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5 Peaceful Outdoor Spots in the City Centre

Home > Edinburgh > Escape the City | Fun Things To Do | Outdoor | Parks | Walks | Lists
by India Tyrer (subscribe)
Avid explorer of both Edinburgh and Manchester.
Published June 4th 2019
Escape the city without leaving it
Here in Edinburgh, we're truly blessed with a unique mixture of green spaces, hills, rivers and beaches amongst the hustle and bustle of a lively, thriving city with lots going on.

It's really a city like no other. Whatever you're in the mood for, whether it's a peruse around an ancient castle that sits head and shoulders above the rest of the city, or an amble around a stunning former milling village 5 minutes from Princes Street.

We're certainly spoilt for choice! But, after a busy time of exploring and sightseeing you might be craving a moment of peace and quiet in the great outdoors.

Luckily, there's no need to clock up the miles escaping to the countryside to achieve that rural feeling. Edinburgh's a city that's got it all, including plenty of tranquil outdoor areas where you can recharge your batteries and enjoy a moment of calm.

Without further ado, here are my 5-favourite outdoor spots you can grab a moment of quiet, right here in the heart of the city.

1. Dr Neil's Garden

Often aptly referred to as Edinburgh's Secret Garden, Dr Neil's Garden is the perfect place to escape the city crowds and get back to nature.

This secluded, quintessential spot is set perfectly in the shadow of the beautiful 12th century Duddingston Kirk, sitting serenely next to Duddingston Loch. It really does feel like you've stepped out the city into the countryside!

The Garden was founded by husband and wife team, Drs Nancy and Andrew Neil, back in the 1960s. Since this point, it has won a number of awards and been featured in countless TV programmes, magazines, books and articles. Despite this, the Garden remains one of Edinburgh's best-kept secrets.

This little oasis is the perfect spot for a short stroll, or to sit and admire the beautiful Garden and its vast array of flowers and foliage. If you're interested in history and heritage be sure to pop into the Kirk whilst you're there. It's a spectacular building that's free to wander around.

It's difficult to believe that the garden is a mere a 10-minute drive or 25-minute bus ride from the city centre.

Whilst you're there, Scotland's oldest surviving public house, The Sheep Heid's Inn, is just a 10-minute walk from the garden and offers a great selection of drinks, a hearty pub food menu and lovely outside courtyard. So, if you get peckish why not pop in? They've even got their own skittles alley!

Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr Neil's Garden, Day out in Edinburgh
Dr Neil's Garden


2. Dunbars Close

There are many closes, wynds and small gardens scattered down the length of the impressive Royal Mile, but one of our favourites is Dunbar Close. Don't let the garden's dark, narrow entrance perturb you, wandering in will certainly be worth it!

Although just meters from the buzz and excitement of the busy Royal Mile, this hidden gem is a peaceful spot that's surprisingly silent.

Whether you're looking for a quiet spot for lunch, to sit down with a coffee and a good book, or just a peaceful meander, this is the place.

The Garden looks like as you'd imagine it did in the early 1600s when it was built. Pretty, pristine and picture perfect. Neatly laid out and fantastically well kept. You even get views of Calton Hill sitting tall and proud above the city!

If you are looking for somewhere to pick up some good grub the Food and Flea market is less than a 5-minute walk away. Here, you can pick up some locally-roasted coffee or freshly produced, local street food whilst browsing the delights of the flea market.

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Dunbar's Close Edinburgh


3. The Water of Leith

The Water of Leith snakes its way through the city, beginning at the foot of the Pentlands making its way right to the Leith Docks. It's a haven for nature and wildlife, offering a fantastic route for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Meandering down the Water of Leith is another of those can't quite believe it moments when you wonder if you really are in the heart of Edinburgh. We told you the capital had it all!

Whether you fancy a short stroll or more ambitious walk, you can enter and exit the waterway from several points throughout the city.

We'd recommend making Dean Village your starting point. Begin by having a nosey around the charming former milling village which lies just 5 minutes from Princes Street. Having soaked up the delights of Dean Village, make your way onto the waterway path and head towards Stockbridge.

This stretch is perhaps one of the most popular, but with surrounds of flowing water, leafy trees and lovely woodland, it's easy to feel as if you're in the rural countryside.

Dean Village, Edinburgh, Scotland, Water of Leith, Day out in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Walk
Water of Leith


On route, look out for Bernard's Well, an impressive circular temple structure which was once rumoured to hold natural healing powers! Shortly after, you'll reach a set of stairs. Here, you can alight the path and head off into Stockbridge.

If you're in need of a refuel Stockbridge is home to an impressive and eclectic choice of wonderful cafes, eateries and shops you can explore at your leisure. For amazing cakes and great coffee head over to Lovecrumbs on St Stephen Street, or for a tipple that's a little stronger make your way to Smith and Gertrude, a wine bar with a superb collection and delicious charcuterie.

Every Sunday between 10-5 pm you can visit Stockbridge Market. Expect to find stalls serving up gifts, art, food and drink. From the biggest pan of paella you've possibly ever seen, to top-notch coffee served up from the Bearded Baristas.

If you decide to continue with your walk you'll find yourself in the lovely Leith. Why not treat yourself to one of the many delights the area has to offer? You'll find an abundance of fabulous eateries, pubs and bars. The stylish bar/bistro that is the Lioness of Leith serves up a real gourmet burger menu, whereas you can find delicious sourdough pizza down at East pizzas.

4. New Calton Burial Ground

This might be a surprising choice, but the New Calton Burial Ground is a remarkably quiet spot in the city centre.

Edinburgh's no stranger to a graveyard. There are a handful dotted around the city centre itself, housing famous graves amidst spectacular scenery.

On the east end of Princes Street, you'll find the Old Calton Burial Ground. Its whereabouts are no secret, so it's understandable that you'll often find it packed with sightseers exploring this fascinating historic graveyard. But, just half a mile to the east, on Regent Road, you'll find the New Calton Burial Ground, originally built as an overspill for the Old Grounds.

The New Grounds tend to be a lot quieter, more concealed from the main thoroughfare of Princes Street. A fascinating spot for some peace and quiet in the very heart of the city.

Expect to find some 18th-century monuments transported from the Old Burial Ground, an old watchtower on the lookout for body snatchers following the infamous times of Burke and Hare, and the graves of famous Scots such as architect David Byrne.

This is a great place to head for a peaceful, intriguing amble around an enchanting graveyard amidst beautiful surroundings. Take a seat on the grass or walls and take in the breath-taking outlook. The descending rooftops of the Royal Mile against the mighty backdrop of Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland, Edinburgh Day Out,
New Calton Burial Ground


5. Union Canal

Ready for another superb stroll along Edinburgh's other waterway? The wonderful canal way is one of the city's hidden gems that many tourists miss. It's no surprise really considering everything else this city's got going on. Nonetheless, the canal is a great destination if you're looking for a relaxing walk alongside tranquil waters and wildlife.

Originally completed in 1822 the canal sadly fell out of use by the 1930s. But, luckily for us, it was restored to full use in 2002. It's now the perfect place for a peaceful Sunday stroll or mid-week meander.

The canal spans a remarkable 32 miles. Of course, you don't have to walk the full length! Just a short stroll along will transport you to serene surroundings. Wandering along amongst the abundance of nature, wildlife and water it's hard to believe you're in the city centre. Keep your eyes peeled for swans, otters and beavers swimming the waters, as well as butterflied, kingfishers and herons gracing the skies.

Have a look out for a few beautiful landmarks you'll see on the way. From the Leamington Lift Bridge which you'll spot soon into your stroll, the beautiful Polwarth parish church, and the rather quaint Ashley Terrace Boathouse.

We'd suggest making Lochrin Basin your starting point, just off Fountainbridge in the city centre. From here, why not grab a coffee from the rather charming Counter on the Canal? This is a coffee shop with a difference – housed in a lovingly restored canal boat. That will certainly do the trick of warming you up on a chilly day!

Edinburgh, Scotland, Union Canal, Edinburgh Day Out
Union Canal

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Why? Peaceful Day Out in Edinburgh
When: Anytime
Where: Various Locations around Edinburgh
Cost: Free
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