Even if you wanted to avoid it, you can’t. Almost everywhere you happen to be in the town centre of Edinburgh, you will see it – almost like the sentinel of the city.
I’m talking about Edinburgh Castle and not for one moment I am suggesting you skip this symbol. It’s well worth the visit. And of course there is also the famous Royal Mile that ends up at the Palace of Holyrood House (the Queen’s residence, yes that Queen, when she’s in Scotland).
But there are whole lot of other spots that also deserves attention and time, which I managed to fit in on my Insight Vacations tour. Here are five!
1. Up a hill
Calton Hill is one of Scotland’s capital’s Unesco World Heritage sites, it offers you great views of the city and if you’re lucky and the weather god likes you, a spectacular sunset. Situated at the end of Princess Street (the shopping street), which runs almost parallel to the Royal Mile, where the main railway terminus in the city – Waverley – is sandwiched between.
What’s that you see the Acropolis of Athens? It’s supposed to be a replica and dubbed the National Monument, which was never finished after building began in 1822 (and is now called by another not so flattering name) but I like it as it is, as do the locals. You can also spot two observatories, the Old Observatory House (designed in 1792) and the City Observatory built in 1818.
Then there’s the Nelson‘s Monument in honour of the famous British hero and admiral of Trafalgar fame. But the one structure no one misses out when it comes to selfies and wefies because it also offers spectacular views of the city as a backdrop is the Dugald Stewart Monument, which is modelled on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.
2. The other hill
For an even more extensive and broad spectacular views of the city and further, there is the 250.5m hill past Holyrood House and the Scottish Parliament. An extinct volcano, it offers a vigorous climb (around 150 minutes) and you have the option of the peak call Arthur’s Seat (supposedly because it might be one of the possible sites of the legendary Camelot). However it offers not much room so you might be jostling for position on the “seat”.
From the seat you can also see a spur, which are rough looking series of cliffs called Salisbury Crags. My friend and I decided on this hike, as it was shorter but also gave one a chance to look down the cliffs while still soaking in the same cityscape as observed from Arthur’s Seat.
3. Aye for whisky
Being in Scotland and not going near a whisky let alone drinking one would be “sacrilegious”. If you’re short of time I highly recommend The Scotch Whisky Experience at Castlehill. Thanks to the folks at Visit Scotland, I managed to get a media pass.
There a few different tour experiences but the basic one would take you on the process of how whisky is made, it’s history and the various types of whisky in Scotland – all in a fun and entertaining way. You also are taught how to differences between the different whiskies and actually savour them. Then it’s off to view the most extensive whisky collection in the world – there’s even a chess set where the pieces are filled with whisky. I’d fancy a game with that.
4. Cruising royally
Thanks again to Visit Scotland I managed to grab a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is permanently docked at Ocean Terminal. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s former floating residence (it is now de-commissioned) gives you a rare insight into how the Royals lived while travelling on the high seas.
It’s a self-tour of the five main decks thanks to the complimentary audio handset. I found it fascinating especially realising the fact that space is a premium even on a royal yacht and the rooms might be considerably smaller than one would think even for the Queen (and Prince Philip). Try not to give this a miss.
5. Royal floral
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, founded in 1670 is a well-tended and well-thought out garden. It’s a garden that’s doable in a leisurely place in less than half a day. Entrance is free but there is admission fees for the Glasshouse.
The gardens proper is delightful and generally most of the plants and trees have descriptions attached, though I wish they would have included the common names instead of just the scientific ones. The glasshouse was a surprise because for part of the exhibits especially at the entrance I was brought back home – orchids beautiful and rare ones too. And because it was sponsored by Tourism Malaysia!
There is a bonus of sorts – there are two entrances and if you exit the right one, it leads you out into the suburbs and to a river where you can take a delightful stroll along the riverbanks, what the city has labelled the Water of Leith walkway.