Edinburgh, Scotland is a very old, very quaint city that is perfect for walking around and exploring all of its mysterious nooks and crannies. Although I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing on my recent trip there, I made the most of EVERY spare moment. Here are my top 5 highlights (plus one small thing I just could not make myself enjoy):
1) The Castle
The city’s most famous attraction and biggest calling card is its movie-set-perfect castle, which is perched like an ancient fortress on top of Castle Rock. There are many buildings to explore here, but my favorite was definitely the Royal Palace, which included a crown room, the Great Dining Hall, and Mary, Queen of Scots’ birthing chamber. The whole thing is spectacular!
NOTE: Make sure you pre-order admission tickets online. I didn’t and had to wait (while it rained off and on) for an hour to enter. And definitely rent a headphones/audio guide package. It’s the best way to hear about everything at your own pace.
2) Sounds of Bagpipes
I love bagpipes anyway, so was happy to discover this instrument played often and in many different places, including in the parks and on street corners. It really was a little like the famed “Pied Piper.” Whenever a musician would start playing, people would come rushing over from all directions just to have a listen. A perfect soundtrack to my visit!
3) The Royal Mile
This is the name given to the Old Town area’s main thoroughfare, and runs “about one Scots mile” from the Edinburgh Castle on one end to Holyrood Palace on the other. This narrow-street area is also the busiest and most packed with tourists and attractions, including the beautiful and iconic St. Giles’ Cathedral, old houses and pubs, and stores.
There are also “closes and wynds” throughout the area. These are extremely narrow alleys/passages in between the buildings that lead to a tenement or courtyard or another street at a different level.
Here, I also found the Heart of Midlothian, a mosaic built into the street that marks where the doorway stood of the 15th century Old Tolbooth (prison), where public executions took place. Even today, you’ll often see people spitting on the heart. Originally this was done to show disdain for the prison. But over the years that’s changed and it’s now done for good luck. (And yep, I participated. But I’m not sure if it actually improved my luck!)
4) Free Museums!
The fact that all of Edinburgh’s museums are free is nice but it becomes even more impressive when you realize just how spectacular these places really are. The Museum of Edinburgh, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Writers’ Museum, and even the Museum of Childhood are all fun and definitely worth a visit.
But my favorites were the Scottish National Gallery, with its collections from great artists such as Monet, Rodin, Van Gogh, and Cézanne distributed amongst 3 buildings…
And the National Museum of Scotland, which has a great hands-on area in its Science and Technology Gallery that explains everything from space travel to train engines to robotics.
5) The Camera Obscura
I could have spent a LOT more time at this quirky place. The “Camera Obscura and World of Illusions” traces its beginnings to 1776, when a young man charged admission to view his optical instruments and telescopes. Today, it offers several floors of mind-expanding exhibits, including the Magic Gallery of optical illusions, a room that lets guests hold lightning in their hands, an exhibit full of holograms, a fun and games stairway, and the Camera Obscura itself.
For the Obscura, guests go up to the building’s rooftop chamber and watch an oval-shaped viewing table, which shows projections from a large periscope of live moving images from out on the street. What makes it even more fascinating is you are shown how to “pick up” any one of the projected people or even redirect traffic over paper obstacles through the magic of mirrors and lenses.
The Only Negative: The Food
I’m usually pretty good at trying a country’s specialties and if not becoming a fan, at least finding something different to enjoy. But that didn’t seem to be the case here. I just could not enjoy haggis. And I had the misfortune to choose restaurants that kept wanting to put organ meats (of all types!) on whatever I ordered.
Even at the hotel breakfast bar, I’d ask for plain scrambled eggs with nothing else and receive a scoop of something black on top because “you don’t know what you’re missing!” That went on for 3 days, folks.
Since coming home I’ve received a lot of suggestions for what I should have ordered and how I should have worded my requests. But while there, desperation drove me 1 night to McDonald’s. I’m not proud – but at least it had a great view!
Still, everything else (except for the rain that would come and go at the drop of a hat) was pretty wonderful. Edinburgh is a fantastic walking city that is drenched in interesting history, old tales, and charming people. And, at least for me, a great place to lose weight.