I fell in love with Edinburgh as soon as we got off the train at Waverley Station. The Scottish capital has an undefinable quality that made me feel at home. It’s not too big and not too overwhelming, it’s genteel but has a core of steel, it’s welcoming and friendly.
I can wax lyrical about Edinburgh all day, but let me stop here and share what we did in two days. We took it easy because my husband was recovering from knee surgery, but you can do more. Personally, I’d rather do less but enjoy every bit of it.
We walked along the Royal Mile from top to bottom. This street, with a pedestrian-only stretch, links Holyrood Palace, one of the Queen’s official residences, with Edinburgh Castle at the opposite end. Holyrood House is open to visitors, although we chose not to go in. The Scottish Parliament, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba, sits across the street from the palace and is also open to visitors. I don’t know what they were trying to achieve with the design, but I found the building very ugly (sorry!) All kinds of shops geared to tourists line the Royal Mile selling traditional Scottish souvenirs, like whiskey or wool garments (beware of Chinese made articles). I bought silver jewellery with the traditional Celtic knot design.
I recommend taking in the views from Edinburgh Castle even if you don’t go inside. They’re astounding. If you decide to visit the castle, especially in peak tourist season, buy the tickets in advance and go first thing in the morning. I went by myself in late October and, although there were a few tour groups, it wasn’t terribly crowded. Be advised that surfaces are old and uneven and stone stairs can be tricky. Baby buggies are not allowed. If you’re a history buff, you’ll be interesting to see the bedchamber where Mary Stuart gave birth to the future King James.
I cannot walk past a cathedral and not go in! We visited St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Its origins go back to the Middle Ages, when it began as a catholic temple and then became Protestant during the Reformation. I was on a mission to find as many Green Men as I could. The Green Man is a pagan symbol that represents the natural cycles and then the Catholics adopted it as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. These male faces with leaves and twigs sprouting from their mouths and ears were usually carved in the ceiling or arches. I found a few.
New Town is a wonderful example of city planning from the 18th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now. Its neo-classical and Georgian architecture is gorgeous. Go for long walks and enjoy.
The Water of Leith, a public path that runs along the River Leith, provides the peace and quiet you crave when you’ve had enough of crowds. Residents go for walks, jog, or walk their dogs. And you can peek into the gardens of the Georgian houses!
Even if you’re not an art and history enthusiast, please do go to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The foyer is astounding! And you can see portraits of famous Scottish people, from kings and queens to scientists and writers.
There are quite a few cemeteries in Edinburgh and a whole industry has evolved around them. You’ll find all kinds of guided tours of the cemeteries: by day, by night, ghost tours, Harry Potter tours, and the like. We didn’t take any of these tours. However, when visiting Greyfriars, I overheard a guide talk about how J.K. Rowling got inspiration from some tombstones for her characters and was able to spot the one that gave life to Profesor McGonagall. I also visited Adam Smith’s tomb at Cannongate.
Edinburgh is a fantastic city to explore, full of history and legend. I wish we’d had more than two full days but I’m glad we managed to see it.