Edinburgh is a city that perfectly blends the old, the new and natural. Gothically beautiful, you can expect breathtaking views of the Castle and classic Scottish buildings as you walk along cobbled streets. Divided into the ‘Old Town’ and the ‘New Town’, the city is quite compact, making it easy to navigate your way around the top tourist destinations by foot.
The Scottish capital has a rich and interesting history full of tales of highlanders, invasions, struggles over the thrown, battles with England and flourishing cultural and intellectual life during the Scottish Enlightenment.
If you want to visit a charming city, that’s less touristy than other capitals, friendly and historically and culturally rich, say hello to Edinburgh. Just be prepared for the icy cold weather. These are my top tips for a memorable visit!
1. Free Walking Tour
The walking tour starts on the Royal Mile (opposite Starbucks) and is offered daily at either 11am or 2pm. It’s a great anchoring point for working out what’s worth visiting too! Your guide will tell you snippets of Edinburgh’s history as he leads you around the main attractions in the Old Town (be prepared for a critical account of the film Braveheart). Marvel at St Giles Cathedral (technically not a Cathedral), pause outside the Writer’s Museum, stroll down through the Grassmarket and listen out for recommendations about good pubs and cafes too! Gaze out at Edinburgh Castle perched very high up the top of the Royal Mile, see the school that J.K Rowling based Hogwarts on and take a look around Greyfriars Kirk and Cemetery. You might just see the tombstones of a certain ‘Tom Riddle’ of ‘McGonagall’ that will ring a bell from the Harry Potter series.
2. Edinburgh Castle
It’s simply surreal to walk along the modern streets of Edinburgh and look out onto an old gothic castle! It provides the most stunning picturesque backdrop to the city and is worth a visit if you’ve got 16 pounds to spare too. If it’s a photo opportunity of the castle that you’re after though, you’re better off taking one from a distance in the New Town or Grassmarket. Inside, explore the old royal apartments, visit the war museum and see the Crown jewels.
3. The National Museum of Scotland
This is one museum you won’t fall asleep in! Interactivity is really promoted here and no matter how old you are, there’s something to play with or try to use that’ll keep you interested. For an absolutely stunning view of the city, head up to the Terrace Balcony and be completely mesmirised with your surroundings!
4. Ghost tour
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without getting in touch with its ‘haunted side’. The city offers numerous ghost tours of the underground vaults and cemeteries. Blackfriars Storytellers Underground City of the Dead is focused on the South Bridge Vaults and in particular ‘Damnation Alley’. The vaults were the centre of the Black-market and slum accommodation in the 19th century as the population increased. Poverty, filth and crime thrived here until they were eventually cleared out and closed later in the 19th century. In more recent times, these vaults were excavated and it was then that strange occurrences were reported to happen. Join a tour at your own risk as you listen to grizzly tales of woe and torture, discover that you might be interacted with a ghost and leave with scars, bruises or worse! The cold air and darkness definitely set the scene for a thrilling night!
5. Calton Hill
One of Edinburgh’s main hills, you are guaranteed a beautiful view of the city from the summit! Right in the city centre you can see the shopping district on Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and Holyroodhouse. Don’t be worried if you’re not much of a hiker either, it’s only a quick 5-10 minute walk up!
The bustling vibrant Grassmarket area is full of bars and pubs and a farmer’s market on weekends. I recommend grabbing a drink or more at Last Drop, famed for being the last pub that criminals had a drink in before being hung across the road way back when! The atmosphere is vibrant and fun and the roof is covered with bills from all around the world.
7. J.K Rowling’s inspiration cafe, The Elephant House
You can’t go past a visit to The Elephant House to see where the magic of the Harry Potter series all began. J.K Rowling apparently sat in this local cafe and wrote the first books in the series here looking out onto the school that was the inspiration for Hogwarts! The cafe is bustling and they serve up quality drinks and food. For guilty pleasure indulgence, try out their delicious marshmallow hot chocolate topped with whipped cream- you won’t regret it!
8. Live music at Whistle Binkies
Edinburgh has great nightlife and a thriving live music scene. Just off the Royal Mile, try out Whistle Binkies. Fun, busy and with an all round great vibe you can grab cheap drinks and sit back and relax to great music. If you missed out on getting in contact with the supernatural, this might be the place for you too as it’s built into the city’s vaults!
9. Holyrood Palace
This beautiful palace is still used by the Queen today during June and July! Notable monarchs such as James II, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria all resided in the palace at some point. Content yourself with gazing upon its granduer splendour from the free palace gardens or take a visit inside and see the state apartments, historic apartments, Mary Queen of Scot’s Chambers and the Abbey.
10. Hike up Arthur’s Seat
Finally, you cannot leave Edinburgh without going for a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Yes it is hard work on the body, but you will not regret getting in touch with nature, breathing in fresh Scottish air and looking out at such a breathtaking view. The walk up is incredibly steep (especially if you end up off the beaten track!) and be mindful of nettle bushes. You even get to see the ruins of an old medieval chapel that makes the walk up more enjoyable! For more information on visiting Edinburgh and Scotland head to: http://www.visitscotland.com/en-au/destinations-maps/edinburgh-lothians/