What to see in Edinburgh, Scotland
If you are staying in Scotland a little while, it might be worth getting a Historic Scotland Membership. Passes last for a year. They provide unlimited access to about 70 paying sites in Scotland, including Edinburgh‘s Castle and Craigmillar Castle. You also get a lot of discounts for their shops, a quarterly magazine, and 50% off all English, Welsh and Manx historical sites.
Edinburgh Doors Open Day is an annual event, co-ordinated by the Cockburn Association, where many important and/or historic buildings across the city open up their doors to the public at no charge. Many of the buildings are not normally accessible so this can present a unique opportunity to see some of the city’s lesser-known architectural marvels. It usually takes place on the last weekend in September. Brochures with details of the participating sites, opening times, access details etc., can be picked up from city libraries in the run up to the day, or downloaded from the website.
Edinburgh Castle, Old Town. Edinburgh Castle, home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, is a magnificently situated royal fortress located on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been continuously in use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition.
Craigmillar Castle, Little France. The ruins of Craigmillar Castle are a fantastic place to see. Located just after Holyrood Park, about 5Km east of the city centre, the first part of the castle was built in the 14th century. If
Abbey and Palace of Holyroodhouse, Old Town. The Palace is a royal residence, and hosts the Queen’s Gallery containing a collection of art from the Royal Collection.
St Giles’ Cathedral, Old Town. The historic City Church of Edinburgh is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh and takes its name from the city’s patron saint.
Mary King’s Close, Old Town. Warriston’s Close (opposite St Giles’ Cathedral), open daily except 25 Dec – a slice of Edinburgh’s medieval history, preserved since being closed over in the 18th century – watch out for the haunting.
Gladstone’s Land, Old Town, In the Lawnmarket at the top of the Royal Mile. It is a 17th century Old Town tenement (known as a ‘Land’) decorated with period furniture. It has an impressive painted ceiling.
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Old Town. A very old graveyard in Old Town off the Southwest corner of George IV Bridge made famous by Disney as the home of Greyfriars Bobby. If you visit the statue of Bobby, Edinburgh residents appreciate it if you do not touch the statue of Bobby as this is damaging it. Rubbing his nose for luck is not a tradition in Edinburgh despite what any tour guide may tell you.
Camera Obscura, Old Town. Castle Hill. Over 150 years old, the Camera Obscura focuses light from the top of the tower onto a large dish in a dark room below, allowing a 360-degree view of all of Edinburgh!
The Scottish Parliament, Old Town, (eastern end of the Royal Mile, opposite the Palace of Holyrood House)— A unique building designed by the Spanish (Catalan) architect Enric Miralles. It is necessary to get (free) tickets to watch the Parliament in session from the Public Gallery.
Grassmarket area, Old Town, (a few steps away from the Royal Mile, including George IV bridge and by Greyfriar’s Bobby)— A colorful and unique area of the historic old town, once the site of Edinburgh’s horse and cattle market and now home to a great selection of independent shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and arts & crafts.
Scott Monument, East Princes Street Gardens, New Town. Built in 1846 to commemorate the life of Sir Walter Scott after his death in 1832, the Gothic spire monument allows you to climb 200 ft above the city centre to enjoy fantastic views.
The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, Leith, Jan-Mar, Nov-Dec 10AM-5PM, Apr-Jun, Sep-Oct 10AM-5:30PM, Jul 9:30AM-5:30PM, Aug 9:30AM-6PM last entry 1.5 hrs before closing, closed 1 Jan and 25 Dec, decommissioned from royal use in recent years and voted one of Edinburgh’s best new attractions, Britannia offers visitors the chance to tour the royal apartments and view a selection of the many gifts offered to the royals by dignitaries worldwide.
Royal Botanic Garden, Inverleith Row (East Gate) / Arboretum Place (West Gate), Stockbridge. Very impressive gardens with a collection of interesting plants. Great place to wander around on a sunny day, or to sit and have a picnic. Free entry to the gardens.
Edinburgh Zoo , West. Watch the world famous Penguin Parade.
Rosslyn Chapel , South, Take the number 37 bus to Roslin in Midlothian to see this chapel, featured in “The Da Vinci Code” novel and film.
Museum and galleries
National Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum, Chambers St, Old Town. The museum mixes innovative modern architecture with the best of Scotland’s heritage. The Royal Museum has a magnificent airy Victorian atrium now with the Millennium Clock at one end – arrange to be there when it is chiming. Exhibits in the Museum of Scotland include Scottish pottery and weapons from the Roman era and the Renaissance. M-Sa 10AM-5PM with extended opening to 8PM on Tuesdays, and Su noon-5PM. Free.
The National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound, New Town holds much of Scotland’s fine artwork and carries exhibitions that change seasonally. The new Western Link was opened in 2004 with an entrance from Princes Street Gardens. It joins The National Gallery with the neighboring Scottish Academy gallery and gives Scotland its first world class art space.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 74 Belford Rd on the western fringe of the New Town, contains a fine selection of modern art from Scotland and other countries.
The Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market St, behind the Edinburgh Waverley Rail Station, Old Town. Aims to find the most appropriate way to bring artists and audiences together. It is a not-for-profit organization and a registered charity. M-Sa 11AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM. Free.
There are a number of independent galleries in the St Stephen Street area of Stockbridge.