Even though Edinburgh is a city, it somehow manages to make you feel that nature and the countryside are never far away. It can be a challenge to keep up with your exercise regime whilst travelling, however, this post will give you plenty of ideas to stay in top form and discover the city under a different angle. So if you prefer to balance restaurant indulgencies and nights out in funky bars with some good old-fashioned exercise, then Edinburgh is a delight. Here are some healthy ideas from my time living in Edinburgh, that don’t involve opening the creaky door of a boring hotel gym.
Running in Edinburgh
Running is such an easy and time-efficient way to keep fit. If you’re visiting Edinburgh and want to get out and about, you’re in luck as there are so many options for running around the Scottish capital. Here’s our very own shortlist of favourites.
Holyrood Park + Arthur’s Seat
Get out into nature and enjoy one of our firm favourites – the enormous Holyrood Park. Think Scottish Highlands in the middle of a city. It has everything from hills to gentle slopes, plus a great view from the top. There is a paved path that follows the road all the way from Holyrood Palace (Mary Queen of Scots old crib) to the top, fittingly named Queens Drive. If you’re ambitious and don’t mind a little rough track under foot, you can run right to the top of Arthur’s Seat. The view of the sea and the city are a very special reward for the climb.
Water of Leith
If you prefer the sound of running water, then tackle a section of the idyllic Water of Leith. The path runs from Balerno to the trendy Shore at Leith and measures 20kms in total. I recently completed the section from Stockbridge to the Shore and it really feels like the city is a million miles away. The path alternates between peaceful meandering riverbanks and disused railway lines.
Coastal Trail: Cramond to Portobello
There is nothing like the smell of sea air, it cleanses the soul. So why not run along the Edinburgh Coastal Trail from Cramond harbour to Portobello beach? There are 16 amazing kilometres to choose from. I can recommend running through the trendy Shore area of Leith and the ancient quaint harbour of Newhaven. Now the old stone harbour is home to pleasure craft and the odd colourful fishing boat, but it used to be a thriving fishing village.
Inverleith Park or The Meadows
For some classic park running, head to Inverleith Park near the Botanic Gardens or the Meadows near the University. Both are popular with runners and have large green open spaces with mature trees. Saturday is Park Run day when anyone can turn up and get timed running a 5k with a group. Find out more about Edinburgh’s Park runs here.
Walking in and around Edinburgh
Royal Botanic Gardens
The suggested running routes are also perfect for walkers too looking for a little green zen amongst the city madness. But in addition, for walkers only, consider the Royal Botanic Gardens and Calton Hill.
The Botanic Gardens are quite simply an oasis within the city. Set in acres of stunning parkland, complete with a Victorian glasshouse and a Chinese winter garden, they’re fantastic.
While Calton hill is located right in the city centre behind the Playhouse theatre, once you get to the top there is an amazing panorama of Princes Street, Leith and Arthur’s seat. In the above image, you can see the National Monument which looks like it was built by the Romans. It was in fact built in 1826 and is in memory of soldiers and sailors that died in the Napoleonic wars. It was never finished, however, as funding dried up before it was completed.
If you are looking for something a little wilder and don’t mind jumping on a bus, then the Pentland Hills is a brilliant choice. There is around 100kms of marked paths to choose from. From experience, I suggest taking the number 4 or 15 bus from town and start walking near the dry ski slope at Hillend. There is a 5km circular walk with great views of the Firth of Forth. For further walking ideas look up, the Pentland Hills Org website. Here you will find excellent information on getting to the hills by bus, together with suggested walking routes.
Swimming in Edinburgh
The Royal Commonwealth Swimming Pool
The Royal Commonwealth Pool, located in the Newington neighbourhood close to Holyrood Park, is a must if you’re a keen swimmer. Back in 1970s the commonwealth games came to Edinburgh in a big way and as a result, a super new Olympic-sized swimming pool was constructed. The good news is that it was refurbished in 2012 at a cost of £37 million.
At this time, the café, changing rooms and dive area were also given a major makeover. If you have children, they will love the weekend AquaDash, where they get the chance to tackle a giant inflatable obstacle course, in the pool. Our two had an amazing time racing each other. Booking is required to avoid disappointment.
Warrender or Glenogle Swimming Pools
If you long for a traditional Victorian bathing experience, then go for a dip at the retro styled Warrender swimming pool (south of the Meadows) or Glenogle swim centre in the Stockbridge neighbourhood. They have the old-fashioned changing cubicles right next to the pool together with a fabulous iron frame architecture.
Don’t worry there has been a lot of modernisation since the Victorians made the original plans. Both pools are run by Edinburgh leisure, so you can pay as you swim. Facilities, apart from the obvious big hole full of water, include a gym, a sauna and a steam room.
Cycling in Edinburgh
Bike Hire in Edinburgh
If you don’t have your own bike, why not pick up a ‘Just Eat’ rental bike from one of the many locations throughout the city. Just download the ‘Just Eat Cycle’ App and get riding. Should you require a more specialised bike, then there are other hire companies such as Leith Cycle Company and Biketrax.
Former Railway Lines
If you are looking for some cycling action during your stay in Edinburgh, then there are several excellent options when it comes to routes. First, there is a fantastic network of cycle paths that cross the city. Some were once railway lines, so they are flat, straight, direct and most importantly car free!
The popular Roseburn and Blackhall cycle path is a section of the NCN 1, which if you get lost, will take you all the way to the North of Scotland. Should you fancy a trip to the seaside, it’s possible to either follow signs for Silverknowes, that will eventually take you to Cramond. We always take our kids here as it’s so safe and wide with great views. Or head down the water of Leith path to the Shore and link up with the Leith to Portobello cycle route. For further details study the Cycling-edinburgh.org.uk website for tips and suggestions.
If you’re just looking for a fun ride in the park, then head to Holyrood Park. It’s safe, there are great views, and there is plenty to look at, including two small lakes. It includes an uphill stretch, but there is a lazy downhill to look forward to. Plus, it’s closed to traffic on a Sunday.
If you enjoy cycling next to the water, then the 32 miles of the Union Canal tow path is a great option. Starting in the city centre (just off Lothian Rd) it can take you all the way to the Falkirk Wheel! It’s flat terrain so it’s an easy ride and there is plenty to see along the way, including wildlife and canal boats.
Hillend Midlothian Snowsports Centre
Edinburgh is lucky enough to have a dry ski slope just a short distance from the city centre. If it’s your first time on the slippery stuff, then both skiing and snowboarding lessons are available. Our son really loved the relaxed teaching style. And if you don’t fancy either of these activities, then why not try high octane tubing.
Race down the twisty mountain course on an inflatable rubber ring, fun for all the family if they are brave enough. If like me all this activity gives you an appetite, then visit Café 360. There is free Wi-Fi, a balcony with a view, plus cakes and snacks indulge on.
Getting there: Catch bus 4 from Haymarket station or bus 15 from Waverley station.
If you are visiting Edinburgh for a special occasion and can justify spending a little more than usual, then how about chartering your very own yacht? Colin, the boat’s guide and skipper, will make it a voyage to remember and you may even improve your sailing skills. Top off the luxurious experience by mooring up at Anstruther harbour and tasting some of the best fish and chips in Scotland. To set sail contact Edinburgh Boat Charters, Port Edgar in Leith.
Alien Rock Climbing Centre
If climbing is your thing, then there are two options in and around the city. Firstly, Alien Rock, a great little climbing centre located in an old Church at Newhaven Harbour. It has friendly and knowledgeable staff and circuits for all levels.
Getting there: Catch bus number 11 from Elm row (near the Playhouse + Omni complex in the East end of Edinburgh), it runs every 10 minutes.
Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA)
If you’re looking for something larger and are happy to travel a little out of town, you will be seriously impressed by the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. Situated in Ratho, this is the largest indoor climbing centre in Europe!
It caters for all abilities, from professional to amateur, and if you have kids, then they will love the Rock Tots playroom and Scrambles softplay. There is a good onsite café, if you plan to make a day of it. It’s possible to do a train and bus combo from the city centre but as it’s about 30 mins by car I recommend taking an Uber/taxi.
Be at one with nature and explore the beautiful Fife coast by sea kayak. The lovely seaside town of Aberdour is only a 30-minute train ride away over the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. If you are a beginner, then the half day guided introduction session is ideal. Weather permitting, it’s possible to paddle as far as the island of Inchcolm and see its ancient abbey. And if you are searching for a family activity, there are 2hr seal spotting expeditions for adults and children (starting at 6yrs old). For more information or to make a booking check out this site.
Meadows Park or Craiglockhart Tennis Centre
You don’t have to travel to Wimbledon to get on court if Andy Murray is your hero as the Meadows Tennis is just a few minutes from the city centre. There are 16 courts to choose from in the lovely leafy Meadows Park. It’s even possible to play for free at certain times of the day and you can hire equipment if needed.
You can also head a little further out of town and opt for Craiglockhart Tennis Centre, also run by Edinburgh leisure centre. If it’s not too busy you can just turn and play or to make a booking contact Craiglockhart Tennis Centre .
So there you have it, no excuse to let travelling get in the way of keeping fit and exercising! These ideas will also allow you to see a different side of Edinburgh and to join in with the locals.