Would you believe I’m already trying to plot my way back to the UK? Any excuse to get me over there, I’ll jump on it. My husband wants to go to Spain, I do too obviously, but I want to pop over in the UK on the way back if that happens. I absolutely love the UK.
So here’s part two of my Edinburgh guide, again inspired by friend David who will be speaking at UX Scotland in June. These are my 7 places to visit in Edinburgh if you’re visiting for the first time.
The Royal Mile
This one should go without saying, why would you miss out on such a beautiful area full of history? The mile is the main road through Old Town Edinburgh, full of shops, tourist attractions, pubs, and restaurants, the area is bustling. It’s fun to wander down the mile, in and out of the shops as well as all the different closes, which are picturesque alleyways.
There is so much to see around the area, and no matter where you stay in Edinburgh you’re bound to cross the Royal Mile at some point. Take some time to just explore.
Greyfriars Kirkyard & Greyfriars Bobby
Greyfriars kirkyard is said to be one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. It’s home to the violent Mackenzie Poltergeist who is supposedly responsible for a number of attacks as well as bruises and unexplained marks on visitors to the cemetery.
Sir George Mackenzie was in charge of the Presbyterian Covenanter persecution on behalf of Charles II and he was known to be a brutal man. The Covenanter prison was on the Greyfriars grounds and many of those who were executed or died in the prison were all dumped into mass unmarked graves so the body count in the kirkyard is actually much larger than you would guess.
Both times I’ve visited Greyfriars, mysterious bruises have appeared on my arms and legs…could it be the Mackenzie? My ghost hunter loving soul sure likes to think so.
At the entrance of the kirkyard is a gravestone for a Skye Terrier named Bobby. There’s also a monument to him just outside the kirkyard that was made by William Brodie, the Jekyll and Hyde character I mentioned in my other post on Edinburgh.
The story of Bobby is so popular because it’s said he stayed by his master’s grave for 14 years until his furry self also passed.
Greyfriars is also a few blocks from the Elephant Cafe, where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Many of the names of the characters come from the graveyard. We found Tom Riddle’s grave, and it was quite honestly a little strange to be taking a photo next to the gravestone of someone whose name had been used for a character in a book, but I’m a Harry Potter fan so that definitely happened.
Confession: I haven’t actually been to Dean Village yet and completely ran out of time on my last trip! From all the photos I’ve seen though, it’s an enchanting little spot that was a former village just a bit northwest of Edinburgh Castle.
It’s not an actual tourist attraction, it’s a residential area full of 19th century architecture with the picturesque Water of Leith cutting through the area.
If you’re looking for a charming place to take a stroll, this is the spot. On your way to or from Dean Village, take a stroll down Randloph Place and grab a cup of coffee at one of the cafés. Cairngorm Coffee Co is on my list of spots to visit and is along that stretch.
If you’re only going to be in Edinburgh while you’re in Scotland, you must visit the castle. Perched high up on an ancient volcano, it’s a spot that has been occupied since the 2nd century. There is so much history around the castle, it’d be too much to document here but a few things of note that may encourage you to visit.
If you watch Game of Thrones you’ll recall the horrifying Red Wedding episode. The real events that inspired that particular scene occurred in 1440, the Earl of Douglas, aged 16, and his brother were invited to dine with the King of Scotland, only 10 years old at the time, and then beheaded due to the amount of influence and power the clan held.
Also of note is St. Margaret’s Chapel, one of the few remaining 12th century buildings standing in a Scottish castle, it is the oldest in Edinburgh and the castle.
The Half Moon Battery at the top of the castle is a very special place for me. It’s where my husband preposed after 8 years together. Having both taken art history in college, when he pointed out some sculptures on the side of the memorial building next to the Battery, I was very confused because nothing seemed exactly out of the ordinary about them. When I turned around to ask what he was pointing to, he had a ring out and proposed to me. I’m of Scottish descent so even though Scotland is a part of my history, it is now a part of our story and that is very special to me.
I dragged dear husband on a nightly ghost walking tour of Edinburgh because I wanted to see the vaults. Never mind that I’d seen them on Ghost Adventures, I wanted to experience them myself. The walking tour actually turned out to be really enjoyable, and we learned some really fascinating if not macabre, historical facts along the way, and the end of the tour ended in one of the vaults.
These chambers are part of the South Bridge and were actually used as workshops, taverns and storage. At some point though, the vaults became a hotbed for the homeless. Sickness was rife in the vaults and eventually the homeless left too, and the vaults were filled in with rubble. After this, the vaults seemed to have been forgotten and were rediscovered in the 1990s.
During our tour, the guide talked about some of the paranormal experiences people on the tour have had. He asked if anyone wanted to be shut in the chamber alone. While I wanted to, there were two extremely creepy dolls at the back of the chamber, and I’m a weenie, even though I love the Ghost Adventures show.
As far as I know, access to the vaults are extremely limited so you have to go on a tour of some sorts to go down into them. We went on the Underground Tour that you could book on the Royal Mile in front of Starbucks. Location of the booth for that is here.
If you’re looking for sweeping view of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, hiking up Arthur’s Seat is place to find those views. When my husband and I were there we didn’t climb all the way to the top, I was more preoccupied the the ruins of a St. Anthony’s Chapel that were perched partly up the hill.
But after visiting those ruins, if you’re so inclined and prepared for a bit of hike uphill, you can reach the top of Arthur’s Seat.
Just be prepared for slick conditions if it’s raining. Proper footwear is needed. I feel like I have to mention that because I’ve seen people on vacation in other locations show up to hiking spot, women usually, in platform heels or sandals and they can’t make the hike to the actual viewpoint.
For an even better experience, make the climb to watch the sunrise from the top of the hill.
Perched upon Calton Hill are a number of monuments, all with varying history and built for different things. If the hike up Arthur’s Seat is more hiking than you planned for, the views of the city from the top of Calton Hill are just as beautiful, offering a picturesque view down Princes Street.
At the top of the hill there is a small art gallery and coffee shop, which Ryan and I grabbed a hot drink from on a crisp October morning.
Heading down the hill and across the street to the south is the Scottish Government headquarters building, built over the site of an old jail, the Governor’s House is the only building that is actually a part of the old jail still standing.
Next to the government building, to the southeast, is the Old Calton Hill Burial Ground. Another old cemetery in Edinburgh, it has some unique buildings like an obelisk and another monument. Continuing on down the hill you’ll hit Princes Street with some lovely architecture. On my last visit, it was a dreary and wet evening but it made for some beautifully dark and gothic feeling shots.
Once again, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Edinburgh has to offer, let alone Scotland. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in it’s own unique way. I adore Scotland, and if you ever get the chance to visit you will too.