When most people think of Edinburgh, they think of a small, walkable city, chock-full of historic charm. But it is also a gateway to hidden gardens, beachfront promenades, and uninhabited islands — if you know where to look.
Here, four magical escapes within 45 minutes of Edinburgh’s central district.
Jupiter Artland is a new sculpture park that not only places art within nature but moves earth to create art out of the land. Permanent and rotating sculptures and exhibits use stone, metal, statuary, and water. Upon entering, try to resist the urge to climb the Cells of Life — don’t worry, it’s allowed, but we suggest you start at the main building first (entrance £8.50, or approximately US $10.50). There, grab a map to help find your way to the sculptures scattered throughout the large grounds and tucked away in the forest. Give yourself at least a couple of hours once you arrive to wander through the woods, fields, and installations. There is a café on site, where you can rest and recharge with sandwiches, tea, and cakes.
To get there: Take the bus #27 or #X27 (£6 round-trip, or US$7.35, exact change only) from Princes Street for 35 to 45 minutes.
Water of Leith
You could spend all day exploring the Water of Leith river pathway, a 12-mile scenic walk that follows the remnants of an old railway line. But it doesn’t take more than a few minutes among the gurgling river and paddling ducks to feel as though you’ve reached eden. For a short but pleasant jaunt, start at the picturesque Dean Village and head towards the Royal Botanic Garden. Descending stairs and embankments lead the path below the street traffic and under bridges, creating a feeling that you’ve discovered a secret, subterranean garden beneath the city.
The walkway is popular among pedestrians, cyclists, and dog walkers. Come back up to street level to grab a bite at Peter’s Yard in the neighborhood of Stockbridge for the homemade cardamom bun.
To get there: Walk 10 minutes from Princes Street to Dean Village to get on the path.
If you’re looking for a walk along the waterfront, or a brisk dip in the water, Portobello Promenade should be at the top of your list. If you’re not brave enough for the often chilly water temperatures, try the indoor 19th century-styled Portobello swim centre swimming pool. They also offer a Moorish-designed Turkish bath with three heated pools of increasing temperature. For modern Scottish fare, with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, check out The Skylark, a five-minute walk from the promenade.
To get there: Take the Lothian bus #26 from Princes Street for 30 minutes to the promenade.
To get to Cramond Island, head downhill through the postcard-perfect village of Cramond, where many buildings date back to the 1700s. The uninhabited tidal island can only be reached for a few hours a day when the tide goes out and a pedestrian causeway is revealed. The tides are posted at the start of the causeway but check ahead of time to schedule your day properly. The causeway is lined with giant cement pillars, which were used in WWII to stop submarines from entering the waters.
It takes 20 minutes to cross each way, and you should wear supportive footwear, as it is damp. Bring binoculars to spot seabirds on the tidal flats. Once on the island, you’ll find wildflowers, rocky beaches, and more remnants of now-defunct World War II fortifications. From the top of the island you can see the Firth Bridge, the Fife coast, and Arthur’s Seat. Allot 45 minutes to an hour to circumnavigate the island, beach-comb for seashells, and take in the views.
To get there: Take the Lothian bus #41 from Princes Street for 35 minutes to the top of Cramond Glebe Road.