Exploring Edinburgh

Pronunciation first

Nearly everyone I know pronounces Edinburgh incorrectly, including myself, until just before I left for my trip to Scotland. Here’s a little tip:

Edinburgh is pronounced ‘Eh-din-bruh’ (with 3 syllables), and sometimes you might hear it pronounced ‘Eh-din-buh-ruh’ (with 4 syllables).

The wrong ways are ‘Eh-din-berg’, and ‘Eh-din-bur-row’.

According to the Scottish Place Names dictionary, the name Edinburgh means ‘Fort of the Rock Face.’ The ‘edin’ part comes from Scottish Gaelic and means ‘rock face,’ and ‘burgh’ comes from Old English meaning stronghold.

Arriving in Edinburgh

A stunning first impression, looking at the historical skyline across the city. Immediately, it was evident why Edinburgh is often referred to as one of the most beautiful cities in the world! It was as if the past and the present had collided. There were moments when I truly did feel as though I had stepped back in time, imagining all the kings, queens, knights, rebels, poets and more that had walked these cobbled streets.

The capital city of Edinburgh has two main regions – the Old Town and the New Town. Conveniently located between the two, for rail service, is Waverly Station.

The Old Town is the old medieval district of Edinburgh where the Royal Mile (the High Street) is the center of activity. Like its name, the Royal Mile is roughly one mile long. On one end is Edinburgh Castle, sitting high on its volcanic perch and at the foot of the Royal Mile (the opposite end) is Holyrood Palace. The palace is home to the royal family when they visit Edinburgh. When it is not occupied, it is open to the public.

The New Town isn’t really new anymore and dates back more than two centuries. It was first designed as a residential area for those wanting to escape the bustling Old Town. Besides beautiful homes, it now features some of the finest art galleries in the world as well as green spaces for residents and tourists to enjoy. Here, you will find the Scottish National Gallery that features works by such famous European artists such as Monet, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh.

Historic details along the Royal Mile

Along the Royal Mile, there were so many things to admire. Surrounded by Celtic and Medieval history, I was intrigued by the buildings that were adorned with ornate features and symbols. The designs were stunning! Every time I looked up, I was captivated by a new surprise. Looking down, I found pavers and cobblestones that were also artfully designed.

The uniquely-styled doors on the buildings were eye-catching with their designs and colors that spanned from Medieval to modern in design. We enjoyed stopping at the many monuments and statues, reading the displayed history surrounding each one.

The ornate closes (passageways) also caught my eye along the Royal Mile. Each one with its personalized entrance, titled and telling of tales of destruction, deception, murder, and hauntings. The history that surrounds them is extremely interesting – if only walls could speak!

Edinburgh Castle

On our first full day in Edinburgh, we set out early in the morning for our walk up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Pausing to admire buildings, statues, and monuments along the way (and a little shopping), we found ourselves near the castle in the early afternoon. It’s so easy to get side-tracked! We decided to break and grab lunch at The Witchery before continuing.

Approaching the castle, we admired its commanding presence, sitting high on its perch overlooking the city. The high-point for us was visiting the room that displayed the Scottish Crown Jewels as well as the Stone of Scone. We spent a little over two hours at the castle, but the heavy rain continued, and the wind picked up, so our time to explore the views from atop the castle was cut short. For that reason alone, we plan on returning so we can further explore the grounds and take in more of the stunning views.

If the weather is cooperating, I would recommend spending half a day at and around the castle.

The world-famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place at the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade every August and attracts thousands. It is a sell-out every year.

St. Giles Cathedral

If you are in-route to Edinburgh Castle, it is easy to get distracted and drawn towards the stunning details of St. Giles Cathedral and its surrounding buildings. Its four main pillars date back to 1120 and extend high into the skyline. It is stunning in design!

St. Giles is known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh and is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is also sometimes regarded as the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Giles, patron saint of Edinburgh, as well as of cripples and lepers. He was a very popular saint in the Middle Ages.

National Museum of Scotland

Just a short distance from the Royal Mile is the National Museum of Scotland. Admission is free at the museum, but there may be an admission fee for some featured special exhibits on display for only a specific period. We were fortunate to find the Jacobite and Bonnie Prince Charlie exhibit on display when we visited. The museum had permanent collections of these items already, but the featured exhibit expanded the collection which consisted of borrowed items from private collections as well as other museums around the world. What a fantastic collection of Jacobite’s and Bonnie Price Charlie’s clothing, weapons, dishes, jewelry, letters and much more! We also watched a short video that reenacted the emotions of a Jacobite’s wife as she explained her life at home during the events surrounding the Battle of Culloden. The video brought us to tears!

We spent half of a day in the museum and still didn’t see nearly all of it. The museum gift shop was one of our favorites, featuring many historically themed gifts, collectibles and a wide selection of books for all ages.

For information about the museum and upcoming featured exhibits, you can visit their site.  Click here for details.

I will definitely be going back the next time I am in Edinburgh!

Scott Monument

The Scott Monument (a dedication to Sir Walter Scott) draws you near with its unique Victorian Gothic design. It is the second largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world and was built between 1841-1844. You can climb the 288 steps if you want to see the view from atop the monument. It stands in Princes Street Gardens, near Waverly Rail Station. After having hiked all day, we decided to take the climb another time!

Check out our pictures of Edinburgh and some featured monuments in the slideshow at the end!

Fine food and drink

Let’s face it, after a long day of touring and exploring, it’s rather nice to cozy into a tavern-style restaurant that has a great atmosphere, tasty food, and a drink menu that suits your tastes. Most all restaurants in Edinburgh serve locally sourced seafood, beef and produce. The Angus beef is top-notch and the salmon is world-renowned. We enjoyed the haddock (both in our fish and chips and Cullen skink soup), steamed mussels and dishes that included lobster and crab. If you enjoy a good whiskey or want to experiment in tasting some of the best whiskeys in the world, just ask for recommendations. Scotland is a whiskey-lovers haven!

We weren’t in Edinburgh very long before craving fish and chips and a cold beverage and soon found ourselves seated at The World’s End. This would be our first of many “best fish and chips ever” on our Scotland trip. 🙂 Throughout our stay in Edinburgh, we also enjoyed evenings dining at The Whiski Bar & Restaurant, and The Royal Mile Tavern, as well as lunches at The Witchery and McSorley’s Irish Pub. On our first morning in Edinburgh, we indulged in our first full-Scottish breakfast at the Inn On The Mile.

Afternoon tea? Whether you prefer tea or coffee, there were no shortages of quaint cafes and coffee shops. We enjoyed some of the finest pasties at the cafes – shortbreads, pies, cakes and especially the newly discovered tablets and millionaire’s bars. We will be hunting these down on our next trip!

There was an abundance of amazing restaurants along the Royal Mile and surrounding areas. Victoria Street & Grassmarket are also very popular locations for unique and interesting pubs and restaurants. If your heart desires eating at a particular restaurant, we highly recommend that you make reservations.

Shopping

There were a variety of shops to be found around Edinburgh. Along the Royal Mile (amongst many souvenir shops), we enjoyed the specialty shops that offered wool and tweed clothing and accessories. We especially liked shopping for (and purchasing) items native to Scotland, such as Harris Tweed, Heather Gems, artwork and jewelry. We also sampled some of the finest whiskeys at a few shops along the way.

Just south of the Royal Mile is Victoria Street and Grassmarket. These popular areas feature unique shops, antique stores, bookstores, as well as interesting restaurants and pubs. The scenic Princes Street is another popular and favorite shopping spot for many.

Princes Street is often mis-spelled and confused with Princess or Prince.  It does only have one “s” and is intended to be the plural form of prince. The street is named after King George’s two eldest sons, Prince George, and Prince Frederick.

Explore outside on a sunny day (for free)

Set aside a little flex-time while in Edinburgh, because if the skies clear, there are some beautiful outside experiences to enjoy!

Calton Hill is a public park located on the east end of Princes Street and is a popular site to enjoy panoramic views over the city. Well-known for viewing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, you don’t want to forget to take your camera!

Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano perched above Holyrood Park with amazing views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth as well as incredible views of the city. Be prepared to climb up to get to Arthur’s seat as it is the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh.

Princes Street Gardens is a public park in the center of Edinburgh with open grassy areas and benches. It is a popular picnic spot on a nice, sunny day – fish and chips and Irn-Bru to go, please!

Royal Botanic Garden is located just one mile from the city center, is one of the finest botanic gardens in the world and has amazing views of the Edinburgh skyline. Amongst its ten glasshouses, the Royal Botanic Garden houses 3,000 exotic plants from around the world. Many people enjoy the garden for its serenity. Admission to the Royal Botanic Garden is free, but access to The Glasshouse is 5.50 pounds for adults (about 8 dollars US).

Outskirts of Edinburgh and beyond

We found it quite easy to get around Edinburgh and surrounding areas. Waverly Station was conveniently located for train service, and we also found bus and taxi services nearby as well.  If you wish to explore the outskirts of Edinburgh on your own, or perhaps take the train or bus to another village, I think you will find it quite easy to make your own plans.

A few popular nearby locations are Dean Village and Rosslyn Chapel (featured in Dan Brown’s best-seller, ‘The Da Vinci Code’).

We booked three separate day tours with tour companies during our stay in Edinburgh, and we really enjoyed all of them. We toured with both Rabbie’s and Heart of Scotland tour companies that guided us through Scotland’s panoramic coastline and countryside.  We enjoyed attractions such as Stirling Castle, Alnwick Castle, Doune Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, Kelso Abbey, Jedburgh Abbey, and Glengoyne Whisky Distillery. We also visited the towns of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland, Kelso, Sterling, Jedburgh, Vindolanda, and Moffat (my namesake). We journeyed through the Trossachs National Park where we were thrilled to spend some time at scenic Loch Lomond.

There were also many options for walking tours in the city of Edinburgh that catered to many interests. There were literary tours, whiskey tours, haunted tours, and more! We didn’t set aside enough time to schedule any city walking tours, but we are set to take a haunted underground evening tour in Edinburgh on our next visit. I can’t wait to return!

Edinburgh Gallery


 

Sources:

http://www.welcometoscotland.com/
Robin & Jenny McKelvie, “National Geographic Traveler Scotland”, 2011 National Geographic Society

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