You know how sometimes you arrive in a new place and you immediately fall in love with it? That was Edinburgh for me. There was something so charming about the city that I was immediately enamoured. I went there with very little knowledge about the city, and I left wishing I could’ve spent more time there. 3 days was hardly enough!
If you’re strapped on time, here are my Top 5 things to do in Edinburgh:
1) Do a walking tour
I love walking tours; I think they’re a great way to see the highlights of a city while learning more about its history and culture. The stories that the tour guides tell give you the context to better appreciate what you’re seeing, and a better sense of what the city is a bout. You also find out which sights particularly interest you and that you can devote more time to, and get some great recommendations from the guide for things a bit off-the-beaten-track.
After taking a few of their free walking tours, I’m a big fan of the Sandemans tours. I find their tours very well structured, with great historical information and guides who are passionate about the city they are living in.
I truly enjoyed their Edinburgh tour. My guide, Colin, was a lovely Scottish guy with a great sense of humour and he told great stories. As a Potterhead, I especially enjoyed the Harry Potter trivia!
2) Edinburgh Castle
A completely obvious pick, but Edinburgh Castle is definitely a must-see.
If you love historical details, I would highly recommend the audio guide which I found very informative. They also have a free guided tour by their staff, which I also recommend. The meeting point is just after the audio guide rental point, and you can check when the next tour will be held. I believe the tours run at least every hour, if not every half an hour.
I easily spent half a day there. There’s so much to see, and you do get your money’s worth. There’s the Royal Palace, home to the royal family until 1603. Then you have to check out the Stone of Destiny and Crown Jewels. Take in the view from the battlements and visit St Margaret’s Chapel which isthe oldest building in Edinburgh, dating back to 1130 (and when I was there, there was a wedding!). If you’re into military history, there’s the National War Museum, Regimental Museums, prisons, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
3) The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is arguably the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, with Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyrood House bookending this stretch of historical buildings.
For me, it was endlessly interesting just walking down the street and taking in the old buildings, the little alleyways, the shops… just exploring and getting lost. I feel like you can walk down this street many many times, and find something new and interesting each time. It’s just so charming and I love it.
– St Giles Cathedral (pictured above)
– The Writers’ Museum, a cozy little museum honouring three great Scottish writers, Burns, Scott and Stevenson. Admission is free, and if you’re into literature, it’s an interesting way to spend an hour or two.
– The Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, a pub that the real Mr Hyde/Dr Jekyll, William Brodie, apparently used to frequent
– The World’s End pub
– Canongate Tolbooth, which used to the council room, courthouse and prison for Canongate. You can’t miss seeing this clock!
For a full list of all the cool things along the Royal Mile, visit the Royal Mile website
4) Palace of Holyrood House
The Palace of Holyrood House dates back to the beginning of the 16th century, and is the current residence of the royal family when they visit Edinburgh. When they are not in residence, the various reception rooms are open to visitors and you get a taste of the royal life. Some of the rich tapestries, paneling, and antiques from the 1700s are still in place. It’s not as ornate as some other royal palaces in Europe, but it does have its own brand of Scottish charm.
The northwest tower is the oldest of the surviving structure, and here you can learn more about royal life during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. You can also visit theremains of the Abbey (pictured above) which was built in 1128. Not much has survived, but it’s enough for you to imagine how it must’ve been.
5) Calton Hill
For a spectacular view of the city, head up Calton Hill (the pic right at the top of this post shows the view!). Rising 106m above sea level, it’s home to a host of monuments. Among them are the National Monument, an unfinished colonnade meant to honour Scottish solders killed during the Napoleonic wars; and the Nelson Monument that contains relics from the hero of Trafalgar.
6) Arthur’s Seat
If you’re fit or feeling ambitious, the other place to get a 360-view of Edinburgh is Arthur’s Seat. Unfortunately, it’s one of the things that I didn’t manage to do so the next time I’m in Edinburgh, I’m definitely doing this!
Located in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is the park’s highest point at 251m and lies on a dormant volcano. Though it can be climbed from almost any direction, the easiest and simplest ascent is from the east, where a grassy slope rises above Dunsapie Loch.
7) Princes Street Gardens
I love a good green oasis in the middle of a city, so it’s no surprise that I loved Princes Street Gardens.
Fun fact: in the past, it used to be heavily polluted by sewage (i.e. where all the icky stuff from the Old Town drained down). Around the 19th century, the area was cleaned up and filled in and turned into gardens.
It’s lovely place to rest your feet after some shopping on Princes Street, or to just admire Edinburgh Castle. And while you’re there, don’t forget to take in the Scott Monument.
So those are my top 5 things to do in Edinburgh! I realise that my list is very Old Town-heavy… but what can I say? It’s my favourite part of Edinburgh. There’s still so many other things to do in the city: exploring New Town, Leith, the various museums. I’ll save that for the next time I’m there!
What’s your favourite spot in Edinburgh?