Arthur’s Seat, the name alone intrigued and piqued my interest in wanting to discover why this extinct volcano in the middle of Edinburgh was a popular hotspot with locals and visitors from around the globe. Who was this Arthur, did he really have a seat on top of the hill, and would it be worth my huffing and puffing to get to the top? I didn’t quite know, but I was determined to find out.
Located in Holyrood Park sits Arthur’s Seat, the highest peak in a group of majestic and mystical hills. One of Edinburgh’s top (no pun intended) and most beautiful tourist attractions, the lush, colorful and rocky hills surrounding Arthur’s Seat date back more than 2,000 years and are considered a site of scientific interest due to their volcanic geology and diverse flora.
There has been much debate and speculation on the origins of its name, but many believe there is a connection with King Arthur and the mythical location of the legendary Camelot. However, the name more than likely evolved from the Gaelic meaning of “Height of Arrows” or “Archer’s Seat”.
For those visiting Edinburgh, hiking to the top of Arthur’s Seat is an adventure not to be missed. Most people with moderate fitness levels will be able to hike to the top, including younger children. The hike allows you to enjoy one of the city’s most beautiful natural green spaces and also rewards you with 360 degrees of spectacular views of Edinburgh, the port town of Leith, and surrounding area.
Getting to Arthur’s Seat is easy. Located in the 620-acre Holyrood Park at the foot of the Royal Mile near the Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat is a short walking distance from Old Town. If you decide to drive and save the walking for the actual hike, there are two main parking lots, one on the east side near Dunsapie Loch and the other on the west side next to Holyrood Palace.
Hiking to the top. Depending on how long and how challenging of a hike you plan to take, there are several paths that lead to the summit. The easiest and most direct route starts near the parking lot at Dunsapie Loch. The most challenging route hugs the Salisbury Crags, the 150-foot cliffs that face the city of Edinburgh. Alternative routes include Whinny Hill, Crow Hill, and Nether Hill.
My hike took me on the more moderate and scenic path past St. Anthony’s Chapel. This particular route is one of the more popular ones, dotted with hikers of all ages along the trail. The path, for the most part, is quite easy to navigate. However, the closer you get to the top, the more narrow and rocky the path gets. My fear of heights (or fear of falling down the steep hillside) didn’t stop me from tackling the challenge.
Things to see along the way: Besides the breathtaking views, there are a few places to stop and admire. The more challenging route will take you past the Salisburgh Crags, the 150-ft cliffs that face the city of Edinburgh. The Duddingston Loch is a beautiful lake attracting several species of birds and a perfect place for a quick rest. However, my favorite spot happened to be St. Anthony’s Chapel.
The ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel are hauntingly beautiful. The origins of this medieval 15th-century chapel are not quite known. Many believe that it was originally built as a hospital to treat patients suffering from the skin disease known as St. Anthony’s Fire. Others believe that it was built as a beacon for ships arriving at Leith.
There were a few times during the ascent to the top that I did need to stop and catch my breath. However, the feelings I got from reaching the top and taking in the views were worth every huff and puff. The descent down was a little faster but still required sure footing as the path can be a little rocky in some places.
So, did Arthur’s Seat live up to the hype? It did and more. The experience of being in the middle of raw unspoiled nature, with a technicolor background of vivid yellows, greens, rusts, and blues, plus the incredible sweeping views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area is something that I will never forget.
Tips before you go:
- Plan for a hike lasting between 30-60 minutes
- Wear comfortable walking shoes (the paths can be uneven and slippery in some places)
- Bring water (but drink sparingly as there are no public restrooms on the hiking paths)
- The only public restrooms are located near the Holyrood Palace (plan to use them prior to your walk)
- Bring a jacket, even in the summer months. The weather can be windy or turn rainy at any time.
- Visitors with mobility issues may have a difficult time. There are no handrails, the paths are not paved, and hikers can expect a few small areas of uneven footing and rock steps to climb.
- Entrance to Holyrood Park and the hiking paths are free; parking is not.
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