Situated on the southern bank of the Firth of Forth and straddling seven hills and a seven-million-year-old volcano, Edinburgh is a fun city to explore at any time of the year. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and has its magnificent castle as its backdrop. There is a distinct medieval part that contrasts with the elegant Georgian buildings of the city’s newer quarter and its dark stone buildings and brooding skies were an inspiration for both Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter’s world of wizardry.
Edinburgh is known worldwide for its Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo which turn August into a, particularly colorful month for the city! A real bonus for visitors to Edinburgh is that many of the places to visit are within walking distance of each other and with such well-known streets as The Royal Mile, it is the perfect place to wander. So, without loosing our time let’s explore the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh. Enjoy!
1. Walk the Royal Mile
Royal Mile is one of the best-known streets in the world and today it leads from Edinburgh Palace to Holyrood House. Interestingly, the street is at 42 meters above sea level at the Palace and follows the route where the ice receded 326 million years ago. The elevation at the other end of the Royal Mile is 108 meters – and to everyone’s amusement, a Scottish and English mile are different lengths! When the street was first created it linked the burgh of Edinburgh with Canongate.
Royal Mile is full of character with North Bridge and South Bridge and a myriad of small cobbled streets with narrow staircases leading off. Royal Mile is home to both the old and new Parliament buildings, the law courts and the 14th-century cathedral of St Giles’. There is an eclectic assortment of shops strung along Royal Mile and some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. During the Edinburgh Fringe, there are numerous buskers to enjoy too.
2. Enjoy Edinburgh Castle
Home to the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny which is a weathered stone on which Scottish kings and queens sat during their coronation, Edinburgh Castle is situated at the upper end of the Royal Mile. The castle sits on Castle Rock which is an extinct volcano. The castle is approached from the east by Royal Mile and in front of it is a large open square known as ‘The Esplanade’ which is the setting for the famous annual Military Tattoo.
The castle was first built in the 12th century but much of it dates from the 16th century.
Amongst the castle’s treasures is the tiny chapel of St Margaret which is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh as it dates from the 12th century. There is an on-site museum that traces 400 years of Scottish military history and includes an impressive display of highland swords. It is possible to see the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, James VI (he united both crowns when he became James I of England) in 1566.
The Mons May is a 15th-century siege gun that is on display and the ‘One o’clock’ gun is still fired from the ramparts every day at that time.
3. Feel like the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Situated at the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of the British Monarch and is regularly used by HM The Queen for State ceremonies and entertaining. The Palace tells the story of Scottish history and because it is possible to make an audio tour in a variety of languages, the country’s colorful history is really brought alive.
There are 14 magnificent state apartments to see – several of them linked with Mary Queen of Scots and it is well worth making time to explore the beautiful palace gardens too. There are sometimes special exhibitions at the Palace and on 14 June – 6 November 2019, the wedding clothes worn by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at their wedding will be on display.
4. Climb Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is the second extinct volcano in Edinburgh and is visible from most parts of the city. Situated in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is quite easy to climb (less than 300 meters of steady incline) and is well worth the effort as the views from the top are really good. It is particularly popular on May Day (1 May) as local legend tells that if a woman climbs to the top early in the morning and bathes her face in dew, she will be blessed with eternal beauty – a fun thing to do any morning!
5. Have fun at the Camera Obscura & the World of Illusions
This attraction opened in 1835 in a townhouse in the city, making it the oldest tourist attraction in the city. The Camera Obscura is now situated on the Royal Mile close to Edinburgh Castle and has five floors of fun. The Camera Obscura is situated at the top of the building in a large dome and it is an optical illusion which offers visitors a virtual panoramic view of the city which is reflected on a large table. Over the years extra interesting displays have been added to the exhibition and these include the interactive Optical World, a light corridor, world of illusion, mirror maze and a display of holograms. An added bonus is the view of the city from the rooftop turret!
6. Explore the Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is the tallest monument in the world that has been dedicated to a writer and Sir Walter Scott came from Edinburgh and on his death in 1832, his friends and local dignitaries wanted to build a monument to commemorate his work. The monument is situated in Princes Street Gardens and stands 200 feet high. To climb to the top there is a narrow winding spiral staircase with 287 steps! It is definitely worth the effort, especially as there are some lovely stained glass windows to admire on the way up! At the foot of the monument, there is a statue of Sir Walter Scott carved in Italian marble and there are 64 smaller statues portraying characters from his books and life in the city.
7. Learn about Scotland’s favorite tipple
Learn all you needed to know about the perfect wee dram at the Scottish Whisky Experience (no final ‘e’ in whisky when you are speaking about the national drink of the Scots!) You can learn how a field of barley ends up as a glass of rich golden whiskey and how the different regional whiskeys each have their own distinctive aromas. There is the chance to visit the vault with the world’s largest collection of whiskeys and to enjoy a wee dram yourself – with expert tuition!
8. Talk to the animals at Edinburgh Zoo
If you feel like ‘doing a Dr. Doolittle’ and talking to the animals, hop on a bus and head for Edinburgh Zoo which is located just outside the city. This zoo is spacious and in a parkland setting and has more than one thousand animals to get up close and personal with including beautiful flamingos and all types of monkeys. At lunchtime, you can enjoy the penguin parade! The star attractions are the gorgeous pandas – the only ones in the UK. As far as admiring the animals is concerned, there is the fantastic opportunity of hearing presentations by their keepers which give an interesting insight into the different species.
9. Be amazed by Our Dynamic Earth
This amazing exhibition can be found at Holyrood and includes all types of interesting exhibits that tell the story of the creation of our planet and take us on a travel through time – past, present, and future. This includes a fascinating virtual tour of the stratosphere, the ozone, and biosphere. There are drop-in activities for all the family every day and regular ‘Dark side of the Moon’ evenings. Inspired by the Pink Floyd hit, these events feature explosive surround sound.
10. Have you discovered the REAL St Mary’s Close?
If you fancy something really different and a little spooky, why not discover the real St Mary’s Close? There is an entrance just off the Royal Mile to this amazing network of 17th-century streets that lie under the Royal Mile. As you can imagine there are plenty of colorful stories to learn as well as some pretty scary ones too!
These may be the Top Ten Fun Ideas to enjoy in Edinburgh, but there are many more including the very innovatively styled Parliament buildings at the end of Royal Mile, Holyrood and the opportunity to sample some traditional ‘Haggis & Nips’ and a slice or two of shortbread.
Updated: November 16, 2018