Things to Do in Edinburgh: a True Scottish Experience
The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a magnificent city that will charm its visitors with a rich history, an impressive architecture and unforgettable Scottish experiences. Even in the most difficult weather conditions the charm of the city will prevail.
We would recommend at least 3-4 days for a visit, as there are so many interesting places and Thing to Do in Edinburgh.
How to get there:
Edinburgh is very well connected to most of the United Kingdom, either through flights, trains or bus networks. It has also a good flight connection with other European countries. Trains from London are fast, taking about 5 hours, and if you book in advance tickets can be reasonably cheap. The airport has a good tram/bus connection to the city centre and the train station is right near the old town. So there are plenty of ways to plan your journey to Edinburgh.
Where to stay:
Good hotels in Edinburgh are in general quite pricey. If there are any events (and in general there are plenty of events happening in the city) most of them can be fully booked or/and very expensive. For us the best option was to find a cute and reasonable priced apartment through Airbnb, but there are also very nice B&B or lodge houses with good services and affordable prices. Unfortunately for us they were all fully booked due to a big concert, even if we booked with plenty of time in advance.
The center is well connected with all areas of the town and the distances are not big, so even if you don’t stay right in the center you will not have any difficulties exploring the city.
How to explore Edinburgh – our recommendation:
Edinburgh has so many lovely places to see and it would need a week probably to visit most of them.
In our 4 days we had to do a selection and we chose to see places that represent each period of the city and try experiences that show different aspects of Scotland’s characteristic charm.
Experience Old Edinburgh
To fully understand Edinburgh you have to know its history. And the best way to start is to visit the old city with its unique medieval sky scrapers and imposing castle, built on the top of an extinct volcano.
Surely the most famous landmark of Edinburgh, the castle is not going to disappoint its visitors. Its richness stands in terms of history, not decorations, and it comprises an interesting collection of museums (Honours of Scotland – Scottish Crown Jewels, National War Museum of Scotland, Royal Scots Museum and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum), a very small chapel (St Margaret’s Chapel, 12th century, the city’s oldest building – pictured below), Scottish National War Memorial and breathtaking views of the city and surroundings. Although it can be quite crowded, in general everything is well organised. The entrance ticket is £17 for an adult.
Useful tips: when visiting the Scottish Crown Jewels tower there are two entrance doors – use the one that has less people queuing. Also, if you are visiting the castle at 1 pm sharp you can watch the One o’clock Gun ceremony, when the 105 mm field gun fires to mark a tradition held since 1861, when this gun was crucial in announcing the time in the Firth of Forth.
The Royal Mile
Heading from Edinburgh Castle to the Holyrood Palace, The Royal Mile street is the most important street of Edinburgh and has also been voted as one of the pretties streets in Britain. The street is not only pretty, but also rich in history and in the points of attractions it offers to visitors: medieval buildings with high architectural importance, museums, cafes, traditional pubs, elegant restaurants, markets, secret small gardens, Gothic hotels and let’s not forget the charming medieval alleys specific to Edinburgh’s old town: the Closes. Take your time to explore these narrow medieval passages, as there is always something interesting to be discovered in almost each one of them.
On the Royal Mile there is a six storeys tall medieval building guarded by a golden hawk. This is Gladstone’s Land and it’s a museum dedicated to the medieval concept of tenancy. Originally built in 1550 the building has been further expanded and re-decorated, to match the new requirements of the coming periods. Visitors can see the first two floors and hear stories about how was the typical home in these tenement–houses from Middle Ages to newer eras. The entrance ticket for one adult is £7.
Real Mary King’s Close
Another very good example of Scottish medieval life can be experienced by visiting Real Mary King’s Close, also the only close of Edinburgh located underground. Here you can see characters wearing medieval clothes and costumes, describing you real life aspects and stories of life in the old city in the 1600s. The entrance ticket is £15 per adult.
Take a leap in time from Medieval Ages to the New Victorian City
Princess Street and Princess Street Gardens
Just at the base of the Mould of the old city you can now enjoy the beautiful Princess Street gardens. They were initially the dump place for all the waste of the old city. When the rich inhabitants of the old city decided they needed a plan to start a new and better life outside of the medieval part, a new town project had to be implemented.
And this is how the decision to build a new Victorian house complex, based on a grid architecture was taken, which also meant replacing the old waste dump with an area fitted for a new beautiful town.
Stroll around the gardens and the large Princess Street Avenue, also perfect place for shopping and imagine how the rich inhabitants enjoyed their new Victorian lifestyle.
The Georgian House
If you like the idea of experiencing how Edinburgh inhabitants were actually living in their own time, why not visit The Georgian House Museum, located on Charlotte Square 7, and see how the new Victorian houses were? The entrance ticket for one adult is £7.50.
Sir Walter’s Scott Monument
Located in the Princess Street Gardens, the monument dedicated to Sir Walter’s Scott is the largest monument in the world dedicated to a writer. You can’t miss it if you are walking on the Princess Street. You can even go on top of it for better views of the city, but we were happy to only see it from the gardens. This Victorian Gothic monument is also showing how important culture is for Edinburgh and Scotland in general.
Nelson’s Monument and Calton Hill
After a short walk on Princess Avenue towards East there are stairs that take to Nelson’s monument and the Calton Hill.
The monument has a strategic position guarding both land and water. The ball on the top of the monument once served to announce the time to the ships approaching Leith harbor. As expected, the museum inside is dedicated to Admiral Nelson, but also has interesting information about the history of the monument. What we liked most was the 360 panorama of the city, with views over every single important point. Be careful, it can be quite windy on the top. The entrance to the top is £5 and if the weather is nice to enjoy the panorama it is surely worth it.
From the Nelson’s monument you can easily reach Holyrood Castle, another not to be missed attraction of Edinburgh. The Castle is the official residence of the Queen during her visits to Scotland and it is still used for many official events.
The Castle’s rich history will take you from medieval times to the Victorian Era and further on to the modern events of the present. The castle also has a very nice park, as well as an art gallery. Don’t forget to take an audio guide, because there are many interesting explanations and stories you would not want to miss.
You can get different ticket packages, but the simple castle + park at £12.50 should be enough for getting the most important aspects of the visit.
Discover Modern Edinburgh
The Scottish Parliament
Just across the gates of Holyrood Castle there is the interesting modern building of the Scottish Parliament. It is a proof of the deep nationalism of the Scottish people, which have always stood up in their ideal to have their future in their own hands.
Arthur’s Seat hill
From Holyrood Castle and from The Scottish parliament Arthur’s Seat hill is just a pleasant walk away. This hilltop offers amazing views of the city and the surroundings. It is also a perfect reflection of how modern times have shaped the city, but the nature still managed to keep its own course. Arthur’s Seat is also now very famous due to the Trainspotting 2 movie, with important scenes of the script being shot in this unique scenery.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience
For the ones that enjoy a good drink, to fully experience Scotland a whiskey experience should definitely not be missed. And in Edinburgh this can be offered by the Scotch Whiskey Experience Museum. This modern approach of presenting the world of Scotch Whiskey is indeed very interesting as it incorporates holograms and modern technology to show the preparation process, as well as a presentation of the 5 different whiskey regions of Scotland, each with its own flavors and specifics. There is also a tasting moment included in the tour, with one or more types of whiskey depending on the chosen tour, as well as a view of the largest whiskey bottles collection in the world. Although it is not cheap (the tour prices start at £15/person for the Silver package, with only one type of whiskey during the tasting), it’s nice that at the end of the tour you also get to keep the Glencairn whiskey glass as a souvenir.
National Museum of Scotland
A very interesting attraction that offers a modern look into a very large area of sciences is the National Museum of Scotland. It is located in the old town and has free entrance. It is a perfect place to spend some time, especially if the weather is not the best. The museum holds various collections from geological presentations of Scotland, history and natural history, to technical innovations, art and design. The materials are presented in a modern manner, making the visit longer than expected because there are so many exciting things to see.
We can’t talk about modern Edinburgh without mentioning one of the most important socializing places: the Grassmarket square. Located at the foot of the Castle rock, Grassmarket square is now home for many trendy pubs and cafes and is full of life and entertainment.
Don’t miss it if you want to have a “wee” drink like the locals.
The Stand comedy pub
Another very important social place of Edinburgh is The Stand – famous for its stand up comedy shows, where many talented comedians have performed or launched their career. It is really a fun and enjoyable experience and you might be discovering also new talents above your expectations.
The Royal Yacht Britannia
Docked in the Ocean Terminal, Leith, the The Royal Yacht Britannia is now ready to show its visitors how the Royal Family has travelled across the sea in their world-wide official or leisure tours. You can even drink a tea like royals in the Royal Deck Tea Room. The ticket to visit the yacht is £15.50/adult.
The Forth Bridges
If you have extra time, another interesting aspect of modern Edinburgh that you can visit are the bridges over the Firth of Forth, connecting the coasts of Edinburgh with Fife. There are currently 3 functional bridges, with the fourth one being in construction.
The Forth Railway Bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Extra trip – day tour to the Highlands
If you have more time to spend, Edinburgh is also a great starting point for trips to the Highlands. There are plenty of agencies that offer organized tours for one day or more. The schedule is very efficiently put together so that you can see as many things possible in just one day. The information provided by the guides is very valuable and adds up to the experience.