Car-free aroundEdinburghMidlothian

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Craggy castles, cobbled streets, sandy beaches, riverside walks, world-class museums and scenic train rides: could anywhere offer such a wealth of great car-free experiences as the Scottish capital? Catch the bus to medieval forts in the suburbs or cycle along disused railways; stroll down the Royal Mile or beside the Brunstane Burn to seaside Portobello.

  • County: Midlothian
  • Great for: castles | culture | good cafés and pubs | historic houses | museums | scenic bus and train |
  • Refreshments: 200+ cafes (more than any other UK town outside London) and 700+ pubs!
  • Please note: researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. Stroll down to Holyrood

    At the foot of the Royal mile is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a Versailles-inspired procession of stately, tapestry-hung rooms and historic chambers. There’s plenty to see nearby as well.

    • Don’t forget to visit the atmospheric ruined abbey in the palace grounds.
    • One of the many quirky features of the Scottish parliament building next door are the series of quotations, carved in different stones and fonts along the wall facing the Royal Mile.
    • If you’re fit and ready for adventure, climb up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that rises above majestic Salisbury Crags behind the parliament building.
    • One of the joys of being car-free is that you could climb down by a different route, but if you do end up back at the palace, you can have haggis, neeps and tatties in the café.
  1. 5. Cycle the city

    Edinburgh’s council has created a new system of “Quiet Routes”, along paths and peaceful roads, with blue signs to tell you where you’re going and how far it is, is making Edinburgh more bike-friendly. They’re redesigning Leith Walk and the Restalrig Railpath to make joined-up traffic-free surfaced routes across the city and Edinburgh already has nearly 50 miles of off-street paths.

    • For bike hire, try Leith Cycles or Pedal Forth, also in Leith, at one end of a traffic-free cycle path.
    • Pedal Forth also specialise in second hand bikes and sell Spokes maps with roads and paths marked for cyclability and itineraries across the city and beyond.
    • There’s also the Innertube map , created by Mark Sydenham of the Bike Station, which recycles donated bikes to promote cycling.
  1. 6. Ride the railway into the Borders

    The trainline to Tweedbank opened in 2015 and provides some lovely car-free possibilities.

    • Scotrail have designated this line one of their six great scenic rail journeys. From around Eskbank onwards, the landscape gets more and more beautiful: Gala Water winds under wooded slopes, sheep graze on the hills, and dramatic skies stretch overhead.
    • There’s a little “Born in the Borders” café next to Galashiels railway station, serving and selling local produce.
    • Loads of local bus routes leave from Galashiels so it’s a great jumping-off point for adventures in the Borders, visiting abbeys, castles, gardens, breweries, and Sir Walter Scott’s ancestral home.
  1. 7. Walk round Newhailes and Portobello

    A sandy beach with great cafés, a wooded path through the old water gardens of a Palladian stately home with a ruined grotto and mini waterfalls… this short circular walk (or bike ride) packs a great variety of landscapes.

    • From Brunstane (pronounced “Broonstun”), the first stop on the Waverley-Tweedbank line, a pleasant stream-side walk leads from opposite the station along the Brunstane Burn Path.
    • After about ¾ mile, turn right at the sign to stroll through the old water gardens to Newhailes.
    • This fabulous Scottish National Trust 18th-century mansion is full of golden shell motifs, baroque stuccowork, marble fireplaces and fabulous portraits. There’s a kids’ play area and a café in the old stables.
    • Return to the footpath crossroads and join the Brunstane Burn Path again to reach the main road. Turn left along the beach and promenade.
    • You can turn left up Brunstane Road to return to the station or continue to the popular beachfront Esplanade bar (known as “the Espy”). Buses run from nearby Portobello High Street back into central Edinburgh.