For many years Edinburgh was known as the ‘Athens of North’ and it justifies that identity to this day. It is a small city, a subtle capital and a delightfully refreshing contrast to other European capitals. Old Smokey, as it is colloquially known nowadays (or ‘Auld Reekie’ if you are a local), has gained so much respect and pride from not allowing skyscrapers, flashing lights and concrete towers to overshadow its past and lose its distict heritage. Indeed it has expanded, but on their own terms. Old Smokey has restored itself when needed rather than reinventing itself completely. Edinburgh is a noble, dignified capital and despite being guarded by a castle, welcomes its visitors with open arms and of course, a dram of whisky.
Let’s begin at the top of the city – the most famous attraction. Edinburgh Castle stands tall and proud above the hustle and bustle of the city centre. No matter where in the city you may find yourself, you will always be able to see the Castle in all its glory. To get the most out of it, walk up the Royal Mile, enter the grounds and try to imagine the battles that have come and gone from Roman Legions to Jacobite Invasions. Simply put, without Edinburgh Castle, the Edinburgh of today would not exist. Take in the views of the city from the top and visualise the city developing over time.
The Royal Mile
Heading back down the Royal Mile, embrace and absorb the melee of sound, smells and sights. Walk to the sound of bagpipes, stumble into old pubs to the aroma of whiskey and ale and eat in some of the best restaurants in the city. The Royal Mile is the beating heart of the Old Town, connecting Edinburgh Castle to the historic St. Giles Cathedral. Explore the alleyways, stairways and ‘wynds’ to discover hidden pubs, cafes and secrets of the Old Town.
Murder and Mystery Tour
Staying on the Royal Mile be sure to pay a small fee for an award-winning tour. While Edinburgh is not a large city in terms of area, it has plenty of secrets underground. Yes, underground. Hidden under the Royal Mile is a labyrinth of tunnels, vaults, chambers. Get lost and prepared to be mystified by Edinburgh’s deepest, darkest secrets in an underground city tour. Be guided through alleyways and cobbled streets as your guide tells tales of plagues, torture and supernatural events before heading underground where your guide will combine history with humour…and a little horror. This is not for the faint-hearted so enter at your own risk.
New York has Central Park, London has Hyde Park, and Edinburgh has Holyrood Park. If you need to calm down after your Murder and Mystery Tour head across to the park and get a taste of Scotland’s wilderness with a Loch and an expanse of moorland. Be sure to perch on Arthurs Seat for fantastic scenic views of the city and clear your head by walking round the Loch.
If you are a little tired from sightseeing, or a little hungover after the overindulgence of food and alcohol, overindulge yourself in the shops. Edinburgh is a hive of shops and boutiques and there is plenty to go at. For high street brands head down Princes Street with shops on one side and an uninterrupted view of the castle on the other side. Venture back up to George Street where there are more shops or alternatively there is Multrees Walk for all your luxury fashion brands.
Eat Lunch in Princes Street Gardens
Grab a bite to eat and find a bench or patch of grass to lay on Princes Street Gardens. On a nice day, there are few better places. Under the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and below the streets of the city centre, Princes Street Gardens is a quaint sanctuary to relax and prepare yourself for an afternoon. Play games, wander around or simply sit and unwind. There are often shows and events that take place in the centre amphitheatre so it is worth keeping an eye out for those.
Here, you have a choice. Either choose to book a whisky experience where you will understand the process from barley to bottle and try various whiskies on a guided tour – very interesting and informative. Or, alternatively you can choose to do what most people do and that is to make your own whisky experience – a pub. The pubs in Edinburgh are very ordinary but that’s what makes them so great, they are pubs at their absolute humblest form. Get yourself to a pub and try a different whisky each time and create your own whisky experience.
Visit the Scottish National Gallery
If art is your thing then do not hesitate to visit the number of galleries that Edinburgh has to offer. Whatever your preference may be, there is a gallery that will meet your needs. The National Galleries Complex is situated in Princes Gardens, a majestic Greek-columned building and further down in New Town there is the Portrait Gallery. Furthermore there are two modern art museums towards Dean Village that are also worth a visit. Be sure to set an afternoon aside if this is your preference.
Royal Botanic Gardens
If you do prefer to visit Galleries and Museums then the Royal Botanic Gardens should definitely be on your list too. Dubbed to be one of the finest of its kind in the world, the Gardens are situated in 72 acres of splendid scenery. It is themed by area so choose to explore the weird and wonderful plants of Asia or walk through the towering Redwoods of California. Again, the Royal Botanic Gardens offer a tranquil alternative to what you would expect from a capital city.