One of the best viewpoints over Scotland’s capital city, Calton Hill, sits high above the city centre of Edinburgh. This hugely popular visitor attraction not only has stunning views over the city centre, but also offers a unique vantage point over the Port of Leith to the north and Holyrood Park to the south.
For those visiting the capital, Calton Hill is the best spot to finish off the perfect day out in Edinburgh. With the city views on the western side of the hill, the Calton Hill sunset is simply stunning. Finish off your day in the capital properly and head up to Calton Hill for a sunset to remember.
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Calton Hill at Sunset – Edinburgh’s Best Sunset Spot
What is Calton Hill?
The beautiful Calton Hill has been one of Edinburgh’s most visited spots for over 200 years. Its city centre location made it very popular for locals and visitors to the vibrant capital city of Scotland. From the vantage points around the circumference of the hill, it is possible to see sights from the Port of Leith, Arthurs Seat, and even the astonishing difference in the design of the old and new towns of Edinburgh.
At the top of the hill, you have a collection of monuments that span the past couple of centuries. The earliest of these installations is the unfinished National Monument, inspired by the Athenian Parthenon, which was first implemented as a memorial for Scottish soldiers lost during the Napoleonic wars.
There is also the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Monument to the Scottish Parliament, and the City Observatory. Each of these monuments has its own fascinating history and reasons for existing, all of which tell a tale of the history of Scotland and Edinburgh.
How to Get to Calton Hill?
Getting to Calton Hill is a very simple task due to its central location. From Princes St in the city centre of Edinburgh, you simply need to walk East towards the hill itself. Along this road, you will pass the Old Calton Cemetery on your right, after which you will see a set of stairs leading up the hill. If you reach the Scottish Government building you have gone too far.
From the south side of the hill, there is a staircase from Regent Road (right beside where this road meets Calton Hill Road). From here it is a simple, 5-minute walk up the staircase to the bottom of the Nelson Monument. Although the top of the hill is 103m above sea level, the walk to the top is only 43m, due to the hills in the city centre of Edinburgh.
What to See at Calton Hill?
At the top of Calton Hill, you have a number of different monuments to explore and admire. These are spread out across the summit and each has its own fascinating history. The first monument you will come to when you arrive at the top of the hill is the Dugald Stewart Monument, built-in memory of the Scottish philosopher who died in 1828. It is this monument that features most in the classic photo of the view from Calton Hill.
Another beautiful monument to visit on your trip to Calton Hill is the Nelson Monument. This tall building, which is shaped like an upturned telescope, was built in 1816 to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson. Later, in 1852, a time ball was added to the top of the tower, which would drop once a day to allow the ships in the harbour to adjust their clocks correctly. This time ball continues to sound to this day at 1pm on 6 days of the week.
Another main feature of Calton Hill is the City Observatory, which was originally built in 1818. This observatory was once one of the most important buildings in Britain for astronomy and timekeeping. It features a unique shape of its roof, which had an elongated “slot” along its length that allowed the telescopes within to view the night sky and maintain the accuracy of the observatories clock. This clock was then connected to the time ball at the top of the Nelsons Monument to provide an accurate drop.
Inside the stone walls of the City Observatory is a charity-based art exhibition, known as the “Collective Gallery”, which shows a range of artwork. There is also a small cafe, called “The Lookout”, and paid toilets for those in need.
The most striking sight at the top of Calton Hill is the famous National Monument, which was once known as Scotland’s shame. This Athenian styled structure remains unfinished to this day after construction was abandoned when funds ran dry. The monument was intended as a memorial for all of the soldiers who had lost their lives in the Napoleonic wars.
Although it stands unfinished, its twelve pillars are still an attractive place for locals and tourists to hang out and enjoy the stunning Calton Hill sunset.
The entire area at the top of Calton Hill is really one giant playground, packed with sights, comfortable seating areas and beautiful monuments to admire. The view around the circumference of the hill is simply breathtaking, showcasing the docks to the north, Arthurs Seat to the south, and even the entire city centre of Edinburgh itself. Whether you choose to visit Calton Hill at sunset or not, there are loads of sights and activities to be found at the top of the hill.
When to Visit Calton Hill
As previously mentioned, the best time to visit Calton Hill is on a clear day about an hour before sunset. The views from the top of the hill are spectacular, made only better by the soft, golden light of a sunset over the old town of Edinburgh.
With regards to seasons, there are a range of perks of visiting Calton Hill for each different time of the year. During the winter months, if you manage to get lucky with a crisp winter night, you will be able to enjoy an early sunset over the city of Edinburgh, followed by a long evening in the bustling city itself. This becomes even better if you visit in December when the Edinburgh Christmas markets are in full swing.
If you visit at the end of April, you can enjoy the annual spectacle of the Beltane Fire Festival, which is a celebration inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival that marked the beginning of summer. Every year, hundreds of volunteer performers gather at Calton Hill to celebrate the yearly tradition of welcoming the warmer months. The current tradition began in 1988, and the popularity of the festival has been growing ever since.
How to Prepare for your Trip to Edinburgh
Before you set off on your way to Edinburgh, there are a number of things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. These include what to pack, where to stay and what is the best insurance for your trip to Scotland. All of this is discussed in detail below.
What to Pack for Your Trip to Edinburgh
When it comes to packing for a trip to Scotland there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your trip to the Isle of Skye, you can expect rain at some point. Due to this, the number one item on your packing list is a good waterproof jacket.
Second to that, another item to not leave home without is a good pair of warm and, if possible, waterproof boots. A lot of the best sights on Skye require a bit of walking to reach them and the conditions underfoot can become very muddy. You do not want to ruin a good pair of white trainers so pack some sturdy boots.
You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the winter months as the wind chill can be bitter.
Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around the Isle of Skye, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below.
What is the Best Travel Insurance for Scotland
I know travel insurance is the least enjoyable thing to purchase and look at when you’re planning a trip, however, you wouldn’t want to be without it in the event that something happened. Accidents can happen anywhere and the extortionate medical bills will ruin your trip if you are not covered.
To ensure you have a stress-free trip with no worries about potential medical bills, make sure you cover yourself when you travel. We can recommend using World Nomads, a backpacker-friendly and cheap insurance company that provides good coverage and support.
How to Get to Edinburgh
When you arrive in Edinburgh, you will most likely arrive at one of the two main train stations, the bus station or the airport. If you are wanting to explore the city centre sights, such as the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and the Princes Street shops, then Waverley is the best train station for you. The Edinburgh Bus station also sits just behind Princes St, so it is perfect for arriving into the city.
Haymarket Station sits slightly further from the city centre, and the airport itself even further out of the city, however, there is a very simple and reliable tram system that runs around the city. You can catch a tram from Edinburgh Airport directly into the city centre, passing through Haymarket, in just 35-minutes.
For this itinerary, any of these options will be fine for getting you into the city centre, however, most of the sights are based around the castle so Edinburgh Waverly or the bus station is the closest stations.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
There is a wide range of accommodations available in Edinburgh, so you will not be short on options. Here are our top suggestions for the best places to stay in Edinburgh for any budget.
Luxury – Sitting less than 500m from one of Edinburgh’s main stations, Edinburgh Haymarket, the Leonardo Royal hotel is a fantastic choice if you would like a bit of luxury. The spacious and comfortable rooms at this city-centre hotel are complete with a large TV, tea and coffee facilities and work away.
Mid-Range – For a more reasonably priced stay in the city of Edinburgh, without crimping on comfort, the Haymarket Hub Hotel is the best choice for you. This comfortable and central hotel is just a 15-minute walk from sights such as the Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.
Budget – For those wishing to make the most of their time out in Edinburgh and don’t plan on staying long inside the accommodation itself, the High Street Hostel is your best choice. The building that hosts this hostel dates back to 1564 and sits right on a high street just off the Royal Mile.
Calton Hill FAQs
Where is Calton Hill?
From Princes St in the city centre of Edinburgh, you simply need to walk East towards the hill itself. Along this road you will pass the Old Calton Cemetery on your right, after which you will see a set of stairs leading up the hill. If you reach the Scottish Government building you have gone too far.
How long does it take to walk up Calton Hill?
Calton Hill is easily accessed. It takes about five minutes to get to the top of the hill from a staircase at Regent Road on the South side, Royal Terrace on the North side, or you can drive up and park.
How steep is Calton Hill?
The climb to the top of Calton Hill is a total of 46m from the streets of Edinburgh. There are steps all the way to the top with hand railings and it is not a difficult walk.
So there you have it, your complete guide to Calton Hill in Edinburgh. If you are like us and love a cityscape sunset, leave us a comment down below. We love to chat about this stuff! What are your favourite spots in Edinburgh for sunset? Did you visit Calton Hill? What did you think of the view? Let us know in the comments below!
Also, remember to share this with your friends and family to get them inspired to explore Edinburgh as well. Sharing is caring and we want to show as many people as we can how beautiful Scotland is.
If you are planning a Scotland trip soon then check out our other Scotland content right here. Come and find us on social media to see where we are currently exploring. Tag us in your photos from your SUP adventure and we will share them with the rest of our community of explorers and backpackers.
- Isle of Skye – The Best Things to Do in Skye
- One Day in Edinburgh – Full Itinerary to a Day in Scotland’s Capital
- Edinburgh to Isle of Skye Itinerary – Haggis Adventures Skye High Review
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