Sightseeing around Edinburgh

Written by Sholto Ramsay on Friday, 25 May 2012. Posted in Best of Edinburgh Guide

Sightseeing in the area around Edinburgh

The Pentland Hills

South of the Braid Hills, beyond the City Bypass, are Edinburgh's Pentland Hills, a serious range of hills, remote in parts, rising to almost 2,000 ft and which stretch around 16 miles from the outskirts of Edinburgh to Lanarkshire. The hills offer relatively painless climbs and you'll be rewarded with magnificent views once you reach the top.

On the northern slopes of the Pentlands is the village of Swanston, a huddle of 18th-century thatched, whitewashed cottages. The largest of these, Swanston Cottage, was the holiday home of the Stevenson family, where the sickly young Robert Louis spent his summers. There are many paths up to the various Pentland summits and round the lochs and reservoirs. One of the many walks is described above, but if you want to explore more fully there are many books about the Pentlands, including 25 Walks in Edinburgh and Lothian (HMSO, 1995). Ordnance Survey Landranger Map no 66 covers the area.

The main access is by the A702, which passes the Midlothian Ski Centre at Hillend. There's a marked walking trail up to the ski slope, or you can take the chair lift. At the top of the slope it's a short walk to Caerketton Hill for fantastic panormaic views of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and the hills of Fife and Stirlingshire.

Lauriston Castle, Cramond & Dalmeny

About five miles northwest of town is Lauriston Castle, a fine Edwardian country mansion set in lovely grounds overlooking the Firth of Forth. The original tower house is late 16th century, with many neo-Jacobean additions by William Burn in the 19th century. It was once the home of John Law, who founded the first bank in France and obtained sole trading rights in the Lower Mississippi, which he christened Louisiana in honour of the French King. The interior contains fine collections of period furniture and antiques. n Apr-Oct Sat-Thu 1100-1300 and 1400-1700; Nov-Mar Sat/Sun 1400-1600. . Tel: 3362060.

One mile further west is the lovely little coastal village of Cramond , situated where the River Almond flows into the Forth. The 18th-century village of whitewashed houses is the site of an ancient Roman fort, a large part of which has been excavated. The most recent discovery was a magnificent sandstone sculpture of a lioness dating from the second century BC. In addition to being steeped in ancient history, Cramond boasts a pleasant promenade, a golf course and a lovely, wooded walk along the banks of the Almond river towards the 16th century Old Cramond Brig. And if that weren't enough to tempt you, there's also Cramond Island, which can be reached via a raised walkway when the tide is out. Just make sure you keep an eye on the time or you may find yourself stuck there for longer than you anticipated. Tide times are posted on the shore, and are also available from the Tourist Information Centre.

A local passenger ferry service still crosses the River Almond at Cramond. n 0900-1300 and 1400-1700 in summer, till 1600 in winter, closed Fri. From the other side of the river it's a two-mile walk to Dalmeny House, the Earl of Rosebery's home for over 300 years. The present house, built in 1815 in Tudor Gothic, contains a superb collection of 18th-century French furniture, porcelain and tapestries and paintings, including portraits by Gainsborough, Raeburn, Reynolds and Lawrence. There is also a fascinating collection of Napoleon Bonaparte memorabilia, assembled by the fifth Earl of Rosebery, a former Prime Minister. n Jul and Aug Sun 1300-1730, Mon and Tue 1200-1730 (last admission 1645). Tel: 3311888. The house can also be reached via the village of Dalmeny, eight miles west of Edinburgh, on the A90 then B924. There's a bus service from St Andrew Square to Chapel Gate, one mile from the house, or you can take a train which stops at the village station. The main point of interest in the village is the wonderful 12th-century church.


Seven miles south of Edinburgh, in the county of Midlothian, just off the A701 to Penicuik, lies the little village of Roslin, home of the mysterious 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel. Perched above the North Esk, the magnificent and unique chapel has a richly carved interior full of Biblical representations and pagan and masonic symbols and has been described as "a fevered hallucination in stone". Foundations were laid in 1446 for a much larger church which was never built. What exists is the Lady Chapel, inspiration of Sir William Sinclair, who himself supervized masons brought from abroad who took 40 years to complete it to his design. According to legend, his grandfather, the adventurer Prince Henry of Orkney, set foot in the New World a century before Columbus. This is backed up by the carvings of various New World plants. One of the most fascinating sights in the church, and the most elaborate carving, is the Prentice Pillar. Legend has it that while the master mason was away in Rome making additional drawings to complete the pillar, an apprentice finished it for him. On the mason's return he murdered the apprentice in a fury.

Speculation as to the purpose of the chapel dwells on esoteric secrets and a plethora of recent books claims that the Holy Grail, supposedly brought from the East by the Knights Templar, is buried here. Whether or not you believe this, you'll still find its architecture and atmosphere fascinating. Once you've seen the chapel, there are some very pleasant walks in nearby Roslin Glen, from where you get great views of Roslin Castle. n Mon-Sat 1000-1700, Sun 1200-1645. Tel: 4402159, Take one of the regular buses for Penicuik from St Andrews Sq.

Other sights around Midlothian

Rosslyn Chapel is the most interesting sight in Midlothian, but there are a few other worthwhile places of interest, especially if you've got kids in tow. Butterfly and Insect World is part of Dobbie's Garden World, in Lasswade, near Dalkeith. This large glass enclosure has loads of butterflies fluttering around while you stroll past tropical plants and water features. There are also creepy crawlies, which are thankfully in individual cages in a separate area. There's also a café in the garden centre. n Daily 0930-1730 (1000-1700 in winter). Tel: 6634932. To get there, leave the city bypass at the Gilmerton exit or Sheriffhall roundabout, or take buses 3, 80 or 80a.

A mile or so south of Dalkeith is Newtongrange, a former mining village whose Lady Victoria Colliery closed in 1981 and has been transformed into the Scottish Mining Mueum. Here you can get some idea of what working conditions were like more than 1,500 ft below ground during the guided tour led by former miners, and you can see the massive steam engine, the largest in Scotland, which hauled men and coal up and down the pit shaft for 87 years. n Mar-Oct daily 1000-1700. £4, £2.20 child . Tel: 6637519. There are regular buses from central Edinburgh (3, 30, 82).

South Queensferry

To get to South Queensferry from Edinburgh, take buses 43, X43, 47 or 47a from St Andrew Sq Less than a mile from Dalmeny is the ancient town of South Queensferry, which gets its name from the 11th-century St Margaret, who used the town as the crossing point during her trips between her palaces in Edinburgh and Dunfermline, which was Scotland's capital at that time. The town's narrow main street is lined with picturesque old buildings, most striking of which is the row of two-tiered shops. If you fancy a drink, or a meal, or perhaps a bed for the night, try the historic Hawes Inn, which was featured in Stevenson's Kidnapped. The town is dominated by the two great bridges that tower overhead on either side, spanning the Firth of Forth at its narrowest point. The massive steel cantilevered Forth Rail Bridge, over a mile and a half long and 360 ft high and is a staggering monument to Victorian engineering. It was built in 1883-90 and 60,000 tons of steel were used in its construction. Beside it, is the Forth Road Bridge, a suspension bridge built between 1958 and 1964, which ended the 900-year-old ferry crossing between South and North Queensferry. The Road Bridge is open to pedestrians and it's worth walking across for the views of the Rail Bridge. From Hawes Pier, right underneath the Rail Bridge, you can take a variety of pleasure boat cruises on the Forth. Jet Boat Tours , Tel: 3314777, have cruises up the River Almond at Cramond, looking out for dolphins, seals and porpoises en route, as well as 'Bridge Tours' and 'Jet-Boat fun rides'. n Prices are around £5-10 per person. Cruises run Apr/May/Sep/Oct weekends and public holidays 1000-1800; Jun-Aug daily 0930-2000.

Inchcolm Abbey

There are also Sealife Cruises on board the Maid of the Forth, Tel: 3314857, as well as Evening Cruises beneath the bridges with jazz and folk accompaniment. The most interesting cruise of all, and the most popular, is the cruise to the island of Inchcolm, whose beautiful ruined abbey, founded in 1123 by King Alexander I, is the best-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland. The oldest surviving building is the 13th-century octagonal chapter house. You can also climb the tower for great views of the island, which is populated by nesting seabirds and a colony of seals. n Sailings from Easter to Oct. Evening jazz and ceilidh cruises throughout the summer on Fri, Sat and Sun evenings. Tel: 3314857

Hopetoun House

Two miles west of South Queensferry is Hopetoun House, which thoroughly deserves its reputation as 'Scotland's finest stately home'. Set in 100 acres of magnificent parkland, including the Red Deer park, the house is the epitome of aristocratic grandeur and recently celebrated its 300th birthday. Hopetoun House is perhaps the finest example of the work of William Burn and William Adam. It is, in fact, two houses in one. The oldest part was designed by William Bruce and built between 1699 and 1707. In 1721 William Adam began enlarging the house by adding the facade, colonnades and grand State Apartments. It was built for the Earls of Hopetoun, later created Marquesses of Linlithgow and part of the house is still lived in by the Marquess of Linlithgow and his family. The house contains a large collection of art treasures and the grounds are also open to the public. You could come here and pretend you're a member of the aristocracy for the day, then go back to your tiny B&B and weep. n Daily Apr-end of Sep, and every weekend in Oct, 1000-1730. £5.30, £2.70 child. Tel: 3312451,