Scotland’s capital city has a quaint and compact Old Town which can be easily negotiated on foot. Several of the hills around the city offer sweeping panoramas of Edinburgh and its surroundings. Plan to spend several days here, before venturing out into the highlands. My list of activities while you’re in Edinburgh includes all the major sights.
1. Walk the Royal Mile — The street which links Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse makes a pleasant stroll and offers numerous shops to dally in and other places to visit along the way. With lengthy stops at the castle and palace, your walk could take a whole day.
2. Visit Edinburgh Castle — One of the few remaining castles in Scotland which are not in ruins, this medieval fortress has a long and storied history. The Treasury, in the complex, contains the Scottish Crown Jewels. There is a changing of the guard ceremony each day.
3. Learn About Mary, Queen of Scots, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse — Still a royal residence, when the Queen comes to Edinburgh, this grand palace played a pivotal role during the rivalry of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I.
4. Visit St Giles Church — This church, about halfway down the Royal Mile, has a distinctive crown-shaped tower and is a prominent feature in Edinburgh’s skyline. The church is plain, dark, and somber inside.
5. Relax in Prince Street Park — This delightful green zone is sandwiched between the Old Town and the New Town. It contains the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, and offers great views of Edinburgh Castle from below.
6. Admire Edinburgh’s Cityscape from Calton Hill — Just beyond and above Holyrood House is a dramatic setting which provides views of the entire Old Town and, toward the north, the Firth of Forth.
7. Play a Round of Golf at St Andrews — The birthplace of golf is located about 50 miles northeast of Edinburgh. If you are a golfer, you should attempt to play this Royal and Ancient course. The town has a lovely setting on the water.
8. Look for Ghosts at Glamis Castle — Reputedly the setting of Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth, this classic Scottish castle is also considered to be haunted. A visit here can be incorporated with golf at St Andrews (see #7 above) since they are in the same vicinity.
9. Get Into Geology at Arthur’s Seat — James Hutton, the “Father of Geology,” used to walk along the rim of this extinct volcano and formulated the basic principles of this important science as a result of his observations. You can walk in his footsteps and also get a great view of Edinburgh.
10. Spend a Night or Two in Castle — One of my greatest travel memories is spending three nights at Dalhousie Castle, just south of Edinburgh. Breakfast in the dungeon was a real treat, as were the themed rooms and period furniture.
11. Shop For a Tartan — Whether you are Scottish or not, it is fun to learn about the clan traditions and the specific color and pattern of each major family. Some of the best stores can be found on the Royal Mile, in Old Town, and on Prince Street, in New Town.
12. Check Out Blair Castle — An unusual and distinctive white color, this castle sits on one of the major routes between Edinburgh and the capital of the highlands, Inverness.
13. Visit a Distillery — Scotch whiskey is one of the world’s most important and popular liquors. Take a tour of a distillery (there are many to choose from) to see how this process works.
14. Eat Some Haggis — This local favorite is usually served at breakfast and is composed of pig or sheep intestines. As disgusting as it sounds, it is quite tasty and worth a try.