Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, a nation famed for it’s love of tartan, making the world’s greatest whisky, and the sound of the bagpipes. Edinburgh is also one of the world’s most popular city break destinations.
Edinburgh is most well known for its international festival and fringe festivals which are held in August each year. This is where the names of some of the world’s greatest comedians are launched.
Last year the event saw 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows at about 300 venues. But there’s more to Edinburgh than it’s festival, and many wonderful attractions to celebrate.
When spending time in the UK, many people don’t head further north than London. But to swerve Scotland and miss out on this magnificent city would be a massive mistake! Here are our top reasons to visit Edinburgh, no matter what the time of year:
Experience Edinburgh Castle
You can’t visit the UK without visiting a castle or two, and there are very few more iconic or photogenic than Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits high on the top of a hill and dominates the sky line of the city: there are very few places you can stand where you won’t see it soaring in front of you.
No one knows for certain when the first castle was built on this site, but we do know that parts of the site are incredibly ancient, which some settlers living on the rock during the Bronze Age.
Edinburgh Castle is built upon the massive Castle Rock, itself almost as iconic as the castle above it and part of an ancient extinct volcano.
The castle was considered an important site for the Scottish Royal family and a symbol of freedom for the Scottish people: it changed hands several times during the Wars of Scottish Independence between Scotland and England during the 13th and 14th centuries.
And what about today? Well, nowadays Edinburgh castle is the most popular tourism site in Scotland, and one you should definitely put on your itinerary. Visitors can explore the castle, enjoy the views from its battlements, and enjoy one of the several lively events hosted inside throughout the year.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh in August then be sure to book tickets for the world-famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: this incredible display brings together musicians and performers from every part of the world, which a strong focus on the military bagpipes.
If you manage to get tickets for this performance (they’re incredibly sought after) then I can almost guarantee it will be the highlight of your trip!
And if you feel hungry during your visit? There is also a traditional Scottish tea rooms (highly recommended) and restaurant inside the castle walls. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff or a keen musician, Edinburgh Castle really does offer something for everyone.
Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s main street, and one that is fully loaded with tourist attractions, shops and restaurants. The natural path of the Royal Mile (which meanders directly through the heart of the city) was actually carved by a now-extinct volcano.
If you’re looking for a hotel in a central location then the Royal Mile is the perfect place to pick. As well as well-known chain hotels, such as the Radisson and the Hilton, you will also find some quirky and characterful independent hotels here.
When spending a night or two in Edinburgh, this is the perfect starting point for an exploration of the night life (and of course, the ideal place to enjoy a glass of whiskey or two)
Architecturally, almost all of the buildings on this street are interesting and worthy of exploration. A particular highlight is St. Giles’ Cathedral. St Giles is known as both the physical and spiritual heart of Edinburgh, an immediately recognisable icon.
In its current incarnation, the cathedral was first built in the 14th century, and during the 19th century almost all of the glass was replaced with stained glass windows.The stain glass here is an exceptional example of the art, and makes the cathedral well worth visiting.
If it’s the obvious pleasures of tourism that appeal then this is certainly the place to be: you can have your photo taken in a traditional pillar box red English phone box, take an open top bus tour of the city, and enjoy a walking tour along the mile learning more about this fascinating destination.
Embrace the Culture of the National Gallery
The National Gallery of Scotland is a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy learning more about the art and culture of the destinations you visit. There is nowhere better in Scotland to explore the incredible creativity of its people.
The National Gallery of Scotland is considered to be one of the best art galleries in the UK (and certainly the best gallery outside of London) offering a huge number of permanent portrait and sculptures, as well as special exhibits that change on a regular basis.
The Gallery also hosts regular talks and lectures from local and visiting artists, ideal if you want to feed your brain and soul (as well as your stomach) during your trip. This really is the perfect destination for intellectual nourishment.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh on a budget then you’ll be pleased to know that visiting the National Gallery of Scotland is free of charge, making it a great day out if you’re watching the pennies (and a great place to visit if you fall foul of Scotland’s infamous drizzly weather).
Climb to Arthur’s Seat
If you’ve read the book (or seen the film) One Day then you’ll already be familiar with Arthur’s Seat. If not, then this is the site of a dormant volcano situated at the end of Holyrood Park, and one that you can climb to the top of to enjoy incredible views of the whole city.
If you’re a keen hiker or an enthusiastic walker then you’ll already be relishing the chance to put on your comfiest sneakers and get going, but if you’re not one for outdoor pursuits then don’t worry: the walk to the top is much easier than it looks!
Arthur’s Seat is located to the east of the city, around 1 mile away from Edinburgh castle. However you don’t have to walk from the castle to the summit if you don’t want to: Edinburgh’s excellent public transport system means you can take a bus to the park beneath the peak.
The mini-mountain sits 251m above sea level and (if you don’t keep stopping to admire the view) it is possible to reach the top in little over an hour.
It’s worth mentioning that, whilst it is technically considered to be a volcano, Arthurs Seat is very much extinct and has not erupted for approximately 200 million years, so you’re not going to find yourself in the middle of an action movie style eruption!
Want to know why the volcano is called Arthur’s Seat? It’s a good question and one to which there is no concrete answer. But William Maitland proposed that the name was a corruption of the Gaelic phrase Àrd-na-Said, which loosely means “Height of Arrows”. Over the years, this name was bastardised to become Arthur’s Seat as we know it today.
Another excellent activity in Edinburgh with no charge, this is a great place to blow away the cobwebs (or the whiskey induced hangovers) and burn off those extra calories you’ll no doubt eat thanks to the fine Scottish cuisine.
Explore the Royal Yacht Britannia
If you’ve got a passion for all things Royal and a soft spot for the British Monarchy then a trip to the Royal Yacht Britannia is a must. Between 1954 and 1997, this was the official yacht of Queen Elizabeth and served as her floating royal residence.
You can actually step inside the yacht and explore the living areas, opulent dining rooms, and even visit the Queen’s bedroom! Historic world leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Rajiv Gandhi have all visited and eaten dinner on the yacht, and now you can too.
Some of my favourite highlights of a trip to the yacht include the chance to see:
- Life below decks in the Sick Bay and the Laundry. It’s fascinating to see the contrast between the staff quarters and the royal rooms.
- The food! As well as a delicious tea room (offering Royal-quality cakes and sandwiches) you can also sample home-made fudge in the NAAFI sweet shop onboard. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never want ordinary fudge again!
- If you love cars then you’ll love the onboard Rolls-Royce Phantom V. This is the Queen’s favourite car and it used to travel on Britannia with her.
- Another must for engineering geeks and motor heads is the gleaming engine room, which sparkles and shines with precision. See the actual engine used to power this incredible craft.
For the last five years, the Royal Yacht Britannia has been awarded Edinburgh’s best tourist attraction. As well as seeing the original yacht in the flesh, you can also explore an 11 foot long Lego replica of the ship (who doesn’t like reliving their childhood and playing with lego?)
It might not be an obvious attraction to visit, and it might not be immediately appealing, but visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia is a truly wonderful way to spend an afternoon whilst you’re in Edinburgh.
Eat Like a Scot
When thinking of the world’s finest cuisines, Scottish food might not come to mind quite as quickly as French, Italian or Indian delights. In fact, English and Scottish food has something of a reputation for being fatty, stodgy and relatively tasteless. But this reputation is largely undeserved.
Scottish food is delicious. And when you’re in Scotland, if you really want to appreciate everything that the country has to offer, you need to eat like a Scot.
Start your day with a full Scottish breakfast. This consists of fried eggs, thick rashers of back bacon, flat sausage patties (these look like square shaped burgers but are made of seasoned pork), blood sausage slices (in Scotland this is known as black pudding) as well as mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomato halves and floury potato pancakes.
Although it might not sound appetising, be sure to brave the black pudding: you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Comprising of pigs’ blood, fat, oats, barley, and spices, all stuffed in a length of intestine, you’ll be amazed at how rich and earthy this delicacy tastes.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter and better for your heart then why not try a steaming hot bowl of Scottish porridge oats? The Scots invented porridge, and they know how to make their smooth Scottish oatmeal taste creamy and delicious.
Away from the breakfast table, other Scottish delicacies to look out for include haggis (sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag), Scottish tablet (a rich and crunchy version of fudge), smoked salmon and bangers and mash (link sausages served with potatoes)
Legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns memorialised the haggis, including it in his work, and it is now considered the official dish of the country. Usually served alongside mashed root vegetables, such as turnip or suede, whilst it may not seem particularly appetising, it would be a shame to go all the way to Scotland without trying this iconic dish!
Embrace the Scottish People
Finally, one of the main things that makes Scotland such a wonderful place to visit for a city break or a vacation is the people. The Scottish people are funny, warm and welcoming. You’re sure to meet people full of character that will leave a lasting impression during your trip.
Whilst many visitors admit to struggling to understand the lilt of the Scottish accent at first, you quickly get the hang of it and even enjoy it. The Scots accent is regularly voted the friendliest, most trustworthy and most calming accent in Britain.
So how will you know if someone’s Scottish or not? Their accent will generally give them away. You may also be able to spot a Scotsman thanks to his clothes.
Often many Scottish men will choose to wear kilts (particularly in Edinburgh where the quirk helps to attract tourists). It’s worth noting that ‘true Scotsmen’ don’t wear underwear underneath their suits, preferring to let their ‘gentlemen’ hang loose and free!
Do you like to squeeze in a little celeb spotting when you’re on vacation? Well, Edinburgh’s most famous current residents include; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Harry Potter author J.K Rowling, Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy, and actor Robert Cavanah.
Edinburgh is a city rich in history, offering so much to see and do. You could spend a full two week vacation here and still not experience everything Edinburgh has to offer. It’s the kind of destination that people choose to visit again and again.
As a self-confessed history geek, I love spending time in Edinburgh. It’s a great place to learn more about Great Britain’s diverse past and the castle is a highlight of every trip for me. What’s more, the people are incredibly friendly and the food (whilst not always healthy) is always delicious.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little different to visit for your next city break then Edinburgh is a great choice, no matter what time of year.