Edinburgh, Scotland is a place with two sides; old and new. You can delve into either side, but I do enjoy history so my recommendations will lean toward the historical side of Edinburgh. But before I do, I should mention that if you have never been to Scotland, that bringing a waterproof jacket and shoes is a must. I visited in July and it was cloudy and/or rainy every day. Some sun would come out many late afternoons but you should be prepared for cool and wet.
5 Things to See and Do in Edinburgh
Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is located on one end of the Royal Mile, with Edinburgh Castle being located on the opposite end. The Palace is lived in by Queen Elizabeth for at least one week a year, typically the first week of July. I was there the second week of July so just missed the chance to see our Queen. You need to purchase a ticket to enter the Palace and the Castle.
You can purchase your tickets online, but the easiest thing to do is to purchase a Royal Edinburgh Ticket at the ticket office located beside the Waverly train station. This ticket gives you 48 hours access to ride 3 different hop-on-off buses, plus get direct access to the Palace and Castle. I have been told that some people wait an hour at least to purchase a ticket at one of these venues. The buses will drop you off at the Palace and Castle which can save you walking through the clamour of people along the Royal Mile as well.
You can take pictures outside of the Palace but not inside. Once inside you get headphones and an audio player that describes the different rooms you are in. You do get different people from the Royal Family talking about their experiences in the Palace and the particular room you are in. You can imagine seeing famous people, like Prime Ministers or Presidents, sitting in the dining room, for example, having dinner with Queen Elizabeth. You also learn the history of each room. Did you know that Mary, Queen of Scots, lived here?
One of the current things at Holyrood for those people who are real lovers of the Royal Family is the “Royal Wedding” exhibition of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. If you want to see the Wedding Dress, Uniform, or the children’s outfits, and read about them, this is all on display for you.
There is also the Holyrood Abbey connected to the Palace. It once held royal ceremonies, but it now has fallen apart. There are the walls so you can walk inside and listen on your headphones about the royal events that once were held at the Abbey. Think that you have walked where royalty walked for hundreds of years.
Lastly, if you are a gardener, or you enjoy gardens, you can walk through the Palace Gardens. I was surprised when I arrived in Scotland at the similarity of plants between Vancouver and Scotland. You can find rhododendrons and hydrangeas for example. The hydrangeas are in bloom in July. Enjoying the gardens is a nice way to end your tour. You can easily spend 2-4 hours, depending on your interest in history.
Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is in the oldest part of Edinburgh and links the Palace of Holyroodhouse with Edinburgh Castle. It is called the Royal Mile as the distance is 1 Scottish Mile. There are many pubs and touristy trinket shops, but there is lots of history to learn about and explore along this road. I stayed at an airbnb at Lady Stairs Close on the Royal Mile. It is very busy and noisy during the day and into the evening, so if you are a light sleeper, I’d recommend staying somewhere off the Royal Mile. There are also 2-3 bagpipe players serenading the crowds on the Royal Mile for most of the day every day.
Have you ever heard of Robbie Burns? I think he is the most famous Scottish poet. His poem (and now song) “Auld Lang Syne” is sung every New Years. It is the second most sung song in the world after Happy Birthday. He lived for some time around Lady Stairs Close. At Lady Stairs Close there is a Writers’ Musem where you can also find out about two other famous Scottish writers; Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Robert Lous Stevenson is best known for his stories, Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sir Walter Scott is known for Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.
Along this road, you will also see a statue of Adam Smith, the Father of Capitalism who wrote “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” and coined the term the “invisible hand”. You will also find a John Knox House, a museum for Protestant Reformer John Knox. Scotland is blessed with a myriad of museums, and luckily they are all free of charge if managed by the government. I believe John Knox House is free. You will also find off the Royal Mile the National Museum of Scotland, which besides being free, is very open and has a relaxed atmosphere. When I attended the museum I did see BC indigenous art from the Nisgaa. There is also an interesting clock, the Millennium Clock Tower, that rises above everyone located toward the entrance of the museum. On the hour it gears itself up to give a fascinating show with many moving figures, plus music.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle has long lineups, like the Palace of Holyroodhouse, so I recommend purchasing your entrance ticket online (with a specific day and time), or purchase a Royal Edinburgh Ticket and get an express ticket to enter the Castle at your leisure over 2 days. You can rent a set of headphones with an audio guide to tell you what you are viewing in the Castle. I highly recommend it, as there are small plaques with text scattered about, but they do not give you all the information that you get from the audio guide. The castle located on a volcanic plug is at a high point in Edinburgh, and thus strategically located. It has changed hands been the Scottish and English for many hundreds of years.
The Castle now is no longer occupied by a Royal family. Being located at a high point in Edinburgh, you get fantastic vista views of the city. Some of the past residents of the Castle or have had participated in Castle activities have been: St Margaret d. 1093, David II 1324-1371, Mary Queen of Scots 1542-87, and Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832. You can easily spend 2-3 hours touring through the castle with its many rooms and towers.
There is also a Scottish War Memorial room at the Castle which is very interesting to walk through and read about all the different wars the Scotts have attended in recent history. But in the War Memorial, you are not allowed to take pictures. Please respect their wishes.
One last location to note in the castle is St. Margaret’s Chapel. A tiny stone structure that was built in about 1130 by King David I, in dedication to his mother Margaret. This is the OLDEST building in Edinburgh. When you go inside the chapel there are very nice stained glass windows. I was told you could get married in the chapel but it costs $10,000 or more.
Here are a few photos that show the great views of Edinburgh and other areas of the castle.
Sip Whisky at the Scotch Whisky Experience
If you enjoy sipping on Scotch whisky or you would like to learn a little bit about it, the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile is a place you should visit. You can purchase a Silver ticket like I did to give you a short automated tour of how Scotch whisky is made, followed by a video presentation on the different styles of Scotch from the different regions in Scotland (Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Islay, and Campbeltown), then a tasting of a Scotch whisky from one of the regions, and finally time for you to roam around and view the large private collection of unopened Scotch whisky bottles in the world. From aged to recent vintages. The room housing the whisky collection is wall to wall to ceiling, behind glass cases. It is very impressive to view. Some of the bottles are a specialty, such as a whisky made specifically for a Royal wedding. I tasted a whisky from the Glen Keith Distillery. Before you leave there is a shop where you can purchase Scotch whisky for you to take home. I purchased a small 3 bottle sample pack of The Balvenie distillery (which I later read is the sister distillery to Glenfiddich). There are also seminars that you can attend at the Scotch Whisky Experience if you want to learn more than the basic Silver tour.
Here are some pictures of my visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience.
Sample Beer and Food in a Pub
The pub seems to be a favourite place for Scots and visitors alike. Going to the pub anytime after 6pm is almost impossible. I think the pubs start filling up around 5pm. Go early. I recommend going to a pub to sample beer and enjoy a meal as that is part of the experience of being in Scotland in my opinion. If you go earlier in the day when the pub is less crowded you can get your pint, or half pint, of beer at the bar then chat with a local about their beers, the weather, etc. I had a nice chat with an older fellow about Free Houses (pubs not owned by a chain). All my meals were very tasty. I, in particular, enjoyed a duck confit pot pie paired with a pint of Nicholson’s Pale Ale at Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar. Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar is named after a dog named Bobby who stayed at his owner’s grave for 14 years till the dog passed away as well. That’s dedication.
Fish and chips are also very popular in Scotland. Haddock is used for the fish and chips and is typically cooked in vegetable oil. If you are lucky you may find a pub or a chip shop that cooks their fish and chips in beef fat, which gives you a deeper flavour.
I did try many different beers, and I gravitated toward the beers produced by the Belhaven Brewery. I tried their “Best” and their “St. Andrews Amber Ale” and enjoyed them more than once. I hope my pub food and beer pictures don’t make you too hungry.
There are many more things that I could have recommended that you see and do. One is a visit to the Royal Yacht Brittania. But maybe I will save that post for another day. If you have visited Edinburgh, please post your comments below. Let me and other people know what you enjoyed seeing and doing. Cheers.