Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, and Castle Rock
Three must-see destinations in a stunning UNESCO World Heritage city, all very fittingly connected by geology. Trust me, whether you’re a geologist, photographer, or hike-happy tourist, these Edinburgh highlights are some craggy urban hills worth nerding out over*.
*Okay, so they aren’t technically volcanoes, but the rocky outcrops that form the iconic Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, and Castle Rock are part of the same extinct volcano system! Edinburgh is also the birthplace of James Hutton, AKA the Father of Modern Geology, AKA a very big deal. So the fact that three of its most famous attractions share an igneous origin is very appropriate. If I remembered more from my geology minor I would elaborate on Carboniferous strata or plate tectonics, but that’s all I got.
Volcanoes are cool. Even the extinct ones.
If you’re looking for an extinct volcano you can casually ascend (who isn’t, am I right?), look no further than Edinburgh,
Scotland. Though Arthur’s Seat is arguably the most famous, and regularly at the tippy-top of Edinburgh must-see lists, each site offers something totally and completely unique.
(*I’m not just saying that because I studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geoscience. I promise.)
Oh, Arthur’s Seat. A trip to Edinburgh simply is not complete without a trek (or two) to the top. Don’t forget your hiking boots, or at least a decent pair of trainers. When it’s wet and windy–and spoiler alert: Scotland tends to get a little wet and windy–the last thing you want to be stressing about is footwear. It would be a shame for anything to distract from the downright stunning views on your climb.
It’s a little off-the-radar compared to the omnipresent shadow of Arthur’s Seat, or the iconic castle-y castle-ness of Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock. I probably saw hundreds of pictures of Calton Hill on hundreds of postcards, calendars, or Edinburgh tourist brochures before I actually knew where (just East of Prince’s Street) or what (Scottish government headquarters!) it actually was. And I lived a pretty short walk away for almost a year.
But it’s awesome, and you should definitely go. It feels like a fun park of sick views and medieval-looking structures that are actually important historical monuments. The walk is far less strenuous than Arthur’s Seat, but more than that to Castle Rock.
Castle Rock is famous because there’s a freakin’ castle sitting on it. Specifically, Edinburgh Castle. Royalty hasn’t actually lived there since the 1600s (thanks, Wikipedia) and it’s one of modern Edinburgh’s most popular tourist destinations!
I’m gonna be honest: in a year living there, and in my visits since, I have never gone inside Edinburgh Castle. I have heard entering the castle isn’t worth the price, but that’s your call. Either way, the walk up to the castle, particularly the view from the entrance atop Castle Rock, is great.
Walk up High Street, to Lawnmarket, to the Royal Mile, finally to Castle Hill–all an easy straight line of Scottish shops and restaurants. It’s pretty touristy, but Edinburgh’s streets are so damn gorgeous it’s almost impossible for this city to feel inauthentic. The Scotch Whisky Experience is a particularly popular stop on the Royal Mile, and The Witchery by the Castle restaurant was my favorite in Edinburgh for a unique experience and spendy meal.
Pro-tip: for an awesome paranoramic view of Edinburgh Castle, head to the top of the National Museum of Scotland. For an awesome ground floor view, try the Elephant House cafe (it’s the famous J.K. Rowling one).