As I’ve said many times before, Edinburgh is one of those towns where one can easily never get bored. It’s packed with museums and galleries and historic closes, and if you decide to go, it would be a terrible idea to purchase tickets to Edinburgh but not plan out your stay.
We visited this beautiful city for only a couple of days, yet I think we got a pretty good overview. So here are the 10 things you must experience while in Edinburgh. Mind you, they are not in any sort of order other than that of memory.
1. The Royal Mile
Stretching from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile is a street lined with souvenir shops, exciting closes, statues of celebrated Scots such as philosopher David Hume, and historic spots such as St. Giles Cathedral. I definitely recommend downloading Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app on your phone and listening to him describe the history behind each spot as you wander down the Royal Mile. We went down this street multiple times. The Royal Mile is the historic thoroughfare of Edinburgh, and most of the city’s interesting spots can be found alongside it.
2. The Writer’s Museum
The Writer’s Museum, located in the historic Lady Stair’s Close, displays artifacts from three famous Scottish authors and poets: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. You can see Robert Louis Stevenson’s rocking horse, a first edition of Waverly, and Sir Walter Scott’s quill and ink pot. In addition, you get to walk around a 17th century home that used to belong to the Gray family. Admission into the museum costs very little, and you only need to set aside about half an hour to experience everything it has to offer.
3. The Edinburgh Bus Tours
The Edinburgh Bus tours were wonderful. Not only did they offer our feet a break (the city is huge and with so many things to see, you end up walking a lot), but the tour guides were entertaining and the information they shared was interesting. We bought a two-day pass and hopped onto buses whenever we were tired or needed a ride. Bus stops in Edinburgh are innumerable and it never took too much effort to find one. In addition, you had the option of choosing buses with either live or recorded guides.
4. The Queen’s Gallery and the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Our visit in Edinburgh coincided with the annual Garden Party hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. Therefore, the Queen, Prince Philip, and the rest of the royal family were staying in the Palace of Holyroodhouse. As a result, the palace was closed to visitors. Though the fact that we were not able to tour the palace was slightly unfortunate, it was fun to know that they were in town.
Since we couldn’t take a tour of the palace, we stopped by the Queen’s Gallery. We could have purchased tickets to walk through the museum, but we decided against it. Instead, we wandered through a wide door into the gift shop and for about forty minutes, we were enchanted with the beautiful tea and dessert sets for sale. We bought some tea towels and other little knickknacks, and as my father likes to say, “Gave so much money to the Queen.” or “Bought the Queen some new clothes.”
If you’re in Edinburgh, do stop by Holyroodhouse! It seems amazing, especially if you peek through the gates at the palace grounds. We saw the yellow flag that acknowledges the Queen’s residence and a multitude of black Range Rovers – the royal family’s mode of travel around town.
While we were investigating around the palace to confirm whether or not we would be able to take a tour, we ran into some fancy looking gentleman in a suit. We told him, “We heard the Queen was in town?” He replied, “What? Who told you that?” in a very suspicious manner. Indeed, we believe the Queen was in town.
4. Edinburgh Castle
While the Palace may be closed at times, the castle ought to be open all the time. If you arrive at the correct time – check with the concierge at your hotel for a specific time – you’ll be able to watch the changing of the guard, a lively scene accompanied by wonderful tunes.
The castle is located on Castle Rock, a location archeologists believe has been inhabited by humans since the Iron Age. A castle has sat upon this rock ever since the reign of David I. By the 17th century, the castle became more of a military headquarter than royal residence, and now houses government offices. It was in this castle that Queen Mary of Scots gave birth to King James VI and I (he was the sixth King James of Scotland and later on, the first King James of England).
With your tickets, you can purchase an extremely helpful audio guide that offers detailed information on multitudes of locations around the castle complex. Due to the sheer size of the complex, going through each and every site with the audio guide can take quite a while. When I visited, we only explored the main sites. We also took a guided tour – they’re available every hour or half an hour – and followed along in Rick Steve’s guidebook. Both were wonderful – especially the live guide. It’s always fun to strike up conversations with guides at museums and historic sites; you learn a great deal about the site itself and interesting tidbits about the country you’re in!
The views from the castle are astounding. In this image, you can see all the way across the Firth of Fourth and Prince’s Street. Also, take a look at Scotland’s clouds – they have a unique fluffiness that a Scottish family friend said is due to the city’s higher altitude.
5. The Bookworm
If you are a book lover than me, head over to The Bookworm during your visit to Edinburgh! It’s similar to a Half-Price Book store, though smaller, and specializing mostly in naval and military volumes. Despite its specialization, it offers all sorts of books and includes a well-priced selection of antique novels.
The shop’s address: 210 Dalkeith Rd, Edinburgh EH16 5DT, UK
6. The Royal Yacht Britannia – HMY Britannia
Decommissioned in 1997, this yacht served HRH Queen Elizabeth for 23 years. This beautiful yacht carried the royal family around the world.
The Britannia is a large craft with multiple rooms in which the royal family lived as well as laundry rooms, dining rooms, a sickbay, and the bunks for the yacht’s crew who also lived on board.
The most interesting thing about visiting this vessel is the feeling that runs through your veins as you wander about its halls. It’s relative new-ness is strange, especially since we’re used to meandering through ancient castles and historic sites from the days of yore. It feels funny to see the bedroom in which HRH Queen Elizabeth used to sleep only a few years ago. Perhaps it’s just me, but the experience received on the HMY Britannia is unlike that offered by another museum…except perhaps Kensington Palace. The two have very similar vibes.
Closes are little alleys that lead to homes of Scotland’s nobles and wealthy class as well as to little museums (as with the Writer’s Museum) and shops. Since our time in Edinburgh was rather limited, we didn’t have the ability to peek into each one we passed. If I go back (and I hope I do!) I would love to walk about the city and stroll through the closes. The houses inside are usually extremely photogenic and you may find a quaint antique shop or interesting museum.
8. 23 Mayfield
Our hotel was one of the best parts of our trip by far. Owned by a dedicated family who seem to truly love what they do, this boutique hotel was filled with pieces of antiquity. It offered a glimpse into what a Scottish home may have looked like years ago.
If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, check out 23 Mayfield! It’s location and ambiance are perfect.
9. The Scott Memorial
If you’re rumbling along Edinburgh’s roads on a tour bus or ambling about on your search for a hat to wear to the Queen’s Garden Party, you may come across this:
This gothic monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. If you find it extremely dramatic, you’re not alone.
10. Outside Edinburgh
I know this last component of my Top 10 isn’t exactly in Edinburgh, but it’s only a few minutes outside the city. If you have a car, don’t hesitate to take a drive out of the main city and into the countryside. It’s beautiful.
It feels wonderful to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind you and rest your eyes on the green fields and blue, blue sea.
If you’ve never been to Edinburgh before, I hope this post inspired you to plan a visit there soon! The people’s cheeriness combined with the charming buildings and historic sites create a unique atmosphere difficult to find anywhere else!
If you’ve been to Edinburgh before, comment below and tell me what your favorite places were!