Arthur's Seat: The Complete Guide

Salisbury Crags, Holyrood Park with Edinburgh city the in background at sunset

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Edinburgh is a vibrant, busy city, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to discover the famed Scottish wilderness nearby. Arthur's Seat, located in Edinburgh's vast Holyrood Park, is a popular destination for hikers and cyclists looking to experience the great outdoors. Most travelers opt to walk up to the famed peak, taking a morning or afternoon of their visit to Edinburgh to discover the views and the surrounding sites. Here's everything you need to know about experiencing Arthur's Seat.

History and Background

Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Holyrood Park. It towers up from the remains of a 350-million-year-old volcano, and stone and flint tools found on the site have revealed there was human activity there as far back as 5,000 B.C. The remains of two ancient volcanic vents can be seen on the Seat, the Lion's Head and the Lion's Haunch. During the Bronze Age, the surrounding land was used for farming (agricultural terraces can still be seen on the eastern slopes of Arthur’s Seat) and the remains of four Dark Age forts are visible in the park.

Holyrood Park was built as an enclosed Royal Park in the 16th century, although it was a pleasure grounds for hundreds of years beforehand, and it remains mostly unchanged since then. Besides Arthur's Seat, some of its key sites include Hunter's Bog, St. Anthony's Well & Chapel, St. Margaret's Loch, and the Salisbury Crags. Royal visitors to the park have included Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was a key figure in developing Holyrood Park, and he was responsible for creating its landscaping in the 1840s and 1850s. Today, the park receives around 5 million visitors per year.

While the peak is known as Arthur's Seat, it's unclear where the name comes from. Some people claim it was the site for King Arthur's legendary Camelot, but there is no historical data to back that up. William Maitland said the name was from the Scots Gallic phrase "Àrd-na-Said," which means "height of arrows." An old Celtic story, meanwhile, claims that the rock was once a dragon who got so tired from eating all the livestock that it lay down and went to sleep.

What to See and Do

The main draw to Arthur's Seat, which stands at 824 feet high, is the view. Visitors will be able to see 360-degree views of both Edinburgh and the Lothians. Most travelers take advantage of the moderate hikes up to Arthur's Seat, which are best done in the morning. There are several walking routes, all of which are doable for adults and kids of reasonable fitness. It's a great way to experience Scotland's natural beauty without leaving the city.

When visiting Arthur's Seat, there are also lots of other interesting attractions along the way. Don't miss St. Anthony’s Chapel, a 15th-century medieval chapel, and the Salisbury Crags, a series of 150-foot sheer cliff faces that lead up to the peak. Many visitors also enjoy Duddingston Loch, a freshwater loch filled with wildlife and birds, where you can opt to go fishing with a free permit from the Ranger Service. The park itself is great for a morning out or a picnic during the summer months. Travelers with kids will appreciate the vast outdoor space for getting out extra energy between sightseeing.

Nearby to Holyrood Park you can find Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House, which allow visitors on most days. Because central Edinburgh is compact and walkable, you can include Arthur's Seat in a day-long itinerary that includes other attractions like the Palace of Holyrood House and Edinburgh Castle. There are also plenty of pubs, cafes, restaurants, and shops nearby Holyrood Park.

A wide angle view looking up at Arthur's Seat.

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How to Get There

There are several routes to access Arthur's Seat. The main walking routes are the Blue Route (1.5 miles) and the Black Circuit (1.8 miles), which have different starting points and sights along the way. Both take about an hour and a half to complete round trip. You can also access Arthur's Seat via a quicker path, the Zigzag Path, which takes about 25 minutes to ascend from the main parking lot. Download the Self-Guided Walks map from the Ranger Service here.

Parking is available in several nearby parking lots, including Broad Pavement, St. Margaret's Loch and Duddingston Loch parking lots. There are regular road closures on weekends, as well as certain other days, so check online before driving to Holyrood Park. Those with limited mobility can partially drive to Arthur's Seat by heading along the Queen’s Drive to Dunsapie Loch. While you won't be up close and personal with the peak from there, you can get a good viewpoint without having to hike. Following the paved road past Dunsapie Loch will bring you around Arthur's Seat and past the Salisbury Crags. Cyclists are also permitted on the Queen's Drive, if biking is your preferred method of transportation.

Arthur's Seat peak, summit, walking path on Salisbury Crags Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

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Tips for Visiting

  • Holyrood Lodge Information Centre has a free exhibition on Holyrood Park's history, geology and archaeology. The park's Ranger Service runs guided walks, group tours and other events, as well as patrol for safety reasons.
  • Wear sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots for your visit to Arthur's Seat (unless you are driving up for the views). The terrain can be uneven and slippery, especially in colder, wet weather, and it's helpful to wear something with a grip. You should also bring layers and rain gear, as well as water and snacks.
  • Camping, BBQs, and fire are not permitted in Holyrood Park. It's also important to be mindful of any litter. Look for the trash cans at the parking lots and park entrances. Dogs can accompany their owners throughout the park.
  • Holyrood Park is open 24 hours a day, every day, but that doesn't mean your hike to Arthur's Seat should be at any random time. Plan according to the weather forecast and daylight hours (or head up in time to see the sunset). It can be very windy at the top, and it's not very pleasant up there when it rains.
  • Those looking for a pint or some lunch after their hike to Arthur's Seat should head downhill to The Sheep Heid Inn, located behind Duddingston Loch. The historic pub is one of the city's oldest and can be a fun way end your day out.
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