There are few cities in the United Kingdom that offer quite the same rich mixture of culture, history and architecture as the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Sprawling across seven rolling hills, the look and feel of the city is characterised by the dramatic dark stone – local sandstone in fact – which was used in the construction of much of the city centre.
The focal point of ‘Auld Reekie’ is without a doubt Edinburgh Castle, which is perched atop a particularly steep hill in the city centre. In the past it has been the home Scottish royalty and much of the surrounding streets (which are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site) bear witness to such a presence in the city. This is none more apparent on the Royal Mile, an elegant street which leads away from the castle toward the parliament building.
Edinburgh is not just a city which trades off its past – each year during august the city comes alive when the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, showcases the freshest talent from the worlds of music, opera acting and writing. Many music venues and theatres also maintain full programmes of events throughout the year ensuring the city’s inhabitants fingers are kept firmly on the pulse of culture.
Visitors to Edinburgh are spoilt for choice when it comes to things to see and do. Presented below is a summary of the main attractions the city has to offer.
The general consensus is that if there’s one thing you should see in Edinburgh, it should be the castle. This dramatic and vast former palace captures many an imagination and is a hugely popular attraction. Dive into Scotland’s past whilst exploring the castle and learn a thing or two about the tough times the country endured in bygone eras. Various ‘themes’ are covered, including military and social history and you can easily wile away a number of hours here. Guided tours are available, as are audio tours. With admission at £16 (£9.60 for children), it is easy to talk yourself out of visiting, but you’d missing out on gaining an appreciation for the city’s rich past, not to mention being able to enjoy arguably the best views over the city!
Camera Obscura + World of Illusions
Situated directly next to the castle, the Camera Obscura offers a rather different experience to that of its neighbour. Edinburgh’s oldest attraction has been wowing visitors for over 150 years and combines simple illusion tricks with more high-tech features. There are five floors of optical experiences that are certain to blow your mind. At the top of the building you can view the city in 3D with ‘Edinburgh Vision’ and also try the ancient mirror powered CCTV system! Adult entry is £13.95 whilst children enter for just £9.95.
It’s a bit of a slog to the top, but the rewards for climbing Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park are many. You’ll be able to enjoy 360º views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area from this former volcano. It’s within walking distance from the city centre too – the main path runs from the Scottish parliament building at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Whilst there, be sure to take in the surroundings of Holyrood Park and visit the ruins of St Anthony’s chapel.
National Museum of Scotland
With exhibitions covering all many of things including stuffed animals to ancient Egypt, the recently refurbished and free to enter has something for all the family. A changing selection of pay to enter exhibitions help maintain the museum’s fresh and dynamic feel. The light flooded main hall features stunning decor and over 800 objects make up the mind-boggling installation that is the Window on the World, which rises up through the four storeys of the museum. It’s the single biggest museum installation in the UK and alone is worth visiting the museum for.
With exhibitions covering all many of things including stuffed animals to ancient Egypt, the recently refurbished and free to enter National Museum of Scotland has something for all the family. A changing selection of pay to enter exhibitions help maintain the museum’s fresh and dynamic feel. The light flooded main hall features stunning decor and over 800 objects make up the mind-boggling installation that is the Window on the World, which rises up through the four storeys of the museum. It’s the single biggest museum installation in the UK and alone is worth visiting the museum for.
National Monument of Scotland
Every city has its quirks, and perhaps the best example how Edinburgh’s many peculiarities is the National Monument of Scotland. Dominating the top of Carlton Hill, another of the city’s prominent hills, the monument is often referred to as ‘Edinburgh’s Shame’ and ‘the Pride and Poverty of Scotland’. Modelled on the Parthenon in Athens (and constructed to the same proportions), the monument is a memorial to the Scottish sailors and soldiers who died during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite their best intentions, construction was halted at the end of the 1820s due to lack of funds and the monument was left half completed. It’s nonetheless an impressive structure, and you get a good idea of what the Greek Parthenon looked like had it not been been damaged by people and the elements for several centuries. Edinburgh is often referred to as the ‘grey Athens of the north’ and for good reason too!
The Royal Mile and Old Town
The Royal Mile is the Old Town’s main artery and is home to some of the city’s most exclusive shops and restaurants. The original medieval street plan has been preserved and many Reformation-era buildings still stand. Edinburgh landmarks such as the Royal Festival Theatre and Edinburgh University can be found nearby. Exploring the side streets that lead away from the Royal Mile, which are known locally as ‘wynds’, will uncover many hidden gems including cosy cafes, theatres and small trinket shops. Sample excellent locally brewed beer and traditional Scottish food in one of the many authentic pubs that can be found in the Old Town.
Want to know find out where the best places to stay are in Edinburgh? Read out ‘Where To Stay’ blog here.
There are many more attractions to be found in Edinburgh, not to mention an ever changing programme of events in the city centre. Visit Scotland features up to date information on what’s on in the city.