We dreamed of visiting Edinburgh for a long time, as if so close to Dublin, yet so far. As much as we wanted we could never materialize going to Edinburgh, usually it was better to get tickets to more sunny places which are easier on your pocket then any place in UK. In the end, we landed in Edinburgh thanks to cheap tickets and the fact that flight takes only 45 minutes. November doesn’t sound like the ideal time to travel to Scotland, but as usual we got really lucky! Two days is definitely not enough for everything we wanted to see, so we’ll have to go back but for now we can share with you what to see in Edinburgh.
As an introduction, an explanation should be given about Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town! A part of Edinburgh to the north of Edinburgh Castle which lies at the center of the city is established as a new city. Don’t be misled by the name, because the new city dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. New Town buildings are in harmonious Georgian architecture, the streets are wide and the buildings stand proudly. The geometric layout of the new city comes from its architect James Craig. The old town, located south of the Castle, dates back to the Middle Ages. The old town is a tangle of steep steps, narrow streets and alleys called “close”, buildings with fairy-tale turrets.
The old town is a multi-dimensional and multi-level place, the topography has been perfectly used by man. Walking down the street it seems we are at the main level of the city but you just need to cross the first bridge to see other streets crossing down below. Stairs and mounds lead up and down, sometimes you feel like floating in the air. You can’t describe it in a few words, it has to be seen and experienced. Harry Potter fans are guaranteed to feel like they transferred to the world described in a book.
Edinburgh Castle – What to see in Edinburgh?
Located in the central point of the city is situated on the Castle Rock and proudly towers over Edinburgh. Castle can be reached by main Old Town Street – Royal Mile. It might seem that climbing will be demanding, but nothing like that really – the street gently rises to the castle hill. The castle dates back to the 11th century, and its interior can be visited.
Such pleasure costs 17 pounds (due to the closure of some parts because of pandemic, cost reduced to 15.50), and the entrance should be booked in advance. You can buy tickets here. Sightseeing of the castle is a great option on a rainy day, and there is no shortage of such!
Princes Street Gardens – What to see in Edinburgh?
Princes Street Gardens are located right at the foot of the castle, along Princes Street and can be accessed from there. Gardens are closed at night, and in autumn / winter, right after dusk, that is in the late afternoon. During our visit, the trees were shimmering with shades of yellow and orange, and gray squirrels were running on its trunks. One of the places worth adding to your sightseeing map is the Wojtek Bear Monument.
Wojtek the bear was a Syrian brown bear, bought as a small cub in Iran by Polish soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps. Wojtek the bear was brought up by Polish soldiers and bravely helped them to carry artillery boxes during the war. After demobilization, he traveled with them to Europe and ended up in the Edinburgh Zoo, where he died in peace. Another noteworthy place in the park is the Ross Fountain, currently painted in turquoise, gold, and bronze.
Scott Monument – What to see in Edinburgh?
Remarkable gothic-style monument 61 meters high, built in honor of the writer and poet Walter Scott. The monument is located on Princes Street and makes quite an impression, it is also a very nice object to photograph.
Grassmarket – What to see in Edinburgh?
Grassmarket is a square with the surrounding streets located in the historic part of the old town. The Grassmarket area is considered to be the most picturesque part of the old town. In the past, the square served as a marketplace, and there is also a dark part of its history – Grassmarket was also a place of public executions. The name comes from the cereals (including corn) that were sold at the square by farmers.
On the Grassmarket there is a historic pub called The Last Drop, which according to legends was the place where the inmates were served their last drink before they died. Its current interior strongly refers to history, in many places ropes hung like on gallows.
Another pub with an interesting history is Maggie Dickinson. The character in the name was a woman who was hanged, and after placing her in a coffin, it turned out that … she was still alive, so she was allowed to live and since then was called “a half-hanged woman”. From what we understood, Maggie worked in a pub (we do not know if it is specifically the one that is now named after her), got pregnant with the owner’s son, and, in order to avoid trouble, she tossed the child in a basket by the river. However, the authorities quickly caught on to her and Maggie was sentenced to death for her act.
The Vennel – What to see in Edinburgh?
The Vennel is one of the many steep stairs in the old town. However, they stand out with the best view of Edinburgh Castle, if you are looking for the best photo spot of the castle, you’ve just found it.
Victoria Street – What to see in Edinburgh?
Victoria Street is a picturesque, literally two-story street full of colorful sites. The first level is paved and “street level”, on this level there are shops, pubs and restaurants with windows painted in different, vivid colors. The second level is a gallery leading above the shops where tenement houses in a characteristic Edinburgh, dirty brown-gray color stand tall. Victoria Street is one of the most visited places in Edinburgh and it does not surprise us at all, it is so photogenic there that you can stay there for hours!
Advocates Close – What to see in Edinburgh?
As we have already mentioned, Edinburgh is full of stairs, narrow streets and lanes. The alleys are called “Close”, it can be said that they were the beginnings of gated communities. Walking down the main street of the Royal Mile, you can notice arched passages / gates in densely developed tenement houses, it is “Close”, which led through a narrow passage to the courtyards on the other side.
Close was usually called after the name of the most distinguished resident or profession / business run by one or a group of residents. The Edinburgh Close is a wide topic, you could visit it for hours and discover more of the fascinating stories associated with it. If you don’t have that much time, go to Advocates Close, an alley from which you can see the Scott Monument in the distance, a great place for an interesting shot!
Royal Mile – What to see in Edinburgh?
The Royal Mile is the main street, and basically the system of streets in the old town, leading to Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile begins at Hoolyrod Castle and Abbey. In our opinion, it is one of the most picturesque parts of the city, along the Royal Mile there are shops, pubs, shops selling and organizing tasting the famous Scotch whisky. A great place to feel the atmosphere of the city!
Cockburn Street – What to see in Edinburgh?
Cockburn Street is one of the streets that depart from the Royal Mile, Cocburn Street is a very photogenic place due to its curves and steepness!
Canongate – What to see in Edinburgh?
Canongate is another picturesque city street with lots of beautiful old buildings. The Canongate forms part of the Royal Mile between Hoolyrod Castle and Jeffrey Street.
Greyfriars Kirkyard – What to see in Edinburgh?
An atmospheric cemetery located in the center of Edinburgh, where the burials began in the 16th century. We didn’t plan it, but it turned out that in Edinburgh everything was so close together that we decided to step in. The cemetery is right next to George Heriot’s School, believe me, you’d like to study in a building like this! We were convinced it houses a museum, but it turned out to be a very prestigious school educating students aged 4 to 18.
Princes Street – What to see in Edinburgh?
The second most enjoyable thing to do in Edinburgh after wandering around in the tangle of old town streets is staring down at Edinburgh Castle. One of the best places for this entertainment is, of course, one of the main streets of the city, located in the new city, Princes Street.
This street that is really hard to miss as buses from the airport stop there, Princes Street is the main thoroughfare in the city center. The street itself does not impress with beauty, but there is the Scott Monument and Princes Street Garden next to it, and besides, as we have already mentioned, it offers a perfect view of the old town and the castle.
George Street – What to see in Edinburgh?
George Street is the second main street of the new city after Princess Street. There are luxury boutiques and expensive hotels. George Street is wide and elegant, with lots of beautiful Georgian townhouses. If you decide to get to know the new city a bit, don’t miss George Street.
Circus Lane – What to see in Edinburgh?
Circus Lane is a semicircular street full of low, ivy-covered houses where you can move back in time. Although the apartments look very modern (we can bet they are not cheap), the residents adjust the color of garage doors, doors and shutters to the climate of the place, it is probably required by the local zoning plan.
This cobbled street was built around 1760, when the area of the new city was being expanded, but it has a more intimate, homely and not as dignified character as the rest of the new city. Probably this place is not frequented by tourists, because in the morning we were literally alone there.
Calton Hill – What to see in Edinburgh?
Calton Hill is one of the symbols of the city, a hill that we imagined completely differently. Although it takes no more than 5 minutes to climb Calton, its summit offers a wonderful view of Edinburgh, from the city center and castle to Arthur’s Seat, and Leith and the North Sea on the other side. Calton Hill is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, on its slopes, in St. Andrew’s House is home to the Scottish Parliament.
On the hill there is the famous Dungald Stewart Monument, a round Greek-style temple dedicated to the Scottish philosopher Dungald Stewart. There is also a National Monument resembling the Greek Parthenon, built much later, as well as the Nelson Monument, a round tower built in honor of Vice Admiral Nelson. So there is a lot going on on the hill! It is open 24 hours a day and you can admire the city lights at night, sunset or sunrise is also a great idea, although in the case of the former you have to take into account a large crowd of visitors.
Dean Village – What to see in Edinburgh?
A charming village built along the banks of the River Leith, it has been part of Edinburgh since the 19th century. Its history dates back to the Middle Ages, when the village was known for its mills and grain grinding. Another place on the map of Edinburgh where you feel as if you have stepped back several hundred years! A beautiful place, surrounded by lots of greenery, exuding peace and quiet.
When you are in Dean Village, we also suggest a walk along the Leith River along the so-called Water of Leith walkway, the total length of which is 12 miles. We definitely didn’t walk that much, but it’s easy to get to Circus Lane from there and connect the two places into one longer walk.
Leith – What to see in Edinburgh?
Leith is a district of Edinburgh situated at the mouth of the Water of Leith River, on the shores of the North Sea. Leith used to be a separate village in the past, and is now part of the city. The architecture of Leith, and more precisely the buildings along the river itself, bring Amsterdam to mind. The atmosphere is similar, Leith is full of small, slightly hipster eateries, excellent Italian bakeries that we have not seen in such a number in any other part of the city.
The Royal Yacht Britannia, which served the family until 1997 and is now open to the public, is also moored in the port of Leith. Admission costs £ 17 with an audio guide included, special device at the ticket office or scan the QR code and use it on your phone. A treat for fans of the royal family and anyone interested in yachting.
Arthur’s Seat – What to see in Edinburgh?
Arthur’s Seat, or Arthur’s mountain reaching 251 meters above sea level. It is an ancient extinct volcano. Legends say that Arthur’s Mountain is one of the possible locations of Camelot, King Arthur’s legendary castle. There is a beautiful view of the city from the top, and the entire hike to the top and back takes about 2 hours. We really regret visiting Edinburgh in November, when the days are so short, because we simply ran out of time and we know that for Arthur’s Mountain we will have to return to Edinburgh.