Edinburgh is a rare capital; not being the most populous city and its environs embracing not one, but two, extinct volcanoes make it a pretty special place. As a tourist destination there are the evergreen attractions and ones that you need to check your calendar for. Steeped in military history, Scotland has a castle or fortification every hundred square miles, over 3,000 in total. Edinburgh is no different, with the castle perched on a hill overlooking the city with pride of place. Edinburgh is also famed for its culture and the arts, its architecture and amazing scenery. By far my favourite city in Scotland and one of the friendliest in Europe (who doesn’t love the Scottish accent?!), here are my pick of the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh!
Sightseeing in Edinburgh
Without a doubt one of the main things to do in Edinburgh is to check out the amazing landscape and beautiful architecture to be found in and around the city. Here’s my pick of the top 10 things to do in Edinburgh.
1) Edinburgh Castle
Sitting on top of the Castle Rock, the remains of a volcanic pipe formed some 350 million years ago now comprising dolerite, there has been a royal fortress here dating back to the 12th century. We advise purchasing a Day Ticket to help you skip the queues so you can get straight to learning about the Scottish monarchs, seeing the Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny. If you are here in the early afternoon you’ll hear the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. Almost 1.5 million visitors come each year to witness many educational demonstrations and see historic re-enactments with actors with period costume and weaponry.
2) Arthur’s Seat
The second extinct volcano in Edinburgh offers views across the whole city and it’s well worth the climb to the top. For a moderately fit person it would take around 30 minutes and that’s including pauses to reflect across the views which increasingly get more impressive as you ascend. There are several paths you can choose from, taking different routes open up diverse vistas revealing Edinburgh’s beauty and its Old Town and New Town.
3) The Old Town
The Auld Toun is one half of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The oldest part of the city has its medieval layout preserved and there are many Reformation-era buildings to see. The Royal Mile is an east-west route from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Along its path there are north-south offshoots that are only a few feet wide echoing their Dark Ages’ history. There is much to enjoy here, among the many tourist-aimed shops to excellent cuisine on offer in the restaurants. Just remember to wear good footwear as there is a lot of walking involved and much of it is on inclines and uneven paths.
4) The New Town
Although the moniker of ‘New Town’ suggests modern, this part of Edinburgh dates from the 1800s and forms the second half of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its period architecture is Georgian and neo-classical in scope. The New Town is the heart of the shopping district and you’ll be spoiled for choice by Jenners department store, Harvey Nichols and a large John Lewis. It’s also home to a cultural hub that embraces the National Gallery of Scotland, Royal Scottish Academy and The Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
5) Museum of Scotland
As part of the National Museum of Scotland, this venue was renovated in 2011 in a Victorian Romanesque Revivalist style. As you ascend through the floors you begin with displays from prehistoric times to the early medieval period to more recent. There is a four-way strong theme arrangement of natural history, world culture, European art & design and science & technology illustrated lavishly through 800 artefacts.
6) Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Gallery is a magnificent red-sandstone, gothic palace that offers constantly evolving displays showcasing the history of Scotland and her heroes and heroines. Refurbished in 2011 this artistic haven has modern touchscreen displays, tastefully top-lit galleries, photographic displays, and a characterful Victorian Library. Currently there are five exhibitions, ten displays and 27 events to attend.
7) The Scotch Whisky Experience
It’s fair to say that the Scots have a fine tradition for distilling whisky. The Scotch Whisky Experience has a range of tours; the Platinum Tour includes an extended viewing of the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky, a whisky barrel ride, a guided nosing and tasting of four single malts, and a boxed crystal whisky glass. It goes without saying that this is for over-18s only. The Experience’s events space was awarded Best Unique Venue in 2016. Sláinte!
8) Gilmerton Cove
Behind a blue door on an ordinary street in Gilmerton Village on the outskirts of Edinburgh lies a staircase down into a secret network of tunnels that have been here for at least 300 years. Seven rooms have so far been excavated and visitors here recount stories of an otherworldly atmosphere. Masonic symbols have been carved into the rock sparking rumours of suspicious goings-on, unsavoury worship or worse. Perhaps it was just a bolthole for blacksmith who used to live here. Whatever the truth, Gilmerton Cove is constantly ranked highly as a must-see place!
Events in Edinburgh
Some of the best attractions Edinburgh has to offer are seasonal events that are famous the world over. Their cultural extravaganzas dominate the summer season and conclude with an impressive fireworks display.
9) Edinburgh Festival Fringe
‘Defying the norm’ is the Fringe’s motto and it’s a testament to this city that this arts festival is the largest of its type in the world and continues to grow. It runs from 4th – 28th August next year but it remains to be seen whether it can top 2016’s 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows across 294 venues.
10) Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
This annual event takes place in from the 4th – 26th August in 2017. Over 330,000 people come to see the Tattoo, and almost a third are from overseas. It’s a spectacular showcase of music and entertainment lead by one of the Queen’s military forces. 2017 will see the Royal Navy lead with the ‘Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in a celebration of history, heritage and colour of Scotland’s global family both near and far’ in a season entitled A Splash of Tartan.
Edinburgh is a delightful city with much going for it. A sightseeing visit here will eat up your camera memory in no time. Attending events such as the Fringe or Tattoo will make an impact that will stay with you for a lifetime. Looking for FREE things to do in Edinburgh? Two Drifters have the answer.