I studied abroad for a semester while I was in college – I went to Edinburgh and absolutely fell in love, but I hadn’t written a general guide to my favorite spots in the city until now. I hope to go back again soon – as anyone who’s been will tell you, it’s hard to stay away. Enjoy!
Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is full of history, art, innovation, and whimsy. There’s the Royal Mile: the street where you can buy souvenirs and see Mel Gibson dressed up as William Wallace (okay, not Mel, but when you first see him, you’ll be sure it is!). The gorgeous Edinburgh Castle, built atop a mountain of volcanic rock, is a must-see. After you’ve shuffled along with the other tourists, though, don’t you want to get out and really explore Edinburgh?
You can walk everywhere in Edinburgh, and you’ll want to so that you can discover the intricacies of the city, like the many wynds and closes – narrow passageways – hidden between buildings. If you want to venture further out, there’s an established bus system that runs frequently throughout the city.
The biggest quality that separates Edinburgh from cities like neighboring Glasgow is its beauty. Where else can you hike a mountain in the middle of the city (King Arthur’s Seat), find lush green grass year-round, and view amazing architecture? Many of the sites are also free – museums typically have free entrance and you can walk between all of the public landmarks in the city center.
While visiting you’ll want to split your time between the Medieval ‘Old Town’ and the Georgian ‘New Town’. The Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, University of Edinburgh buildings, and Holyrood are in the Old Town. The New Town (which isn’t all that new, as it was built from the late-1700s to the mid-1800s!) includes Princes Street where you can find great shopping and the beautiful Princes Street Gardens; Royal Scottish Academy and National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1 Queen Street); Waverley Station; and Gothic-style Scott Monument (see image above).
The new and controversial Parliament Building complex (above) is also an architectural marvel that shouldn’t be missed.
The pub and restaurant scene in Edinburgh is another combination of old and new. Visit Sandy Bells (25 Forrest Road) for live music and friendly conversation, catch a rugby or football game in any pub you pass. During the last few decades the quality and variety of Edinburgh’s restaurants has taken a huge leap forward. Chose from traditional fish and chips shops like The Tailend (14-15 Albert Place along Leith Walk), vegetarian restaurant David Bann (56-58 St. Mary’s Street), or Oink (34 Victoria Street) for a hog roast roll with the best crackling around. One of my favorite food experiences in Edinburgh was eating at The Mosque Kitchen (50 Potterrow), where you can eat Indian food outside from, as you might have guessed, a mosque kitchen. You eat outside on shared benches and in the cold months the super hot food sends steam into the sky from every plate.
If you’d like to work off some of those delicious meals, you don’t need to leave the city center for a great workout. Take a short climb up Calton Hill to explore the monuments or hike King Arthur’s Seat where you can see a 360-view of the entire area, including the ocean. There’s also The Meadows, which is a park with ample grass and paths for walking, people watching, or enjoying a picnic.
You could easily spend a week or more in the area, but, if you want to venture out, Edinburgh is also an easy departure point for train rides and flights to many other locations such as Glasgow, Dublin, and continental Europe.