and beautifully situated one is Edinburgh Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace. It's regarded as one of the best in the world and hosts more than fifty specialist producers from all over Scotland and beyond every Saturday. Over in the village of Stockbridge, which is also perfect for a springtime saunter along the Water of Leith, Stockbridge Market is home to all sorts of bric-a-brac, both edible and otherwise, from gourmet dog treats and original art to excellent cheeses and pop-up restaurants. In trendy Leith, which is a destination in its own right for food fans, the Leith Market takes over Dock Place every Saturday, with a specialist vegan quarter visiting monthly.

People walk through the Meadows under the cherry blossom.
You don't need to be a professional to snap a great photo of the Meadows with their cherry blossom in the spring sunshine © Bob Douglas / Getty Images

For photographers

Edinburgh is a city bathed in extraordinary light at all times of year but in spring the longer days, brighter skies, usually clement weather, and abundance of flowers make for excellent photography opportunities. It’s a typical Edinburgh sight to see people out and about, setting up tripods on Calton Hill or one of the closes off the Royal Mile, attempting to capture the beauty of the flower displays in Princes Street Gardens, the blossom in the Meadows, or the angular majesty of the Forth Rail Bridge at dusk.

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