Edinburgh fast became one of my favourite cities and I’m unsure if I could ever permanently leave it. I’m lucky because not only do I live here, but I have also studied the city at length on my history course – so I have a good grounding to tell you all about it!
I have written a (brief) history of Edinburgh to accompany this letter, but don’t feel obliged to read it. [This guide alone might take you a while to get through!]
THINGS TO DO (outside) – yellow markers
- Holyrood Park: This is a vast expanse of green space which honestly makes you feel a million miles away from a capital city. For me this is what makes Edinburgh so special. Firtsly, the Craggs. This is the ridge on the west side of the park and the perfect place to watch a sunset over Edinburgh’s skyline. Arthur’s seat is the highest point of the city and sits on the southern edge of the park. There are steps to climb him and the panoramic views from the top are stunning. Within the park are 3 lochs which are joined by multiple paths. Each are beautiful. St Margaret’s Loch on the north side is the largest and is covered in swans and ducks, whilst Dunsapie Loch, on Queens Drive is smaller and hidden away.
- Carlton Hill: Much smaller and less epic than Holyrood Park but still a fantastic place to visit. Not only does it have panoramic views across Edinburgh and to the sea, it also has views of Holyrood Park! Upon Carlton Hill is also the National Monument. This is to commemorate the fallen in the Napoleonic Wars and was designed to be a replica of Athens’ Parthenon. It was never finished, but is quite something. Carlton Hill was intended to become something of an acropolis , which would make Edinburgh ‘The Athens of the North’.
- Meadows: This is a huge park on the south side of the city. It’s paths are lined with trees and create large expanses of flat green space – perfect in summer for barbecues, frisbee, football, sunbathing (we sometimes get sun, honestly) and picnics. There are also tennis courts!
- Prince’s Street Gardens: This is the gateway between Old and New Town, a green space to walk through between shopping and site seeing. At Christmas it hosts the great Market, ice skating and wheel. Edinburgh at Christmas is truly magical!
- Scott Monument: This is the largest monument to a writer in the world and is a beautiful Gothic structure. You can walk the 287 steps to the top and get a fantastic view across the city and beyond.
- Castle Rock: This piece of volcanic rock culminates the Royal Mile in the West and hosts the breathtaking castle. From here are unique views across the very southern Old Town and especially towards George Heriot’s School.
- Grassmarket: This area is at the bottom of Castle Rock and is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of Edinburgh. There’s a big square with benches and views to the castle, and the curving uphill street with colourful building and an overlooking balcony leads to the Mile. Just a few streets away you can find the famous Greyfriars Bobby; rub his nose for luck!
THINGS TO DO (inside) – red markers
- The National Museum of Scotland: This museum is fantastic. Approximately half is dedicated to nature and the world, where you can see animals, fish and birds as well as learn about the stars and planets. Then the other half is about culture, art and Scottish history. If you take the lift all the way to the top, you can get a fantastic view across the city from the roof terrace.
- It’s completely free!
- National Galleries: These site between the 2 halves of Prince’s Street Gardens and hold centuries of artworks by both Scottish and international artists. There are also partner galleries around the city worth checking out!
- Free, but there are some exhibitions you have to pay for.
- Dynamic Earth: One of my favourite things to do! I would say it’s great for kids but I think it’s great for everyone – I’m 19 and think it’s wonderful! It takes you through a journey of how the Earth came to be – right from the big bang. You learn about volcanoes, evolution, animals (4D cinema) and astronomy. Really worth a visit!
- Prices between £9-£13.50
- Scottish Parliament: This might be the most modern building in the city, and people definitely have contrasting opinions about it! It’s actually really fantastic as a design and if you’re interested in politics, you might like to take a tour around it. The grounds around it are also really pleasant.
- Holyrood Palace: At the southern end of the Royal Mile and surround by beautiful landscaped grounds. I have never been, but it’s on my list as it’s apparently really wonderful inside.
- Between £7 and £12
- Festival Theatre: There are a couple of theatres around Edinburgh and often have some really good shows on! If you’re around at Christmas time DO NOT miss the panto! The same 3 guys do it every year and it is hilarious! (Lots of Scottish/Edinburgh jokes).
- Price depends on the show (I think panto was £10)
- Cinema: The OMNI centre is a popular place to go for a film, some food and even a gym and it is located very close to Prince’s Street and Carlton Hill (the marker on the map is for Odeon cinema on the other side of town).
- Tickets around £8 but there are deals on certain days
- Stockbridge Market: Every Sunday in Stockbridge there is an adorable market full of freshly cooked food, home baked cakes and unique gifts. It’s in the New Town next to a really beautful canal and views around Edinburgh. (On the website you can read about other markets around Edinburgh)
- Botanic Gardens: These are near Stockbridge and are well worth a visit. The gardens are extensive and beautifully presented. I have been in Spring and summer and both times it was lovely. You can also go into the glasshouses to see the more exotic plants and experience their climates. Lastly, there are galleries and a restaurant here in stunning buildings.
- Free to wander around the gardens
- Glasshouses between £4.50 and £5.50
- Portobello: Believe it or not, Edinburgh is also home to a really wonderful beach! It’s sandy with sea you can just about dip your toes in and plays host to cute cafes and chippys! Even in winter it’s worth a visit, and there are a number of buses you can take from the centre to get there. I’ve written a letter about a day at the beach here.
- Edinburgh Zoo: Heading out towards the airport you will find the zoo. Famous for its conservation and pandas!
- Between £12.50 and £17
- Cramond: This is a personal favourite of mine due to an early project being sited here. Hop on the 41 bus from the centre and right at the end of the route is Cramond village and the island. The village is on the river with beautiful walks, a beautiful waterfall and small cafes and pubs. The island is only accessable by a causeway and ONLY at low tide twice a day. It’s a really special place.
- Pentlands: This is a little way out of Edinburgh but if you can spare a day for walking it’s a great place.
- Linlithgow: This is a 20 minute train ride out of Edinburgh and has a lot to offer! There’s the loch which is teaming with wildlife and takes about an hour to walk round, the palace set in a park, the canal which you can take a short trip down and in the town you’ll find cafes and pubs, one which is great for afternoon tea – and not too pricey!
Okay so that’s about all the information you could need about what to do if you ever find yourself in Edinburgh! I hope that is useful! It really is a fantastic city with so much charm and beauty and I am so lucky to live here.
Hopefully see you soon!