Edinburgh may have been called ‘Auld Reekie’ (old smoky) in the past, but the capital of Scotland has the sweet smell of a vibrant city which takes full advantage of its fascinating history. While living in Scotland, we have had many opportunities to spend time in Edinburgh and take in its culture and excitement whenever we can. Edinburgh is ideal for either a long or short trip and is perfect as a base for exploring much of Scotland. Most of Edinburgh’s attractions can be found in the centre, either in the Old Town or the New Town, and the city can easily be navigated on foot.
Edinburgh Castle–Perhaps the most famous castle in the world, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of the city on the Castle Rock. The castle is a must see when visiting Edinburgh, and we have visited this fortress on several occasions. The view from the castle is hard to beat and there are plenty of interesting displays on Scottish royal and military history, with our highlight being the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. Other interesting things to see at the castle, which stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano, are Mons Meg, a famous 15th century gun and the firing of the One O’ Clock Gun. Understandably, the castle is always very busy with tourists, and the queues for tickets can be long, so it is always a great tip to buy your tickets online before, or even when you arrive at the castle.
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Arthur’s Seat– Another of Edinburgh’s attractions which arose from volcanic activity is Arthur’s Seat, which is Holyrood Park’s highest point. The hill rises above the city to a height of 250.5 m (822 ft) and provides excellent panoramic views of the city and beyond. There are a number of trails that take you up the hill to the summit. The most popular trails start from Holyrood Palace, and these are a relatively gentle hike, however, due to parking issues (parking is expensive and hard to find in Edinburgh – the city centre is quite compact, so best to walk everywhere!) we started our walk from the south, from Dunsapie Loch. From the loch (Scottish word for lake), it is a steep hike to the summit, but the views that you get are well worth the effort. Just make sure that you wear good walking shoes. No one can quite explain how the name of this hill came about or what its connection with King Arthur is, but you can have some fun coming up with explanations of your own!
Address: Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh EH1 2JR
Princes Street Gardens – Princes Street Gardens run parallel to Princes Street, under the gaze of Edinburgh Castle. These pleasant gardens, which were formerly a stinky loch, are now a great place to relax during or after a hard day of sightseeing.
Address: Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG
The Royal Mile – The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town which runs downhill between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. We always love to have a walk down these streets – it is home to a collection of street performers (get your Instagram snap with a Bagpiper in full Highland dress), souvenir shops (some good, some tacky!), and great selection of traditional pubs and restaurants. Just walking down the Royal Mile is an experience in itself, and you can easily get a flavour of how medieval Edinburgh would have looked.
Address: The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival – The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts and culture festival in the world. Every August for three weeks the city of Edinburgh welcomes an explosion of creative energy from around the globe. So, whether you are visiting Edinburgh for the festival or just sightseeing, it is always imperative to book your accommodation well in advance during August, perhaps up to a year before your trip. With over 50,000 performances of over 3,000 shows in 300 venues there are quite literally thousands of reasons to visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s a good idea to plan what you want to see well in advance due to the massive choice, and get tickets upfront when possible, especially for any of the big acts, which can sell out quickly. The festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.
Royal Botanic Garden – The Royal Botanic Garden is set in over 70 acres of beautiful landscape, with a history dating back nearly 350 years. We found that these gardens are perfect for a sunny day, so bring along a picnic like we did, but make sure the squirrels don’t run off with your sandwich! The highlight of the gardens is no doubt the Glasshouses. The Glasshouses include at the Victorian Temperate Palmhouse and Tropical Palmhouse. With ten different climatic zones, from steamy tropics to arid desert, the Glasshouses are home to over 3,000 exotic plants from around the world. The gardens are free to visit, however, there is a charge to enter the Glasshouses.
Address: Arboretum Place, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ
Dean Village Walk–Dean Village is a beautiful oasis right by the Water of Leith, just a ten-minute walk from the western end of Princes Street. The beautiful Water of Leith Walk took us through Dean Village where milling took place back in the day. The Dean Bridge can also be found if you walk along the walkway and also St Bernard’s Well further along the path, both of which were designed by Thomas Telford.
Address: Dean Path, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH8 8BH
Museum on The Mound – The Museum on the Mound is housed in the magnificent, purpose-built head office of the Bank of Scotland just off the Royal Mile. Despite its closeness to the Castle, it is easy to miss this museum. The museum displays the interesting history of Scotland’s oldest bank as well as exhibits on the evolution of money over the past 4,000 years.
Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH1 1YZ
Cannongate Kirk – The Canongate Kirk is often overlooked by travellers as they continue down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Palace. However, it well worth popping into this church and the surrounding graveyard. The church was completed in 1690, with its simple interiors, the |Kirk is a peaceful sanctuary after the bustle of the Royal Mile. The Kirk is the Church of Edinburgh Castle, and as such it displays the Colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the ‘Dandy Ninth’, the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). We found the graveyard quite an attraction, with its interesting assortment of ancient gravestones, the most notable of which is probably that of Adam Smith (1723-1790). The economist was the author of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most influential books ever written, in which he argued against the regulation of commerce and trade – a very topical subject in today’s world!
Address: 153 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN
Fruitmarket Gallery – When visiting a city, we usually like to visit an art gallery or two to experience the contemporary culture of a place. We found the Fruitmarket Gallery to be an excellent exhibition venue. As the name suggests, the gallery is housed in what was originally built as a fruit and vegetable market in 1938 and has been presenting art since 1974.
Address: 45 Market St, Edinburgh EH1 1DF
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions – Not really hidden as such, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is quite well advertised, being near at the top of the Royal Mile. However, it was an attraction that we had consistently avoided, as it seemed a bit touristy. However, on our last visit to Edinburgh, we relented and visited. We received a very pleasant shock as we had so much fun checking out over 100 interactive, hands-on exhibits. The highlight of the display, however, was the pre-cinema Camera Obscura, which gives the visitor a unique view of the city. Maria Short originally set up her Camera Obscura on Calton Hill, but was forced to relocate in 1853, so she bought the 17th century tenement building on the Royal Mile, where it can still be found today. A great bit of local history.
Address: 549 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2ND
Church of St John the Evangelist – Any visitor who walks along Princes Street – and that is probably most travellers – will, at some stage, go past the Church of St John. However, unlike most tourists, we always make a point in entering the church and checking out its beautiful, peaceful interiors. The church was dedicated in 1818 with construction having begun in 1816. Interestingly, the architect who designed the church – William Burn – was only 25 when he designed it!
Address: 1A Lothian Rd, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
Royal Yacht Britannia – The Royal Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The yacht was in service from 1954 until 1997 and she is now berthed at Leith (the northern port of Edinburgh). Although quite well known, the fact that the yacht is out with the touristy centre of the city, means that this floating museum is often overlooked by travellers. However, as we found out when we visited, the yacht is a delight and gives a great insight into how Britain’s current Queen travelled around the world. Indeed, during her 43-year career, the yacht travelled more than a million nautical miles around the globe! If you have time, make sure you try the afternoon tea in the onboard restaurant.
St. Mary’s Cathedral – Away from the tourist masses, situated in the relatively peaceful environs of the West End, we stumbled upon St. Mary’s Cathedral. What a find! This relatively modern Cathedral (the foundation stone was laid in 1874) is beautiful both inside and out. The two spires are what catches the eye, and we were amused to find out that they are known as “Barbara” and “Mary”. They were named after the Walker sisters who funded the construction of the cathedral.
Address: 23 Palmerston Pl, Edinburgh EH12 5AW
Rosslyn Chapel, Castle and Glen – The mysterious Rosslyn Chapel, as featured in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, is world famous. But did you know that it is in Roslin, a village just south of Edinburgh? Furthermore, it is only a 45 minute bus journey from North Bridge, in the city centre. Just take either the number 37 or N37 bus to visit this place of worship which was founded in 1446. We spent a good hour examining the church’s interiors, trying to decipher the puzzling and peculiar carvings that have perplexed scholars and made the church so enigmatic. As well as the Chapel, travellers should also take time to visit Rosslyn Castle and Glen, as there is a fantastic, nature trail that you can walk (note that you can’t visit the castle).
Address: Chapel Loan, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PU
Where to Eat:
Vietnam House Restaurant– This small, unpretentious restaurant in the West End must serve the best Asian food in Edinburgh. Be sure to make a reservation though, as it gets booked up quickly.
Address: 3 Grove St, Edinburgh EH3 8AF
Le Monde Hotel Restaurant– Found on the affluent George Street, the restaurant at the Le Monde Hotel is a classy must for foodies.
Address: 16 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2PF
The Dome – The restaurant with perhaps the most spectacular and high class décor in Edinburgh is The Dome. The food in this former bank certainly matches its surroundings. Although on the expensive side, it is worth treating yourself.
Address: 14 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2PF
Akva – This Swedish style bar and restaurant serves hearty and wallet-friendly Scandanavian food, and with the added bonus of being situated on the beautiful Lochrin Basin canal, Akva is well worth visiting when in the West End.
Address: 129 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh EH3 9QG
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe – For a touch of class and food heaven, dress up and visit this Brasserie at the Waldorf Astoria.
The Scotsman Hotel – Luxury – An iconic frontage, just off the Royal Mile, everyone should stay here at least once in their lives!
Address: 20 North Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1TR
Hints, Tips and Useful Information:
Electricity: The power plugs and sockets are of type G – square three-pin plugs. The standard voltage is 230 volts AC, 50Hz.
Currency: Pound (GBP; symbol £) = 100 pence. Notes are in denominations of £50, 20, 10 and 5. Additional bank notes are issued by Scottish banks and are usually accepted in all parts of the UK. Coins are in denominations of £2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 pence.
Banks and ATMs: ATMs are freely available in the city centre. You can cash travellers cheques at banks and bureaux de change. There is usually no charge for cashing sterling travellers cheques.
Telephone dialing code: +44
Emergency numbers: Dial 999 for police, fire, or ambulance. Be prepared to give the telephone number you’re calling from.
Internet:There are internet cafés in the city centre. Most other cafés, restaurants and hotels public areas also offer Wi-Fi.
Transport – Buses: Day buses run from 6am to midnight and there is a night bus timetable for after midnight. Make sure that you have the exact change for your bus fare.
Transport – Taxis: Black hackney taxis, with their ‘taxi’ sign illuminated, can be hailed on the street, or booked by phone. Private-hire taxis are also available and are cheaper than black hackney taxis. Private-hire taxis will pick you up only from a specific location, not off the street. Scottish taxis are reliable, safe and metered.
Transport – Trams: Edinburgh has one tram route, which has 15 stops (all are wheelchair accessible). The tram connects Edinburgh airport with the city, and it takes just over 30 minutes to get from the airport into the centre, on Princes Street.
Transport – Driving: Drive on the left-hand side of the road. If you’re coming from a European Union country – as long as you have a valid licence, you can drive in Scotland. If you’re coming from outside the EU – as long as you have a valid licence from your own country, you can drive in the UK for up to 12 months.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is taken very seriously in Scotland and the UK and there can be heavy penalties for those found to be above the legal blood/alcohol limit. The legal limit is 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.
Roundabouts are commonly used – give way to vehicles from your right and turn left on entering the roundabout. Bus lanes are used in some cities – they can only be used by buses and taxis when in operation at certain times of the day. Seatbelts are compulsory for all drivers and passengers in the vehicle. Children under 12 who are under 135 cm (4 ft 5 in) tall should use a child seat appropriate for their weight. It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. You must also have proper control while using hands-free.
Climate: January and February are generally the coldest months in Edinburgh, with the daytime maximum temperatures averaging around 5 °C (41 °F) to 7 °C (45 °F). July and August are normally the warmest months, with temperatures at an average 19 °C (66 °F).
Fog and heavy precipitation are very common during the Autumn and Winter months, however, always come prepared for four seasons in one day whichever month you visit Edinburgh.
Scotland’s high latitude means that although winter days are short, in summer there are very long daylight hours and often an extended twilight.
Water: Tap water is safe to drink and bottled water is widely available.
Shopping: What to buy in Edinburgh:
‘Oor Wullie’ or ‘The Broons’ – Scottish comic book character, written in Scots
Malt Scottish Whisky
Quaich – a shared drinking bowl, more often used for whisky
Edinburgh Rock – a sugary confection
Sgian Dubh – ceremonial dagger, used as part of the full highland dress
Kilt – traditional Scottish clothing
Tartan scarf (or anything else made in tartan)
Sporran – traditional ‘pocket’ worn with a kilt
Cuisine: What to try in Edinburgh:
Scotland’s national dish is Haggis (the ‘Great chieftain o the puddin’-race’ – as Robert Burns once called it). It is a celebration dish, but don’t ask what it is made of or how it is made, until you have tried it!
Other foods that you should try:
Scottish smoked salmon
Black pudding (especially Stornaway Black Pudding) – type of blood sausage
Stovies – potatoes, onions and meat
Bridies – meat pastry
Scotch pies – double crust meat pie
Fish and chips – fried battered fish and hot chips
Scotch broth – a soup of barley, root vegetables, pulses and sometimes with meat
Lorne sausage – a square sausage made from ground meat, rusk and spices
Cock a leekie soup – a soup of leeks and peppered chicken stock
Cranachan – a dessert of whipped cream, whisky, honey and raspberries
Clootie dumpling – a dessert made from flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, suet, sugar and spice
Shortbread – a biscuit
Irn Bru – soft drink
Tablet – a sugary confection
Smoking:Smoking is banned in all enclosed public places, including stations, pubs and restaurants, throughout the UK.
Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can be purchased from age 18 and over.
Tipping: It is common to tip in restaurants or taxis when you receive good service. 10 percent is a good rule of thumb though most people will be delighted with any amount of tip.
Safety: Scotland is a safe country. Violent crime is low, and most tourists will never be bothered by safety concerns other that petty crime. The UK, of which Scotland is part of, is ranked 33th on the ranking of world’s safest countries. Traffic and crossing lanes can be an issue since people drive on the left side of the road, and every year tourists get run over because they forgot to look before crossing the road. Pickpockets can be an issue in urban areas or at crowded events. Begging is not uncommon, but you will rarely experience aggressive beggars.