Do you hear the bagpipes play as you think of Scotland or it’s capital, Edinburgh? Does your imagination come alive with the Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lay”) dances?
Fàilte gu Alba! Fàilte gu Dùn Èideann!
Welcome to Scotland! Welcome to Edinburgh!
This vibrant and lively city is steeped in culture and history, just like Glasgow. Read my friend Sanne’s blog, if you’re looking for info on what to do in 2 days in Glasgow.
From the medieval structures that designated Edinburgh a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the magnificent buildings of the New Town, this city set on the side of the Firth of Forth has a lot to offer. And there are definitely more than 10 things to do in Edinburgh, UK. Come journey with us through Dùn Èideann aka Edinborough, the beating heart of Scotland.
PS. And if you’re wondering what got me started writing this guide on Edinburgh, it’s Abby. She wanted tips on Edinburgh from a local’s perspective on what can be done in a few days, like the ones I gave her about Northern Ireland. Not just some random internet-based research guide. And since I have relatives living there and visit often, I put them together. So here they are, my short list of must-dos in Edinburgh.
Perched atop ancient volcanic rock, the Edinburgh fortress forms a magnificent portrait against the city’s skyline and is one of Edinburgh’s main points of interest.
Built over 900 years ago, Edinburgh is one of the castles in Scotland that survived many sieges while being home to noble and majestic kings and queens. The Castle now houses the Scottish National War Memorial, the Prisons of War, the Regimental Museums, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
It is also home to the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, and the Stone of Destiny in the Royal Palace near Crown Square. This stone has been used in the coronation of monarchs since 1296, and will only leave Scotland for the next coronation in Westminster Abbey. By the way, click on this link by my friend Michelle if you’re looking for a 7 day Scotland itinerary.
Witness the one o’clock gun go off before seeking solitude in Edinburgh’s oldest building, St. Margaret’s Chapel. See replicas of Mary Queen of Scots embroideries, and visit the Royal Palace where James VI was born. It’s easy to spend an entire day at Edinburgh Castle taking in the history and culture.
Timings: April to September, 9.30 am – 6.00 pm, October to March, 9.30 am- 5.00 pm
Stretching from Edinburgh Castle at the top down to Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile was formed more than 25 million years ago by retreating ice sheets that deposited debris.
By the 12th century, this street became home to churches, cathedrals, courts, pubs, and more, becoming the main street. This Edinburgh attraction is now a centre of activity for shopping, eating and visiting attractions alongside such as the Scotch Whisky Experience, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, Real Mary Kings Close, the Museum of Childhood, Our Dynamic Earth, the Museum of Edinburgh, the People’s Story Museum, St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Canongate Kirkyard.
The Museum of Childhood goes back in time with a history of toys over the ages, while the People’s story Museum showcases the lives of ordinary people and the hardships they endured.
Our Dynamic Earth uses interactive 4D and virtual reality shows to take you on a ride through different stages of the earth’s history, while the Museum of Edinburgh displays artefacts and artwork from various time periods.
Scotch Whisky Experience
Right next to Edinburgh Castle at the start of the Royal Mile is this whisky lover’s paradise. It boasts the largest collection of Scotch Whiskys, and runs different tour experiences throughout the day.
Amber, the in-house Restaurant and Whisky Bar, pairing scrumptious Scottish cuisine with drinks will make it difficult to leave.
Enjoy a meal here while discussing why the Scots spell it Whisky and the Irish spell it Whiskey. What’s in a name, after all? Like the bard said, a Scotch by any other name will taste as great. Or will it?
Timings : Tours start from 10.30 am, Restaurant opens at 10.30 am, Lunch is served post 12 pm
Book online at scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk or Call 0131 220 0441
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Founded in 1835 by Maria Short as an observatory, the outlook tower and telescopes afford panoramic views of the city.
The other five floors housing the virtual exhibits might interest the younger generation. So if you’re only here for a short visit, it’s okay to give this place a miss, or just head on straight up to the top floor. But if you’re traveling through Edinburgh with kids, you’ll spend quite some time here.
St. Giles’ Cathedral or the High Kirk of Edinburgh
Located on the Royal Mile, with a spire that reaches to the skies, the most beautiful church in Scotland, St. Giles’ Cathedral was founded in 1124. It is known as the Mother Church of Presbyterianism, and was prominent in the reformation.
The Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, the statue of John Knox, stained glass windows and medieval stonework dating back to the 12th century are just a few attractions that draw visitors here.
Timings: April – October
Monday – Friday 9 am – 7 pm, Saturday 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm
November – March
Monday – Saturday 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm
National Museum of Scotland
A short 10 minute walk off the Royal Mile is the National Museum of Scotland. From technology to science, art to design, culture to nature, the National Museum of Scotland has a diverse range of subjects under one roof.
The extreme being the likes of Daith Comes In on Level 4 in the Scotland Galleries holding the four-inch-long dolls associated with the Burke and Hare murders from 1927-1828.
Timings: Daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm except Christmas and some holidays
Real Mary Kings Close
Edinburgh’s biggest secret, underground spaces and streets, this close was once at the heart of bustling Edinburgh. 400 years later it is underground. The reason, you have to visit to find out.
Timings: April – October
Monday – Friday 10 am – 9 pm
November – March
Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm
This hill has panaromic views of the city, and is home to the National Monument of Scotland that had construction stalled from 1826 to 1829 due to lack of funds.
The Monument was built as a memorial to Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. It is flanked by Nelson’s Monument, the City Observatory, the Dugald Stewart Monument and more. The Beltane fire festival has been taking place at Calton Hill on 30th April every year since 1988.
PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE
At the end of the Royal Mile is the famous palace where Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots’ courtier was stabbed 56 times before being thrown down the stairs. It is the Queen’s official residence when in Edinburgh.
Visitors have access to view magnificent state rooms, collections of exquisite tapestries, the palace gardens, and in summer the strikingly beautiful and haunting Holyrood Abbey.
Timings: April – October
Monday – Friday 9.30 am – 6 pm
November – March
Monday – Saturday 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
MORE OF EDINBOROUGH
The largest monument to a writer in the known world, the Scott Monument is a masterpiece dedicated to this beloved writer.
At the base of the monument sits a 30 ton marble statue of Sir Walter with Haida, his precious hound. The joy, the prize, the memory is climbing to the top of the four levels and surveying the ground below.
Royal Yacht Britannia
Oh, to live like Royalty! Home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for more than 40 years, The Royal Yacht Britannia is now berthed at Ocean Terminal in Leith, Edinburgh.
Tickets are available to see the Bridge, splendorous State Apartments, Crew’s Quarters and Engine Room. After all this, you can enjoy refreshments at the Royal Deck Tea Room.
Timings: January to March, November to December 10.00 am – 3.30 pm
April to September 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
October 9.30 am – 4.00 pm
Cramond Ghost Island
Truly off the beaten path, Cramond Ghost Island is accessible via a causeway in the Firth of Forth. To prevent potential invasions, this island was fortified as a bunker during World War II, but never used. The island is dotted with World War ruins and accessible only at low tide.
Towering over Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park is the highest part of an extinct volcano that erupted millions of years ago. There are a number of routes from easy to difficult. The ascent of 279 metres takes about 2 to 2.5 hours.
On a hill above Roslin Glen, about 7.5 miles or 12 kms from the centre of Edinburgh, is Rosslyn Chapel. This chapel was founded by William Sinclair in 1446 as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, and took 40 years to build. It’s mysterious symbolism and ornate stonework has drawn many visitors and artists. It has also starred in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code of 2003.
Planning a trip to the Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh with kids? Find out more about visiting Rosslyn Chapel with kids here.
Timings: September to May, Monday to Saturday – 9.30 am – 5 pm, Sunday – 12 pm to 4.45 pm
June to August, Monday to Saturday – 9.30 am – 6 pm, Sunday – 12 pm to 4.45 pm
Kelpies in neighbouring Falkirk
Say you have ample time on your hands? Drive to Falkirk about and hour away, and see the Kelpies at The Helix, a monument to these mythological horses and the lost industries of Falkirk.
Andy Scott has created each of The Kelpies to be over 300 tonnes in weight and 30 metres tall. Built over waterways, the world’s largest equine sculptures are a marvel to look at.
Other places of interest that you could visit if time permits include:
Locked in Edinburgh – Edinburgh’s only escape game based in real rooms
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – The finest military performances.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – The world’s largest arts festival.
Canongate Kirkyard – The graveyard of the Canongate Church on the Royal Mile has some good views and notable burials. The graves to visit include Adam Smith, David Rizzio, Robert Fergusson, George Drummond and more. It also connects to the Old Calton Burial Ground where the David Hume Monument is found.
Also check in to:
Gladstone’s Land, The Georgian House, Edinburgh Zoo, Royal Botanical Garden’s, Surgeons’ Hall Museum, and more.
POPULAR FOOD IN EDINBURGH
For easily accessible eating options, the Royal Mile is infamous for the Whiski Bar, the Royal MacGregor, Kilderkin, Michael Neave Kitchen and Whisky Bar, Monteiths, Angels with Bagpipes, Wedgwood, and Amber Restaurant that we mentioned earlier at the Scotch Whiskey Exchange.
The Ox Edinburgh on Broughton Street and A Room in the West End on William street are a must do. On George Street, The Printing Press Bar and Kitchen and The George Street Bar and Grill are the perfect picks.
The Whiski room on Princes Street and the Scran and Scallie pub in Stockbridge serve eton mess and sheep’s heid broth, among other must haves.
SOME WELL KNOWN TOURS
There are quite a number of tours that you can book while in Edinburgh. Some of the famous ones are here below:
Royal Edinburgh Ticket – Entrance to Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia includes 48 hours bus travel on Edinburgh Bus tours.
Book online at royaledinburghticket.co.uk or Contact 0131 556 2244
City of the Dead Tours – Haunted Graveyard Tours, Underground City of the Dead, Double Dead Tours
Book online at cityofthedeadtours.com or Contact 0131 225 9044
Maid of the Forth – Award Winning Boat Trip under the Forth Bridges. See puffins and seals. Take and evening cruise for live music and barbecues and some amazing cruise food.
Book online on www.maidoftheforth.co.uk or call 0131 331 5000
Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour – Edinburgh is the first Unesco City of Literature. This tour focuses on past writers and starts at 7.30 pm in the Grassmarket.
Buy tickets online or in-person from the Visit Scotland Information Centre in Waverley Mall.
Enjoy your stay in Auld Reekie (Old Smoky), the smoke covered old town as Sir Walter Scott refers to Edinburgh in his novel The Abbott. Or should we say ‘Britaine’s other eye’, or ‘Edina’ or ‘yon Empress of the North’ as the famous writers of yore?
Anything else I should add in here? Any more questions? Do get in touch. I’m only a comment away.
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