Few know the splendour of this constituent country of the U.K. and it’s capital city Edinburgh with its wonderful landscapes and dark stone. Although the buildings’ architecture come across cold and gloomy, the people are as warm and cheerful as a summer’s day.
Read below why Edinburgh should be a must see when you visit the U.K. and how you can make the most out of your visit.
- Travel to Edinburgh
- Accommodation in Edinburgh
- Things to do in Edinburgh
- Other Things to Do
- Food and Drinks Highlights
- Final Thoughts
Edinburgh pronounced /ˈɛdɪnbərə/ set on the estuary of the River Forth, is the capital city of Scotland. It has been a capital since the 15th century and has been an important economic and cultural hub in Scotland for millennia.
About half a million people call Edinburgh home with a wider metro area population of 1.3 million residents.
When the Romans first arrived here they initially found a Celtic tribe by the name of Votadini. They later formed the Gododdin Kingdom in the Early Middle Ages.
The city itself is dominated by the Castle Rock where the medieval castle has stood guard for centuries. Edinburgh has changed hands across the centuries a few times until the final unification under James VI reign in 1603 where he ascended the throne of England and hence unifying the two realms.
Travel to Edinburgh
Reaching Edinburgh is very easy. You can reach this magnificent city by all means of transportation.
As we live in the U.K. we’ve always taken the train from either Manchester or London. You should be aware, these routes are fairly expensive.
The main central station is Edinburgh Waverley however, depending on your plans and tickets, you can get off at other stations within the city.
To find the best rates for land transportation we recommend using the Trainline website as the U.K. has a fragmented privatised public transport system and can be hard to understand for tourists.
There is also an airport, Edinburgh Airport (EDI), that has plenty of international and domestic flights. If you are anyway visiting London, flying from London can be equally a good and cheaper option compared to the train or coach.
To find the best flights please read our article about how to find cheap flights.
Accommodation in Edinburgh
What you book would very much depend on your budget. Edinburgh is not a cheap city but a visit is definitely worth it. In terms of accommodation, we would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates.
On this occasion we decided to stay in a budget but very central hotel – Travelodge Edinburgh Central Waterloo Place.
Not all hotels offer breakfast so be sure to double check what’s on offer before you submit your 16 digits. Like we say in our article on how to plan a holiday, do account for the overall cost as you have to factor in breakfast.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Most of the city’s attractions are within walking distance and you shouldn’t really need public transport if you are an avid city-breaker tourist.
Alternatively, you can choose a Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour which will take you to all the main attraction in the city for an inclusive price.
You will also find Edinburgh to be very picturesque and perhaps even more worth exploring by foot so you don’t miss out on anything.
Wherever you are in the city, everyday at 1pm you will hear the “One o’clock Gun” except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
This is because ships in the Firth of Forth once set their maritime clocks by the One o’clock Gun. The firing of the gun dates back to 1861, when businessman John Hewat brought the idea to Edinburgh from Paris.
Walk along the Royal Mile
This is where it all started. The Royal Mile – the backbone of the Old Town that leads from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament – has seen centuries of Edinburgh life.
An easy walking distance from Edinburgh Waverley Train Station, the area is a must-see for every Edinburgh visitor.
Nestled in between the shops, restaurants, bars and pubs are closes, alleys and passageway leading to hidden, tranquil gardens, gorgeous views over the city and pubs and eateries just waiting to be discovered.
Filled with remnants and artefacts of the past mixed with the contemporary, this is Old Edinburgh, blending charmingly with the 21st century.
Every August the Royal Mile is filled with entertainers and comedians as the Edinburgh International Festival – the largest arts festival in the world – and Edinburgh Festival Fringe fill the city with the most exciting and diverse talent from across the planet.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is one of the most exciting historic sites in Western Europe. The views from the citadel feel very much like Prague’s castle.
Set in the heart of Scotland’s dynamic capital city, it is sure to capture your imagination. The scenery alone will take your breath away.
The castle hosts a few areas of interest which I’ll cover below:
Explore The Royal Palace
Kings and queens lived amidst the comfort and splendour of the Royal Palace. Crown Square took shape over time, with King James IV completing the quadrangle in the early 1500s. Some key moments in Scotland’s history took place within the palace walls.
The Honours of Scotland and their accompanying exhibition are located on the first floor of the Royal Palace on the East side of Crown Square.
Similarly to the Crown Jewels exhibition in the Tower of London, this is where the Scottish Crown Jewels are kept. Mary Queen of Scots was the first to be crowned using the new crown and sceptre together, in 1543.
The Great Hall
A wonder of medieval Scotland, the Great Hall was completed in 1511 for King James IV. Its wooden roof is one of the most superb in Britain.
Giant beams rest on stones carved with heads and symbols such as the thistle – a badge of Scotland.
Learn about Scotland’s Military Campaigns at the National War Museum
The large collection boasts many artefacts used by the Scottish forces over the centuries. Paintings on display include Robert Gibb’s famous The Thin Red Line. There is also a research library.
National Museums Scotland now runs the museum, which opened in 1933. Its home is a former storehouse for ordnance that was built in the 1700s and later used as a military hospital.
Understand how Prisoners were Treated at the Prisons of War
Pirates and prisoners of war were once held in the vaults below Crown Square. In the 1700s and 1800s hundreds of prisoners of war were held in these dark, cramped spaces.
Today, a recreation of the vaults as they would have looked around 1800 offers a glimpse into the grim way of life.
The first prisoners were French privateers caught in 1758, soon after the Seven Years’ War began. The exhibitions are cold and somewhat gruesome but it does leave you thinking what it must’ve been to be a prisoner of war.
St Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral has been in its current position down from Edinburgh Castle since the early 12th century, and today is the home of the Thistle Chapel – used by the Knights of the Thistle, Scotland’s chivalric order.
The cathedral is admired for its architecture, and depending on when you visit you may hear an organ or choir rehearsal.
Sample some Whisky at the Scotch Whisky Experience
Now this one is a must when visiting Scotland. As you are pretty much in whiskey country, why not learn a bit more about this fantastic drink.
When we went there we enjoyed a ‘barrel ride’ through the production process followed with an immersive 180° presentation of Scotland’s dramatic countryside featuring the five whisky producing regions.
The art of whiskey blending is revealed in the 1870s blender’s sample room, and a viewing of the spectacular vault containing the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky. You will also enjoy a guided whisky tasting walking you through how to appreciate this drink.
This very much reminded us of the visit to Carlsberg in Copenhagen, where we were surrounded by beers.
This is where we learned that in fact there isn’t a particular social etiquette when drinking whiskey. If you drink it with Coke, then do this, if you like it neat, that’s also great. It’s how you enjoy drinking it.
Admire the Scott Monument
The monument was erected during Victorian times as a memorial in honour of the writer Sir Walter Scott; there are 287 steps to the top. We didn’t climb to the top but apparently the views from there are amazing.
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Learn about Scotland at the National Museum of Scotland
If you want to learn more about Scotland and it’s lands and people we suggest you stop by this museum. It hosts an impressive set of exhibitions covering Scotland’s natural and human history.
We would advise you to prepare at least half a day for this visit as there are several floors and wings to cover. Best suited for a rainy day of which there are many in Scotland. Admission is free of charge which is another perk to visit.
Hike the Calton Hill
Here there are 4 points of interest for any tourist at the end of which you are rewarded with amazing views of the city.
We think it is a great way to walk through the park of Calton Hill and then sit at the peak gazing at the wonderful city below you. Here you might want to explore also:
Dugald Stewart Monument
Built in 1831, this hilltop monument to Dugald Stewart was modelled after Athens’ Tower of the Winds. This is a famous one and you have probably seen a lot of photos of Edinburgh featuring this monument. The views from here are stunning and you can even see Edinburgh Castle.
Overlooking the city centre, with extraordinary 360 views on all sides, it provides a quiet haven within walking distance of the bright lights, but nestled high above them amongst the crags and wildlife of Calton Hill.
The House has a rich history, with the oldest tower section dating back to 1776 and the first attempt to build an astronomical observatory for Edinburgh.
Recently it’s been transformed with a sophisticated and contemporary renovation mixing warm, natural materials and colours with a suite of new feature art works specially commissioned from local artists.
Towering monument to commemorate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, designed by architect Robert Burn. It’s a great photo opportunity on a good sunny day.
National Monument of Scotland
This is a historical hilltop memorial to soldiers and sailors from Scotland who perished in the Napoleonic Wars. A very imposing and solemn monument, definitely worth a visit.
Old Calton Cemetery
If you ever feel a bit gothic in your emotions then perhaps visiting this cemetery will be an interesting stop for you.
Although you can’t compare it to the Pyramids of Giza, this necropolis was the burial place for Edinburgh’s wealthy. This can be seen in the elaborate and quite extravagant tombstones and crypts.
If this is something you like, then you might also be interested in this Haunted Underground Vaults and Graveyard Tour.
Palace of Holyroodhouse & The Queen’s Gallery
Explore the Palace’s close associations with some of Scotland’s most well-known historic figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and learn how today it is used by The King when carrying out official engagements in Scotland.
There are tours which walk you through the palace and cover this historical jewel of the Scots. In the Queen’s Gallery, you can see art and antiquities from the Royal collection and some special exhibitions in this Victorian building.
Across the road you can also the see the Scottish Parliament. As you may know, Scotland is a constituent country of the United Kingdom with its own devolved powers. This means some policies such as healthcare, agriculture and education are taken care of by the Scottish Parliament and not the Westminster one.
You can also explore the Parliament House with guided tours. The inside décor is very wooden-like to reflect the forests of Scotland. If you are pressed for time we would suggest you skip the visit.
Other Things to Do
Food and Drinks Highlights
When it comes to food, Scottish cuisine is quite distinct and has some interesting elements worth noting.
If you’ve ever had Cream Tea, then you’d know that scones are actually Scottish. These Scottish biscuits are served with clotted cream and jam in a sandwich form.
They are very decadent and delicious. There is a debate in the U.K. whether jam goes first or the cream. Let us know in the comments what you think so we can settle this once and forever.
You might have heard of the famous haggis. Although many countries have a similar style sausage, haggis is sheep’s innards minced with onion and other spices encased in sheep’s stomach. Be warned, it can be an acquired taste.
Whiskey is another drink of choice. Although, not limited to Scotland only, only whiskey brewed in Scotland can be called Scotch.
You will also find that single malt whiskeys tend be named “Glen-something” (e.g. Glenfiddich). Glen in Gaelic (the native language) is valley.
Enjoy a Good Pub Meal at The Malt Shovel
The Malt Shovel is a good pub not far from the main train station. It hosts inside seating in its wonderful decorated interieur or outdoors if you want to watch travellers go by whilst you sip on your beer.
We opted for the fish and chips, a British classic staple which was absolutely amazing. Nice golden and crispy batter served on a bed of chips. Served with an ale of your choice.
Edinburgh is an amazing destination for anyone looking to explore further the U.K. or just even as a standalone city break destination.
Edinburgh is great for solo travellers, families and couples as it offers something for everyone.
The city is a great place to visit as it really stands out from other cities in the U.K. and with its convenient travel options there is no reason you shouldn’t make the trip.
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