- Climb to the summit of this ancient extinct volcano and admire its geographic magnitude.
- Enjoy the rare flora and fauna that can be found around Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat.
- Take in the phenomenal views over Edinburgh, Leith and the surrounding areas.
- Absorb the myths and legends that surround this mysterious and historic landmark.
If you've ever visited the city of Edinburgh or the surrounding areas, you will almost definitely have seen Arthur's Seat at some point. Located in Holyrood Park on the east side of the city, Arthur's Seat rises up to an impressive 251 metres above sea level at its highest point, so once you've climbed to the top you can guarantee some of the best views in the whole of Edinburgh. Also in Holyrood Park you'll find Salisbury Crags, Duddingston Loch and the Chapel of St Anthony, which has been around for over 500 years.
Just a short meander down from the bustling city centre of Edinburgh and its famous Royal Mile, Arthur's Seat is just a short walk from the Scottish Parliament buildings. From here you can embark on a picturesque Arthur's Seat hike, and take in the fantastic panoramic views from the top. As well as Calton Hill and the Castle Rock, other famous examples of Edinburgh geography, Arthur's Seat is a noted site of special scientific interest, and due to its history as a volcanic site, there are lots of unusual flora and fauna in the area. Originally, the hill was formed over 300 million years ago, by a now extinct volcano. From the city centre you can see the vast and beautiful expanse of Arthur's Seat and the greenery that covers it, as well as the chalky Salisbury Crags that come down from the side of the hill.
Another fascinating part of Arthur's Seat history, is the fact that it makes up part of an ancient hill fort. This prehistoric land fort can be seen from various areas on Arthur's Seat, and was probably a very important area for Celtic people back in the Iron Age. As well as being a popular walking destination, the rocky and mysterious nature of this old volcano has made it the stuff of legends too. There are many myths surrounding events that have happened at Arthur's Seat, and even the name of the hill is steeped in legend. Some believe that the name came from the famous legend of King Arthur, while others think that the name may be a mistranslation for the Gaelic name 'Height of Arrows', or Àrd-na-Said, which over the years because warped into the words 'Arthur's Seat'. No matter what the origins of this great hill, it certainly has the grandeur of a place that is fit for Scottish royalty. There have been various references to Arthur's Seat throughout history, but one of the most mysterious and spooky things that have happened were just a couple of hundred years ago. In 1836, a group of boys came across a sinister collection of 17 tiny coffins at Salisbury Crags, that each had a wooden figure inside. Some believe that this discovery, the stuff of horror films, is down to local witchcraft, and the figures may have been used as part of a curse or spell. Another popular theory is that the coffins echo the coffins of the 16 victims of Edinburgh killers Burke and Hare, who sold the corpses of the people they killed to be dissected in medical lectures. Whatever the reason, this spooky discovery isn't hard to believe when you walk up the path to the summit on a cloudy winter's day.
Arthur's Seat has long been the subject of books, poems and films, due to its fascinating history and atmospheric presence over the city of Edinburgh, which is in itself filled with all kinds of dark and mysterious tales. As the place where the Harry Potter books were written, Edinburgh and the areas surrounding it are often seen as being magical and otherworldly.
While there are great views from the highest point of the hill, and there is a rocky path to tackle on the way up, Arthur's Seat is surprisingly easy to walk up, and can certainly be done with children, or even with babies in a carrier. There are several self-guided walks you can do that will take you to various areas of Holyrood Park so you can get the best out of your experience, but the standard climb up the hill, also known as the 'Red Route', takes you all the way around the hill itself, up to the summit for some great views of the city. This walk can be slightly strenuous in some areas due to the steep and rocky terrain when you're not on the path, but generally it is considered to be appropriate for most fitness levels. The whole walk takes about two hours, but there are also plenty of other routes available for different fitness and ability levels. Even if you choose to stay at the foot of the mountain, you will still be able to take in the wonderful scenery, and even set up for a picnic at the bottom, weather permitting!
If the thought of climbing up a volcano is exciting to you, challenging yourself to a hike to the top is worth if, even if it's just for the views. Because the walk isn't long and is pretty much instantly rewarding as soon as you can look out over the Scottish Parliament and Royal Mile you just came from, it's quite easy to keep kids happy while they're walking. There are plenty of plants, paths and wildlife to discover, and a family photo at the summit with views of the city can't be beaten.
Like many attractions in this area of Scotland, one of the best things about this spectacular hill is the fact that is is completely free. And, if you really get the climbing bug and want to explore a little more of Edinburgh, make sure to check out Calton Hill just off the end of the main shopping street, Princes Street. Blackford Hill, just a little outside the city centre in the Newington area, is another great area to explore for family walks, and takes a little less effort than the huge Arthur's Seat.
One of the best ways to enjoy something to eat if you're visiting Arthur's Seat is, of course, to take a picnic up with you. However, if you find that it's perhaps a little too windy for the kids to hold on to their sandwiches without making a mess, there are plenty of great options for food and drink just a few minutes from 'base camp'. Pleasance, the street that runs along the city side of Holyrood Park, is the place to start for cafes and restaurants. From here, head to the Meadows, another top picnic spot that's surrounded by places to eat. Alternatively, make your way along Nicolson Street or South Clerk Street, which run parallel to Pleasance, where you'll find everything from Indian food to ramen, or even some tasty pub food. There are loads more places to visit and things to do in Edinburgh, including the National Museum of Scotland and Camera Obscura; two totally different but equally brilliant attractions.
What to know before you go
- Arthur's Seat is completely free and you can climb up at any time of day, throughout the year.
- Make sure to bring appropriate clothing, and water if you are visiting on a warm day.
- The path can be challenging in some areas so is not suitable for wheelchairs or buggies. However, the surrounding area of Holyrood Park has more appropriate path routes.
- There aren't any toilets at Arthur's Seat, but you can find some outside Holyrood Palace.
- If driving to visit Arthur's Seat, aim to start near Holyrood Palace, where most of the routes begin. The postcode is EH8 8DX. There is a free car park available next to Holyrood Palace.
- There are lots of buses that pass by the area, in front of the Scottish Parliament Building.
- The nearest train station is Edinburgh Waverley, just a 15-minute walk from the base of Arthur's Seat via Canongate. Alternatively you can catch a bus or a taxi.