The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with over 3,000 shows. Playbill is currently Edinburgh during the month of August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
If you're at the Edinburgh Fringe, it means you love theatre. And more specifically, you love the energy of Edinburgh Fringe, you can't get enough. But what if you're overwhelmed, need some quiet, and a place to stretch your legs after sitting in theatre after theatre? Playbill has you covered with this handy guide that tracks a route through Edinburgh’s city center exploring the beautiful green spaces to take in the idyllic city—and sometimes forget you’re in it. And to make it even better, this green itinerary is entirely free.
Read on below to check out the five-stop itinerary which can be enjoyed at any time of day. But it lines up especially well with a mid-point stop for dinner in New Town and sunset from a point overlooking all of Edinburgh.
This iconic spot in the center of Edinburgh is one of the most idyllic spots in the capital—it's also one of the most viral views of the city in Instagram reels of Edinburgh. Despite its popularity on the travel side of social media, it's surprisingly not always packed with tourists. With only a handful of people around at 1 PM on a Tuesday during Fringe, it was easy to take in the views of the storybook-like architecture along the Water of Leith.
Water of Leith
This scenic walk follows the Water of Leith, the main river that flows through central Edinburgh. Starting in the Pentland Hills, the Water of Leith winds through the city to the ocean port of Leith (where the Playbill FringeShip will be docked next August).
Along its banks is the Water of Leith Walkway, which is a trail stretching just over 12 miles from the port through central Edinburgh to Balerno. Follow it northeast from Dean Village for a peaceful walk filled with birds and full greenery to the picturesque neighborhood of Stockbridge. Here, the wider streets of New Town are lined with beautiful Georgian townhomes, where luxury boutiques are interspersed with cafés and restaurants.
The walk in this direction will take you past St. Bernard’s Well, a beautiful Greco-Roman rotunda featuring a statue of Hygeia, the goddess of health. And that’s not a coincidence as it is the site of an ancient well which some believed to have magical healing properties. If you wish to take a detour here to see the Instagram-famous street known as Circus Lane, be sure to take the stairs up to St. Bernard’s Bridge for a quick stop at the spot along the way.
Royal Botanic Gardens
North of the Water of Leith are the Royal Botanic Gardens. You can give a donation to support the garden at the entrance before taking in the beautiful grounds. Across the 70 acres, the Botanics features the Experimental Garden, the Heath Garden filled with Scottish native plants, the Woodland Garden, the Chinese Hillside, the Rhododendron Collection, and more. Be sure to also find the John Muir Grove west of the Rock Garden.
Born in Scotland, Muir later founded the national parks system in the U.S at the end of the 19th century. He is honored with a grove of giant sequoia trees over 75 feet tall. From here, cut through the shopping streets of New Town (perhaps stop for a dinner at a number of the neighborhood’s options recommended here) to get to the next stop on the walk.
Calton Hill Burial Grounds
Heading south and east, this duo of stops are for the history buffs and those looking to explore Edinburgh’s spooky side. There is the Old Calton Burial Ground, which opened in 1718, and the New Calton Burial Ground, which was finished a century later.
The Old Calton Burial Ground features views of Calton Hill in Old Town, as well as the Governor’s House—which was the home to the commissioners who oversaw Calton Jail (once the largest jail in Scotland, the house is all that remains standing today). Buried in the first cemetery are notable Scots, including philosopher David Hume and scientist John Playfair. It is also home to Scotland’s American Civil War Memorial featuring a statute of Abraham Lincoln and the names of Scottish soldiers and the regiments they served in during the war.
After the erection of Waterloo Place, some of the old cemetery’s grounds had to be repurposed, and New Calton Burial Ground was created for the re-interment of those moved. It also expanded the space for graves. Family members of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, are buried in the Stevenson family plot there. Across the road will be the top of Calton Hill.
Offering 360-degree views of the city (spanning Arthur’s Seat to Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, New Town, and beyond) to the mountains around the city and its ports on the sea, Calton Hill is a beautiful place to enjoy sunset over the city.
At the top also lie several monuments: the National Monument, which will bring to mind the Parthenon at the acropolis of Athens; the Dugald Stewart Monument, honoring the Scottish philosopher; and the Nelson Monument built and named for the British admiral who won the Battle of Trafalgar.
Bonus: Arthur's Seat
Traversing the other green spaces on this list is already quite the day—and Arthur's Seat is something that you'll want to be fresh for. The hike to the summit of this dormant volcano overlooking all of Edinburgh should be given about two hours round-trip if you start by St. Margaret's Well to take it at friendly pace to admire the views along the way. Another great way to see Edinburgh at sunset or sunrise, climbing to the top isn't quite an in-between shows activity. Best to dedicate time for the hike, and time after for a drink and a meal to celebrate making it up the mountain.
From either Calton Hill or Arthur's Seat, with their epic views of the city, you can marvel at all the shows you've seen and plan what your next show is going to be.