As I sat in the backseat of a taxi, watching the world pass by, I was surprised by how strikingly different the usually familiar places looked at 4 am. Ever since I became a mom, being awake at that hour is nothing new to me, but travelling to Dublin Airport through the dark night, as a winter storm blew in, and harsh weather battered the Irish sea, was a surreal feeling.
To experience the full scope of my little voyage to the Scottish capital last year just a week before Christmas – yes, I willingly exchanged the warmth of my cosy decorated home for bitter winds to freeze my face – I stubbornly stuck to my decision to remain awake.
I resisted the allure of being sucked into the safety and security of the boring travel routine by slumbering all the way to my final destination; I yearned to see and feel everything that the world has to offer.
While travelling from Sligo to Edinburgh wasn’t smart financially, this trip saved my sanity during the transition time to colder and darker winter months on Ireland’s West Coast. With this fleeting trip, I was able to extinguish the intensifying need to get out the door and satisfy an urge to strike out solo.
And even though I knew my time in the city was short, the list of things I wanted to do was very long.
I was looking to log out of the digital world, sleep in a funky-looking hostel and take so many photos that my fingers go numb. I was on a mission to find human interactions, beautiful imperfections, and encouraging spirits. And I wanted intellectual adventure too!
Although the cold weather didn’t provide the ideal setting to make the most of being outdoors, I loved wandering aimlessly through the maze of Oldtown streets. Despite the cold December chill, armed with unwavering optimism, I was more than determined to see the beauty and wonder of Edinburgh.
Upon arrival, I was delighted to find Edinburgh as stylish and as unaltered as I remembered – full of life, architectural wonders and an extra dose of magic. Decked in her Christmas finery, Edinburgh actually gave me so much more!
Thank you, Scotland. You have beautiful mountains and rich historical background and warm people that complete my journey.
12 Amazing things you have to see and do in beautiful Edinburgh
Anyone that spends a little time in Edinburgh will soon enough realise there are many sides to this beautiful city! To find out if there’s a beginning of mutual love, book your flight, set up a home for a few days in Old Town or Grassmarket and come see for yourself.
If you had a chance to undergo a standard travel route proposed by guidebooks that include castles and churches and feel the urge to seek out streets and scenes without a fame tag affixed to them, then here’s my pick of the best quirky places – equally worthy of your time and attention – to see in the city.
Having lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years and with more than a dozen return trips under my belt, I feel confident in providing a slight modification to the course of your trail.
“There’s no leaving Edinburgh, No shifting it around: it stays with you, always.” – Alan Bold
#1. Walk the Scotsman Steps
If you are looking for a useful and a state of art shortcut between the old town’s Market Street and the central railway station, then look no further than the beautifully restored Scotsman Steps, originally built between 1899 and 1902 as part of the Scotsman building.
Before you rush through the staircase, pause for a moment to notice soft hues underneath your feet, created by Scottish artist Martin Creed with 109 different types of marble from various parts of the world.
The Scotsman Steps – also known as The Market Street Steps – can be slippery if it’s been raining, and can be challenging for someone with knee problems but hidden out of the way, it’s a unique way to go up and down.
- Getting there: There’s an entrance right beside the Scotsman Hotel on North Bridge.
#2. Explore Edinburgh’s underground town
Just below the Royal Mile, a network of once-abandoned houses and narrow alleyways known as The Real Mary King’s Close has been standing ever since the 17th century. In a company of costumed guides, even if ghost stories make you jump, you can go deep down into the lost streets.
The tour is very informative and suitable for all ages and you get to relive the history. With the help of knowledgeable guides and stories they tell, you’ll be introduced to the city’s past, and you’ll be fascinated by how people lived, worked and survived through that era.
No pictures are allowed on this tour but don’t let that diminish the amplitude of the overall experience as you grasp a deeper understanding of living conditions in the underground labyrinths.
- Admission: Adult £15.95, Senior (60+) £13.95, Students £13.95, Kids (5-15) £9.75. For more detailed info click here.
- Booking Office Address: The Real Mary King’s Close, High Street, 2 Warriston’s Close, Edinburgh, EH1 1PG.
#3. Try a wee dram, and sample neeps and tatties.
One of the best introductions to Edinburgh and thus Scotland is through food and drink that’s sampled in an old man’s pub shutting out the noise of the outside world.
If you are a whisky lover and drinker then sampling a drop or two from one of Scotland’s 100 distilleries and finding out how it’s made could be a highlight of your visit to Edinburgh.
Book an Introduction to a Whisky tasting session with multi-award-winning Whisky Rooms for a fun and informative tour.
But don’t let the most revered of Scottish exports overshadow its unique cuisine because the Scottish food scene is made up of deep-fried Mars bars, crabs from Aberdeenshire, heart-warming pies, Haggis and mussels from the Shetland Isles.
And if that doesn’t make you realise the true validity of sensory overload, there are also haggis bon-bons, cardamom buns, smoked salmon, Aberdeen-Angus steak and Barra snails all willing to cater for even the pickiest of foodies.
You can also try the following:
- Haggis | A delicious sheep pudding made with oatmeal, onion, suede and different spices is the national dish of Scotland. Haggis is often served with neeps and tatties, which are mashed turnips and potatoes
- Shortbread | A traditional and delicious Scottish biscuit made with a straightforward recipe using two parts butter, one part sugar and three parts oat flour.
- Sticky toffee pudding | A British dessert commonly enjoyed in Scotland too, consisting of a moist sponge cake drenched with toffee sauce and served with ice cream or vanilla custard.
- Rumbledethumps | A traditional Scottish dish and perfect comfort food made with potatoes, cabbage and onion.
- Oatcakes | Made from oats, these healthy and straightforward oatcakes have long been considered Scottish national bread. From chewy to hard, from very rough to very fine, oatcakes are perfect as a snack or accompaniment to cheese.
*Our Crossings Tip: If whisky isn’t your drink, you’ll find great gin distilleries too. Check out Edinburgh Gin and Pickerings for tasting tours.
#4. See the Craigentinny Marbles
To the north of Edinburgh, located in a housing estate sits a 30 ft ornate grave of William Henry Miller who was a renowned collector of books. Designed by David Rhind in the style of a tomb on the Appian Way in Rome, Craigentinyny Marbles have two stone carvings on either side depicting scenes from a bible.
Back in 1856 when The Miller Mausoleum was completed, it stood in an open field but nowadays it is surrounded by houses.
- Getting there: Craigentinny Marbles officially known as the William Henry Miller Mausoleum is located between the port of Leith and Portabello and its exact address is 3C Craigentinny Crescent, Edinburgh EH7 6QA.
#5. Find John Knox House
Venture down the Royal Mile past all the shops selling touristy knickknacks where one of the few remaining medieval buildings dating back to the 15th century is located.
Do you know how many times I actually walked past it while living in Edinburgh without paying much attention to it and how little did I know about the political and religious upheavals of Edinburgh?
Visiting John Knox House is a great way to spend an hour or so, and I was delighted to find the Scottish Storytelling Centre connected to it. There’s an entrance fee to access living quarters upstairs, and I enjoyed a self-guided tour with well-written information and interesting facts about the house itself.
- Getting there: To find John Knox House make your way to the Scottish Storytelling Centre situated at 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10am-6pm, Sundays: 10am – 6pm (July & August only). Admission: Adults £6 (£5 Conc), Children (over 7) £1, Children (under 7) Free.
#6. Visit Dean Village
Thanks to a bitterly cold winter morning, I could see my breaths with each exhale, yet I was determined to make my way to Dean Village and spend some time at Well Court and its architectural playground. Despite living in Edinburgh for three years, this was my first time exploring this part of the city.
My first view of the Dean Village (dene meaning “deep valley” in Scots) was from a bridge crossing the Water of Leith and looking up at the gloomy winter sky and hoping for some textures I was delighted to make it here finally.
I slowly walked around to the tempo of my excited heartbeats and tried to imagine what it was like to actually live here. I loved the tranquillity and greenness of the place, and I was amazed by the rustic architecture.
If you are lucky you’ll be able also to see herons and kingfishers, so next time you are in Edinburgh, make sure you visit Dean Village.
- Tip: From Dean Village, follow on Water of Leith, and you’ll find an ancient viaduct, a temple and an old millstone.
#7. Find Armchair Books
Rewarded the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature award, Edinburgh is a book lovers’ paradise with an incredible array of bookshops, live events and literature tours. Armchair Books where the walls are covered with classics, Scottish authors, graphic novels, antiques, and modern books is an absolute must for all book lovers.
- Getting there: Armchair Books is situated in an ancient building and located in Edinburgh West Port, and its address is 72-74 West Port, Edinburgh EH1 2LE, UK.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 10am – 18.30pm, For more detailed info, click here.
#8. Step back in time and visit Lauriston Castle
Are you looking for a place that will restore your soul and recharge your body? If you are visiting Edinburgh and brainstorming new places to go then Lauriston Castle, situated between Davidson’s Mains and Cramond is perfect for stunning views across the Firth of Forth and for a relaxing atmosphere.
The grounds are free to explore and need some TLC; nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk around the beautiful gardens and views out to Cramond Island.
- Getting There: You can take buses to Davidson’s Mains (21, 41 & 42), or Silverknowes Terminus (16, 27, 29 & 37); both are around 10 minute walk from Lauriston Castle. The address: 2 Cramond Rd S, Edinburgh EH4 6AD, UK.
- Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday 7.30am – 5 pm, Admission: Castle Admission Adult £8 Concessions £6 Under 5 free, For more detailed info, click here.
#9. See Greyfriars Bobby Memorial Statue
While there’s nothing special or unique about the statue itself the story behind it’s well-known throughout Scotland, and it warmed my heart. Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who spent 14 years guarding his owner’s grave.
A faithful companion of a gardener John Gray is buried in a nearby cemetery, and a headstone on his grave reads: “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
True or not, the story has amazed me ever since we lived in Edinburgh, and I felt that a visit to Bobby’s statue was a worthwhile addition.
- Getting there: 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ, UK.
#10. Go on a Trainspotting tour
Number 2 Wellington Place in Leith is where Edinburgh’s most provocative writer Irvine Welsh wrote his debut novel Trainspotting in a top-floor apartment. If you are a fan of the book, a movie or both, you can go on an organised tour with Tim Bell, or you can try to find the house yourself.
There’s no plaque on the wall outside to confirm that an acclaimed writer lived there, but a knowledgeable guide can take you from the site of old Leith Station to a pub where Begbie read Spuds’ writings to many more filming locations.
Phenomenally successful Trainspotting was first published in 1993, and the classic movie followed a few years later. On the list of greatest British films, Trainspotting was ranked 10th best by the British Film Institute.
#11. Have fun at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Edinburgh
What makes the Camera Obscura an utterly unique place to visit? It is said that Camera Obscura & World of illusion, opened in 1853, which makes it the oldest tourist attraction in the city.
Located just down the road from Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura with its 10 different interactive exhibits spread out over five floors is an excellent way to occupy anyone entertained for a few hours. Be prepared for a myriad of illusions and be prepared for great fun and entertainment.
Upon entering, I had my hand stamped and was able to return up until 9pm the same day. If you plan on visiting, then for a genuinely incredible vantage point and for great photo opportunities head for the roof, from where you’ll see Edinburgh and The First of Fourth.
- Getting there: Camera Obscura is situated at the very top of Royal Mile, and its address is Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2ND. Admission: Ault £16, Student £14, Senior £14, Child (5-15) £12. For more detailed info click here.
#12. Climb on St. Giles’ Cathedrals roof
The winter sun was gleaming through the stained glass windows as I walked around the stunning St. Giles’ Cathedral built in the 14th century. St. Giles’ Cathedral has a vital role in city cultural life as it hosts a wide variety of lectures, exhibitions, and concerts and if you want to take a photo within a building, there’s a £2 charge.
If you are wondering what is so special about this particular place as Scotland is full of beautiful churches and cathedrals, and what I loved most about St. Giles Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh – they offer guided rooftop tours.
The ticket cost £6 per person, and all the bookings are taken on the day. Keep in mind that Rooftop tours currently take place on Saturday from 10.30am – 4pm and on Sunday from 1.30pm – 4pm.
- Getting there: St Giles’ Cathedral is located on Royal Mile, and its address is High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE, UK.
- Admission: Rooftop Tours Adult £6, for more detailed information, click here.
- Summer Opening Hours (May – September)
Monday – Friday 9am – 7pm
Saturday 9am – 5pm
Sunday 1pm – 17pm
- Winter Opening Hours (October – April)
Monday – Saturday 9am – 5pm
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Now, over to you!
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