Things To Do In Edinburgh
Every year in the month of August, the Annual Arts Festival in Edinburgh gathers thousands of people: the main festival features some of the world’s greatest orchestras, theater companies and artists, and the fringe festival offers a chance for small theater groups, experimental artists, and comedians to perform. Aside from the lively celebration, you can explore the hilltop castles and the busy ancient streets.
The Old Town is a feast to the eye and the senses. It is like taking a trip from the Middle Ages to the 18th century -- every corner breathes history. Edinburgh is an attractive city with lots of sights and shopping opportunities; the castles, nice pubs, and the friendly people are all worth seeing.
When To Go:
The summer months of June through August are the right time to visit Edinburgh. During these months is when the normal high temperatures ascend to a pleasant 65 degrees. At the same time this is the city's busiest time for tourism, particularly in August when 3 big celebrations happen one after the other. To take advantage of the best arrangements, you'll need to book in advance. The winter, from about November to March, is the point at which you'll score low-season prices, with the exception of the week before the New Year festivities. Spring and early fall are also good options if you intend to tour in the outskirts of the city. The city has a generally gentle climate and fewer travelers at this time, and those who come can grab hotel and airfare bargains.
These are the things to do when in the city of Edinburgh:
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Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place every August in the Castle of Edinburgh. It is a must to see this show because nowhere else in the world can you attend an event so artistically well prepared, so rooted in the traditions -- plus occurring in a charming location. It is a choreographic spectacle offered by the military bands of many countries, both close to and far from Scotland. Seeing this festive demonstration is an unforgettable experience. The superb entry of the Royal Scots Dragon Guards excites the crowd, as they show off the wonderful sound of the bagpipes and the beautiful colors of their uniforms. It is an amazing parade that leaves everyone breathless, especially the acrobats performing in their national costumes and doing their risky acts while marching!
Every year, new bands with their original uniforms and other new attractions are invited to attend from all over the world. The moment when a single bagpipe sounds from the tower of the castle amidst the general silence and plays Scotland’s National Anthem (Flower of Scotland) is always especially poignant. At the end, everything culminates with the display of fireworks in the air, framing the shape of the entire castle. This once-a-year event is really something different and memorable and a real treat for anyone traveling to Edinburgh during the festival days.
Getting to the summit of the 250-foot-tall Arthur’s Seat is tiring, especially if you go on a day with strong winds, but you will be rewarded for all your effort because the view of the city and the coast is breathtaking. You can come here after visiting the nearby Holyrood Park where you will find one of the official residences of the Queen.
Once you are at the base of the hill, there are two roads that both lead to the top. If you take the less steep road you can get there faster and without even a sweat. The summit of this dormant volcano of Edinburgh is a beautiful promenade that is a bit difficult in the last section. It is best to download the recommended trail map on their website to have a better idea of the challenging trail to this impressive landscape that is surrounded by nature and away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Royal Yacht Brittania
The official yacht of the Royal Family – the Royal Yacht Brittania -- is moored at the port of Leith in Edinburgh next to a shopping center (Ocean Terminal). It is very hard to miss because the boat is huge and can be seen from almost anywhere. The impression upon entering the Royal Yacht is like leaping into the recent past. Everything remains as it was when it was left unused, and it holds many memories of old England. There are some impressive photos of the Royal Family showing important occasions-- including one from the honeymoon of Charles and Diana. It is a beautiful ship that is kept well preserved despite being unused for many years.
This top tourist attraction is really nice to visit, and exploring the interiors becomes even more interesting if you consider how many historical events have happened on this yacht. It is fascinating to visit all the rooms, and you can see those of the royal family as well as the rooms for the crew. There are many small -- and large items of curiosity, like a Rolls Royce kept on board to be used as the official vehicle in case the Queen would disembark.
The entrance fee includes an audio guide in several languages; it gives a detailed explanation of what you see. Other interesting special features are the elegant furnishings, precious art works, and the well-equipped kitchen that is still used to prepare food for the bar/restaurant that is located on the ship. The ship is easily accessible by Bus #22 from Princess Street -- don't miss it.
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is a kaleidoscope of interesting things and events that cover history, art, technology, and biology. The Tyrannosaurus skeleton is immediately noticeable, and there are artifacts from the history of the formation of the Scottish government. The most striking collections are the Formula One racing cars and the Eskimo clothing made of animal skins, feathers, and fish bladders.
There are interactive multi-media exhibits designed for children and a section about taxidermy. The topics also range from the antiquity to the present.
You can climb all the way up to the open-air terrace and see a garden of herbs and shrubs. Admission is free and the exhibits are huge and informative. The rooms are presented with different themes -- from dinosaurs to robots and everything that is fun to watch and learn. One half is like an encyclopedia marked "All About Everything", while the second part is about the history of Scotland from the ancient times to the present day.
If you want to examine everything and learn more about Scotland, allocate about a half-day to tour the entire museum. There are pleasant tour guides inside that will talk about any part of the collection and graciously answer your questions.
The Old Town is where you will find the main historical attractions of Edinburgh: the Edinburgh Castle located on Castle Hill, and Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Scottish and then British monarchs. Not far from the castle are the Royal Mile, Camera Obscura, and World of Illusion (fun to visit with children). And there is the old main market with lots of souvenir shops.
Both areas of Edinburgh -- Old Town and New Town -- are included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. When in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is virtually impossible to miss because it is an exceptionally pleasant place that is perfect for merrymaking, photography, shopping or for dining.
When you walk through the small streets of the Old Town you find yourself immersed in the spirit of the Middle Ages, and it is only when the modern cars drive by that you remember reality. The heart of Scotland is quiet, nice, cool and clean. It is a good option for relaxation. You can walk among the old buildings and breathe the cold and fresh air. There are lots of small cafes and pubs, and street musicians are often playing bagpipes (and wearing a kilt -- the traditional knee-length man's plaid skirt.)
The Holyrood Palace is the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Located on the famous Royal Mile, the palace -- like many old buildings in Edinburgh -- is closely linked with the history of Scotland. The apartment section periodically holds state receptions featuring the Queen. Do not fail to visit the museum where you can learn more about the history of Scotland.
It has a pretty courtyard with flowering plants and well-manicured lawn. The whole landscape is of volcanic nature with steep hills, picturesque ruins, and gorgeous lakes down below. Perfectly preserved since the 15TH century, the Royal Palace has retained its elegance, air of chivalry, and memories of the glorious years of the Medieval Age in Europe. The climb may be difficult, but you get a wonderful view of the whole city of Edinburgh.
Royal Botanic Garden
May is the best time to visit the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh because many of the plants blossom during this month. The huge park can be accessed from the gray-orange tourist bus route. The garden is worth exactly an hour and a half walk. Admission is free and there are a lot of lawns and benches in case you want to rest during your walk. There are many different areas representing the different continents of the world.
In addition to the plants in the open-air garden, there is a huge modern glazed conservatory (the lower level is open to the public, but in order to get to the top you have to buy a ticket). Aside from plants and trees, it is home to many different species of squirrels and birds, including songbirds. At the exit there is a shop where you can buy trees and flower seedlings. If you love nature, you will enjoy visiting this place.
The Edinburgh Castle is an ancient fortress on Castle Rock (an extinct volcano) right in the center of Edinburgh. The castle is open to visitors and is a major tourist attraction of the city. It is surrounded by other historic attractions like the Royal Mile -- at the other end of which is the Palace of Holyrood House. The castle gives the impression of an impenetrable fortress. Across from the unassailable castle stands the oldest religious structure in Edinburgh, St. Margaret's Chapel. Also at the Edinburgh Castle are the Stone of Scone and the Royal Crown of Scotland.
Be sure to go to the treasury where the crown jewels are kept. In the courtyard is where they usually celebrate the military pageantry and annual fringe festivals. There is also a museum (Prisons of War) and cemetery (National War Memorial) dedicated to the fallen heroes of Scotland. Take the audio guide and listen to the stories that are told, in addition to taking the main tour. One of the top things to do when in Edinburgh is to witness the daily changing of the guard ceremony. After the spectacle -- at 1:00 pm -- a shot from the big cannon is fired from the Argylle Battery side.
Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is a small museum (excluding galleries) with a very remarkable collection. It houses art works from Titian and other great Italians -- plus Rubens, Gainsborough, and Stubbs (only one, but the same character as in the National Gallery in London). The museum has nice rooms and the staff is dressed in uniforms of blue sweaters and Scottish plaid pants. Admission is free but a donation is required for the upkeep of the art museum. There is a great cafe on the terrace with an unforgettable view of the park and the city -- the perfect complement to a visit.
The Calton Hill is very close to the city center and just a 10-15 minute walk from the central bus station. It offers a great view of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat. This place is a favorite spot among photographers, who can take great pictures of Edinburgh’s beautiful panorama from here. Calton Hill is also known for its architectural monuments and historic buildings built in the 18th - early 19th century: Nelson's Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and the Scottish National Monument, whose construction was never completed due to lack of funding.
Walking is certainly a pleasure, and if you're lucky and the weather is clear, you will not only see the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, but even have a glimpse of the Firth of Forth Bay. Each year at the end of April, the Beltane Fire Festival is held here; it is a mesmerizing celebration that gathers more than 12,000 people.
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