Friday 2 October 2015

Edinburgh City Center Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.6 km (4.2 miles), terrain: two hills, gain 100 meters

Edinburgh running routes:
Edinburgh City route
Portobello Beach route

Arthur's Seat route
For more running routes, see Route List.   

Somehow, I really have a soft spot for Edinburgh. I'm not sure if most visitors share the impression: the weather is often gray, wet and cold, the stone houses can look aloof in the bad weather, Scottish food isn't exactly celebrated worldwide... But if you keep your eyes open, or have good luck with the weather, you can easily fall in love with this hilly, out-of-the-way old capital of Scotland.
View over the city from Calton Hill
Some of the great things about Edinburgh are the great views from every hilltop, the lively pubs with live music, the castle throning upon the hill right in the heart of town, and those same gray-stone houses that lend their character to the whole town. And, to top it off, Edinburgh is host to the Festival every August, one of the liveliest events worldwide, with the streets buzzing with performers, and hundreds of venues offering shows day and night for a whole month.

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time!
I happened to be in town this August, so I got swept right into the Festival whirlwind, even during my evening runs.

There are a lot of possible routes you can take through the city center, and they're all good. This one tries to take in as many sights as possible along the way. We'll start right in the busy heart of town, near the Waverley train station, at the corner of Princes Street and North Bridge.
The archives on Waterloo Place
Standing there, you're surrounded by a collection of impressive old stone buildings: the Balmoral Hotel with its clock tower, the classical facade of the Scottish Archives on Waterloo Place, with its mounted statue of Wellington. And looking eastwards past a row of further elegant buildings rises the green slope of Calton Hill, with its telescope-shaped tower.

That's exactly where we'll head first, and get the biggest hill -- and the most impressive view -- handled right at the beginning of the run.

So turn to the east and run along Waterloo Place and pass the Old Calton Burial Ground on the right, and you'll come to the green slope of Calton Hill on the left side. Turn and go up the steps into the park, where you need to then turn right and head uphill right towards that telescope-shaped tower, dedicated to Lord Nelson and his great naval victories.

When you get to the top of the hill, the old observatory will be on your left, and you can turn around and look west over the whole city.

Keep running eastwards, past the Nelson Monument and take in the views to the south and east from the hilltop, where you get a great view of the Holyroodhouse palace and Arthur's Seat, that beautiful big hill right next to the town center.
View of Holyroodhouse, the parliament and Arthur's Seat
Now head north, between the observatory and the Greek-revival-style columns of the Scottish National Monument. Once on the north slope of the hill, turn left to get back to the main, paved walk along the west side of the hill, and turn right there (north) to head downhill along Greenside Path.

You'll exit the park at Royal Terrace, next to a little church. Turn left and run downhill towards the big intersection ahead, where London Road connects into Leith Walk.

At Leith Walk, turn left to run uphill to the next big roundabout out front of the modern shopping center called the Omni Centre.

Cross the street at the roundabout and head up towards the narrow gothic church, on York Place, bringing you back into the downtown.
The RBS headquarters
After a couple of blocks, turn left on Dublin Street. You'll run past a beautiful little square on the right, St. Andrew Square, and the old headquarters mansion of the Royal Bank of Scotland on the other side, at the two-kilometer mark.

Run downhill for another 100 meters and you'll be back at Princes Street, just a block west of where you started (sorry about that, but I thought you'd like to see a bit of Edinburgh's most popular and scenic downtown street now).
At the Sir Walter Scott monument
Now, cross the street and turn right to head west towards the pointy gothic memorial to Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish novelist.

Off to the left, you'll see Castle Hill, across the valley filled by the Princes Street Gardens, full of people sitting around eating and reading during their breaks during nice weather. You can try a path up near the street or one of the parallel ones further down the slope.
Princes Street Gardens
The Princes Street Gardens is split in the middle by the classical home of the Royal Scottish Academy, where you have to round it along the Princes Street side. Now comes the west half of the park, where we'll continue for just 100 meters, and then exit the park to turn north onto Frederick Street.

After crossing George Street and then Queen Street, you'll come to a long, narrow park along the north slope of the hill. Run north, past the park and then turn left to run west along Heriot Row. This is obviously the posh part of town, where the stone houses are big and stylish.

The street ends by running into a circular square (is there such a thing?) called Moray Place. The park in the circle is for paying residents only, so just run around the perimeter and then do the same thing at the next circular square, Ainslie Place.
Posh Moray Place
Leave Ainslie to the south along Glenfilas, past Charlotte Square to the left and the imposing domed Register House on the right side.

Keep heading south until you hit Shandwick Place, with its huge, metal horsehead statues, the "Kelpies". Turn left there and you'll find yourself at the western edge of Princes Street again.
Princes Street: Edinburgh's big shopping street
Now cross the street to the western end of Princes Street Gardens, at St. John's Church.

Just east of the church, take the entrance into the park and head south, downhill, towards the castle ahead. You'll run behind a second church, St. Cuthbert and its graveyard, and then curve to the right as you run below the Castle Hill.
View up to the castle from near St. Cuthbert's
Exit the park again at King's Stables Road -- opposite a car park -- and turn left to continue along the base of the hill until the road runs into Grassmarket, a long square lined by lively pubs. Note this down as a spot to come back to in the evening!
The Grassmarket with Fringe Festival performers
Turn left to run north through Grassmarket, and then turn left at the north end of the square to curve uphill along West Bow. We're now heading up to Castle Hill.

Follow West Bow until it ends at George IV Bridge, where you turn left to continue the one block to the top of the hill. You're now at the Royal Mile, a really interesting street filled with a mixture of shops, public edifices, the cathedral, the castle and lots of little alleyways that lead to courtyards and stairways down the hillside.

The Royal Mile is also the home to the Fringe Festival, so if you head down the street during August, you'll have to navigate your way through the hundreds of performers handing out flyers for their shows. There are also a fair number of street performers everywhere you go.
Street performer on the Royal Mile
Turn right on the Royal Mile (to the right) and run downhill past St. Giles Cathedral and the town hall.

When you reach the corner of North Bridge, with the Radisson Hotel and the Royal Mile Market in a converted church, turn left and run downhill past The Scottsman newspaper and Waverley Station to reach the start of the run again.

NOTE: The corner at North Bridge and the Royal Mile is also the starting point of the Arthur's Seat run, so make sure you come back here again!

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