Edinburgh’s Green Spaces

Scotland’s capital has it all!… great shopping, fantastic attractions, fun watering holes, high standard of eateries, and a wide range of accommodation.  But when I come to a city with so much to offer, I often get to the point where I feel overwhelmed and develop a craving for having some greenery and open space around me… but Edinburgh’s got that too!  Here’s the lowdown on my some of them…

Prince’s Street Gardens

These gardens are a particularly popular haven for sun worshippers (on the few days of the year when the city gets any decent sunshine) and shoppers from the new town taking the weight of their feet.  They’re always exceptionally well kept and delightful to stroll around, especially in the summer months when the famous floral clock is in full bloom – this was in fact the first floral clock in the world, planted in 1903 and quickly imitated in various other locations around the globe.  I always think that the most interesting aspect of the gardens though is one which is largely either unknown or overlooked by those who use the gardens today – it was once the city’s refuse pit!… in the days before sewerage systems, Edinburgh’s residents would tip their refuse in to the street and it would then run down the hill into the Noor Loch, where Prince’s Street gardens are now located.  Perhaps this explains why the flowers and plants in the gardens always look so well cultivated!

The Meadows

This is a large expanse of greenery on Edinburgh’s southside, criss-crossed by numerous footpaths and especially popular with dog walkers.  It’s right in the heart of students-ville surrounded by many of the University’s buildings and student halls of residence, hence its not unusual to find flocks of 20-somethings hanging out here.  As it’s such a large open space, The Meadows is also often used as the starting and/or finishing place for public marches, rallies, and civic events, as well as being a popular set up location for circuses and funfairs.  During summer months of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Meadows in fact has become home to some alternative visitors in the guise of the Lady Boys of Bangkok who erect their big top here for 3 weeks of cabaret style, tongue-in-cheek entertainment – I was dragged kicking and screaming to see them a few years ago (I have a bizarre phobia when it comes to drag queens!) and was thoroughly entertained so if you’re around the city in August, they’re worth a visit! It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre to the Meadows, but this park still feels central enough to be convenient and yet maintain a haven of peace for those seeking some open space within the metropolitan sprawl.

Regent Gardens

This is one of my favourite spots in the city.  It’s really, really easy to get to, and not much of a hike to the top, offering some stunning views across the whole of town.  One of the easiest ways to get up to Regent Gardens is to climb the short steps from Waterloo Place/Regent Road which is the continuation of the east end of Princes Street.  There are a number of interesting features within the gardens including the Nelson Monument, the National Monument, and the Observatory, but the best thing about the gardens is definitely the view.  You can see right out across the River Forth to the north of Edinburgh, and there’s a great view across the new town, and Princes Street Gardens towards the castle, and also great views of Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat… speaking of which…

Holyrood Park & Arthur’s Seat

If I had to choose an absolute favourite spot in this city, it’s definitely got to be Holyrood Park.  Arthur’s Seat (the highest point within the park, and the peak of a extinct volcano) seems to hold a special place in the hearts of so many people, not least the people of Edinburgh.  It has a feeling of extreme isolation and precariousness yet, when you stand at the top and look beyond the boundaries of the park below, you can’t help noticing how you’re in fact still in the heart of the city.  Even on a not too clear day you can generally see as far as the counties surrounding the city, and it’s easy to lose track of time up there as the view is nothing short of mesmerising.  It can get pretty crowded at the top with tourists as well as locals taking advantage of the view.  There’s often a piper at the top, and this summer, there’s been an amazing piece of massive public art taking place here in the evenings, called Speed of Light (http://www.eif.co.uk/speedoflight).  This has finished now but has involved 4,500 volunteers over the course of the month, dressed in light suits, while groups of walkers ascend to the peak aided by light poles which vibrate, producing their own energy to create a series of sounds once a particular altitude is reached.  The light poles then become part of an impressive light and sound installation mounted on the summit as a backdrop to the runners below and their spectacular light show.  It was nothing short of incredible and while it seems unlikely that it will be repeated, if you hear about it happening again, get a ticket without a second thought!

The rest of Holyrood Park offers some beautiful havens of picturesque tranquility, with small lakes and ponds populated by swans, geese, and ducks kept well fed by small children on visits with their parents or a school group.  I used the park extensively this summer for it’s walking opportunities and managed to find different routes through the park each time to offer some variation and different views of the surrounding area.

If and when you visit Edinburgh, you should definitely keep a few hours free to explore Holyrood Park!

Nicolson Square

For those who know the city and this tiny patch of grass sandwiched amongst the hub-bub, you may wonder why anyone would include this in a list of green spaces as it’s easy to miss when you pass along the rather busy thoroughfare of Nicolson Street.  However, it’s offered me numerous opportunities this summer to escape the crowds and chill out or read a few chapters of my book while lying on the grass, yet still get back to where I need to be within just a few minutes.  The square is pretty popular but also quite noisy as Nicolson Street is a major route for traffic, including a number of bus routes.  There are some great places to eat surrounding the square (Elephant & Bagel; Mosque Kitchen; City Restaurant; Baguette Express; Palmyra Pizza to name just a few) which all offer take out so it’s also a good place to spend a lunch break!  It might be small but Nicolson Square seems to be a spot used more by locals, so if you have the ability to block out the noise of the crowds and the traffic, it’s worth taking advantage of.

A couple of other green spaces I haven’t taken advantage of yet!…

Royal Botanic Garden – open throughout the year free of charge (admission cost for glasshouses only) and a must for anyone green-fingered!  It’s on the north side of the city, and quite extensive so it’s worth planning for a half day visit.

St Andrew’s Square – at the east end of George Street in the New Town and another good resting spot for tired shoppers, or a good stop-off to have lunch (there’s now a small café in St Andrew’s Square).

In summary, Edinburgh isn’t short of chill out spots in the open air, where you can imagine you’re a hundred miles from anywhere, so in the midst of taking advantage of everything else this special city has to offer, don’t miss out on the opportunity to recuperate in the city’s green spaces too!