Renowned for its rolling hills and dark, elegant architecture, Edinburgh is undeniably one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, rendered all the more enchanting by its vibrant, international population. When wandering the streets of the Scottish capital, it is not difficult to understand why the city has served as inspiration for so many books and movies over the years – most famous of these being the Harry Potter series. At every turn, the rows of Gothic buildings seem to give way suddenly to shaded alleyways, pint-sized traditional pubs, and – most unexpectedly – beautiful views across the city.
Whilst Edinburgh’s magic arguably lies within its narrow streets and its grand, imposing buildings, this sense of wonder is perhaps best appreciated from above, from the various breathtaking viewpoints peppered across the city. Read on to discover 8 of the most stunning views in Edinburgh.
8 stunning views in edinburgh
1. Calton Hill
Possibly one of the most iconic viewpoints in Edinburgh, Calton Hill is characterised by its collection of Ancient Greek-style monuments. In fact, it is from here that Edinburgh derived its nickname as the ‘Athens of the North’. Despite requiring only a short flight of stone stairs to reach the top, which start from Regent Road, the view from Calton Hill is unbeatable. Looking out beyond the elegant Dugald Stewart Monument, the city is spread out before you, the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel protruding from the sea of stonework which makes up Edinburgh Old Town.
Looking south from Calton Hill will provide you with a close-up view of iconic Arthur’s Seat, whilst the sea is visible from the other side of the viewpoint. Take a picnic and head up the hill in time for sunset (which, during winter, can even happen at around 3:30pm!)
2. National Museum of Scotland
One of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets, the rooftop viewpoint in the National Museum of Scotland is notoriously difficult to find – unless you know the way. Simply head into the museum and towards the Scottish History exhibit, where you’ll find an elevator; take this elevator to the top floor, and head left when you step out. If you keep turning left, you’ll eventually find a door leading outside to a winding steel staircase: once you’ve climbed this, you’ve arrived.
The view from the museum rooftop is one of my favourites in the city because of its incredibly central location: from here, the unique shape of St Giles’ Cathedral sits against a hazy sea, the clustered houses of Edinburgh Old Town occasionally interrupted by the spire of a church or monument. Because it is fairly convoluted to find, you’ll often have the viewing platform to yourself – which makes the perfect photo opportunity!
3. Scott Monument
If you suffer from claustrophobia, a visit to this monument probably shouldn’t be at the top of your agenda. But if you love the thrill of adventure, then make sure to climb the iconic Scott Monument, located at the heart of the Princes Street Gardens. Boasting particularly an incredible view of Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument offers two viewpoints: one in the middle of the structure, and one at its 200-foot peak. To access the second level from the first, you have to climb a stone staircase so narrow that only one person can go up or down at any one time – but the view from the top is worth the hassle.
4. Arthur’s Seat
One of the most unique aspects of Edinburgh is its striking natural beauty: interestingly, the city centre is home to two extinct volcanoes. One of these volcanoes is the beautiful Arthur’s Seat, whose imposing structure watches over the entire city. At its base is a large green space, with the picturesque St Margaret’s Loch; but as you clamber up one of the numerous hiking trails which hug the Salisbury Crags, you leave the city behind you, seemingly transported into the heart of nature. It is only once you reach the top that you are reminded of exactly where you have come. The view from Arthur’s Seat is the furthest-reaching in Edinburgh, with the buildings of the city set against a backdrop of short mountains – these are the Pentland Hills.
5. Dean Village
Tucked away from the rush of city life lies a quaint village, almost reminiscent of the set from a Disney movie. Dean Village is located just below the affluent neighbourhood of Stockbridge, and is possibly the city’s most beautiful area, as much for its unexpectedness as for its picture-book aesthetic. The most iconic view of Dean Village, which is settled on the banks of a trickling river, is from the Water of Leith Walkway. Nestled among lush trees, the buildings are thatched and beamed, and would not look out of place in the pages of a children’s fairy tale.
Following the footpath along the entire river is a perfect way to spend an afternoon in the city, leading you towards the vibrant, youthful neighbourhood of Leith.
6. Leith Docks
For such a small city (it boasts a population of only 500,000 people), Edinburgh is a patchwork of its neighbourhoods, each decidedly different from the next. Although once dubbed the city’s roughest area, Leith has, in recent years, become one of Edinburgh’s most coveted destinations, with a unique personality complemented by its youthful population. At the ‘foot of the walk’ (or the end of Leith Walk) lies Leith Docks: an elegant row of buildings which encircle the canal. Because this area is a fair distance from the city centre, Leith still does not receive large amounts of tourists, making it the perfect spot for a pint along the river. Head to The Ship on the Shore for traditional seafood, or Mimi’s Bakehouse for afternoon tea.
7. Edinburgh Castle
Back in the heart of the city, Edinburgh Castle is known for both its majestic architecture and its rich history. Punctuating the Edinburgh skyline, and perched on top of an extinct volcano, the castle was once a fortress which kept watch over the houses below, dating all the way back to the 11th Century. Whilst entry to the castle itself costs £15.50 (roughly $21.50), it is completely free to enjoy the view from its esplanade, which overlooks the Pentland Hills and the eerily-beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard.
8. Camera Obscura Museum
One of the quirkiest and most entertaining tourist attractions in the city, the Camera Obscura optical illusion museum is loved by visitors and locals alike. But aside from its entertaining, interactive exhibits and hilarious photo opportunities, the museum is famous also for its tower, which almost resembles a lighthouse. As the museum is located right next to the castle, it sits atop one of the best vantage points, offering views across Edinburgh that can’t be found from any other viewpoint. Not only can you see all the way to the end of the Royal Mile, but you can also catch a glimpse of the striking Gothic structure which makes up New College. Entry to the museum costs just £15.75 (around $21.80).