Edinburgh is more than a castle and the Royal Military Tattoo. It’s a city full of history, where monarchy and democracy exist side by side.
Probably the most famous street in all of Edinburgh is the Royal Mile. You’ll recognise it immediately, it’s the main street running up that imposing hill. Actually, it’s not just one street, but rather Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand combined. At the top end is Edinburgh Castle, and at the bottom is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh.
Right opposite the gates of Holyroodhouse Palace is the Scottish Parliament, a shockingly modern building in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Auld Reekie’s centre as Edinburgh is sometimes called, is split into Old Town and New Town, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Old Town centres around the Castle Rock and the Royal Mile. Its medieval character is visible in the architecture, cobblestone alleys and steep closes, wynds and staircases that run off the Royal Mile and towards Princes Street Gardens (which used to be Nor Loch) and New Town.
At 1pm listen out for the One O’Clock Gun being fired from the Castle or watch the Time Ball drop from Nelson Monument (Calton Hill). Both, the canon and the ball used to mark the exact time for ships in Leith Harbour and the Firth of Forth, and they are an age-old tradition.
Possibly one of the most famous closes in Edinburgh is The Real Mary King’s Close. In the 1600’s, this street was bustling and open to the skies, with houses on it up to seven storeys high. But several of these closes have been built over at what is now the street level of the Royal Mile. Real Mary King’s Close lies right underneath the Royal Exchange, the lower storeys still preserved and accessible. There are legends of the close being haunted and that it once housed plague victims who were left and forgotten down there. It’s definitely a memorable tour!
Edinburgh also boasts a variety of museums and galleries, and quite a few are free, like the quirky Museum of Childhood.
Then there’s the Georgian New Town. If you are into architecture and town planning, then New Town is for you. It is also home to the National Gallery of Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, department store Jenners which has been described as the “Harrods of the North”, and Princes Street Gardens, a popular place to hang out on a sunny day.
In Edinburgh, well, let’s face it, all of Scotland, whisky is a big deal. For those interested in the drink’s history and distillation, the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre at the top of the Royal Mile opposite the Camera Obscura, is a good place to start. And while you can do a whisky tasting there, another approach would be to “go local.”
I actually picked up this idea from my university professor. If you are in a group and you’re all over 18 years of age (the legal age to consume alcohol in the UK), and you all want a taste, find a pub or better still: a whisky bar! Preferably, you don’t want a total dive, but a place the locals frequent. Ask the bartender for whoever many whiskies as there are people in your group, and ask him to give you a good, wide selection. Make a note of the whiskies he pours you. Then compare by taking sips from each glass. You get to drink the one you liked best and you also find out which whisky you like.
And yes, on a course trip to the Edinburgh Christmas Market, my university professor did this for us. Only 3 of us wanted to try whisky, so he asked for 4 glasses and let us keep the one we liked best while he had the one that was leftover. I don’t remember the whole selection, just that it was single malts, though I believe Glenfiddich, Talisker and Balvenie were involved. And yes, that was a pretty awesome course trip.