Whether you want to power up hills or pound steadily along the waterfront, Edinburgh is ideal for running. Set across seven hills, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the UK, dripping in historical architecture and surrounded by nature that’s close enough to explore even on a longish run from the centre.
A simple route to start you off is the Water of Leith walkway, which runs from the Leith Docks, north of Holyrood Park, and snakes through the city to Balerno – which sits at the start of the Pentland Hills (more on those later). The path is more than 12 miles in total, passing the Scottish Gallery of Modern art and the Royal Botanic Gardens along the way, but if that sounds like a stretch, start at the docks and take the path for just its first few miles, which takes you through Bonnington, Canonmills and Stockbridge, and alongside those botanical gardens. The route hops across the river a couple of times and affords beautiful views in either direction.
For something a little tougher, head to Holyrood Park, the imposing grassy hill at the heart of historic Edinburgh. It was the site of the 2008 World Cross Country Championships and it’s easy to see why. A basic loop of the park is just over 3 miles and can be run on a paved walkway or adjacent grass, incorporating a climb of around 80 meters.
But the park is best explored off-road and the toughest routes will take you up to Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic geological feature created 350 million years ago and the highest point of the park at over 250 metres above sea level. Start from Holyrood Palace, round the Salisbury Crags on the Radical Road then climb Gutted Haddie to the summit. If you’re running all the way to the top, the climb becomes seriously steep and can be slippery so ensure you’re wearing suitable shoes, especially if it’s windy, but the views of both lush countryside and the historic city are well worth the lung-busting climb. Descend by Long Row passing the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel and St Margaret’s Loch. Note: Holyrood Park is not lit at night so you’ll need a head torch if running after dark.
But for the truly intrepid trail runner, Pentland Hills remain Edinburgh’s major draw. This range of picturesque undulations cascade out of the south west of the city, offering hundreds of miles of trails spread over 35 square miles of rolling landscape. Some of the peaks climb well above 1,800ft (550m), offering views across West Lothian to the Scottish Borders and South Lanarkshire.
As the Pentlands sit on the very edge of Edinburgh, it’s best to take a car or bus to the start of the park and then head off on a loop. For those who want to explore the range in a group, there’s now an annual half marathon in the Pentland Hills that takes in seven reservoirs. It happens every December, this year on December 4. The route is designed to be challenging, starting at Threipmuir reservoir on the south of Balerno, and looping past Loganlea, Glencorse, Bonaly, Torduff, Clubbiedean and Harlaw reservoirs before returning to the starting point.
If you can’t make that December date, the Pentlands remains a paradise for solo trail runners, but ensure you bring the right kit. Many runners recommend spiked shoes because of the terrain and, despite being only a few mils from Edinburgh city centre, the weather here can change very quickly, getting wet and windy fast, so a hat and gloves are recommended, especially if you’re running in winter.