It is tempting not to visit Scotland when taking a trip to UK but you have a time limited itinerary, what do you do? You head to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three days in Edinburgh is long enough for you to experience the charm of this gothic city and short enough to give you the taste to come back for more. More of the Scottish Isles, the highlands, the lowlands and the lochs this beautiful land beholds. It definitely did the trick for me and I returned from Edinburgh with a promise to come back and explore more of Scotland.
However, if you want venture and explore the highlands for a day trip, there are many commercial tours departing from Edinburgh or just rent a car and explore around. Either way you cannot miss a trip to the world’s funkiest city, Edinburgh.
Getting to Edinburgh
Either a train or a flight from London or any other big cities in England. My friend and I rode the Virgin Train to Edinburgh Waverley station, the entire journey was approximately 6 hours from London. Took the early morning train and reached just in time for lunch in Edinburgh, perfect I say.
Top 10 things to do’s in Edinburgh
The city is pretty accessible on foot or by public transport (bus) but since it can be quite hilly, there are places that you only get to go on foot. Below are my favorite top 10 things to do in the order of preference –
1. Walk the Royal Mile: When in Edinburgh, the most important street to know is the Royal Mile. Most point of attractions as well most shopping spots will either be on this street or an offshoot from this street.
2. Arthur’s Seat Hike: Now that you are in Scotland, there is no hiding from some really popular hikes and you shouldn’t also. Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park are top 2 hikes within city limits. My vote goes to Arthur’s Seat cause why not get to the highest point. FUN FACT: Arthur’s Seat is actually a dormant volcano. Making the climb for a perfect sunrise or sunset would be ideal but any other time of the day you are guaranteed a gorgeous bird eye view from Arthur’s Seat. The duration of this hike depends on where you start which can range anywhere from 30 mins to 1.5 hours. TIP: Identify your hike route on the trail map ahead of time. In my case, not much planning went in so we kept following our line of sight to Arthur’s seat. Line of sight from Royal Mile would be walking down to the Scottish Parliament building ending at Holyrood Park. And aha! there starts the trail.
Most of the trek from Scottish Parliament is flat grassland until you approach Arthur’s Seat summit, which is when the ascent gets very steep.
The result of this strenuous hike rewards with breathtaking panoramas and the sweet pleasures of achievement. TIP: Beware of longer days in summer and don’t over exert yourself with your day activities before the hike if you going for the sunset. On our descent we took the shortest path to civilization and landed ourselves in a local Scottish bar while waiting for our bus. We had earned ourselves a couple celebratory shots and off we ordered Tequila, Ouch! We turned some heads in the bar for all the wrong reasons but that’s beside the point. On the hindsight, I am surprised that a local Scottish bar even carried a bottle of Patron.
3. Edinburgh Castle: Top of Royal Mile ends at Edinburgh castle which takes you through history wrapped around marvelous landscape.
4. Calton Hill: Quaint hill top boasting lush grassy slopes, colorful panoramic views of Salisbury Crags cliffs, Arthur’s seat, the bay, Holyrood Palace and home to historic structures such National monument and Nelson monument to name a few. That’s Calton hill for you. It is a 15 mins walk and a few steps climb from Royal mile. Calton hill drew my attention when I saw a Parthenon like structure in the distance from Scott’s Monument. FUN FACT: It is actually an unfinished monument modeled on the famous Parthenon in Greece supposed to be officially called the “National Monument” to commemorate those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s no surprise that its sometimes also known as the Athens of the North. Calton hill has a quiet and peaceful aura where one can easily spend a relaxing time on the grass slopes soaking in the gorgeous views. Allow the pictures to take you there virtually.
5. St. Giles Cathedral: You simply can’t miss this Gothic cathedral on Royal Mile . Located on High Street this mesmerizing architecture stunningly adorns a square where spotted frequently are local Bagpiper players adding soul to the place.
6. Scott Monument: If Scott Monument is not in your list, then it should be. It forms a great backdrop for old Edinburgh skyline but a few minutes walk from Royal Mile and you approach this impressive Victorian Gothic monument built in the memory of Sir Walter Scott overlooking Princess St. gardens. That’s not all, feeling adventurous? Buy the ticket to climb up on top of this monument, yes you can go inside! It is about 200’ tall and many hundred steps but then you are rewarded with the magnanimous views overlooking both the Old and Modern Edinburgh city. TIP: Word of caution, the stairs are narrow, circular and claustrophobic but there are many exit levels where you can catch some fresh air and view before you go back up. My friend and I decided on a whim to climb those never ending claustrophobic stairs and were enchanted by the 360 degree views from up above at every single level, the pictures speak for themselves.
7. Princess St. Garden: Princess St. Garden separates the old Gothic and newer modern parts of Edinburgh city. Scott Monument overlooks these gardens and a walk here will lead to the foot of Edinburgh Castle. There is a small café inside the garden for a quick bite.
8. The Palace of Holyrood house: Walk down the bottom of the Royal Mile and you reach the Queen’s official residence in Scotland i.e. Palace of Holyrood house. I must admit, I was so overwhelmed with the many castles and palaces I had already visited in London, Windsor and Edinburgh that I gladly passed this one for Calton hill. And then unexpectedly I saw this gorgeous view of the palace from Calton hill.
9. Eat & Drink all things Scottish: Grab atleast one meal of the sumptuous Scottish breakfast and you must try the traditional Haggis (I had the vegetarian version), Potato Scones (also called Tattie Scones) besides the typical toast, beans, eggs, fried mushroom and tomatoes. Worth a visit is Grassmarket area which boasts lines of restaurants. Need a midday break? All Harry Potter fans here’s your chance to visit the inspiration behind J.K. Rowling exceptional creation, the Elephant House Café. Okay, it wasn’t the café that inspired her, it was the majestic view of the Edinburgh Castle from this café that created history. Last but not the least, I am sure you will try the local Scotch but don’t forget to bring some back home.
10. Gilmerton Cove: Had enough of history and sightseeing? Here’s an off the beaten path experience for you in Edinburgh. The mystery of this spooky underlying city can only be unraveled by taking a tour of this cove. I don’t remember how I got convinced to go for this, perhaps, a payback for dragging my friend into trekking Arthur’s seat.