I have been living in the UK on and off now for close to three years, and I still feel like I haven’t seen nearly enough of this island! That is why, when a friend invited me on a trip up North, I said yes without hesitation.
Coming from Canada, I have to appreciate how easy (and relatively quickly) it is to explore the UK. It is amazing how often I find myself in Cornwall one day, London the next, and Scotland a few days after that!
As those of you who have read my blog know, I visited Edinburgh last year for the Fringe Festival. It was an amazing couple of days, but not nearly long enough! While the festival is an amazing opportunity to visit the city, the month of August is also probably the busiest time to visit. If you are interested in being a tourist and taking in the sights, I suggest visiting in May or June when the crowds are a little calmer. On this visit (in mid-June), I was definitely able to be a little more touristy and take in the history of this proud city.
From this trip, I have collected my Top 10 Things to do in Edinburgh:
Visit Edinburgh’s Castle
Sitting at the top of the Royal Mile, this tourist attraction is worth a visit for both its expansive view of Scotland, as well as the rich history that it offers.
It is hard to describe the feeling that you get when walking through the castle’s imposing front gates; realising that centuries of royalty and commoners alike have crossed that drawbridge. And you get this feeling with good reason – the oldest part of the castle, St Margaret’s Chapel, dates back to the 12th century.
While inside, you can also see the Honours (Crown Jewels) of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny (from that movie that you may have seen). You are able to rent an audio guide for an additional fee inside, but I opted to simply take one of the free guided tours (which often provide great character to a visit).
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
At the bottom of the Royal Mile, sits the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
For anyone who has visited the UK before, you know that there are endless palaces, stately homes, and cathedrals that are open to the public – and many are relatively the same. I enjoy visiting places that provide an interesting story – which you can definitely find at the Palace of Holyroodhouse! The palace houses the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots, and is worth a wander to drink in its history of despair (and the occasional murder).
3. Take a Tour
Whenever I go to a new city, I always try to find a tour of some sort to introduce me to the ins and outs of the place. This has ranged from free walking tours and themed tours, all that way to the unavoidable “hop-on-hop-off” buses.
Edinburgh is no different, there are a variety of different tours available depending on what aspect of the city you are interested in. For a bit of fun, we decided to take a ride on the Ghost Bus.
While the ride was as cheesy as one might expect, I was also able to see a different side of the city. The tour took place on one of three original buses which were once used to transport coffins to the cemetery.
I learned many creepy tales from Edinburgh’s history, and also came away with a couple interesting tidbits. Did you know that Edinburgh used to have a big problem with burying people alive? Due to this common occurrence, when coffins were buried, a bell was tied to the “deceased” finger, so that if they happened to wake up, all they had to do was ring the bell and someone would come and dig them up. However, this meant that some poor soul would have the job of sitting up all night in a graveyard listening for bells. Hence the phrase, ‘graveyard shift’ and ‘saved by the bell’!
Explore the Streets
This should go without saying, but I advocate simply taking the time to wander. Especially in the “old city”, Edinburgh is a labyrinth of twisting and hidden lanes. One of the easiest to find is Victoria street, where you can find a number of quirky shops like the one pictured below.
Find the Harry Potter Gems
Any diehard Harry Potter fan knows the profound influence that Edinburgh had on JK Rowling while writing the novels. These sights can include the Elephant House Cafe, where JK Rowling famously wrote the first part of the series; Tom Riddle’s grave; and the real school which inspired Hogwarts. We chose to explore the city and find the sights on our own, but they also offer Harry Potter tours if you prefer a guide.
Go aboard the Royal Britannia Yacht
Just outside the city, you can also go aboard the Queen’s private yacht, the Royal Britannia. While the yacht is no longer in service, you still get a thrill wandering onboard and getting a glimpse into the luxurious life of the royal family.
Explore the underground city
For me, I think this is the most interesting part of Edinburgh. There are a number of different tours available for the underground city, but we chose to go down into Mary King’s Close. By taking one of these tours, you are able to see a preserved piece of the city.
Hike up to Arthur’s Seat
At the bottom of the Royal Mile, you can hike up to Arthur’s Seat, which offers fantastic views in all directions. It is an excellent escape out of the city for a breath of fresh air.
Take a day trip outside the city
While there is a myriad of things to discover within the city, I still recommend getting out of Edinburgh for a day if you have the time. During out trip, we took a train out to the seaside town of North Berwick. While it was a blustery day, the sleepy little town was still a joy to discover.
Explore the Parks
Finally, if the weather is nice, take a stroll through the gardens that are spotted throughout Edinburgh. One of the easiest to find is the Princes Street Gardens, which runs parallel to Princes Street in New Town. The gardens were originally known as the Nor’Loch, a body of water which was used as both added defense for the castle and as the city’s sewage collection. In 1816, the loch was drained and turned into the lush gardens that it is today.
If you have any more Edinburgh suggestions, let me know in the comments below!