Discover Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions this summer

What better way to celebrate the summer than with a picnic in the great outdoors? We’ve put together a list of Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions for picnics where you can amble in nature and dine al fresco.

It’s that time of year when we want to roam around the outdoors and explore the beauty that lies in and around Edinburgh. Hello summer!

It’s time to get your picnic hampers out and discover Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions. Picnics have been around since at least the 17th century, and the term picnic is believed to have originated from the French word pique-nique, which means to “pick” or peck at “little things”.

High society summer socialising featured picnic gatherings in the UK’s numerous royal and country parks. Preparation for these mass outdoor dining events could take days. Today, our picnic is one of the easiest ways to dine al fresco dining. After all, you only need to pack a bag with your favourite nibbles, dips and delights.

While restrictions from the global pandemic still play in our minds, it’s important to get out and about, safely. Spending time in the fresh air is proven to benefit both your physical and mental wellbeing, so what’s stopping you?

If you’re used to summers in Edinburgh contending with the tourist crowds attracted by Edinburgh’s many world-renowned festivals, then this year will be different – as you can enjoy the best outdoor attractions for yourself. While you may miss out on all the culture and entertainment, you can still embrace the city’s natural beauty spots.

Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions: Respect the natural environment

As important as social distancing, please be sure to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code so that humans and wildlife alike can benefit from our precious countryside, both today and in the future:

  • Take personal responsibility for your own actions
  • Respect people’s privacy and peace of mind
  • Help land managers and others to work safely and effectively
  • Care for your environment
  • Keep your dog under proper control

Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions: Local parks of Edinburgh

Please be mindful when you pack your picnic by limiting plastic, so that you don’t create too much waste. Use proper crockery and cutlery or biodegradable versions that you can compost at home. Always take any litter back home to be safely disposed in the bin.

If you are luck enough to belong to one of the city centre’s gated garden communities you probably already have a very nice and handy place to enjoy a picnic.

If you’re not a member, you can head to one of the many local public parks of Edinburgh. There is bound to be one close to you.

Local parks provide access for all and are all easily accessible by public transport and on foot. What’s more, they are all brimming with picnic spots.

It’s easy to avoid the crowded popular spots of Princes Street Gardens and the Edinburgh Meadows and enjoy a more exclusive experience.

Sauchton Park and Gardens

Sauchton Park and Gardens is Edinburgh’s hidden jewel with its recently revived rose garden, as well as a physic garden where you can learn all about medicinal plants. Scotland’s largest skate park is located in Sauchton Park and Gardens, and there are several children’s play areas too.

We love the topiary that would make even Edward Scissorhands envious.

Victoria Park

Victoria Park, situated in Trinity, boasts loads of green space for running around in, and two adventure playgrounds to keep children of all ages entertained. Victoria Park is located on the North Edinburgh Cycle Network, so it’s easy to reach by bike. If you want a safe spot to teach little ones to ride their first bicycle, then the large circular path here is ideal.

Leith Links

It will be of no surprise that Leith Links was originally designed to be a golf course. In fact, it was the premier place to enjoy a round of golf in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Nowadays, you can enjoy the green space to picnic in. There are children’s play areas and football pitches too. Be warned, as it is close to the many residential streets of Leith, it can get busy.

Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill

Located within the Braid Hills lies the picturesque spot and ancient woodland within the Hermitage of Braid, and Blackford Hill with its beautiful views over Edinburgh.

You can enjoy on-site attractions including the icehouse, which was once used to store food, and the old doocot situated within the walled garden of Old Hermitage House and visitor centre. Be sure to bring your binoculars for the wonderful birdlife.

For more ideas and information on how to get the local parks, visit the Edinburgh Outdoors website.

Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions: Country Parks around Edinburgh

Edinburgh is lucky to have several country parks in its environs, which, if you have access to a car, provides a wonderful day out for the entire family. Why not join a car club to help you get out and about?

Dalkeith Country Park

Dalkeith Country Park is arguably one of the best country parks closest to Edinburgh and is bound to keep the entire family entertained. Open from 7am to 7pm, the quietest times are first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon. The park surrounds Dalkeith Palace, which was where Bonnie Prince Charlie hid during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

You can dine in the Restoration Yard or bring your own picnic to the multiple picnic spots around the park.

Fort Douglas, the fun, child-friendly outdoors adventure area with its multiple mazes and zip wires, has been re-thought to ensure social distancing, although you now need to book in advance online.

Dalkeith Country Park is home to lots of wildlife – including roe deer, hares and otters – which you can see during a riverside or wilderness walk along one of the many marked routes.

Did you know? Scientists report that a typical summer barbecue for four people can release the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as an 80-mile car journey. While vegan barbecues reduce your greenhouse emissions, the humble picnic is your best bet.

Holyrood Park

Right in the heart of the city lies the sprawling dramatic hills and crags of Holyrood Park. You’ll know it best for Arthur’s Seat, the park’s highest point and where you can look across at the city skyline. Well-maintained by Historic Scotland, there are plenty of flat spots to settle down for your picnic.

Beescraig Country Park

Beescraig Country Park is a lesser known country park situated high up in the Bathgate Hills near the historic town of Linlithgow. This hidden gem invites exploration with its many miles of woodland paths and trails that you can explore by foot, bike and even horse. You’ll also find an adventure playground and an orienteering course. While the Visitor Centre and BBQ area that is usually for hire remains closed, visitors are welcome.

Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions: Seasides and beaches around Edinburgh

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside! Oh, I do like to be beside the sea!

Edinburgh has some fantastic seaside and beach spots around it. What are you waiting for?

Cramond Foreshore/ Silverknowes Promenade

Picturesque Cramond is one of the capital’s oldest villages and offers a great day out. Silverknowes Promenade is a traditional and wide walking smooth promenade that will take you all the way to Cramond village. Situated next to the sandy pebble beach and the vivacious ocean waves, a stroll or cycle along the prom can soothe you soul.

Witness incredible views over the Forth to the Fife coast and towards the conical hill of North Berwick Law with a walk along Cramond Foreshore. At low tide, you can use the foreshore’s walkway to visit Cramond Island.

The East Lothian Coast

The East Lothian Coast is a magical spot for a day out or an uplifting walk. Experience award-winning beaches and sweeping views along a stretch of 40 miles of coastline.

The former fishing village of Musselburgh and the coastal suburbs of Portobello and Prestonpans are home to several sand and shingle beaches that overlook the Firth of Forth.

There are many benches along the walking and cycling routes of the promenades here. These provide the perfect picnic pitstop and allow you to watch the native birdlife.

Within the Gullane and Aberlady area, which forms part of the John Muir Way, you can expect large sand dunes, home to much coastal wildlife.

Further east you will pass the natural coves of Yellowcraig Beach towards the seaside town of North Berwick, before ending up in Dunbar, home to John Muir Country Park. This is a fabulous green space as it is located alongside the stunning coastline.

Named after the naturalist and explorer John Muir, this coastal country park is an ideal birdwatching spot and provides sweeping views to the ocean. There’s also a children’s play area.

You can head further east to Belhaven Bay, which is situated within the park. It’s not unusual to see surfing enthusiasts enjoying the waves here, while in quieter spots you might be lucky to see seals in the water.

Even further east and you will reach the fine golden sands of the aptly named Whitesands, which is an ideal spot to paddle and play on the beach.

Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions: Hills in and around Edinburgh

Head to the hills for the ultimate escape from city life with fresh air and spectacular views!

Pentland Hills

The Pentland Hills is an ideal walking and picnic spot, which is why it is has always been a popular getaway. Steeped in history, the Pentland Hills are a habitat to lots of wildlife and birdlife, so do bring a pair of binoculars.

Given how busy the Pentland Hills are at the moment due to the pandemic restrictions, we recommend that you park away from the crowds and walk or cycle to the sites you’d like to picnic in, and try to arrive early. The Pentland Hills forbid BBQs or open fires.

There are so many paths you can take in the Pentland Hills; we recommend you look for the paths less tread.

Located closest to the city with a starting point at the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, walk Swanston Hill towards Allermuir Hill. The terrain requires some upwards climbs and some of the paths can get boggy when it rains, but the views at the top are worth it.

Alternatively, you could walk from Hillend towards Castlelaw Hill, or from Bonaly on the south-western outskirts of Edinburgh towards Clubbiedean Reservoir.

Even if you don’t want a long or arduous walk, you can enjoy the circular routes and trails.

One of the popular trails is the Harlaw Woodland Walk, as it a lovely two-mile circular walk leading from the visitor centre, and there’s a biodiversity trail that children can follow.

Alternatively, you may prefer to start at the quieter Thriepmuir Reservoir where parking is often easier. wander along this linear route towards Harlaw Visitor Centre with its lovely wildlife garden.

Alternatively, take the 2.5-mile easy circular walk from the Flotterstone Visitor Centre to the Glencorse Reservoir. There are several picnic tables and perches with lovely viewpoints en route.

Lammermuir Hills

The Lammermuir Hills are a natural boundary between East Lothian and the Borders. The Lammermuir Hills or “Lambs Moor” were, once upon a time, used for sheep rearing. You can find small castles and old forts dotted about the hills. It will take you under an hour to reach this spot by car from Edinburgh.

Healthy Picnic Food Ideas

Want to pack something a little more exciting than sandwiches for your next picnic? The Real Foods team has got you covered!

Keeping a variety of dried fruit, nuts and seeds or some healthy snackbars in your pocket will keep you and your family fuelled throughout your walk until it’s time for your sit-down picnic.

Pitted olives are an ideal nibble as are pickled vegetables that are great for your gut.

You could take some ready-to-eat tapenade or tasty dips with you to spread on bread or savoury biscuits, such as crispbreads, flatbreads, rice cakes, or oatcakes, or to serve with crudités.

Plus, a packet of quality crisps and chips – be it lentil chips, root vegetable crisps, seaweed thins, or apple crisps – always go down a treat on a picnic, as do trail mix and rice crackers.

No picnic is complete without a well-deserved glug of delicious juice, cordial or bottle of pop. Whether you’re looking for still or sparkling, Real Foods has plenty to choose from.

Scottish Food Heritage Recipes

Here are a couple of recipes kindly provided by Slow Food Edinburgh that celebrates Scottish food heritage. You can buy all the ingredients from your local Real Foods and make the recipes in advance of your picnics within Edinburgh’s best outdoor attractions.

Beremeal oatcakes

Beremeal is a creamy whole flour made from an ancient Scottish barley known as bere. Beremeal has a distinctive flavour – it’s sweet, nutty and earthy.

Bere has been a staple of the far north of Scotland since around 2000BC, and yet today it is only grown in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Today there is just one producer (Barony Mills in Orkney) that still mills bere into beremeal.

In a saucepan, mix together 125g of beremeal, 125g of medium oatmeal and 50g of pinhead oatmeal. Toast the oatmeal mix until it is lightly browned. Transfer the toasted oats into a large mixing bowl and mix in ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp brown sugar. Melt 75g of diced butter/fat into 75ml of boiling water and slowly add the liquid into the mixing bowl until the mixture is sticky and malleable. Press or roll out the mixture until flat and cut into rounds or fingers on a floured baking sheet. You may add more oats to firm up the mixture if needed. Cook on a griddle or bake in the oven at 180C for approximately 20 minutes, until browned. Turn over your beremeal oatcakes and cook/bake for a further 10 minutes. Leave to cool.

Peasemeal vegetarian pate

Peasemeal, also known as brosemeal, has been used since the Roman times and is made from milling roasted yellow field peas. Made only at Golspie Mill in Sutherland, peasemeal flour is both healthy and nutritious, and makes a delicious vegetarian pate.

Mix a cupful of Peasemeal and a knob of butter / crème fraiche / dairy free crème fraiche together. Add lemon juice, sea salt, and a pinch of paprika to taste. Serve on your beremeal oatcakes, on crispbreads, or as a dip for crudités.

Real Foods is here to help you enjoy your picnic in the best of Edinburgh’s outdoor attractions. We can arrange everything but the weather!

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