Hike to the top of this 822-foot extinct volcano for an eagle-eye view of the old city and the countryside beyond.
EDINBURGH — Any visit to the Scottish capital must include iconic Edinburgh Castle, high above the rest of town. But if the view from the castle isn’t impressive enough, really get above it all with an invigorating climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a mile away on the far side of the city.
This 822-foot extinct volcano, the highest of Edinburgh’s hills, rises from about sea level just across the road from Holyrood House, the palace where Queen Elizabeth hangs her tasteful hats when she’s in town. It is the centerpiece of lovely and sprawling Holyrood Park.
Numerous interlacing trails lead to the top, across meadows where skylarks breed. I took what is probably the most difficult but perhaps most rewarding route, starting on the Radical Road, built in 1820 at the suggestion of Sir Walter Scott to employ out-of-work weavers (whose political bent lent it the name).
Find the start directly across Queen’s Drive from the palace and go right, heading immediately upward along the base of the dramatic basalt cliffs known as Salisbury Crags. Go early to enjoy rising-sun views of the old city in lemony light at your feet as you gradually circle the crags.
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When the crags end, go left and find an ancient stone path that heads almost straight up across windswept hillside and through patches of Scotch broom. It’s a butt-kicker, but not overly long. (The easiest and simplest ascent is from the east, where a grassy slope rises above Dunsapie Loch; no routes are wheelchair-friendly.)
Keep rounding the hillside, aim for the highest promontory and make the final rocky scramble to Arthur’s Seat, where a geological marker maps out sights as distant as the Isle of May, more than 25 miles away at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh’s expansive bay. Looking back toward the city, the castle’s promontory is almost hard to pick out, it’s so far below.
The name is a bit of a mystery, though some link it to the King Arthur legends. Arthur’s Seat is even mentioned as a possible location for Camelot, his legendary castle.
Whatever the derivation, an early-morning hike to the top is a great way to build an appetite for a full Scottish breakfast. (Pass the tattie scones.)