Traveling to Scotland was my first trip to Europe, and my first solo trip. Edinburgh isn’t necessarily one of the most “trendy” vacation spots, but to me, that’s part of its charm. You don’t feel like just another tourist when you’re there, but instead, more of a community welcoming you. While there aren’t as many sites to see like in NYC, there’s plenty to visit and learn about since Scotland is a country rich in history. Honestly, my favorite thing was to just walk down any path or alley just to see where it lead me. However, there are still some places you must see when you travel to Edinburgh:
1. Edinburgh Castle
Sitting on top of Castle Rock, overlooking the entire city is the grand Edinburgh Castle. Guys, if y’all only visit one place on this list, it has to be here. From the second I walked up to the drawbridge, I was blown away by the magnificence of it. Everywhere you turn there’s a different room, hallway, building to explore. Personally, my favorite area was the Crown Jewels room. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures, but the ability to get that close and see just how beautiful the jewels are is enough.
I also recommend being in the area around 1:00PM (except on Sundays) to see the firing of the One o’clock Gun. This tradition dates all the way back to 1861 and it draws a crowd pretty much everyday. The Great Hall and Royal Palace Grounds are a couple more areas to check out.
If you’re looking to pick up some wool scarfs or a kilt, or spend sometime in the pub, this is the place for you. The Royal Mile connects the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and is filled with shops, cafes, and pubs. There are also cross streets that are occupied by even more places, one of which is the famed Elephant House where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. You’ll also come across people playing the bagpipes and other performers. I stopped at a couple of candy/fudge shops as well, and honestly, any one of them is worth stopping by.
This was definitely the highlight of my trip, and I’d recommend you not skip out on Arthur’s Seat. Holyrood Palace is located at the bottom of the hill from Edinburgh Castle and acts as the official residence for Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family. It is absolutely beautiful and they are open for tours throughout the year (you can see Mary, Queen of Scots quarters as well). They do have many closing times throughout the year, so definitely check before you go. I was unable to tour, unfortunately.
Arthur’s Seat is part of Holyrood Park and at the peak (823 ft), overlooks the entire city and the coastline. It’s a very popular running/hiking area as you can reach the top by many different paths. I think I chose the windiest day possible to ever climb a mountain. It was so bad I was literally having to hold onto rocks and duck behind boulders to keep from getting blown over (which I would then promptly tumble back down the mountain). However, it was somewhat lucky with the day as there was a beautiful rainbow over the entire city at the time. It is my second favorite view I have ever seen (first is Mt. Fuji!).
With monuments, fountains, beautiful landscaping, sitting directly below the Edinburgh Castle, the Princes Street Gardens span 37.5 acres (East and West Side of the gardens). The East and West side are divided by The Mound (with the West side being the much larger of the two). You can see the Scott Monument and a list of notable people’s statues scattered throughout the Gardens. These Gardens also serve as hosting site of many festivals and events throughout the year. The park is public, so it’s completely free, but they do close around 6 to 7PM each day depending on time of year. It’s a wonderful place to take a walk, read a book, or sit and enjoy some coffee (or tea if you prefer, it is Scotland after all).
5. Greyfriars Bobby Monument and Greyfriars Kirkyard
I know, I know. Why am I listing a graveyard on this list? Well, first off it’s a very popular area in Edinburgh. The Greyfriars Bobby Monument is a true case of dog being “man’s best friend”. Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye terrier who was loyal to his owner, John Gray, even after Gray’s death. Bobby became a “town member” when after Gray was buried, Bobby continued to guard his owner’s grave for 14 years until his own death. To commemorate Bobby, his statue is at the front of Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Beyond Bobby’s Monument, are the graves of many notable people throughout Scottish history. This graveyard is nothing like you are used to seeing around the US. The tombs and monuments are so grand and ornate that it’s something to definitely see on your trip through Edinburgh. Also, the Kirkyard is where J.K. Rowling used to take walks through to get inspiration for her character’s names. Most notably, Thomas Riddell (Tom Riddle aka Voldemort) and William McGonagall (Professor Minerva McGonagall). If you get hungry during your tour around here, there’s a pub called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar as well on the corner of the before entering the Kirkyard.