Castles, ghosts, Scotch whisky and bagpipes provide Edinburgh with its Celtic charm. Here are 10 Edinburgh things to do.
Scotland’s top visitor attraction majestically overlooks the city from its perch on an extinct volcano. Aside from sweeping views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, including the Firth of Forth and the estuary of the Forth River, there’s a lot to see within the castle itself.
Head to the Crown Room where the Honours of Scotland exhibition displays Scotland’s crown jewels. The crown, sceptre and sword of state are the oldest royal regalia in the United Kingdom. There’s the Stone of Destiny – the coronation seat of ancient Scottish kings – which was captured and taken to England by Edward I. After 700 years, it was returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1996.
Other places of interest within the castle are the Great Hall, St Margaret’s Chapel and the Royal Apartments where James VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots was born.
The One O’clock Gun is fired every afternoon (except Sundays), upholding a tradition from the days when it was a time signal for ships in the port of Leith. Besides the Scottish National War Memorial, which commemorates soldiers that gave their lives to defend Scotland, there are two other military museums in the castle.
Calton Hill, which is an easy uphill walk from Waterloo Place, offers panoramic views of Edinburgh. On top of the hill is the National Monument, which is an unfinished replica of the Athens Parthenon built in memory to those who gave their lives in the Napoleonic Wars.
There are two observatories – the Old Observatory and the City Observatory; the latter is open to the public for exhibitions and viewings of the night sky.
Climb 143 steps along a narrow winding staircase to the top of Nelson’s Monument. The monument, which was built in 1805 to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson’s naval victory in Trafalgar, has a stunning 360-degree view from the top of the tower. It’s well worth the climb.
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a military extravaganza second to none. While Scottish regimental bands feature prominently, it’s not all bagpipes and drums. Each year, there’s a programme of international performances by groups from Chile, Uganda, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and around the world.
Although the show is held live each August, it’s also broadcast around the world on New Year’s Day each year.
Wander along the cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile and even if you’re not a big fan of Scottish paraphernalia, you’ll be tempted to fill your shopping bag with souvenirs, kilts, bagpipes and tartan scarves. Head to the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and join a tour that will take you on a journey through Scotland’s whisky producing regions.
The Royal Mile is the traditional route from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the home of the British royal family when they visit Edinburgh. Mary, Queen of Scots, lived at Holyroodhouse between 1561 and 1567. The gaps between the tall buildings are known as closes and have intriguing names like Old Stamp Office Close and Trunk’s Close.
Stay at the Balmoral Hotel which is located nearby on Princes Street (tel: +44 131 556 2414).
It’s no surprise that the National Gallery of Scotland has the largest collection of Scottish paintings in the world. The gallery proudly displays works from the nation’s major artists such as Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie and McTaggart.
Two key works on display are Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch and Ramsay’s portrait of his second wife, Margaret Lindsay. Besides Scottish art, the National Gallery also has Scotland’s best collection of European paintings and sculpture which span from the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism periods. There are masterpieces by Jacopo Bassano, Van Dyck and Tiepolo.
The contemporary award-winning design of the Scottish Parliament stands out like a beacon against Edinburgh’s historic skyline. Although the building won eight international architecture awards since its completion in 2004, the jury is still out about this highly controversial project.
The design by Spanish architect Enric Miralles is a work of art to some yet an eyesore to others. Guided tours include a visit to the Debating Chamber, Committee Rooms and historic Queensberry House.
7-Hop on hop off bus
There’s no better way to get your bearings than to tour the city on one of the four different hop-on hop-off bus tours.
The green Edinburgh Tour has the most knowledgeable guides who provide live commentary in delightfully broad Scottish accents, complete with hilarious jokes. The red City Sightseeing bus has multilingual commentary while MacTours offers travel around Edinburgh in a vintage bus. The Majestic tour heads to the historic port of Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is berthed. You can purchase a 24-hour ticket that is valid for all buses from the kiosk at Waverley Bridge, where all the tours commence.
8-Royal Yacht Britannia
Between 1953 and 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia carried the Queen and the royal family around the world on a total of 968 voyages.
The historic ship played host to some of the world’s most famous people including Sir Winston Churchill, Boris Yeltsin, Rajiv Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Wander through the yacht on a self-guided tour of the bridge, the yacht’s five decks, crew’s quarters, engine room and the royal quarters which include formal state rooms as well as apartments. Most of the items on display are original pieces that are on loan from the Royal Collection.
With its medieval buildings and spooky alleyways, ghost tours in Edinburgh have become part of the city’s experience. Mary King’s Close is believed to be haunted and the tour presents a dramatic view of life in 17th century Edinburgh with a hint of the supernatural. Blackhart Storytellers’ City of the Dead Tour provides an encounter with the Bloody MacKenzie poltergeist that lurks at the Black Mausoleum tomb in Greyfriars Cemetery and haunts the Convenanters Prison.
10-Da Vinci Code tour
Since Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code hit the best-sellers list, Da Vinci Code tours have been all the rage in Edinburgh. Featured in the novel is the 15th century Rosslyn Chapel which is located about 12 kilometres from Edinburgh. The novel suggests that hidden at Rosslyn Chapel are religious relics from the time of Christ, which are protected by a society similar to the Knights Templar.