I like to visit Edinburgh at least once a year and each time I seem to find something new to see or do. Edinburgh may be a capital without its own independent country (at the moment), but historically and culturally it towers above many true capitals.
I include it in my Top Ten Cities because it is a great place to wander around with many very different locations to visit.
Princes Street may not have the top designer shops – Edinburgh is too down to earth for such frivolities – but it is an uplifting experience to stroll down the street. There are down-to-earth shops on one side and Princes Gardens and the Scott Memorial on the other, all overlooked by the Castle towering way above.
Cross over Princes Gardens and soak in the history of the ‘Old Town’ as you walk up The Royal Mile, dating from medieval times. Start from Holyroodhouse Palace and finish up at Edinburgh Castle.
Visit the historic Grassmarket at the far side of the Castle. For 500 years this was Edinburgh’s main market for horse and cattle and a setting for public executions. Now it has fine Victorian buildings which house shops, pubs, coffee bars and restaurants.
Cross back over Princes Gardens and explore the ‘New Town’ stretching back for several blocks from Princes Street. This masterpiece of town planning was built in stages between 1760 and 1850 and retains much of its neo-classical and Georgian splendour. The ‘New Town’ and ‘Old Town’ were together declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Having wandered around these central parts of Edinburgh, I then like to travel by car or public transport to nearby places of interest, some of which I include in my highlights list.
If you are a culture-vulture and are not put off by crowds and high hotel charges, then visit Edinburgh in August for ‘The Festival’. This famous cultural jamboree includes theatre, film, jazz, books, art and the alternative Fringe.
My Top Ten Highlights, listed from the centre of Edinburgh working outwards, are:
1. The ‘Old Town’ and the ‘New Town’ described above, including Princes Street, The Royal Mile and the Grassmarket.
2. *Edinburgh Castle on top of a rocky outcrop with great views across the city. Learn about the key role the castle has played in Scottish history, but keep your ears covered at exactly 1 pm when a cannon is fired from the ramparts, as it has been for the last 140 years. The site is managed by Historic Scotland, the sister organisation of English Heritage. The famous military tattoo is held in the castle grounds every August.
3. *Edinburgh Zoo, situated in attractive, hillside parkland and containing over 1,000 animals including a pair of giant pandas.
5. Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, rising to 250 metres. It is the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills and provides panoramic views of the city and beyond to the Forth railway and road bridges. As a Senior you may decide to take the easiest ascent from the east, where a grassy slope rises gradually from Dunsapie Loch to the summit.
6. The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, an impressive art collection and grounds containing sculptures by the likes of Henry Moore. It is situated along the Water of Leith Walkway which leads down to the Firth of Forth at Leith.
7. Leith, the port area of Edinburgh, with elegant historic buildings along wide streets and by the shoreline. The old architecture now blends well with modern harbour-side buildings.
8. *The Royal Yacht Britannia, which for over 40 years served the queen, covering over 1 million miles. It is now berthed in Leith and is worth a visit if only to marvel at the extravagancies of this anachronistic way of life.
9. *Rosslyn Chapel, a few miles to the south of the city. It has been a place of worship since 1446 but gained international prominence when it played a key role in Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code. I found the intricately patterned stonework to be truly fascinating, even without the significance suggested in Brown’s story.
10. South Queensferry, a few miles to the west of the city, for great views of both the Forth Railway Bridge and Forth Road Bridge. There are several good water-front pubs and restaurants.
(*Seniors aged 60 and above get 10-20% discount on entrance charges for these venues.)
All the major hotel chains can be found in Edinburgh and most give Senior discount rates; see my Hotel Deals for Seniors to find out how to get these special rates. Two very different hotels where I’ve enjoyed staying are the Radisson Blu Hotel on the Royal Mile and the Holiday Inn Express by the Leith waterfront.