Europe

United Kingdom: Mynn’s Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

I once lived in Edinburgh when I was a toddler. Dad was studying and working in the city — and our little family stayed in the city for almost three years. Of course, being so young then, I do not remember anything of my time in Scotland. So after more than 30 years, it was nice to finally return (especially for my parents) and to explore a place that we once called home.

Edinburgh

We visited back in the summer of 2017. The post is a little late — but since Edinburgh is a significant place in our lives, I thought I’d need to write about our return to the city as a bigger family (with my brother bringing along his new wife too). Being the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the United Kingdom’s second largest financial centre and the country’s seventh most populous city. And with only three days to explore this historically rich city (with roots before the 7th century); I thought I’d list down the 10 favorite things I did during my visit, which are fun things I think shouldn’t be missed on a visit to Edinburgh.

 

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Walking up to the entrance of the imposing Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle

Exploring the castle grounds, and its really really old buildings.

Edinburgh Castle

Interior of the castle, and a coat of arms on top of the fireplace.

Edinburgh Castle

There is also a prison in the Edinburgh Castle and it used to look like this.

Edinburgh Castle

View from the higher levels of the castle grounds and the city of Edinburgh in the distance.

Edinburgh Castle

A little souvenir that shows the whole Edinburgh Castle.

The Edinburgh Castle is the most visited attraction in Scotland. Dating as far back as the 12th century, the castle overlooks over the city (and can be seen from everywhere too) as it stands on the top of an extinct volcano, also known as the Castle Rock. Though most of the remaining buildings of Edinburgh Castle dates from the 16th century — the castle has so many historical significance, and is believed to probably be the most attacked place in the world! We spent about 3 hours exploring the castle grounds, from its many museums and prison exhibitions, to the defense towers, batteries and view points. Tickets cost £19.50 (US$24) when bought at the entrance, but with a £2 discount online.

 

2. The Royal Mile

Royal Mile

Old town Edinburgh’s most famous thoroughfare — the Royal Mile.

Royal Mile

Walking through old cobblestone streets.

Royal Mile

The medieval buildings of the Royal Mile now houses shops, restaurants and cafes.

Royal Mile

One of the streets leading into the Royal Mile.

Royal Mile

A glimpse into the Scottish past.

Royal Mile

The view of the Royal Mile from our AirBnB apartment window.

The Royal Mile is the busiest street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and maybe even the entire city. It is made up of five streets — Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Stand. These medieval streets slope from the ridge of Castle Rock where the Edinburgh Castle stands on the West, to the Holyrood Palace in the East. They run for almost exactly a mile, connecting the two royal buildings from gate to gate — and thus its name. During our visit to Edinburgh, we stayed in one of the old buildings facing the Canongate Street along the Royal Mile — it was an AirBnb Art Apartment that was really pretty. So I made it a point to actually walk the entire mile; I did the top part one afternoon, and covered the rest of the way one of the early mornings.

 

3. Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags

Arthur's Seat

Our view while driving up to the Arthur’s Seat’s viewpoint.

Arthur's Seat

We didn’t climb up to the top of Arthur’s Seat, and only admired the view from here.

Arthur's Seat

The extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat is the main peak in Holyrood Park.

Arthur's Seat

And here we are, for a shot by the side of Salisbury Crags’ basalt cliffs.

Arthur's Seat

The beautiful view of Edinburgh from Holyrood Park.

Arthur's Seat

Ah, I just couldn’t resist! #splitseverywhere

It is said that Arthur’s Seat might be one possible location of Camelot from the King Arthur legend. That could very well explain the name of largest and highest peak of this three peak extinct volcano in Holyrood Park. The hills rise above the city at about 250 meters, and is a popular hiking trail to the top. It was an extremely windy and cold day during our visit to Holyrood Park — and though I would have enjoyed a hike up to Arthur’s Seat, we weren’t really prepared. So instead, we admired the hills that’s said to resemble a lion in a couchant position; and walked around the base of the Salisbury Crags, which are a series of 46 meter basalt cliffs. The view of Edinburgh City from the park is breathtaking.

 

4. The Public Gardens and Parks

Princes St Garden

The Princes Street Garden is said to be one of the most beautiful public parks in Edinburgh.

Princes St Garden

A dance performance on the public stage in the gardens.

Princes St Garden

The Princes Street Gardens lies in the shadows of the Edinburgh Castle.

The Meadows

The tree-line path through The Meadows.

The Meadows

The Meadows is a public park that has a huge open grassland.

The Meadows

What better way to enjoy the gardens and parks? A picnic of course!

During our tour of the Edinburgh New Town, we spent some time chilling in the expanse of the Princes Street Gardens — made up of two public parks dating as far back as the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The parks lie below the Edinburgh Castle; with the larger West Princes Street Garden occupying 29 acres, and the smaller East Princes Street Garden with 8.5 acres. We also made time to have a picnic at The Meadows when we made a visit to my dad’s alma mater, the University of Edinburgh, as well as his old workplace, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. This large public park borders the university campus and is a large open grassland with some tree line paths.

 

5. National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland

The entrance to the National Museum of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland

The open-space concept of the museum, with glass roofs and white railings.

National Museum of Scotland

And here’s all about transportation!

National Museum of Scotland

And all museums must have a skeletal T-Rex.

National Museum of Scotland

I love the interactive concept of the National Museum of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland

All done with the visit to the museum!

I wanted to visit at least one museum during our visit to Edinburgh — so we chose the most visited one, the National Museum of Scotland. It was formed in 2006 when the Museum of Scotland (built in 1998) and the Royal Museum (with roots from 1861) combined their collections of archeology, natural history, geology, art, world cultures, and science and technology. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the museum — it managed to hold my attention (and that of my younger brother) with its interactive exhibits and interesting displays. I especially enjoyed learning more of prehistoric and medieval Scotland, and how the people lived. Entrance is free.

 

6. St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral

The 14th century St Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile.

St Giles Cathedral

The cathedral has been Edinburgh’s religious focal point for centuries.

St Giles Cathedral

The beautiful stained glass windows of the St Giles Cathedral.

St Giles Cathedral

Lighting a candle.

St Giles Cathedral

Check out the pipes of the organ!

St Giles Cathedral

Intricate carvings adorn the exterior and international of the cathedral.

While exploring The Royal Mile, make a stop at the 12th century St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh’s religious hub for almost 900 years. The current building dates back to the late 14th century with extensive restoration in the 19th century. The cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of Edinburgh from the Middle Ages, Saint Giles. During our visit on a rainy afternoon, there was a concert/singing performance in the church — so after roaming around to admire the beautiful interior and stained glass windows of the cathedral, we sat for a bit to listen to the choir while waiting out the rain. Entrance is free.

 

7. Princes Street Shopping and the Scott Monument

Scott Monument

The Scott Monument stands at Princes Street Gardens, along Princes Street.

Scott Monument

This Victorian Gothic monument is dedicated to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.

Princes Street

Princes Street, the main shopping street in Edinburgh.

Princes Street

The street stretches about a mile long and has trams running along it.

Princes Street

Walking along one of the many lanes in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Princes Street

Princes Street when the lights come on at night.

Princes Street is one of the major streets in Edinburgh’s New Town, known to be the main shopping area of the city. The ‘new town’ began its construction in 1770, so this street stretching for about a mile from Lothian Road to Leith Street isn’t really new but home to buildings from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Princes Street is lined with buildings on one side (and home to big brands like H&M, Marks and Spencers, Topshop, as well as the Jenners Department Store), and the other side lies the Princes Street Gardens that overlooks the Old Town. You can also find the Scott Monument here, a mid-19th century Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. The monument towers over Princes Street at 61.11 meters high.

 

8. The City of the Dead Tour

City of the Dead

All ready to begin our City of the Dead tour.

City of the Dead

We were brought through the underground, and then the cemetery.

City of the Dead

And this is said to be the most haunted grave!

City of the Dead

The grave of Edinburgh’s famous dog, Bobby, at the Greyfriars Cemetery.

City of the Dead

Greyfriars Bobby even has a statue dedicated to him.

City of the Dead

The City of the Dead tour ended with a visit to this spooky shop.

I love hearing stories about a city’s past — and that also includes myths, legends and supernatural tales. I’ve been to a couple of ghost tours in several other cities — so while I was in Edinburgh (one of the oldest cities in the world), I just had to follow a “City of the Dead” ghost tour. We were too scared to go for a night tour, so we opted for the 3.30pm underground city tour. The first part of the tour brought us to the dark and damp tunnels underneath the city — home to the poorest of the poor of old Edinburgh. The second part was to the Greyfriars Cemetery — and the cell where the famous Mackenzie poltergeist is said to haunt. We were also told the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a loyal dog that stood by its owner’s grave till its death. All in all, we had fun on the tour, especially with the entertaining and witty guide. It lasted about 1.5 hours and cost £13.00 (~US$16).

 

9. Scotch Whisky Experience

Scotch Whisky Experience

Learning about the many different whiskies from parts of Scotland.

Scotch Whisky Experience

The collection of whisky at Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Experience.

Scotch Whisky Experience

The line-up of whisky we tasted.

Scotch Whisky Experience

Cheers to Scotch whisky!

Scotch Whisky Experience

And here’s the oldest bottle of whisky in the entire collection — from 1897.

Scotch Whisky Experience

Can we bring some whisky home with us in these boxes?

Scotland is famous for their whisky — so it was time we learned all about it at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Located on Castlehill just below Edinburgh Castle, the visitor center opened in 1988. Upon entry, we were brought on a walk-through tour to learn a little bit about what whisky is; and then ushered into a room where they showed us the difference of the many whiskies that can be found all throughout Scotland — Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. Finally, our whisky tasting session was held inside the whisky vault that is said to house the world’s largest collection of scotch whisky. Featuring more than 3,000 bottles, with the oldest one from 1897; the collection is indeed remarkable. The experience cost £16.00 (US$19) for the basic Silver Tour.

 

10. Scottish Food

Edinburgh Food

A delicious spread of Scottish breakfast — with black pudding and all.

Edinburgh Food

The Elephant House is famous for being frequented by JK Rowling.

Edinburgh Food

The food at the Elephant House is pretty good too — especially that jacket potato.

Edinburgh Food

It is said that JK Rowling worked on the Harry Potter series by this window with this view.

Edinburgh Food

How to beat the summer heat? With some luxury Scottish ice cream, of course!

Edinburgh Food

Oooohhh desserts! And where’s that fried Mars bar?

And last but not least — the best part of every visit, tour and experience is always the food! Other than the whisky and the beer, Scotland is also famous for the haggis (a pudding of minced and marinated sheep’s inards — heart, liver and lungs), deep-fried Mars bar, and a delicious spread of Scottish breakfast that comes with the usual bread, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, bacon and the black pudding (pork blood sausage). During our visit, we also made it a point to stop by The Elephant House Cafe, one of the cafes in Edinburgh that JK Rowling (and other notable Scottish writers) used to frequent in the 1990s to write her early Harry Potter books. The window at the back of the cafe offers pretty views of Edinburgh Castle, and they serve yummy jacket potatoes too!

Edinburgh

And here’s an interesting-looking graffiti-filled toilet I found in Edinburgh!

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