To the uninitiated, Edinburgh inevitably conjures up associations with its vibrant annual festival, an improbable national diet of shortbread, malt whisky and haggis and a male population that dress only in kilts, sporrans and tam o’shanters. Edinburgh undeniably and shamelessly caters for its visitors, but this city jewel in Scotland’s crown crams in so much to see and do that it’s easy to fill an entire weekend with sights and activities to delight everyone and leave them wanting more.By no means exhaustive, here’s my guide to spending a weekend in Edinburgh.
Get the morning off to a good start with a full Scottish breakfast, which typically starts with hot porridge followed by a traditional fry-up including a square of Lorne sausage, tattie scones, white pudding and often haggis. There’s no need to hurry breakfast because your ideal starting point, Edinburgh Castle, doesn’t open until 09.30. Whilst the entrance fee may seem a touch steep at £15 per adult, you do get a complementary guided tour and the castle is both vast and impressive. In fact, you could easily spend half a day or more just admiring the cannon, the Great Hall, the Honours of Scotland (the equivalent of England’s Crown Jewels) and the captivating views of the city from the battlements.
If you’re a glutton for panoramic views of Edinburgh, and also enjoy optical illusions and other weird visual phenomena, visit the Camera Obscura situated about a hundred meters from the castle’s entrance. Edinburgh’s oldest tourist attraction the fascinating Camera Obscura is situated in a high Victorian tower, and provides detailed views of the city as well as providing an excellent observation point (there are free-to-use mounted telescopes on the roof.
From the vicinity of the castle, head onto the Royal Mile – undoubtedly Edinburgh’s most famous street, and the main passageway through the Old Town. At the height of the Edinburgh Festival each August the Royal Mile throngs with buskers, street performers and leafleteers, but at any time of year it is fascinating to browse, as it features an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and bars, historic buildings and hidden gems to be discovered in the narrow closes that branch off the main thoroughfare.
A few minutes’ walk from the Royal Mile on Chambers Street is the new National Museum of Scotland. Entrance is free, and this is far from some stuffy old boring museum as it, features collections from the natural world, art and design, world cultures and many more. Set over three floors, the National Museum of Scotland could quite easily eat away a few hours of your Saturday.
At the furthest end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle stands The Palace of Holyrood House, more usually referred to as Holyrood Palace; the Queen’s official residence when in Scotland. If royal ancestry and history are your passion you’ll enjoy the guided tour of the palace which includes the Great Gallery – a collection of more than eighty portraits of past monarchs – and the 650 acres of gardens.
If all of that history, window shopping sightseeing and browsing has left you hungry, Edinburgh has enough bar and restaurant diversity to satisfy the most demanding appetite, from exquisite curries in the shadow of Edinburgh’s central mosque to haggis and tatties in The Elephant House, where once upon a time a fledgling writer called J.K. Rowling first began scribbling down ideas.
Better fortify yourself with breakfast again as you’ll be climbing a volcano this morning. Located beyond the Palace of Holyrood, if you’re brave enough for an early start the reward for the thirty-minute ascent of Arthur’s Seat is to watch the sun rise over the city and the surrounding land from Edinburgh’s highest point. If you’re up for a stroll here, you can take in the ruins of fifteenth-century St Anthony’s Chapel.
Having spent yesterday investigating the historic nooks and crannies of Edinburgh’s Old Town it’s time to take a look at the contemporary side. Princes Street Gardens provides a green and pleasant introduction and tends to be populated by every strata of Edinburgh life from joggers to loafers and from businessmen to dossers. Beyond the gardens lies the Waverley Valley, and Edinburgh’s new town with its modern, open architecture, vibrant business sector and unlimited shopping opportunities. Jenners department store, (founded in 1838 and now owned by John Lewis) is a legendary shopping experience in Edinburgh and not to be missed by those who feel the need for a little retail therapy.
Directly opposite Jenners is the Scott Memorial, a Victorian Gothic monument that has been likened in appearance to a rocket-ship. At just over two-hundred feet high it is possible to climb the memorial’s 285 steps in order to admire the cityscape from one of its observation decks. Should you not be stretchered away suffering from exhaustion, your modest entrance fee covers a certificate that verifies you climbed the steps to the top.
For something a little more cultural, The National Galleries of Scotland are located a short distance from Jenners. This collection of galleries is home to works by some of the world’s greatest artists, including Da Vinci, Monet, Degas and Raphael. Entry is free thanks to government sponsorship, although you’re likely to be so impressed by these galleries that you’ll want to make a donation. If you prefer being outdoors and are keen on the wonders of horticulture, make the journey to the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens: seventy acres of perfectly manicured and tended gardens as well as the tallest Palm House in Britain and a glasshouse containing exotic flora from all over the world. An oasis of tranquillity away from the city, there are more than enough individual and beautifully landscaped gardens here to warrant a whole day’s exploration.
After two days’ intensive Edinburgh-experiencing there’s only one way to round off your weekend, and that’s with a dram or two of Scotland’s finest liquid export. Thankfully, Edinburgh excels at excellent watering holes such as the beautiful Café Royal, tucked away in an alley near Waverley Station or the Albanach on High Street at which you can drink a toast to your perfect Edinburgh weekend with one of the one hundred and fifty-plus whiskies on offer.