Where to Find the Best Views in Edinburgh.
Looking for the best views in Edinburgh? I’ve got you covered. Ranging from tourist hotspots to local gems, these bonnie vistas are nothing short of picture perfect. Read on for my ten best views of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is an absolutely beauty, and even though I’m a local lass – I’m totally allowed to boast. Edinburgh is my home, and its charm still regularly sneaks up on me, and tugs at my heart strings without warning. Edinburgh is aesthetically amazing, and you will inevitably fall in love. Volcanic activity and glaciation can be thanked for the city’s unique landscape, which is made up of seven hills. On this ancient stage sits a stunning skyline, with a hybrid of architectural styles and visual delights. Edinburgh Castle is, of course, the focal point and manages to photo-bomb most iconic images of the city. Here is my shortlist of the best views in Edinburgh. Get your camera ready!
1) Arthur’s Seat.
I’m going to start with the most obvious – and arguably the most popular – viewpoint in the city; Arthur’s Seat. This mighty chunk of extinct volcano is a dominant feature in the city’s silhouette and its central location makes it a hotspot for recreation and outdoor pursuits; particularly when that burning ball in the sky decides to make an appearance. The volcano last erupted around 365 million years ago, and today its remnants sit at just over 250 metres above sea level. From Salisbury Crags or the top of Arthur’s Seat itself, you can see Holyrood Park and Holyrood Palace, the city skyline including Edinburgh Castle, the coast of the Firth, over to Fife, and far beyond. You can also check out the picturesque ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel and discover a hidden loch. There’s a reason Arthur’s Seat is loved by both locals and visitors.
- Access Holyrood Park via the bottom of the Royal Mile
- The quickest route to the top of Arthur’s Seat takes around 30 minutes
- Sensible shoes are recommended for the rocky terrain towards the top
2) Nelson Monument.
The Nelson Monument sits on Calton Hill; Arthur Seat’s volcanic counterpart and next door neighbour. The monument – which was finished in 1815 – was erected to commemorate the life of Admiral Lord Nelson, the naval commander who defeated Napoleon’s forces in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805; he died a hero in the battle.
The view from Calton Hill itself is special enough, and is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh to watch the sunset. Throw in Nelson Monument on top of that, and you’ve got some serious visual entertainment. The extra elevation offers a vast panorama of unrivalled vistas, and the viewing platform is the only place that the adjacent National Monument can be admired from above. The view down the full length of Princes Street – with the iconic clock on the Balmoral Hotel in the foreground – is quite the sight to behold.
- Calton Hill can be accessed from Waterloo Place or London Road and takes around 15 minutes to ascend
- Entry to the viewing platform on Nelson Monument costs £5
- Entry into the base of the monument is free, which has a museum about Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar, as well as other exhibits about the monument and Calton Hill.
- For more information visit the Nelson Monument webpage
3) Camera Obscura.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a weird and wonderful tourist attraction on Castlehill at the top of the Royal Mile. The experience is filled with five floors of optical illusions to dazzle and amaze you; the vortex is a personal favourite, guaranteed to send you off-kilter! At the top of the building you’ll find the Camera Obscura, a Victorian invention which projects live images of the city onto a table in a dark room. Step outside onto the viewing terrace for amazing views of the Castle Esplanade and the charming rooftops and chimneys of the Old Town.
- Camera Obscura is open from 09.30 every day. For full opening hours visit the Camera Obscura website
- Entry costs £15.50 for adults, £13.50 for students (ID required), £13.50 for seniors, £11.50 for children (aged 5 – 15) and free for under 5s.
4) Blackford Hill.
Blackford Hill is another one of the city’s seven summits, and offers yet another perspective of Edinburgh’s unique skyline and landscape. Blackford Hill is home to the Royal Observatory, which relocated from Calton Hill at the end of the 20th century to avoid the city centre light pollution. Walk through the enchanting Hermitage of Braid before making the ascent up the hill for views of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, as well as the Pentlands and the Braid Hills. Finish your walk with soup and a scone at the Lodge Coffee House.
- Allow around 1.5 hours to walk through the Hermitage of Braid and up Blackford Hill
- For details on where to begin the walk check out the Walk Highlands website
- Check out the public astronomy talks at the Royal Observatory
5) Scott Monument.
This iconic monument sits slap-bang in the centre of Edinburgh, as a permanent tribute to one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers, Sir Walter Scott. In fact, it is the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the whole world, standing at just over 200 feet tall. The structure – which was designed by George Meikle Kemp – was completed in 1844 and the marble statue of Scott which sits in the base was added in 1846. Kemp sadly fell into the Union Canal and drowned just months before his work was complete. Read about the construction and the life of Walter Scott in the monument’s museum room, which features beautiful stained glass windows. Then, all that’s left is to go onwards and upwards into the claustrophobic spiral stairs to reach the upper levels and finally the top.
The tight squeeze is totally worth it for the wide radius of views over Princes Street, the city’s surrounding hills, and the many rooftops which are usually well out of sight. I also loved the birds-eye view of Jenners – one of the world’s first department stores – and Princes Street Gardens. The aesthetics of the Scott Monument have been subject to mixed reviews over the years, and it’s been given the nickname the ‘Gothic Rocketship’. Personally, I think it’s a cracker!
- The Scott Monument is open daily from 10.00 – 16.00
- Entry costs £8 per adult and £5 per child
- For more information visit the Scott Monument webpage
What’s to love about Sir Walter Scott?
Walter Scott was so highly regarded in Edinburgh, that he was approached by the City Council to organise the festivities for King George IV’s visit to the city in 1822. Tartan had been banned by the British government in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and Scott encouraged the king to wear tartan to win over the hearts and minds of the Scottish people. It worked, and tartan made a glorious comeback during the celebrations.
We can also thank Walter Scott for establishing the Scottish Highlands as a tourist destination. He romanticised this wildly beautiful area in his novels and sparked an interest in exploring these remote and relatively unexplored lands. Learn more about Walter Scott at the Writers Museum; one of Edinburgh’s free museums and a wee gem of a place.
6) National Museum of Scotland Roof Garden.
The National Museum reopened in 2011 after a £47.4 million refurbishment, and it is filled with treasures; from ancient Scotland and across the globe, to outer space and the natural world. Hours can be blissfully lost wandering the beautiful interior, admiring the displays, and getting hands-on with the interactive exhibits; aimed at actual kids, frequented by big kids.
The museum’s lesser-known gem is its roof garden, which despite having visited many times, I can never find on my first attempt (I always end up in the Tower Restaurant!). As with most views in the city, Edinburgh Castle is the star attraction, and despite the annoying architectural obstruction, a decent photo can be achieved – with some tactical cropping. You can also look out for the towering steeple of Tolbooth Kirk, Camera Obscura, and the Pentland Hills to the south.
- The museum and roof garden are open daily from 10.00 – 17.00 and is free to enter
- For more information visit the National Museum of Scotland website
7) The Shore, Leith.
Veer off the tourist trail and out of the city centre, in search of Edinburgh’s port and coolest area. Let your imagination wander into centuries past, when the cobbled streets were frequented by sailors and traders in their masses, and even Mary Queen of Scots on her return to Scotland from France in 1561. The Shore is peppered with nautical trinkets which pay tribute to its maritime past, including an old Swing Bridge, iron anchors and a ship’s wheel, and a little lighthouse. The view of boats docked in the Water of Leith with a backdrop of colourful buildings has been compared to scenes from Scandinavia, but I would have to argue that there’s nowhere in the world like Leith.
Disclaimer: I may be biased because I live there.
8) St Giles’ Cathedral Roof.
St Giles’ Cathedral is a beautiful spectacle on the Royal Mile, and has a history which spans over 900 years. I’ve passed the cathedral on hundreds of occasions in my lifetime, and have regularly stopped to take photos of the exterior. I’m embarrassed to admit however, that it took until my 30th year to venture inside. The stained-glass windows and intricate Thistle Chapel are among the highlights, and those with a keen eye can look out for the numerous green man carvings which don the ceiling. The best kept secret – which many locals are not aware of – is that you can access the roof and bell tower on a guided tour. I loved seeing this unique vantage point of the Royal Mile, and standing under the bell (with my hands over my ears) as it went off!
- Entry to the cathedral is free, though a £5 donation is encouraged
- Rooftop tours operate on Saturdays from 10.30am – 4pm and Sunday 1.30pm – 4pm and cost £6 per person
9) The Vennel.
The Vennel is the loveliest of leafy laneways, which leads from Heriot Place down to the Grassmarket. On route, you will pass by one of the only remnants of the 1560 Flodden Wall and Flooded Tower. Following the Scottish defeat – and death of King James IV – in the Battle of Flodden in 1513, a wall was built around the city to protect it from English attack. A paranoid bunch, you might say! The iconic vista of Edinburgh Castle from The Vennel is a photographer’s dream. The steep, skinny stairway with its pretty street lanterns and perfectly positioned foliage packs in some serious charm.
10) Dean Village.
This super-cute wee corner of Edinburgh feels like an escape from the city altogether. Accessed via the Water of Leith walkway from Stockbridge or from the Dean Bridge near the west end of Princes Street, the Dean Village looks like scenes from a fairytale storybook; minus the modern vehicles and tourists, of course. Look out for the 18th century Roman-style St Bernard’s Well on your walk along the water, wander through Well Court – which hasn’t changed much in 200 years – and time your visit for a Sunday so you can stop by Stockbridge Market to browse the street food and craft stalls.
Marvellous! As for my favourite view in Edinburgh – Charlotte Square during the Edinburgh Book Festival!
Thanks so much Lizzy! Something tells me you’re a wee bit of a bookworm then 😉
The view of the castle from the East wall looking over Greyfriars. Has it’s own little bit of magic.
Hi Charlotte. That castle of ours just peeks out in so many wee corners of the city – I love it!
Great guide with some really good tips, thanks! I really like your photos as well, good job. Cheers from Norway 🙂
Thanks so much! 🙂