What to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh… what a magical place that is it; set in the middle of many peaked hills, the cool blue waters of the ocean a stone skip away, a place with many castles that housed the Royalty of Past and Present, a city that is layered in history and many stories to undercover. Needless to say I kind of love Edinburgh I love discovering the history, I love winding my way through the many old lane ways and how much lush greenery skirts the edges of this city.
Edinburgh has been the Capital of Scotland since the 15th Century, home to the Government and Parliament of Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it is a centre of where many great discovers of medicine due to its coloured way of researching the human body (that would be grave robbing and murder by Burke & Hare). It has now become famous for the Military Tattoo that takes place at the Edinburgh Castle, the New Year’s Eve festivities Hogmanay, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where theatre shows from all over come to perform for a month in August, a place where magic happens from its celebration of Ancient Pagan Festivals and for those fans it is the home of where Harry Potter was written.
There is so much to discover in Edinburgh on the surface and the hidden secrets waiting to enchant you with, so lets step into the streets of Edinburgh discovering all the wonders it has to offer.
Old Town of Edinburgh
The Royal Mile
Lets start our tour with our feet placed firming on The Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the road that runs through the centre of the Old Town from the Edinburgh Castle all the way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. What I love about the Royal Mile is discovering the layers upon layers of housing, as you pan off to the side you will discover how this city was build atop of each other and what a close knit environment it has been for centuries. Along the street you will find many gems from hidden lane ways taking you in, down and around the area with the most wonderful names such as Tweeddale Court, World’s End Close and Fleshmarket Close. Along with the historical buildings that have played their part in Edinburgh’s past, far too many to name so take your pick on what to view. You will find an array of shops selling stunning silverware such as Hamilton & Young, as well as the unique jewellery of the Wyrd Shop. There are places to purchase local Gins (try the Edinburgh Gin) and Whiskeys. Tartans in every colour and clan as well as fantastic pubs to rest your feet. Make sure you soak in all that is on offer from this old street that is still so full of life, the sounds of bagpipes and my favourite being outside the Gladstone’s Land where I got to have a beautiful owl perched upon my arm.
Upon the Volcanic moat known as Castle Rock sits Edinburgh Castle which has been a castle since the 12th Century. The Castle sits atop of the Royal Mile and is seen from all corners of Edinburgh showcasing its long history. It was a Royal residence until 1633 then turned into a Military Barrack which is why it is home to the Military Tattoo every year. When inside the Castle there are many things to discover from the Royal Palace to the Great Hall, the Crown Jewels, the War Museum and Regimental Museums as well as many nooks and crannies to discover, not to mention the fantastic views.
It is best to visit the Castle in the morning to avoid the amount of people, especially during the summer season. Prebook your tickets to visit too, as it will save you time queuing as well as ensuring you get a time slot which is now the new way of seeing the castle.
Camera Obscura and the World of Illusion is a fun experience to be had in Edinburgh. It houses a camera that was developed in the Victorian Period allowing the viewer to look down at all its surroundings below showcasing its magic on what early technology was able to do. During your visit you will begin to discover a maze of rooms to visit that allow you to say ‘Ooooh’ and ‘Aaaah’, from the use of illusions using light, colour, puzzles, holograms, photography, a mirror maze and the vortex tunnel.
It is wonderfully fun and fascinating to discover all these illusions that make us go how on earth? and a place to take us back to our childhood fantasies.
Grassmarket is a old open market place underneath Edinburgh Castle, it was once place for trade for markets of wool, iron, hemp, dyers, oil and cattle to name a few with many taverns housed on the edges. Today it hasn’t changed much in the sense of architecture with these charming buildings dating back from the 17th Century. It is now a relaxing area to enjoy the comforts of cafes, pubs and wonderful little shops with the sweetest of things to purchase. It is just a nice place to stroll discovering another layer of history of Edinburgh.
Greyfriars Kirkyard is a church and graveyard that has been used since the 1500’s. It is a unique and quiet charming part of Edinburgh with its lush green surroundings and its old details tomb stones. You may recognise one of the names, JK Rowling got her inspiration for names walking around the grounds such as the most famous villain Thomas Riddle aka Voldemort.
You will also learn about another legend that in connected to the grounds, Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier Dog who guard his master John Gray (who was a watchman for the Edinburgh Police) tomb for 14 years after his death, today this is a homage statue to this loyal dog outside the grounds main gate.
National Museum of Scotland
I do love a good museum but I had no idea how blown away I was going to be by the National Museum of Scotland. It has the juxtaposition of a Victoria building that once was the Royal Museum and the modern building next door that was opened in 1998. It is a charming maze full of history and stories to learn. I can not wait to go back as I want to see what else I missed out on. There was a Wing dedicated to the Natural World filled with animals that have been there for over 100 years, a section of course to Costume, history on industrial revolution, the famous first ever cloned animal Dolly the Sheep, a Scottish Flag & Union Flag that lived through the Battle of Culloden and my absolute favourite from history the Lewis Chessmen. As you can see I have barely touched the surface but these are just some of the items that amazed me. It is the perfect chance to discover so much history of Scotland and it is free.
St Giles Cathedral
St Giles Cathedral is based in the middle of the Royal Mile. The cathedral was founded in the 12th Century for the saint of Edinburgh Saint Giles. The Cathedral has been the home of the Church of Scotland since the Scottish Reformation and know is the Cathedral used for the Order of the Thistle which the Scottish Order of Chivalry with seats being given to selected members by Queen Elizabeth II.
It is a stunning experience of Cathedral Architecture as you can see signs from its long history with extensions and restoration. Some things not to miss out on are the stunning stained glass windows and my favourite part of the whole church which blew my mind with its beauty and intricacy is the Thistle Chapel. I can not describe the amount of detail and work that has gone into creating this hidden gem. The Thistle Chapel is sometimes closed, so ask someone who works there when it is open next as it is not to be missed. Entry into the Cathedral is free.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Holyrood Palace has been the seat of the monarchy in Scotland since the 16th Century, it is nested under the foot of Arthur’ Seat at the end of the Royal Mile filled with centuries of history from the ruins of Augustinian Holyrood Abbey to rooms lived in by Mary Queen of Scots to the Georgian Quadrangle. Holyrood Palace takes you back in time to learn about the history of the monarchy in Scotland and the beauty of each ornate room. I discovered alot of interesting facts I didn’t know about the Monarchy in Scotland after my visit, I couldn’t also stop thinking what a fantastic palace to live in with stunning views of Edinburgh from each window and not to mention to top it all of the Queen’s bodyguards that serve her in Holyroodhouse are Archers, I couldn’t think of anything better.
It is best to prebook tickets online to avoid any hassle. The Queen spends 1 week a year in the Palace during Summer so ensure you find out beforehand when this is via the website as the Palace closes for functions during that week.
Arthur’s Seat is the highest peak in Edinburgh showcasing the best panoramic views. It is the second of the volcanic hills in Edinburgh with its lush rolling hills upon this already large hill with bushes of heather and gorse dotted all over with the occasional crow walking up the hill with you. It is a must do walk in Edinburgh, not only will it take you up to see the stunning views of the city below you but it is a nice chance to walk through such beautiful Scottish greenery. How lucky for the people of Edinburgh to have this perfect relaxing place in the heart of there city. It is easy enough to walk up, just don’t rush up as it can be steep in places just remember to bring water and spend some time atop this peak to enjoy the serenity and views it has to offer.
Layers upon layers of housing. Valley.
New Town of Edinburgh
On the New Town side of Edinburgh you will find the third Volcanic peak, it is dotted with monuments dedicated to Scots such as the National Monuments built for the soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Robert Burns Monument and not to forget the home to Scottish Government. For us who visit, it is a charming walk atop being able to witness a different side of Edinburgh from the New Town to being able to see all the wonderful layer of the Old Town’s history. Every year there are multiple festivals atop the hill like Samhain and Beltane which you can learn more about via my experience there.
Scott Monument towers over the New Town of Edinburgh. It is a Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to the novelist Sir Walter Scott along with homages to many other Scottish Writers and Poets with 93 depictions dotted around the architecture. It is a beautiful piece of architecture in the Princes Street Gardens, that is another layer to add to the history in Edinburgh.
Princes Street Gardens
The Princes Street Gardens have been created in a valley in Edinburgh that was once Nor Loch that was man made body of water as a form of protection for Edinburgh Castle. The Gardens begin the planting in the late 1700s to early 1800s. It is nowadays a beautiful tranquil green place to walk in Edinburgh as there are hidden gems to discover as you climb up and down the gardens and along the winding paths. Inside the garden you find discover the National Gallery of Scotland, the Ross Bandstand for those summer days with enchanting tunes and a variety of monuments dotted all over the gardens. It is the perfect place to relax and take a break away from the city life.
National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a beautiful gallery filled with portraits about and made by people of Scotland from all periods of time. The gallery is housed in the most stunning Gothic Revival Red Building which sets the perfect scene for the artwork. The highlight of the visit is the entrance hall, it is head to toe covered in such beauty from its architecture to the frescos and mural painted above the column of many notable Scottish figures from their long history. The portraits include Mary Queen of Scots, James IV of Scotland, Robert Burns and many other wonderful subjects. It is perfect place for a rainy monument in Edinburgh or to learn move about the history of Scotland.
Do you want to discover a wonderful secret in Edinburgh? Wander down to the picturesque Dean Village nested on the Water of Leith. Dean Village was once a place were there where many Mills with the workers living in the housing built there. The Mills began closing down toward the mid 20th Century and by the 1970s it began to become a tranquil oasis to live in right in the heart of Edinburgh. Today nothing beats strolling around this lush little village with stunning housing, rose bushes lining the edges of the footpath and the tranquil sounds of water. It is the perfect place to discover a hidden gem and a quiet haven of Edinburgh.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has many hotels, hostels and airbnb’s throughout the city. It is best to stay in the heart of Edinburgh which allows you to experience life in the city from dawn to dusk and the wonderful evenings as well as making it easier to explore by foot. If you travel to Edinburgh with car it is best to stay on the outskirts of the city as there is barely any where to leave your car but we found during one trip that we could leave our car at Q-Park OMNI as our hotels car park was full. For 24 hours the car park cost £21.00.
How to get to Edinburgh
Getting to Edinburgh is easy enough. You can either grab a train straight from London which takes around 5 hours and terminates in the centre of Edinburgh at Waverly Train Station.
Edinburgh is reached from the Airport near by which is an hour flight from London along with many other direct flights from across Europe. From the airport getting into the centre of Edinburgh is extremely easy; you can grab the Airlink 100 Bus that is right outside the arrival doors that cost £4.50, it runs every 10 minutes and takes around 30 minutes into the heart of the centre. The bus service is 24 hours.
You can also grab the Tram from the Airport to the Centre of Edinburgh. The tram cost £8.50 for an open return ticket, with the tram running every 7 to 10 minutes and takes around 30 minutes.
On a side note Edinburgh is a walkable centre but if you need to get further a field the bus service in Edinburgh is a fantastic service.
I hope you enjoy what Edinburgh has to offer as each time I go back up there I fall more in love with it as I get to discover more of its secrets and beauty.