If you’re sitting there with your laptop planning an upcoming trip to the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh, chances are you’ve already heard of Arthur’s Seat. It’s an ancient extinct volcano which lies in the centre of the city and dominates its skyline.
Located in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is a 251 metre high hill and is one of the most famous walks in Edinburgh that well and truly deserves a place on your Edinburgh things to do list.
The iconic shape of Arthur’s Seat is very easily recognisable even from faraway places. Some people think it resembles a resting lion’s head and haunch.
In the words of eminent Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur’s Seat is “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”.
The walk is perfect for those who would love to experience the outdoors and tranquil nature. Also, it’s an enjoyable way to burn some calories after tasting delicious food at some of the best restaurants in Edinburgh.
Alongside the walk to Arthur’s Seat, there are plenty of walking opportunities around Holyrood Park. Salisbury Crags is an excellent vantage point. Also, visit Duddingston Loch and Saint Margaret’s Loch, which are frequented by wildlife and birds.
In this guide, you will find all the essential information and suggestion you need to know before visiting this area – which paths to take to reach the summit, our personal tips and how to get there by public transport.
Where is Arthur's Seat
Sitting proudly in the middle of Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Edinburgh. It is one of the seven hills around the city.
Located at the edge of the bustling streets of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, this area is an urban oasis of nature and rejuvenation for the tourists and residents of Edinburgh.
It stands a stone’s throw away from the Palace of Holyroodhouse – The King’s official residence in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament Building. The park itself has a royal connection. It used to be the royal hunting estate once. In the mid-16th century, it was designated a park status by the king.
Why is it Called Arthur's Seat
Like many of the attractions in Edinburgh, the name of Arthur’s Seat is shrouded by mystery and myths. Some believe that the name derived from the legends of King Arthur – the courageous warrior king of Britain. According to tales, Arthur’s Seat stands at the site of his castle and court, Camelot. Also, it was the location of his famous noble Knights of the Round Table.
Another folklore goes this was the home of an ancient sleeping dragon. The creature used to terrorise this area and feast on people’s livestock. However, after years of stuffing himself with food, he finally felt tired and full. He then took a nap but has never woken up ever since.
Another theory is that the name originated from the Gaelic name of this hill, Àrd-na-Said, which means “height of arrows”.
The surroundings of Arthur’s Seat have always been at the centre of magic and fantasy. Some of the old traditions are still there. Every year, on the first day of May, young local women wash their face in the dews from the hillside to look flawless for the rest of the year.
History of Arthur's Seat
Created by fire and ice, Arthur’s Seat is around 335 million years old and has a fascinating history to tell. It was formed by volcanic activity at the start of the Carboniferous Period. Over the past two million years, glacial erosion has played a significant part in shaping the landscape that we see today.
There are traces of four prehistoric hill forts within the park. They belong to the Votadini people, an ancient Celtic tribe that roamed the northern lands of Britain during the ice age. The rock was at the centre of the capital of their empire. There is a mention of Arthur’s Seat in one of the oldest pieces of Celtic literature, ’Y Gododdin’.
If you take interest in Geology, Hutton’s Section in the Salisbury Crags might tickle your fancy. Often referred to as the father of modern geology, James Hutton first made his pivotal discovery here.
In 1836, just beneath Arthur’s Seat, seventeen miniature wooden coffins were found hidden in a small cave. Their existence has never been satisfactorily explained and still remains one of Edinburgh’s strangest mysteries.
Some suggest that they are the result of witchcraft, while others believe that they may be a memorial to the victims of Burke and Hare, two infamous murderers and grave robbers of Edinburgh in the early 19th century. Today the coffins are displayed at the National Museum of Scotland.
Walking Routes and Map of Arthur's Seat
There are many talking trails all around Holyrood Park. In this guide, we will show you the circular circuit that offers the best phenomenal views over Edinburgh and is perfect for anyone who loves hiking. Also, we have included suggested walking trails for the easiest and quickest climb to Arthur’s Seat. There is no signpost in this area, but the paths are easy to follow. If you are lost, ask a friendly local for directions.
Circular Scenic Route via Salisbury Crags
- Distance: 2.5 miles
- Time: 1.5- 2.5 hours
- Elevation: 251 m / 823 ft
Directions: Circular Scenic Route via Salisbury Crags Map
This circular route goes through the top of Salisbury Crags before reaching the summit of Arthur’s Seat. While the view from the summit is undoubtedly impressive, the best lookout points are actually all along the trail itself.
Begin this walk from the car park on Queen’s Drive next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. From here, you can see the jagged structure of Salisbury Crags.
Avoid the Radical Road, which runs halfway up the side of the Salisbury Crags, as it is closed to visitors due to rockfall. Instead, follow one of many grassy paths that go up the Salisbury Crags.
A few minutes walking and you will be high enough to get an excellent view of Edinburgh and its many landmarks. So, don’t forget to look back as you walk.
Continue to follow the trail along the top edge of the crags until the end can be seen ahead.
From here, you can see the zigzag path going up Arthur’s Seat. The climb is quite steep in some places but is relatively short, and the dramatic view of Salisbury crags with Edinburgh in the backdrop is rewarding.
Follow along the stone steps and dirt paths to reach the flat knoll with views to the east. now, the worst part of the climbing is over, and you are just minutes away from the summit of Arthur’s Seat. If you have time, you can admire the view from the nearby Crow Hill. You can see Dunsapie Loch below.
Carefully cross the final rocky ascent to the summit, which is marked by a white Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar and a geographical indicator.
The sweeping panoramic views from Arthur’s Seat are breathtaking and worth the effort. You will get a stunning bird’s eye view of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Pentland Hills, East Lothian and North Berwick.
There are a variety of routes down. But for this particular route, we will follow the stony steps eastwards to the metal chain railing path. The path is clear and easy to navigate. You will find a gap in the railing to pass through.
Continue on the steady, gradual grassy slopes until you reach the fork with the tip of the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel visible on the right. Take a short detour to visit the medieval ruins.
Get back to the main path, and soon you will see St Margaret’s Loch. It eventually emerges onto Queen’s Drive, from where you started this walk.
Alternatively, you can start this walk from Holyrood Park Road near the Commonwealth Pool and follow the same circuit.
Salisbury Crags Route
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Time: 1 hour
If Arthur’s Seat hike seems too daunting for you, try walking the Salisbury Crags instead. Although paths are a bit steep in some places, the shorter length of the hike makes this a straightforward and rewarding walk with excellent views.
Start this walk the same way as the Circular Scenic Route described above. The gradual ascent will take you above the cliffs of Salisbury Crags. The 360° panoramic city view is outstanding. Try counting how many Edinburgh landmarks you can spot from here.
To your right, you can see the Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Column and the unfinished National Monument at Calton Hill. To the centre is the very modern-looking Scottish Parliament Building. Right next to it, the tent-like roof is Dynamic Earth, a visitor attraction that tells the geological story of our planet.
You’ll see Edinburgh Castle perched over Castle Rock and the spire of St Giles Cathedral just to the centre of the horizon. Sitting on the plug of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle has a fascinating history to tell and is one of the must-visit castles in Scotland.
Right at your back, you will find the iconic summit of Arthur’s Seat. Sit back and enjoy the view. The dramatic basalt cliffs of the crags make some great photo opportunities. Also, this is the perfect place to have a picnic.
The end of Salisbury Crags is a bit rocky, so tread a bit carefully there. From here, you can either retrace your steps back or follow the path through the Hunter’s Bog – a valley between the hills of Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. The walk is mostly flat, with a great view over Fife and the River Forth.
The Easiest Route
If you want to avoid the steep climb, the route starting from Dunsapie Loch Car Park is the easiest option for you. Although the ascent is less scenic, the hike is gentle and gradual. The paths follow the ancient agricultural terraces carved out by farmers thousands of years ago. You will reach the top of Arthur’s Seat in 20-30 minutes.
This route is perfect for anyone starting the walk from Holyrood Park Road. You have to walk about a mile to get to Dunsapie Loch.
If you are driving, you should know that currently the High Road and Dunsapie Loch Car Park are open to vehicles from Tuesday to Thursday, 9.30 am to 3 pm. Also, a one-way system is in place for cyclists. All roads are closed to vehicles on Saturday and Sunday.
How to Get to Arthur's Seat from Edinburgh City Centre
The Holyrood Park can be accessed from various places around the city. But there are two very convenient points to start Arthur’s Seat hike. One is near the car park on Queen’s Drive, next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and another one is from Holyrood Park Road, near the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
The Queen’s Drive starting point is perfect for visitors exploring the historic Old Town of Edinburgh. It is only a mile from Edinburgh Castle and takes only 20 minutes to walk there. Alternatively, you can catch the Lothian Bus service 35, which gives a stop at Scottish Parliament.
To start this walk near the Royal Commonwealth Pool, ride the bus services 2,14, 30, 33 and 51 from Edinburgh city centre and beyond.
You can also take bus services 4, 5, 26,44 and 45 to the Meadowbank Stadium and walk through the Duke’s Walk.
When is the Best Time to Visit
There is no good or bad season to walk Arthur’s Seat. You can do this hike pretty much all year round.
We absolutely love exploring this area in the late spring and early summer months. During this time, the entire landscape gets blanketed with vibrant-yellow coloured flowers, known as gorse or whin. The sweet coconut scent of the flowers lingers in the air and makes the surroundings breathtakingly beautiful.
If you are a photographer, you cannot miss the sunset from the top of Arthur’s Seat. Watching the sun gradually disappear behind the horizon over Edinburgh is an absolute treat. Also, this is a great spot to watch the fireworks during Edinburgh International Festival in August.
The summer months of June through August are an excellent time to walk Arthur’s Seat as the weather gets pleasantly warm and dry with longer daylights. But this is also the busiest time for tourism in the city, especially in August when the Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes over the city.
Alternatively, the spring and autumn months are also great times to visit. You’ll see fewer crowds, and while it’s slightly colder during those months, the weather is still pleasant.
January and February are the coldest months in Edinburgh. Although chilly, there is no reason why you should not hike Arthur’s Seat in winter. But when it’s icy, the path becomes very slippery and dangerous. Better to avoid it unless you are a pro hiker.
How Long is Arthur's Seat Walk
The moderately hilly circular circuit going through the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat is approximately 2.5 miles long and takes around 1.5-2.5 hours to complete, depending on your pace and fitness level. The shorter route from Dunsapie Loch Car Park takes only thirty minutes to climb to the top. Also, there is a flat mound halfway, from where you can see the rocky summit of Arthur’s Seat and get a great view of the sprawling cityscape.
If you are short on time but want to see the incredible skyline of Edinburgh, then make your way to the Salisbury Crags, which only takes half an hour and then return.
The Holyrood Park covers an area of 650 acres. You can easily spend half a day exploring the other short hills in the area, like Crow Hill, Whinny Hill and Dunsapie Hill. Also, take a peaceful stroll around the three lochs – St Margaret’s Loch, Dunsapie Loch and Duddingston Loch.
Tips for Hiking Arthur's Seat
Always check the weather before you go out on this walk. Don’t attempt it in rainy and windy weather, as the path gets muddy and slippery, and you might not get those stunning views from above due to poor visibility.
The trail to the top of Arthur’s Seat is steep and uneven in some places. If you are careful, you could probably get away with a sturdy trainer. However, a hiking boot is preferable.
There are so many different paths you can take, and this guide is only laying out a few of them for you. There is no right or wrong way to walk Arthur’s Seat. So, don’t be afraid to get adventurous and take some detours.
Just so you know, it is not permitted to camp, light fires and make barbecues anywhere in the Holyrood Park.
While it gets a bit crowded during the summer months, it is easy to find alternate secluded detours with not many people around. Go early, if you want to avoid crowds altogether.
Take only memories, leave only footprints. Carry your rubbish back down the hill. You will find bins in the car parks and at park entrances.
The summit of Arthur’s Seat could get very windy and chilly depending upon the weather situation. So, for extra warmth and protection against potential downpours, you might need to bring a suitable jacket.
There are no cafes or restaurants in the park. So, if you are planning a day-out hiking, bring a packed lunch or picnic with you. Also, you will need plenty of water.