Visiting Scotland's capital for a couple of days? Here are some must sees in Edinburgh to guide you. Best bit of all, it really doesn't matter what time of year you visit - Edinburgh makes its impact at anytime of year. But I must have written that a thousand times in my writing career. Along with all that stuff about Edinburgh being pure theatre with its castle, crags, neo-classical columns and so on. But that doesn't make it any the less true. In a single sentence: Edinburgh makes you go 'wow' in a way that no other city in Scotland does. (Sorry, Glasgow - I'm talking first impressions here - not legendary friendliness.)
As for the must sees in Edinburgh, for first time visitors it certainly should include the iconic Edinburgh Castle. It's at the heart of Scotland's story. The rampart views are just the start. We like the walk-through tableaux on the early monarchs and the story of the finding of the Honours of Scotland. Also the remarkable hammer-beam roof in the Great Hall, the poignancy of the Lorimer War Memorial, and the atmosphere of the dungeons. Oh, and the cakes in the Redcoat Café are really good (says Johanna). Overall, it is a great visit.
Walk down the hill from the Castle. The Camera Obscura qualifies as a must see in Edinburgh if you have children in the party. The newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland, another must see, is about five minutes' walk away, off the Royal Mile. We like the way that, off the main hall, it draws you in to explore - it's slightly labyrinthine, but in a good way.
Retrace your steps to the Royal Mile - as just strolling along it is a must see in Edinburgh. You might take in St Giles, or John Knox House or the Museum of Childhood. Or you might just take in the ambience. Carrying on downhill, the People's Story - a local history exhibition on everyday life - is in the old Canongate Tolbooth, once an integral part of the old Scottish burgh. The Museum of Edinburgh is opposite.
As you will be gathering, Edinburgh is big on museums. Whether or not these informative places qualify as must sees in Edinburgh depends entirely on your level of interest and the time you have in the city. Same goes for the Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the foot of the Royal Mile. It's very popular, for sure, and, imagine, you can see the exact place where Mary Queen of Scots' favourite secretary, David Riccio, was stabbed by the plotters.
But, unless you are a real history enthusiast, the official residence of the British queen when in Scotland carries the faded air of somewhere that is just putting on a show for the visitors to make a bit of money for the royal coffers. Crudely, then, it's a lot of gloomy rooms with sharp-eyed custodians, while the Queen's Gallery is quite small, but for which they charge extra. (Especially money-grabbing, may I suggest, as Edinburgh has a good number of free galleries, see below.)
Two observations: firstly, this is not going to put me on the medal list for services to tourism and I think I'm also off Mrs Windsor's garden party invitations; secondly; you should consider diverting the entrance fees to the Palace of Holyroodhouse towards a themed walking tour of the Royal Mile. OK, I'm NOT going to put the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the list of must sees in Edinburgh. (But, hey, it's only fair to point out that we showed it to a top lawyer from Austin, Texas, last summer and, as a history buff, he thought it unmissable!)
Yes, let's put the National Gallery of Scotland on the must sees in Edinburgh list. Hours of absorbing gazing, right at the foot of the Mound. Nice Scottish-themed café on site as well with a fine view of the Scott Monument. (Just to clarify: the National Galleries of Scotland are the collective name for a number of galleries, three of which are in Edinburgh.) Let's head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens, also making it to the must sees in Edinburgh, not just for its extensive collections (especially strong in temperate plants from the Far East) but also as a green haven and place to pause. And, on the way, we can further bolster the must see in Edinburgh list by suggesting that the New Town of Edinburgh is also a must see.
Now, that New Town experience could take the form of a visit to the Georgian House in Charlotte Square, part of the north side of the Square that is sometimes described as one of the finest pieces of 18th-century civic architectures in Europe. Or the must see could simply be a stroll north of Queen Street (itself north of Princes Street) around the grid of streets, gardens and fine facades behind which Edinburgh's residents' life has gone on for more than two centuries, in parts.
And one final suggestion. A must see in Edinburgh is the view from the top of Calton Hill. Actually, a view from any of Edinburgh's hills would make it to this list - for example, a stroll along Salisbury Crags, or all the way to the top of Arthur's Seat. Because, remember that Edinburgh is all about first impressions, spectacular panoramas - and vistas that more than glimpse the rest of Scotland that lies beyond.
You'll find a summary list of cities in Scotland here. And don't let the highway robbery that is parking in Edinburgh put you off either. Oh, and here some advice on tipping in Scotland. And if you're visiting Scotland's capital for Hogmanay then here is some information on Edinburgh Hogmanay and Hogmanay in general. And here are some tours from Edinburgh suggestions.
And one more thing. You sometimes hear Edinburgh is 'The Athens of the North'. Well, if you are looking for somewhere different, and very northern, take a look at the Egypt of the North - Rousay, one of the islands of Orkney.
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Must see in Edinburgh tips (really for first-time visitors with only a couple of days.)
* Edinburgh Castle
* The National Museum of Scotland
* The Royal Mile
* The National Gallery of Scotland
* The New Town
* The Royal Botanic Garden
* The view from the top of the Calton Hill
- but lots of other good places!
Apart from Edinburgh Castle, all of these places have free entry.
‘The Palace of Holyrood has been left aside in the growth of Edinburgh, and stands grey and silent in a workman’s quarter among breweries and gas works’
- RL Stevenson, Edinburgh Picturesque Notes.
(True when RLS wrote it, but these days the Palace of Holyroodhouse is heavily promoted. But does the queen really need the money?)
Scotland in Three Days