Arthur's Seat Hike on Edinburgh's Extinct Volcano

There aren’t many cities that can boast their own volcano. But Edinburgh isn’t just any city. Scotland’s capital is an intoxicating mix of the historic, the dramatic and the thoroughly modern, a dynamic city that is the backdrop to travel adventures of all shapes and sizes.

Fitting then, that its own backdrop is a towering volcano. Arthur’s Seat is just part of an extinct volcano system that also includes the rock on which the city’s iconic castle sits. It is the highest point on the group of hills that make up Holyrood Park and rises some 823.5 feet/251 meters above the city.

Hike Arthur’s Seat

  • Distance: 2.75 miles
  • Time: 2 hours round trip
  • Start/finish: Scottish parliament building (toilets and café here)
  • Difficulty: Easy for most walkers but some sections are steep and rocky. Suitable for children; at some points you may need to scramble, using both hands. Sturdy walking boots and warm clothing recommended. (Ed.Note: some others have described the walk as "fairly strenuous".)
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Edinburgh's Own Volcano is Popular With Hikers

View of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur's Seat. (Click photo to enlarge)
© Helen Ochyra

I started my hike up to its summit first thing in the morning on a crisp, clear January day. Leaving the city behind, I head first for the new Scottish Parliament building (often referred to simply as Holyrood), then follow Queen’s Drive towards the grassy lower slopes of this imposing peak. It is not long before the tarmac runs out and I am glad of my sturdy walking boots. Although plenty of visitors do so, it is not advisable to climb Arthur’s Seat in normal shoes — you need thick soles with a proper grip.

After a couple of minutes, I reach a junction. A common mistake is to bear right here, staying on the most obvious path and snaking your way along Salisbury Crags escarpment. This is another lovely walk, but it isn’t the highest point and today I am after the best view.

I bear left here instead and continue aiming in the direction of St Margaret’s Loch and the ruined St Anthony's Chapel. After a gentle section that is almost flat, the path climbs steeply and I am soon standing looking down over the water and the Parade Ground beyond it. Already the cars on Queens Drive appear tiny, the city seems very far away.

There are still plenty of other walkers though and we smile as we pass each other. This is a popular walk and you are unlikely to have it to yourself — it is after all surely Scotland’s most accessible hill walk.

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The Best View of Arthur's Seat

View from Calton Hill
© Ferne Arfin

Nobody knows why Arthur’s Seat is so called, but history does tell us that this was the scene of much fighting. Today though the only battle is between me and the wind. As the path rounds to the right and heads on upwards towards the summit, the wind hits me square on. I dig my boots into the mountainside and steel myself against it, very glad of my layers of fleece.

I continue to simply follow the path, which is obvious enough, and before long it changes from a dirt track to a more solid route with a jumble of stones underfoot. Above me is the trig point and I am told the very best panoramic views. Getting up to the trig point itself (short for the trigonometrical station in the US, a surveyors' point of the highest spot on the geographical feature) requires a bit of a scramble but it is worth it. Having clambered up to sit right at the summit, I relax and take it all in.

To one side is the city, its castle sitting proudly above the Medieval old town and sprawling city. Behind this is the Firth of Forth, the russet red loops of the famous Forth rail bridge just visible in the distance. To the other side is the appealing countryside and coastline of East Lothian, stretching on towards the border with England.

Arthur’s Seat may be Scotland’s most accessible and easily baggable summit but my sense of achievement is overridden by a desire to get out there and do more, to climb more. I retrace my steps back the way I came, at first picking my way carefully down the rocky slopes, later bounding back past the loch and back into the city – but all the time planning my next Scottish adventure.

How to Get Here

East Coast trains run from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh. The station is a five-minute walk from the Scottish Parliament building and the start of the walk up Arthur’s Seat. Check National Rail Enquiries for schedules and fares or book direct (from the USA) through Rail Europe

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