Our last stop on our trip exploring the British Isles was Scotland using Edinburgh as a base. This town quickly became one of my favorites in Europe. It has friendly people, ample history and exciting myths all set around an extinct volcano on a seaside. This is how I spent my 36 hours in Edinburgh.
Our hotel was one of my favorites I have ever stayed in. The Waldorf-Astoria Caledonian had sweeping views of the castle and its rooms, service and restaurants are the epitome of luxury. The two photos of the castle were taken from a lovely reading nook in our hotel room. Our location was ideal for exploring both the old towns and new.
Royal Mile (Ryal Mile)
As the name suggests, this mile-long street, which is set in a rift valley made long ago by lava flowing from the volcano on which the castle sits, connects two regal buildings, the Edinburgh Castle on the top of the hill and the Palace of Holyrood House at the foot with Arthur’s Seat looming above. It is the main thoroughfare of the Old Town city. Shooting off of the main street are many interesting and beautiful closes, or alleyways. Here are some of its landmarks which I enjoyed the most.
Dominating the landscape, the castle looms high over the city. I could imagine warriors in a siege feeling hopeless trying to overtake it– an ideal placement for a castle, where it has stood since the 12th century. We had visited many castles on our trip but were glad we took a few hours here. Included in the entrance ticket is a guided or audio tour. It contains the Scottish regalia, the Stone of Destiny, St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, the National War Museum of Scotland, Prisons of War and the rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. The panoramic views of the city are spectacular, and if you are there at the right time you can hear the one o’clock gun, which still fires off on most days, as it has since 1861.
Heart of Midlothian
Outside of the west door of St. Giles Cathedral, be sure not to step on this pretty stone heart as it is a tradition for locals to spit on it for good luck, as the spot was the doorway of the Old Tolbooth (prison) where executions took place.
St. Giles Cathedral
This beautiful cathedral is the head of the Presbyterian Church and is worth a look. I loved learning about this branch of the Christian church. I came in early in the morning and was invited to take part in a communion service by a lovely female minister who not only took her time to educate me, but also included me in coffee with locals at a local hotel after the service. If you want to take pictures inside the church, they ask for a $2 offering.
There is much myth spread around Edinburgh concerning this attraction, such as ghosts and murderers and people being buried under the city to contain the plaque. Its strange name created even more confusion for me. Close is the Scottish word for an alleyway and closes (alley tenement neighborhoods) were named after prominent residents of the neighborhood, in this case Mary King. While most of the myths are not believed to be true, what you will see is an archaeological site revealing how people lived in the 16th-19th centuries in Edinburgh– and how so many died of the plague. The only way to explore the fragile closes are by guided tour. Since this site is one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions, you are highly recommended to book ahead of time.
Kirk is a Scottish word for church and Canongate is a neighborhood at the bottom of the Royal Mile.
A beautiful area with great shops and restaurants right off the Royal Mile, this was named after a marketing square covered in grass where executions were held. Scotland is a land of myths and one from this area is of Mary Dickson (‘Half Hangit’ Maggie) who was hanged after she was charged with concealing an out-of-wedlock baby and put into a coffin, only to wake up. Since she was legally dead, she was let off. I guess she was lucky?
If you follow my blog, you know that we are fans of Harry Potter, so we couldn’t miss the chance to grab some coffee at the cafe where J.K. Rowling is said to have written many of her books. You can see evidence of her inspirations throughout your visit which I wrote about in Chasing Harry Potter.
This was one of my kids’ favorite stops. I have always been a fan of cemeteries, and this is a lovely one full of many stories. Here you will also find Tom Riddle’s grave. You can also learn more of Edinburgh’s wonderful myth histories through stories of grave robbers and the very sweet romantic story of Bobby.
Bobby was the dog of one of the kirk’s guards protecting the dead from grave robbers. When his owner died, it is said Bobby would not leave his grave for 13 years until his death, but was provided for by the city residents. I love the idea that in the midst of this dark time, people were still taking care of this dog. Rub the nose of this cute statue of the pup, which sits right outside the graveyard’s gate, for good luck and because it just feels good and happy.
The new Scottish Parliament building is notable for looking so out of place in this old area of the city.
This palace has been the primary residence of Scotland’s royalty since the 16th century and is still used once a year by Queen Elizabeth. No pictures are allowed inside the palace.
HolyRood Abbey and Gardens
The partially collapsed church behind the palace was one of my favorite sites in Edinburgh. The peaceful light streaming onto ornately decorated stone and half standing columns is quite spectacular.
Be sure to check out my post on Arthur’s seat. The hike is into the hills right next to the palace and well worth half an day of your time.
I started my day in the early morning when my kids and husband were still asleep. Since I hadn’t planned for a tour and wanted to be sure I knew about what I was looking at and where I was, I downloaded an app called GPSmycity using the hotel’s WiFi which not only tells you where you are geographically, but also gives you information about the relevant sites . It was educational and helped me navigate as I wandered through the Royal Mile. If you would like to try the app for any available city, the company has offered to give free codes to my first twenty readers who share this article and comment below on where you would like to GPSmycity.
We also spent some time in the New Town where there are many beautiful cosmopolitan restaurants and shops. When I return, I will explore more there. I would also like to visit the Camera Obscura, the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and Leith which I have heard from locals are quite great.
There is so much to see throughout Scotland. In The Best 17 Hidden European Gems, Dan Flying Solo explores Linlithgow, not too far away from Edinburgh.
P.S. If you liked this article, you may enjoy 24 Hours in Dublin With Kids.