What to do in Edinburgh: top 10 ideas and top attractions
It’s a good idea to go to Scotland’s capital for four days, so that you don’t feel insanely painful for not having time to see everything.
But let’s be realistic: time is the most precious resource, and not all of us have unlimited amount of it. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the 10 most important things to do in Edinburgh for you. Yes, I haven’t added the frequently encountered in tourist guides advice like ‘walk the Royal Mile’ and ‘visit the pub’, because you’re bound to do that in Edinburgh.
1. VISIT MARY KING’S CUL-DE-SAC
A gloomy dungeon where the souls of people who were immured back in the eighteenth century during the reconstruction of the city live. Sounds impressive, right? However, it is nothing more than a pithy description of a street named after the girl who owned several houses on it.
Indeed, during the redevelopment of the city, which began in 1768, one of its main streets went underground and became the equivalent of catacombs, where the houses of local residents have remained intact. For a long time cul-de-sac Mary King could not be found, but now it is found, and it is guided on tours, dressed in historical costumes. You can’t visit the underground street on your own (also for safety reasons). You can buy a tour at http://www.realmarykingsclose.com.
2. GOING UP TO EDINBURGH CASTLE
The word “up” is not used for the sake of beauty, because the fortress, built in the XII century on the Castle Rock by King David the First, is a truly impregnable stronghold. It stands on a rock-trough, left after the destruction of the volcano, surrounded by several defensive walls and equipped with a complex system of double doors.
I wish the writers of Game of Thrones were here, as they say, to see how castles should be built! Ah, not for nothing has Edinburgh Castle long been called the “key to Scotland”, because no army could take it so easily. In the castle itself the treasury, where jewels of the Scottish crown and the Stone of Destiny are kept, is worth attention.
Yes, at 13.00 sharp the old cannon of the castle is fired to the delight of tourists. The tradition has been kept since 1861 but it is silent only at Christmas and on Holy Sunday.
3. VISIT CHOLIRUDES
If you want to know what Meghan Markle and Prince Harry gave up, go to Holyrood, the palace where England’s Queen Elizabeth II stays during her annual visits to Scotland. Speaking about history, the monarchs moved here from the castle on the rock in the late XV century, and the move was initiated by King James VI – he was tired of staying in a safe, but blown through by evil northern winds fortress.
In fact, the palace is a former inn that operated in the Middle Ages at Holyrood Abbey. Then the roof of the religious building collapsed and the hotel for pilgrims was turned into a royal residence. Well, and the ruins of the abbey have been preserved for love of history.
At one time, Mary Stuart lived here, stayed at Holyrood and handsome Prince Charles, who wanted to wrest the English throne from the Hanover dynasty, who led but lost the Jacobite rebellion, and, of course, Queen Victoria and her royal husband Prince Albert.
Inside the Holyrood, you can’t take pictures, but all guests get a free audio guide, including one in Russian. It is very cleverly put together. You will learn, for example, what she likes to eat for dinner, how secretary of Mary Stuart was killed, as well as where the secret doors in the palace, and why in the portraits of all the kings of the Stuart dynasty have exactly the same nose.
4. GOING INTO THE PUB OF THE HALF-DEAD MAGGIE
Of all the city’s horror stories in Edinburgh, this one is the most famous. It tells of a girl, Maggie, who survived her execution by hanging. It took place in 1723. A certain Margaret Dixon worked in an inn and had an affair with the son of the owner.
In the XVIII century, even the word contraception has not yet been invented, and therefore, soon discovered that the girl is pregnant. Interesting situation, she, of course, successfully hid under her skirts, and even managed to get out of the pregnancy without any problem, but what to do with the baby, she could not think of. So she simply left the newborn on the banks of the River Tweed, where the child died. Of course, his body was found, and Maggie, who had acted so unkindly, was sentenced to death on the gallows.
Normally the bodies of criminals were not released to relatives, but Maggie’s loved ones managed to convince authorities to give them her remains for burial in the girl’s hometown. Maggie’s body was taken home, but on the way the girl turned out to be alive, albeit with a mangled neck. The judges thought of hanging her again, but then they changed their anger for mercy, saying that it was God’s will and that she should not be disobeyed. The girl lived a long life and even managed to get married, though the nickname “half-dead Maggie” stuck, pardon the pun, to her.
Today there’s a pub in Edinburg named after her, it’s called Maggie Dicksons and it’s situated at 98, Grassmarket Street – exactly where in the olden days the public executions took place.
5. GO PLACES OF HARRY POTTER
Edinburgh is the place where Joan Rowling was a writer and therefore there are several places connected with her person. The first and foremost is the inconspicuous Spoon Café. It is located at 6a Nicolson Street and is located on the second floor above The Black Medicine Coffee Co.
In the past it was called Nicolson and belonged to the husband of the writer’s brother and it was here at the table that Rowling wrote the first chapters of the debut novel about the young wizard. The second place where Joan liked to go to work was The Elephant House coffee house (address: 21 George IV Bridge). Well, all Potterian fans also make sure to go to Greyriar’s Kirk Franciscan Church’s Greyfriars Cemetery.
It looks pretty spooky, but there’s a tomb of one Thomas Riddle. Who he was when he was alive is unknown, but fans of the books believe that Rowling copied Voldemort’s human name from this tombstone. From the series, “Coincidence? I don’t think so!”
6. GOING TO TEA AT THE BALMORAL HOTEL
If J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in the humble Spoon Café, she finished her last one in a room at The Balmora l Hotel, Edinburgh’s most luxurious hotel. It was built in 1902 and originally belonged to the North British Railway, which owned the Scottish railroads.
Actually the idea of the hotel’s owners was the following: to arrange a hotel where guests arriving by train to Edinburgh could stay. By the way, this is the reason why all the clocks in the hotel are 3 minutes fast: it was invented so that the guests would not be late for the train.
The Balmoral itself is a full-fledged landmark in Scotland’s capital. The Victorian interior has been carefully preserved inside, and I urge everyone to either stay at the hotel or drop in for a traditional five-hour tea party. It’s held in the hotel greenhouse. Mini sandwiches and sweets are served, as they should be, on tiered instruments, and, in addition, harp music is played in the hall. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to do this; at 5 o’clock, The Balmoral lets guests in from the outside.
7. CLIMBING ON ARTHUR’S THRONE
According to one of the versions the legendary Camelot of King Arthur was located not in England, but in Scotland, more exactly on the mountain of Edinburg, which today is called the proud name of Arthur’s throne.
Climbing to it – a hiking a medium difficulty, and the mountain is an extinct volcano, near Holyrood. In short, lovers of hiking and legends are an idea to keep in mind. The right footwear for hiking is a must.
8. PEEK INTO THE SELF OF ST. AEGIDIUS
Nowadays St. Aegidius is not very well known even in Europe, but in the Middle Ages the patron saint of cripples and lepers was extremely popular and respected figure. Not in vain the main cathedral of Edinburgh is devoted exactly to him.
St. Giles is monumental: it is gloomy here, huge columns (4 of them are preserved since XII century) seem to be Herculean columns, and new-made stained-glass windows made during reconstruction of the temple are entered in architectural image of the cathedral so successful that they do not spoil the impression completely.
The place is famous for the fact that here in the XVII century an act on joining Scotland to England was signed. In addition, the Episcopal wars began here, when in the XVI century the people did not accept the modernization of the rites of worship. It is forbidden to take photos in the cathedral, but the entrance to St. Giles is free.
9. WALKING ON CALTON HILL
It’s a hill again, but on the other side of the river because it offers a great view of Edinburgh’s new area and the castle on the cliff. From below Calton seems strange as if it were the ruins of an ancient building.
But it turns out that this is an unfinished memorial to the Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. They started to build it in XIX century, but because of the lack of financing, the project was never finished.
Also on the hill stands Nelson’s Column, and on its slope is an old cemetery Old Calton, where philosopher David Hume and other important figures of Scotland were buried.
10. STROKE THE STATUE OF EDINBURGH’S HACHIKO
Let’s end with a sad sweetness. Everyone has certainly heard the story of the Japanese dog Hachiko, but did you know that a similar one happened in Edinburgh? The dog named Bobby was a Sky Terrier, he belonged to the night watchman John Gray, who died of tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried in the same cemetery Greyfriars, where a certain Thomas Riddle is buried.
The dog outlived his master by 14 years and for all those years spent days and nights at his grave, guarding it. When Bobby died he was buried in front of the gates of Greyfriars Cemetery, so that he was with his master after his death. The dog became famous during his lifetime, and in 1873 in the city there was a monument to the Sky Terrier. It is believed that he must be touched by the nose – for good luck. By the way, on the dog’s grave there is also a memorial plaque with the inscription “May his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”