As the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh has a lot to live up to: and with grand Georgian architecture, superb galleries and museums, medieval heritage, the only place in the UK to see giant pandas, Gothic churches, a wealth of cultural festivals, the very first UNESCO City of Literature and of course that majestic castle – Edinburgh more than delivers!
Soak up the festivals in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the only place to be during the summer, when the city really comes alive with a packed events and festivals scene. Of course there is the hugely funny Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the hugely traditional Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place throughout most of august. These two long established festivals are held simultaneously. For 66 years the festival Fringe has brought rib-splitting comedy to the masses and the Military Tattoo showcases a series of military band and drum performances, all executed with pinpoint accuracy. In addition, this summer Edinburgh also hosts the Jazz and Blues Festival, Art Festival, International Festival and the annual Book Festival. Phew!
Explore the historic Old Town district of Edinburgh
Edinburgh has reigned as the capital of Scotland since the 15th century and the Old Town is dominated by the medieval fortress. Together with the neoclassical New Town area, Edinburgh has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. The medieval Old Town runs along the along the sixteenth century Royal Mile in the heart of the city. Many of the city’s key sights are along the Castle to Holyrood Palace route, aka the Royal Mile.
Start your journey at the architectural gem that stands guard majestically over the city: Edinburgh Castle. Sitting atop volcanic rock, the castle has dominated the city since around the 12th century. Visitors can get up close to the exhibits which include the Scottish crown jewels, Prisons of War exhibition and the fascinating regimental museums. Don’t miss the one o’clock gun, the opulent Great Hall and the Stone of Destiny.
Don’t miss the exquisite Holyrood Palace on Canongate which is the official residence of the Queen. Opened in 1854, visitors can browse the Queen’s Gallery which holds the Royal Collection Trust. This year’s exhibits include Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man and The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson. This gallery sits alongside the Queen’s two other royal galleries at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Also high up on your must-see list should be the St Giles' Cathedral on the High Street, which is dedicated to the patron saint of Edinburgh. Skirt by Greyfriars Kirkyard which is the graveyard made famous by the tale of Greyfriars Bobby, who stayed loyally by his master graveside for 14 years. And learn more about the Scottish heritage at the Royal Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street.
Discover the Georgian New Town area
The late 18th century New Town district boasts many Georgian gems in what is now considered the commercial center, and is certainly where you’ll find the mainstay of shops, restaurants and bars.
Climb the 200 feet tall Scott Monument which is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, for spectacular views over Edinburgh ad the surrounding countryside. Browse the exhibits on display at the Scottish National Gallery, located on The Mound, which changes its displays seasonally. It’s worth also mentioning that the National Portrait Gallery is five minutes’ walk away on Queen Street and the Gallery of Modern Art (which forms the trio of National museums) is on Belford Road. Don’t miss The Georgian House experience on Charlotte Square which is faithfully presented in the traditional style of 1796.
Walk the Edinburgh and Lothian landscapes
There are a multitude of superb walking trails just a few miles from Edinburgh’s city center. Lace up your walking boots and prepare to feel the brisk Scottish air on your face. The most legendary route of which has to be up to Arthur’s Seat, which is an extinct volcano that rises 823 feet. The route is a little rocky, windy and icy (in the winter) but affords views over the city, the Moorfoot Hills and Ben Lomond. Walk the Pentland Hills Regional Park which has the highest hills in the Lothians at 1,700 feet tall. This is a good warm-up prior to tackling the Scottish Highlands. Try the North Berwick Law walk which skirts the coastal paths and where you can feel the salty tang of the sea on your face. The visit Scotland website has a great list of routes to try.
Wander the Royal Botanic Garden
Head about 2km north of the city center into the new Stockbridge and Canonmills district and you’ll find the charming Royal Botanic Gardens. Covering 70 acres, there is a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers on display from around the world. Don’t miss the superb glasshouse and bring your own picnic along to enjoy in the grounds. Founded in the 17th century, the gardens were established to both educate and study plant science. There is the Scottish Heath Garden which recreates the Highlands landscapes. The Rock Garden contains over 5,000 intricate alpine plants. And the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden contains many traditional plants such as heritage roses. Entry is free, except to the glasshouses.
Scare yourself on a ghost tour
It’s no great surprise that a city as old as Edinburgh holds a lots of eerie secrets within its graveyards, vaults and basements. And now you can scare the bejesus out of yourself by acquainting yourself with the local ghosts and ghouls. Local ghost hunting tours also run daytime trips for all the family.
Shop, shop, shop
Princes Street is the main shopping district for high-street and well-known British stores, which could prove to be one of the most expensive things to do in Edinburgh. The oldest department store in the world, Jenners, is also located on Princes Street, although it is now part of the House of Fraser chain. From about now onwards, the Hamleys toyshop branch in the basement comes to life with its colourful Christmas section. There are two shopping malls for when the weather turned inclement at the St James Centre and Princes Mall. George Street has more boutiques and niche stores and the West End Village has some quirky little independent shops.