There are countless incredible things to do outside Edinburgh city centre that’ll give your itinerary a Scottish edge. While the Old and New Towns are absolutely the best starting point for exploring the city’s iconic attractions, once you get away from these tourist areas you’ll see there’s even more to the Scottish capital than meets the eye. From the hidden gems near Edinburgh that have stood there for centuries to villages on the outskirts that you’re bound to fall in love with, don’t leave without ticking off at least some of these awesome Scottish experiences. These are perfect if you’re heading to Edinburgh for an extended stay.
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1. Dean Village
You may not believe it, but Dean Village could be the most charming spot in Edinburgh. Just on the outskirts of the main city centre, this quaint little village is easily missed by people stopping in Edinburgh for a couple of days, when really it should be on every visitors bucket list. It’s only a 20 minute walk from Edinburgh Castle and you probably won’t need to dedicate much more than an hour of your itinerary to exploring it, but if you’re after a stunning shot of Edinburgh that’s a little more off-the-beaten-track, Dean Village will hit the spot. Stroll along the cobbled streets amongst the beautiful 17th century stone houses and take in the charm of this old mill town and all its unique features, Well Court being the most iconic photo spot. It’s worth noting that you won’t find any cafes or restaurants here (as we said, the place is only small), and keep in mind that it’s a residential area before you get too snap happy taking photos of all the windows and doorways.
2. Arthur’s Seat
One of the most popular attractions in the Scottish capital is Arthur’s Seat, certainly worth a mention as one of the best things to do away from Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns. Set on the highest point of Holyrood Park on the outskirts of the city centre, Arthur’s Seat is actually an extinct volcano which last erupted 340 million years ago, and now is a site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its huge diversity of fauna, flora and geology. There’s no doubt that this spot has the best panoramic view of Edinburgh you can get, made even more amazing by the satisfaction of an hour or so hike to get there. The great thing about walking in Holyrood Park is that there are options for every hiking level. Go on a gentle walk along Salisbury Crags for awesome views and a less strenuous route, follow the steady climb up to get straight to Arthur’s Seat or take the loop along Salisbury Crags and the steep climb to the summit for the most epic views. Whatever route you choose you’ll be blown away by what you see.
3. Water of Leith Walkway
The Water of Leith Walkway is a 12.25 mile path going right along, you guessed it, Edinburgh’s main river, the Water of Leith. The scenic footpath is the perfect place to stretch your legs away from the crowds and the cobblestones and amongst Edinburgh’s nature. The 24-mile river runs right past the Old and New Towns into Leith’s Albert Dock Basin from the Pentland Hills, passing through Dean Village as it flows. Walk as near or as far from the main city centre as you feel like, and you’ll be sure to pass at least some of Edinburgh’s surprisingly diverse wildlife: orchids, wild garlic, jumping fish and around 80 species of birds including kingfishers, swans and herons.
4. Portobello Beach
Just a 20 minute cycle or 30 minute bus from Edinburgh’s Old Town, Portobello Beach is the place to be on a sunny day in Scotland. You may never have associated Edinburgh with having a nearby seaside town, but Portobello has everything you could want from a beach day away from the city. The mile of sandy shore is ideal for a sunny stroll while the long promenade is full of cafes, pubs, fish and chip shops, ice cream stops and an amusement arcade. Save your pennies and pack a picnic and a couple of beers to enjoy on the Scottish sand, looking out across the water to Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth. It’s worth the adventure for a drastic change of scenery from Edinburgh’s old stone architecture to a seaside getaway.
5. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s botanical garden is located just north of the New Town, and is one of the best in Europe. Spanning 72 acres you could easily spend an entire day exploring the grounds and all the hidden gems from its 350 year history which now make it one of the most . From the world-leading collection of rhododendrons taking centre stage in spring, to beautiful snowdrop displays in winter and the bursts of vibrant colour in summer and autumn, there is never a dull day to visit. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is home to ten glasshouses, each representing a different climatic zone from around the world with 3,000 exotic plants on display, including a 200 year old palm tree. Topping off a trip here is the fantastic view over Edinburgh’s skyline including Edinburgh Castle in the distance.
6. Craigmillar Castle
Venture out of Edinburgh centre to the city’s ‘other’ castle. Craigmillar Castle is another perfectly preserved medieval castle in the Scottish capital, famously used by Mary Queen of Scots in 1566 as a safe haven after the murder of her private secretary Rizzio. While it’s totally overshadowed by the prominence of Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar is well worth a visit to the outskirts for its fascinating history as well as a little more peace and quiet. The Tower House was the first feature of the castle to be built way back in the early 15th century, and is also one of the oldest tower houses in Scotland. Climb to the top for views over Edinburgh and explore all the small details of the castle's great hall and prison, and see if you can find the remains of the fish pond in the shape of the letter ‘P’ for Sir Simon Preston, the castle’s first owner.
7. Glenkinchie Distillery
While there are plenty of places that do whisky tasting in the heart of Edinburgh, there are none like Glenkinchie. The Victorian distillery over in East Lothian gives you the chance to escape the city buzz and taste some of the best whisky in Scotland. Pay for a tour and tastings to learn all about the history of ‘Milton Distillery’ as it was formerly called, its revival in 1880, the traditional processes it uses in order to maintain flavour and how it goes from barley to bottle every day. Sit back and enjoy a dram in their bright and airy new bar overlooking a lovely view of the orchard gardens surrounded by farmland. Don’t be put off by the distance from Edinburgh, however getting there by car is definitely best, just make sure you’re not the designated driver.
The village of Roslin is hands down one of the best day trips from Edinburgh. The truly Scottish architecture, surrounding Roslin Glen (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and home to Dolly the Sheep’s clone back in 1997 are reasons alone to visit, however it’s Rosslyn Chapel which is the main draw. Since shooting to fame following its feature in the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code in 2003, Rosslyn Chapel has become a popular attraction with all its intricate architectural detail inside and out. From the chapel, you can take a 10 minute scenic stroll to Rosslyn Castle. You can’t walk around inside the castle, but you can explore its surroundings including the oldest parts which date way back to 1304. Pack your walking shoes if you fancy a good old hike through Roslin Glen. There are plenty of different trails you can take, some steep and a little slippery and some nice easy strolls, but all take you through the ancient woodland with beautiful scenery.
9. Lauriston Castle
Not far outside the main city centre is one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems. Lauriston Castle and Gardens is a spectacular example of an early 20th century middle-class home near Edinburgh Old Town. The last owners and residents of Lauriston Castle gave the 16th century building an Edwardian makeover in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Now a museum, people come to marvel at the interiors and architecture and take walks in the surrounding woodland and award-winning Japanese garden. Lauriston Castle is just a 25 minute bus ride away from Edinburgh city centre, and a half an hour walk from beautiful beach views and the promenade in the seaside town of Cramond.
10. Newhaven Harbour
Often overlooked by its neighbours Leith and Portobello, Newhaven Harbour is the perfect quiet escape from busy Edinburgh. It’s just under an hour’s walk from the Old Town, or a 25 minute bus from Princes Street, either way you won’t regret the trip. Head to Newhaven on a clear day to really make the most of it with fish and chips by the sea and views over to Fife. Stop in a Scottish seaside pub for a couple of pints and stroll along the seafront past the lighthouses for the best sunset near Edinburgh, and wander all the way over to the Albert Dock Basin in Leith if you have time.