For visitors, there’s not much that Edinburgh doesn’t have: history, architecture, art, bars, independent shops, and vibrant nightlife. You can visit a medieval castle in the morning and go urban foraging in the afternoon.
The city is easily traversed by bus or foot. Wander around Old Town, with Edinburgh Castle looming over city streets, and soak up the historical ambience. For shopping and dining, head to New Town, and George and Queen Streets. You don’t have to choose between the two — they’re just metres apart.
Throughout history, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has been the setting for murders, fires and plots, many of which surrounded Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s now the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland. When the royal family is not in residence you can take a tour of the palace, surrounding gardens, and the ruins of a 12th-century abbey.
Save some energy after the tour to hike up to Arthur’s Seat (251m), the remaining stump of an extinct volcano. The view is worth the climb, with the city spread out before you to the horizon. The hike up from the palace will take about 45 minutes.
When you’re ready to dive further into royal history, head to Edinburgh Castle, the symbolic heart of Scotland. The Crown Room is where Scottish monarchs were crowned for centuries and King James VI of Scotland (James I of England) was born.
Military history buffs will especially enjoy the castle, as it’s filled with arms, armour, and the famous cannon Mons Meg. Try to time your visit to coincide with the 1pm firing of the battery gun from the walls of the castle.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in August, you can’t miss the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, when it takes over the castle’s esplanade with music and marching bands. A tattoo, for those wondering, is simply a military performance of music.
For the most complete picture of Scotland’s history, the National Museum of Scotland takes visitors from ancient fossils to current pop culture. Everything from Viking brooches to Queen Mary’s harp and a hanging hippo is on display.
Fans of the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code won’t want to miss Rosslyn Chapel. But even if you aren’t a fan of the book, the chapel is worth a visit. The stone carvings of figures, animals and plants cover almost every available surface.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is waiting when you’re ready to step back into the present. The main collection focuses on 20th-century art, including European artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Magritte, and English and American. The majority of the space is given over to Scottish painters, from 20th-century to contemporary. After your visit, take a scroll through the surrounding garden featuring sculptures and continue to the Water of Leith Walkway, which you can follow all the way down to Leith.
For something a little exotic, the Royal Botanic Gardens is just the place. The gardens house the largest collection of Chinese plants outside China, as well as soaring and steamy greenhouses. On a sunny day, the grounds are especially beautiful.
Of course, no visit to Scotland would be complete without sampling some fine Scotch whisky. For an immersive introduction to the tipple, the Scotch Whisky Experience can’t be beaten. You’ll take a trip through a replica distillery, before being led through a whisky tasting in the world’s largest whisky collection.
Although the city is famous for its whisky, Edinburgh’s gin is just as good. You can make your own gin at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery or just take a tour and enjoy a cocktail.
Discover the historic city of Edinburgh, including the famous Military Tattoo on a 13-day RACQ-escorted Exploring Scotland & Ireland Tour from $7499pp twin share. Visit RACQ Travel or contact one of our friendly travel consultants on 1300 096 166.
Image credits include: Susan McNaughton and Visit Scotland.