Edinburgh

I have been lucky enough to visit Edinburgh on a number of occasions over the past few years for various reasons and this blog post is going to cover the highlights from a number of them. The most recent of these visits was in May 2016 and so my memory may be slightly hazy on the details.

A view of Edinburgh’s new town looking towards the Forth

If you’re travelling to Edinburgh by train, you’ll be lucky enough to arrive right in the middle of the city (Waverley station lies between the old town and new town), however if you’re arriving by air or road, you’ll need to make your way into the city. If arriving by road from the west or southwest, I’d advise using the Ingliston park and ride, which is near the airport. From there, or the airport, you can catch the tram into the city, with there being stops at Murrayfield, Haymarket and Princes Street with the terminus at York Place. From the airport there is also an express bus service that also passes by the Zoo if you’re planning on doing that on your first or last day.

The number one highlight of Edinburgh is of course the castle. With there having been a castle in this location since at least the 12th century, it dominates the city skyline from its position on Castle Rock and the view of it from Prices Street Gardens is especially spectacular! The Castle is home to two Regimental museums, those of The Royal Regiment for Scotland and The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, as well as the National War Museum. Now operated primarily as a tourist attraction by Historic Scotland, the castle still has a small military presence and continues to undertake its role in traditional ceremonial duties such as the Military Tattoo and the firing of the One O’clock Gun. The latter is fired at precisely 1300 every day except Sunday, Good Friday & Christmas Day and is a time signal for ships in the harbour of Leith approximately 2 miles away. The gun has only been used once in an act of war, being fired at a German Zeppelin on Sunday 2nd April 1916.

The One o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle

A visit to the Castle and the various museums within it’s walls can easily take a whole day, so ensure you leave plenty of time for a visit. There is a self-guided audio guide available, as well as guided tours that run regularly throughout the day. If you do plan to visit for most of the day, I’d suggest taking some lunch with you as the restaurant and tea rooms within the Castle are both extremely busy and fairly expensive due to their captured market. The Castle is well worth a visit and should be a ‘must do’ for all visitors to Scotland’s capital.

Just down from the entrance to the Castle is one of the many bus stops serving the city’s sightseeing bus tours. There are a number of companies running tours within the city, however we chose to use the company we normally use, City Sightseeing. Unlike in other cities, City Sightseeing only runs one tour route within Edinburgh covering the city centre, old town and Scottish Parliament. The tour officially starts outside of Waverley station, however, is the usual ‘hop-on, hop-off’ style tour allowing you to pick it up at any point.

The innermost part of Edinburgh Castle

We always find the bus tours a useful way of discovering a city and seeing the main sight and so tend to do a full loop of a route before jumping off anywhere. In addition to the standard multi-lingual commentaries, there was also a children’s ‘Horrible Histories’ commentary, which we chose to listen to on our second loop around the route and was extremely interesting, more so than the regular commentary in some areas. If you choose to do the tours, double check to see if there are any special events occurring in the city as there can sometimes be diversions to the route (as we found out due to our visit clashing with a cycling event!)

Another highlight of Edinburgh is of course the Royal Mile. Connecting the significant locations in the royal history of Scotland, hence its name, the series of streets run between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. In addition to the landmarks at either end, the Royal Mile is also home to the old Parliament House, home of the former Scottish Parliament until its demise in 1707 through the Act of Union, and St. Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. The latter was founded in 1124 and is the mother church of the Church of Scotland. Extensively restored in the 19th century, St. Giles is a stunning building and is well worth a visit. Although the church is open seven days a week for visitors, it is still a place of worship and should be treated as such. There is a midday service of worship Monday – Saturday and visiting hours start at 1300 on Sundays to allow for the morning act of worship.

Waverley station sits right in the centre of Edinburgh between the old and new towns

To the north of Edinburgh is the port town of Leith, home to a cargo and cruise ship port as well as being the berth of Her Majesty’s Yacht (HMY) Britannia. Launched in 1953 and commissioned in 1954, Britannia served as the royal Yacht for 43 years before being decommissioned from service in late 1997. Britannia was the 83rd (and final) Royal Yacht since Charles II acceded to the throne in 1660. Part of the National Historic Fleet, Britannia is ranked alongside ships such as HMS Victory, HMS Belfast and the Cutty Sark for her part in the nation’s history. Entry is £16.50 for adults and open 1000-1530 363 days a year with extended opening in the summer. Over 300,000 people visit Britannia each year and more information can be found here!

Throughout her time in service Britannia played a part in important moments throughout the Commonwealth’s history. In 1959 it carried Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Eisenhower along the Saint Lawrence Seaway as part of the system’s official opening. In 1981 Prince Charles and Princess Diana took their honeymoon cruise on Britannia and in 1986 the ship evacuated over 1,000 refugees from the civil war in Aden. Britannia’s final foreign mission was to convey Prince Charles and Chris Patten (the final governor of Hong Kong) back from Hong Kong following its handover to China on 1st July 1997. In total Britannia conveyed the Queen, other members of the royal family and other dignitaries on 696 foreign visits, 272 domestic visits and travelled over 1 million nautical miles.

The Royal Yacht Britannia (image: royalyachtbritannia.co.uk)

One of the best meals I’ve had whilst in Edinburgh was at Maxies Bistro, which is nestled between Johnston and Victoria terraces, just off Castlehill. Whilst I don’t remember what we ate on our visit, I do remember it being absolutely wonderful food in a warm and cosy environment. Mains are reasonably priced with most falling between the £9 and £14 marks (with the Border steaks obviously costing a bit more). You can view the menu as well as photos of both the bistro and food on Maxies website, here!

Although, as Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is not the cheapest place to visit, accommodation can be found for most budgets except during the Edinburgh Fringe when prices skyrocket! Most of the large name chain hotels have locations within the city centre, with Premier Inn having recently opened a new hotel located between the station and royal mile. Public Transport around Edinburgh is very good with the tram connecting parts of the new town and Lothian Buses providing services throughout the city. Whilst the streets around the city are quite steep, the distances between sights are not that great and so you can get around to most of the highlights on foot if you choose.

Edinburgh Castle and City with the port of Leith in the distance

I’d certainly recommend Edinburgh for a visit as it is a wonderful city and has something for everyone to enjoy. As well as the tourist hotspots, there are lots of peaceful places to sit a relax or places to shop.

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