Exploring Edinburgh: 10 Things to Do in Auld Reekie

Nestled between two extinct volcanoes lies the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh, a city exuding cultural charm and brimming with bagpipes. Its Old Town runs the length of the Royal Mile, from Edinburgh Castle in the west to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the east, and spans a vast network of closes (=narrow streets) which run perpendicular to the Royal Mile. On the other side of Waverley Station lies the New Town, filled with shops, restaurants and parks.

With just three days in Edinburgh, we were determined to pack as much as possible into our trip; luckily, the city centre is fairly compact so this turned out to be more manageable than initially expected! We spent a night in High Street Hostel, which is ideally located just off the Royal Mile, and a night in easyHotel, at the west end of Princes Street. A word of advice: if you ever end up in easyHotel, expect the room to be matchbox sized, and take advantage of their breakfast deal at Ryan’s (haggis optional.)

Without further ado, here are the highlights of Edinburgh, all of which can be packed into a short stopover in this beautiful city . . .

1. Check out the Virgin Money Street of Light

If you’re in Edinburgh now, or will be before Christmas Day, then don’t miss the chance to see the Virgin Money Street of Light show on the Royal Mile. Their website says you need a free ticket; we found this wasn’t actually the case, so just turn up. It’s a fantastic lights show, featuring music sung by choirs across Edinburgh.

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2. Explore the Royal Mile (including some of the many closes)

The Royal Mile alone is steeped in history; with the Palace of Holyroodhouse at one end and Edinburgh Castle at the other it’s difficult not to be impressed by the Old Town’s magnificent architecture. Take the time to venture off the Royal Mile and explore some of the closes, where you’ll find hidden museums, pubs and more. If you don’t know where to start, take one of the excellent free walking tours – which are a great way to see a lot in a short space of time!

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3. Admire Edinburgh Castle

Perched on top of an extinct volcano, this imposing medieval fortress dominates the skyline of Edinburgh. From Johnston Terrace you can get an unobscured view of this magnificent castle which is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny.

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4. Visit Greyfriars Kirk

The inspiration behind many of J.K. Rowling’s character names, including the infamous Tom Riddle, Greyfriars Kirk is a tranquil space to the south of Edinburgh Castle. It’s also home to the grave of Greyfriars Bobby, who, legend has it, guarded the grave of his master for fourteen years. Any visitors hoping to visit the church itself should bear in mind that it’s only open to visitors in the summer months.

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5. See Greyfriars Bobby

Not far from the gates to Greyfriars Kirk is a small statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal Skye terrier of the aforementioned legend. Apparently it’s lucky to rub his nose . . .

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6. Climb Arthur’s Seat

Any visitor spending more than a day in Edinburgh should endeavour to climb Arthur’s Seat: for a relatively undemanding hike, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic aerial views of the city (and perhaps if you get a sunny day there’ll be Sunshine on Leith!) Take a drink with you (and, if you’re anything like me, a snack as well) and remember to wear layers and appropriate footwear. A return trip, from the Old Town centre to the summit and back, will take approximately two hours.

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7. Refresh at Mimi’s Bakehouse

Located on the Royal Mile (250 Canongate) this is the ideal tearoom for anyone with the slightest hint of a sweet tooth. Mimi’s Bakehouse serves up a range of mouthwatering cakes, traybakes, brownies and cheesecakes. Their festive orange hot chocolate is not to be missed – it’s easily one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had (and I’ve had more than my fair share . . .)

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8. Take in the view from Calton Hill

Or, more accurately in our case, a reduced and rather foggy view, which was rather nice nevertheless. If you want a picture-perfect view, without the slightly longer walk involved in ascending Arthur’s Seat, at barely a five minute stroll from Princes Street (or an even shorter drive) Calton Hill is an ideal option. At the top you’ll find the Dugald Stewart Monument (which features on many of Google Images’ pictures of Edinburgh), the Nelson Monument, the City Observatory, and the National Monument – an unfinished monument which resembles the Parthenon (a strong dose of imagination is required to fill in the gaps.)

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9. Discover Mary King’s Close

Venture underneath the City Chambers and discover a network of streets hidden beneath the Old Town, preserved since the 17th century. A visit to Mary King’s Close enables you to experience this warren of closes through a guided tour of the ruins of several closes alongside learning about the city and its inhabitants’ history. Photography is strictly forbidden, as it’s owned by the government, though souvenir photos can be purchased at the end of the tour.

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Photo credit: Mary King’s Close

10. And on a final seasonal note, visit the Christmas markets

Edinburgh’s Christmas markets have something for everyone, and if you’re in Edinburgh over the festive period then everything from a glass of glühwein, to a bratwurst or a delicious cylinder of chimney cake (otherwise known as trdelník, a sugary dessert found in Eastern Europe) can be found here. Whether you fancy getting lost in the Christmas tree maze, attempting not to fall over and break a leg on the ice skating rink or getting a bird’s eye view of the illuminated market from the top of the beer tent, there’s something to suit all ages. 

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