I feel Edinburgh is one of those cities that is way too little known for what it is. I wanted to write it’s underrated, but I don’t think it is. Everyone I know that has visited ADORED the city… it’s just not very well known. I decided to visit Edinburgh on a whim, after seeing some Pinterest pictures. True story.
Well… this city certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the architecture in this city is nothing short of epic. If you’re into the whole Harry Potter vibe, this is definitely a city you will enjoy. I like my cities like I like my men (old, interesting, good to look at), so Edinburgh was definitely up my alley. I only spent two days in the city, which means we only scratched the surface of this visual feast, so I’d recommend you take three days for a visit. And during those days: these are 12 things you need to see in Edinburgh.
The view from Princess Street to the old city
If you are magically transported to Edinburgh, and the world is collapsing around you, and you have only ten minutes to spend in this city before the world vanishes forever (Seriously, what am I on?!), make sure to run down to Princess Street, then marvel at the dramatic skyline of the citycentre. It houses the world’s first skyscrapers (medieval buildings that were up to fourteen stories high, because of their locations on hills). I’ve seen some epic skylines, but Edinburgh is right there up with it. (Also: Princess Street is great for shopping)
The Royal Mile
It is impossible to miss The Royal Mile, the central street in the middle of Old Town Edinburgh. The street got its name because it connects Edinburgh Castle with the lower royal castle of Holyrood palace, which is where the royal family stays when they visit. The small twisty streets that stem from the main road are called ‘closes’, where hundreds of people would live at the same time, piled on top of each other. The buildings would sometimes measure fourteen stories high, and were hardly safe or comfy structures. The lower floors would house shops and rich people, the top floors the poor ones. It was windy and crooked, and sometimes the buildings would collapse. There was also no bathroom so everybody emptied their buckets on set times each day, while yelling ‘Gardy Loo!’, which is very poor French for ‘Garde de l’eau’, which means ‘mind the water’. (yeah…. water….) And then you’d just pray you weren’t walking in that street at that time. We did a tour about the secrets of the Royal mile with Mercat Tours, that we really enjoyed!
City Chambers/ The Royal Exchange
It’s really not a very subtle building, with its gateway and pillars. When you enter you end up on a square that holds a statue of Alexander the Great taming his horse Bucaphalus. And though it now serves as the City Chambers, the building once held ‘The Royal Exchange’, an initiative to house the local merchants.
The statue is supposed to depict Alexander the Great trying to tame his wild battle horse. The poor artist was paid every couple of months until he completed the statue, but then ran into major shitface-client behavior. The city simply decided not to pay the last cheque, even if the statue was perfectly fine. All the artist still had to do was create the horses head. To take his revenge on his client he ditched the idea of a strong manly horse, and instead gave it a pigs face with tiny ears. And that’s how the statue remains, for the joy of all the freelancers who feel his pain in working with clients.
Right across from the City Chambers, and next to the church you spot the Mercats Cross. From that tower royal announcements are still being made, three days after they have been spoken in London. This is because in the old days it would take three days to transport the message to Edinburgh. It was also the place were all the merchants did their business. AND the spot were all the torture took place in the town. People were beaten with whips with glass fragments, and bodyparts got hammered to the pilar… all that fun stuff.
I love museums, but I’m not a big art fan, which rules out a lot of museums. Thankfully we discovered Camera Obscura, which is one of the most enjoyable museums I’ve ever visited. It’s actually better to call it an attraction than a museum, because of its interactive nature that allows you to touch everything, and walk in and around things. The theme is ‘optical illusions’. How awesome? (It also has one of the best views of Edinburgh from their roof)
When I’m short on time I always like to see the city accompanied by a tourguide, that teaches me about the history of the destination I’m visiting. In a few hours you’re in the know of the most vital information and you receive the best anecdotes that are not shared in travel guides. I took two tours by Mercat Tours, one of the most respected tourcompanies in Edinburgh. During the day I joined the ‘Secrets of the Royal Mile’ tour, where you learn about how people lived on- and around the Royal Mile, and at night I took the ‘Ghosts and Gouls’ tour. That tour has nice stories about all the horrors that took place in Edinburgh (serial killers, ghosts, executions etc), but thankfully isn’t scary at all! (Good for someone like me who likes freak stories, but actually doesn’t enjoy being scared)
The Real Mary Kings Close
One of the best attractions of Edinburgh is The Real Mary Kings Close. I mentioned the ‘closes’ before, and Mary King Close was the biggest and most famous one. If you lived here as a poor person, then you could live anywhere. The tour visits actual old houses is guided by a girl that plays the role of the housemaid of one of the richest families in the close. She guides you trough rooms that are decorated true to history and tells you real stories that took places in the close. Very interesting! The most intriguing story to me was the one about how the plague struck the close, but i also enjoyed the stories about how the inhabitants got to their houses on the fourteenth floor. (Via ladders that were nailed to the wall, and which meant the end of a life for many people that slipped and fell)
There’s not many castles that are so IN YOUR FACE as Edinburgh Castle. Not a cheap place to visit by all means, but interesting. It allows you to see the crown jewels, the house where a king was born and the place where the crown jewels were buried in the second world war. One ticket allows you access the the National War Museum as well, that is located within the castle walls. Find your tickets online.
Obviously I was only in Edinburgh for two short days, and so I had to miss out on a lot as well. This is what I’d like to see when I return:
– The Harbour: I’ve heard it’s very nice to walk down to the harbour, so why not?
– Arthurs seat: The highest peak in the Pentland Hils. How beautiful is is when you can take a beautiful hike so close to the city?
– Scotch Whiskey Experience: I really don’t enjoy liquor, but my colleague starts to smile from ear from ear when she recalls the time she sat in a whiskey barrell, on a rollercoaster ride (?) trough the experience. That sounds like fun.
– Surgeons Hall museum: a museum about the history of surgery from the sixteenth century until now. With exhibits about pathology, skulls, and a book that’s made from human skin by famous serial killers Burke & Hare from Edinburgh.
A good tip also is to find a central hotel, that saves you a lot of time. We stayed in a very affordable and fun airbnb, but it was quite some way from the city centre, so it took us about thirty minutes to reach it by foot. A waste of time really! Looking for an Airbnb-stay? (Get a discount here!) or for hotels check here.
What’s YOUR must visit in Edinburgh?
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