Things to do in Edinburgh

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Things to do in Edinburgh

Packed with oodles of history, a rich and diverse culture, spectacular scenery and more festivals than you could poke a stick at, you’d be hard pressed to find yourself bored in Edinburgh. Your biggest problem will likely be keeping your list of activities manageable for the length of your visit.

If you’re struggling to reduce your to-do list, here are a few suggestions to help with the decision making.

Holyrood Park

Just a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Old Town, the 650 acre Holyrood Park reflects the all the magnificent, rugged features you’d expect of Scotland. Volcanic cliff faces, steep pathways, mini lochs, glens, and ridges are all featured in the property, creating a remarkably wild landscape, just a stone’s throw from the city centre.

The main peak of the group of hills which form most of the park is a 250 metre extinct volcano shaped like a reclining lion, known as Arthur’s Seat. No-one seems to know how it got its name, but old-school romantics claim it as the location of Camelot. Arthur’s Seat is one of the most popular features of the park and is quite easy to climb from any direction – although the simplest ascent is from the East, rising from the slope veering up from Dunsapie Loch.

There’s so much to explore here, it’s worth setting aside at least half a day to take in the raw, natural beauty. Don’t miss the ruins of Anthony’s Chapel or the stunning Salisbury Crags.  Consider making your way right around the park to the village of Duddingston, where you can source a hearty post-hike repast in what is widely believed to be Scotland’s oldest pub, the Sheep Heid Inn.

Edinburgh Castle

No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to this famous and historic castle. Perched high on Castle Rock, the remarkable structure has played a pivotal role in Scottish history since the eleventh century and still dominates the skyline today.

Throughout the ages, Edinburgh Castle has been both a royal residence and a military stronghold and today is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. The castle hosts the world famous Military Tattoo during August each year, and if the timing works for you, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

The property is huge and it’s well worth making the most of your visit with a guided tour (included in the cost of entry) or a self-paced audio tour. The Castle is open every day from 9.30am – 6pm and you can book online to beat the queues.

National Galleries

Situated in the heart of Edinburgh, the Scottish National Gallery and adjacent Royal Scottish Academy combine to form the National Gallery of Scotland Complex. Incorporating the Scottish Portrait Gallery, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the Scottish National Gallery, the National Galleries hold over 96,000 works in the permanent collection, so no matter what your artistic taste, you’re bound to find something here to capture your interest.

The Galleries feature a variety of events and exhibitions throughout the year, so it’s worth checking what is scheduled for when you’re planning to be in town. Entry is free, but there may be a charge for special exhibitions.

St Giles Cathedral

If ancient churches and cathedrals are your thing, St Giles holds a rich and fascinating history. Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St Giles is sometimes referred to as the Mother Church of Presbyterianism and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland’s chivalric company of knights chosen by The Queen). Founded in the 1120s, the cathedral is dedicated to Saint Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh.

Located about halfway between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, St Giles is renowned for its stunning stained glass windows and Rieger organ. It hosts numerous events throughout the year, including organ recitals and lunchtime concerts. Guided tours are available and you can even take a rooftop tour to view the breathtaking views of the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour

Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? But fear not, this is indeed a bona-fide – and indeed award winning – tour. Literature and pubs. Together. In one gloriously witty frolic through the pubs and ‘wynds’ of Edinburgh.

The tour is hosted by the characters of Clart and McBrain, played by professional actors, who will lead you on a literary adventure, reflecting on 300 years of writing, in the context of various establishments frequented by the likes of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and their contemporaries. It’s a wonderfully light hearted reflection on Edinburgh’s colourful heritage, incorporating, storytelling, song, and literary history shared within some of the city’s most magnificent venues.

Murder and Mystery Walking Tour of Edinburgh

If there’s a little part of you that doesn’t mind a bit of the dark supernatural, then this is definitely a tour for you. Lead by the famous (and now deceased) Edinburgh highwayman, Adam Lyal, this award-winning tour will take you to the scenes of Edinburgh’s dark history and supernatural events that have occurred throughout the streets of the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Exploring haunted alleyways and shadowy courtyards, Mr Lyal will share with you tales of executions, ghosts, witchcraft, and the infamous 19th century trade of body snatching. Taking place under the cloak of darkness, this ghoulish experience is not for the faint of heart – although it is all in good fun.

Make sure your wear appropriate clothes and footwear for this somewhat macabre adventure through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets.

Scotch Whisky Experience

It stands to reason that you can’t take a visit to bonny Scotland without sampling a wee dram of the local tipple. And why not make it a complete immersive experience? The Scotch Whiskey Experience offers a range of different educational tours, ranging from just under an hour, to the ultimate three hour indulgence, which provides a three course Scottish cuisine experience to cap off the luxury in-depth guided tasting tour.

The multi-media centre is located in a historic school building. The interactive experience features in-depth tutelage on the entire whiskey making process from barley to bottle. It includes series of exhibits, demonstrations and informative talks that engage all the sense. Prices vary depending on the tour option you take.

Rosslyn Chapel

One of Scotland’s most stunning and remarkable buildings, Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 as a place of worship and is still used for services to this day. The profile of the chapel greatly increased after the publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, and subsequent movie release. The ornately carved interior includes striking likenesses of vines, flowers, angels, biblical figures, as well as examples of the pagan ‘Green Man’ and other figures associated with Freemasonry and the Knights Templar.

An air of intrigue remains about Rosslyn Chapel, which is regarded by some researchers to be a secret Templar repository, with hidden vaults beneath the chapel. It has been claimed that these crypts could contain anything from the Holy Grail to the body of Christ himself.  

The chapel is open most days of the year, and there are guided tours throughout the day which are included in the modest admission price. Be sure to allow time to wander throughout the entire chapel and grounds and immerse yourself in a truly remarkable experience. Make a day of it and explore Roslin village and the surrounding Midlothian area.

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