Edinburgh’s has a unique position close to the sea, being built on and surrounded by seven hills and with an abundance of urban parks, most notably Princess Street Gardens which sit alongside one of Europe’s busiest shopping streets. You don’t have to go far to experience wildlife- squirrels, birds and sea life.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Just beyond the New Town beside Inverleith park, the Botanic Gardens are really worth a visit. Visitors can wander the 70 acres of exotic, beautiful and rare plants within a superb landscape setting. The network of pathways lead you through the famous Rock, Chinese and Woodland Gardens. Edinburgh botanical gardens are particularly renowned for their Rhododendron collections, which provide a dazzling display of colour from April to August. Within the gardens is Inverleith House a Georgian mansion that now hosts exhibitions throughout the year.
The café terrace gives a fantastic view south over the city with Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline. The café is licensed and a perfect spot to relax and write those postcards!
The glasshouses are home to rare orchid and palm collections with ponds home to the enormous giant Amazonian waterlilies. The palm house is the tallest in Britain and the guided tour is very informative. Children will love the Jungle atmosphere.
There is an excellent shop selling gifts, crafts, toys and books. Adjacent to the shop is a small garden centre selling specialist plants and garden ware.
Admission to the gardens is free tel:0131-248 2983 for details.
The gardens are open from 10am –6pm in summer with earlier closing times in autumn and winter.
Three miles wet of the city centre on the A8 towards Glasgow the zoo is a must for all lovers of the natural world and a great value day out. Opened in 1913 it is now one of Europe’s leading zoos for conservation and education. The zoo prides itself on its commitment to educate visitors about threatened species and habitat. Covering over 80 acres of hillside it is home to more than 1,000 animals. At some points the pathways are steep so the zoo provides a free hilltop safari vehicle service for those struggling with the slopes. The zoo produces a daily `what’s-on` sheet giving details of feeding times, keeper talks and live animal presentations. A must for all visitors is the unmissable Penguin Parade held at 2.15pm everyday.
There are various cafes and restaurants on site providing refreshments for all budgets. In the foyer is a gift shop selling a huge range of gifts, books, toys and souvenirs (zoo admission fee is not required to enter shop).
The zoo has a large car park and there are regular buses from the city centre.
Open everyday of the year including Christmas Day!
April – September 9-6pm, October – March 9-5pm, November- February 9-4.30pm
Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World
For all those who love all things creeping and crawling! This is a real tropical jungle paradise. Exotic butterflies fill the air while iguanas, quail and hummingbirds roam the jungle flora. Twice daily are `Meet the Beasties` handling sessions when the brave can handle tarantulas, stick insects and scorpions. Butterfly and Insect World is open all year. www.edinburgh-butterfly-world.co.uk
Water Of Leith
If you need some time out from the city hustle and bustle this river and its walkway provide a real tranquil haven within the city. With its source in the Pentland Hills the river snakes through the city to the Firth of Forth at Leith. Over recent years the pathways have been lovingly restored by the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and now fish and wildlife have returned. The trust has opened a visitor centre beside the river at Slateford where exhibitions not only trace the rivers past industrial role they illustrate is natural history .As you walk along the pathway the dams, weirs and lades give you a real sense of how the rivers power was once harnessed. The visitor centre is open April-May daily 10-4pm, October – March (Wednesday-Sunday) 10-4pm.
Firth of Forth
South Queensferry which sits in the shadow of the world famous Forth Road and Rail Bridges is steeped in history and made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson in his classic story Kidnapped. From the Hawes Pier visitors can take a boat trip to Inchcolm Island, the water can be choppy and please wrap up warm! These cruises offer the chance to see seals, dolphins as well as puffins, cormorants and fulmars.
The boat sails up to three times daily in summer, April-May and weekends in October. Maid of the Forth – 0131 331 4857 for details.