Scotland has always been a country I wanted to visit. After living in the UK for 5 years, I finally organized a trip there with my family a few weeks ago. Our first stop was Edinburgh, where history, architecture, cultural venues and … whiskies, are incredibly inspiring! Let’s dive into the Scottish capital’s way of life.
Edinburgh, capital of Scotland
We had not read much about Edinburgh before arriving there, but the 8 driving hours from London gave us enough time to prepare our trip…
Edinburgh is composed of a medieval Old Town (with its famous Royal Mile High Street) and an elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings.
From the 7th to the 10th centuries, the city was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria and became a royal residence of the Kings of Scotland.
The town became a stronghold through a royal charter in the 12th century and has been known as the capital of Scotland by the 14th century.
Then, the Treaty of Union in 1706 united the warring nations of England and Scotland under the unified kingdom of Great Britain.
What is striking in Edinburgh is the architecture. The expansion of the city was curtailed by the original town walls. Rather than expand beyond these fortifications, overpopulation in the city was managed by expanding vertically.
This is quite impressive to walk in the city’s narrow streets and feeling surrounded by huge buildings…
Also very common in Edinburgh are the “closes”, those small alleyways perpendicular to the Royal Mile. Indeed, the Old Town consisted originally of the main street (now known as the Royal Mile) and a large number of small alleyways that led off it to the north and south.
Some of these lead to open courtyards and are therefore called “courts”. But most of these alleyways are called “closes”, because they lead to private property and are hence gated and closed to the public.
As we only had one day and a half to make the most of our stay in Edinburgh, so we tailored our visit to our time constraint and interests. Here are my best picks…
Arthur’s seat & Holyrood Park
The city was built close to an extinct volcano now looking like a hill known as “Arthur’s seat”. This situation is rare enough to be worthy of interest (in my life I have only visited one city -Cape Town- with a mountain called “Table Mountain” in the background and I founded it rather unique).
Arthur’s seat is considered the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh (251m), which form most of Holyrood Park. Its name is sometimes said to be derived from the legend of King Arthur.
Arthur’s seat is easy to climb, but you will preferably wait for a good weather to get to the top, as the path could be slippery. It takes between 30 to 60 minutes to reach the peak.
Arthur’s seat is located to the east of the city centre, about 1 mile (1.6 km) away from Edinburgh Castle. You can see it from Edinburgh Palace, or from the Parliament, which gives an interesting perspective.
Before or after your walk, take the time to look at this modern Scottish Parliament building, where the first debate was held in 2004.
Don’t miss those original bike racks, in between the Parliament and Arthur’s seat, as they will design a bike only if you look in the proper perspective…
This is maybe the most iconic place in Edinburgh. This historic fortress dominates the skyline of the city from its position on the Castle Rock.
We visited the Castle on a rainy day, but it did not affect our desire to know more about the place… and even tourists preferred to laugh about the weather!
There are many highlights in the Castle, starting with the view over Edinburgh.
Then, you’ll find detailled information about the history of the Castle and discover many artefacts and also reproductions.
We learnt how “Mons Meg”, the world’s most famous medieval gun, was “the ultimate weapon of mass destruction in her day”. And an obvious source of pride in the Castle!
We also discovered the Stone of Destiny (a sacred object and ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy, used for centuries in the inauguration of its kings) and enjoyed looking at the Honors of Scotland (the oldest Crown jewels in Britain). Made of gold, silver and precious gems, the precious crown, sceptre and sword of state are objects of immense significance.
The Great Hall is an imposing room with a wooden roof where weapons and armours are displayed to reflect its military past.
There are a lot more to discover like the frightening prisons, or the interesting dog’s cemetery and the tiny but beautiful St Margaret’s Chapel dating from the 12th century.
No one could be disappointed by the Castle, as it offers a great overview of Scotland’s history and the many objects and information panels will keep you motivated for hours (we stayed there for 3 hours)!
Another iconic place, located right at the opposite of the Edinburgh castle on the Royal Mile is the Edinburgh Palace.
On the eastern part of the Scottish capital, this place (also called “the Palace of Holyroodhouse”), is the Queen’s official residence.
This is also the home of Scottish royal history. The visitors have access to a very interesting audioguide (included in the ticket price), which describes all rooms and even provide additional information if someone wants to know more about certain things.
We were not allowed to take photographs inside the palace (so you’ll have the pleasure to discover the venue on your own!). But you can do some in the magnificent gardens, which provide an excellent view of Arthur’s seat at a short distance (and when the sun’s out, it’s a real treat for the eyes!).
I’ll keep good memories of the several rooms I saw at Edinburgh Palace and try to imagine how her majesty will spend her time there in July for her annual holidays…
There are museums galore in Edinburgh, but after visiting the indispensable Castle and Palace in this city there was little time left for us to discover another cultural venue.
We decided our kids would have a go at selecting one museum and we ended up at “Camera Obscura”, where we spent a fun couple of hours…
In this museum, you venture into a World of Illusions. The 100 + attractions will take you by surprise. We enjoyed them all very much and wanted some more even after braving the 5 floors ! Highly recommended if you want to balance your cultural and funny visits in the Scottish capital (whether you have kids with you or not!).
And don’t miss the superb view of Edinburgh from the roof top of the museum…
Where to eat & drink whisky
We ate quite well in the city, despite the fact we had booked nothing in advance and that the city was full of tourists…
Our first lunch was at “The fig and tree”, a restaurant offering a tasty Turkish, Mediterranean and Scottish cuisine. There is even a courtyard where to seat when it is sunny.
If you are looking for a delicious ice cream, I can highly recommend Smoov, a Gelato & Coffee House, where we found a great atmosphere and an amazing food.
There are also plenty of places to enjoy some whisky if you fancy it. We chose (quite coincidentally) the Royal McGregor and according to my husband, the whisky there was awesome (and food was good though traditional).
The Whiskibar seems also famous in the capital, but too crowded when we came so we’ll have to wait before tasting its collection of whiskies…
A bit of shopping…?
If you have some time to wander in the streets and money to make some purchases, Edinburgh offers lots of shops and ideas you will certainly like…
Apart from whisky of course, there are many specialities in Edinburgh that will inspire you for shopping. The most Scottish souvenirs would be: cashmere clothes, kilts, tartan scarves, tea, jewelry… There are also several shops dedicated to Christmas decorations all year long!
You will find plenty of beautiful shops in the city. Here is the perfect guide indicating the main shopping streets and famous shops.
I hope this introduction of Edinburgh will inspire you. I personally enjoyed this first visit of the Scottish capital a lot and can’t wait to discover more!
If you go to Edinburgh, don’t forget to share your experience on this blog!
To find out more:
Holyrood Park & Arthur’s seat information
Edinburgh Castle website
Edinburgh Palace website
Camera Obscura Museum website
The Royal Gregor bar & restaurant website
The Whiski bar website
Smoov Gelato & Coffee House website