· What to do in Edinburgh, Scotland ·
There’s something irresistible about Scotland’s majestic and ancient city of Edinburgh. With its castle on the hill, layers of streets and architecture, and picturesque landscape, Edinburgh is the perfect weekend getaway. With a city layout that’s accessible and walkable, there’s not much needed other than good walking shoes and a warm scarf.
Edinburgh dates back to at least 8500 BC and has had a rich history ever since. From Mary, Queen of Scots to her son James VI and I who united the Scottish and English thrones, Edinburgh has played a key part in British history. Since the 15th century, Edinburgh has served as the capital of Scotland and it continues to today. Also left over from history is a strong connection to France – France and Scotland were traditional allies against their common enemy England, and remnants of this relationship can be seen throughout the city.
The city itself has a gorgeous aesthetic. From ancient fortresses like the 12th century Edinburgh Castle to the pale brownish-grey Georgian terraced houses that rival Bath, the layers blend together, united by a similar palette. Dominating the skyline are the spires of St. Giles Cathedral and The Hub, a neo-Gothic church that now hosts events, showing how religion has come full circle in the progressive city. With natural sites like the former volcano Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth setting the scene, it’s hard not to fall in love Edinburgh’s beauty.
While the city has seen highs and lows in terms of cultural prominence, today it enjoys a vibrant culture with festivals like Edinburgh Fringe and Hogmanay. Not to mention world-renowned museums and historical sites; it’s a city that’s well worth a visit.
Where to go: Palace of Holyroodhouse
Perhaps the best place to learn about the layers of Edinburgh history is at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Still a working royal palace, it’s the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, although she typically only visits once a year for Holyrood week. Despite this minimal residency today, the Palace has seen its fair share of dramatic and interesting inhabitants.
The abbey ruins date back to the 12th century while the palace is made up of apartments from varying periods. Most of the palace was built in the 1670s, though. Touring the palace, you see how different the Scottish palace is compared to its, perhaps more “refined,” English counterparts. It’s rugged but beautiful and the rooms are steeped in fascinating history from when Bonnie Prince Charlie held court during the Jacobite rebellion to English troops destroying royal paintings after the Battle of Falkirk.
However, perhaps the most interesting piece of the tour is Mary, Queen of Scots’ apartments. Mary’s own history in itself intriguing, the apartments allow visitors to stand where her secretary David Rizzio was stabbed multiple times in front of her. A popular figure since her reign, the apartments were opened as a museum in the 1800s, and they stand largely unchanged. Feeling like a museum of curiosities, the apartments have various trinkets, cabinets, and locks of hair both confirmed of belonging to the Scottish Queen, and most likely not. Either way, it’s a fun peek into Mary’s life and how museums have evolved since the 19th century.
What to do: Enjoy a beer at the top of Arthur’s Seat
Of course, no trip to Edinburgh is complete without climbing Arthur’s Seat. The former volcano actually forms most of Holyrood Park and is a popular attraction in Edinburgh. Uniquely, it provides for a decent hike (250 meters high and 3 miles long) within the city. As you get closer to the top, you won’t be disappointed with the exertion. Atop the crags on a fairly clear day, you get views of the city, the countryside and the Firth of Forth. Pack a couple of beers in a bag and head up to the top to enjoy a well-earned drink with an unrivaled view!
Where to drink: The World’s End
Having enjoyed a quick drink after a small hike, head back down to the Royal Mile where you’ll find the World’s End. No, not the end of the world, but World’s End pub. This innocuous pub has a lot to offer even if doesn’t seem like much at first. Join in a live singer plays your requests from a book of songs or read the notes left on banknotes from around the world. All while the beers flow! Stone walls, oak paneling and images of old Scottish royalty, it may not look like much from the outside, but you won’t be disappointed once you’re in.
Where to eat: The Witchery by the Castle
Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) has such a strong culture and aesthetic that it seems a shame to go anywhere that doesn’t have that authentic Scottish feeling that the World’s End provides. Beautiful and atmospheric, The Witchery by the Castle takes it up a notch while still feeling perfectly Scottish. Set in a historic 1595 merchant’s house near Castlehill (where many witches were burned at the stake, hence the name), the restaurant is definitely worth the splurge. Oak paneling, tapestries, painted ceilings, and stone walls make for an authentic scene that is both elegant and tasty. Fit for a Scottish Queen.
It’s hard to capture the magic of Edinburgh in just a few hundred words – and magic is the right word for Edinburgh. The 16th and 17th-century buildings seem like they’re out of a fairy tale while the winding Georgian streets are picturesque and evoke a sense of royalty. Scotland’s rugged and fraught history seeps through while traditional bagpipers in kilts play for tourists and locals alike. Go to Edinburgh, you won’t be disappointed.
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