Scotland’s capital city is known to be a vibrant cosmopolitan one, bursting with cultural heritage, many sightseeing spots, splendid architectural gems and restaurants offering sumptuous Scottish and international food on the menu. Did you know that Edinburgh has an Old and a New Town which are both listed as UNESCO World Sites? You’ll find it lovely to walk through these contrasting districts! Edinburgh is also home to some renowned festivals organised throughout the year such as the largest arts festival in the world: Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August) and the world famous Hogmanay taking place in December/January. When in Edinburgh, you can’t miss out on tasting Scotland’s traditional dish: haggis. Almost every Scottish restaurant or eatery serves this stuffed stomach delight. More about that later…
Instead of booking us a flight to a warm destination to avoid the December cold, Geerard and I decided to spend Christmas in Edinburgh and to embrace the cold winter. We’ve had heard many great things about Edinburgh as a city trip and we understood that it would be nice to travel during winter time, especially in December. We couldn’t agree more for Edinburgh is beautifully illuminated during the holiday season with creative Christmas decorations, the shops are bursting with beautiful ornaments and the city definitely hosts one of the most charming Christmas markets in Europe! You could stay in Edinburgh for an entire week and you wouldn’t get bored since the city has so much to offer. Here are 10 must do’s when staying in Edinburgh which we absolutely enjoyed doing!
10 must do’s in Edinburgh
1.Visit Edinburgh’s Old Town
Stroll around the Castle area (Old Town) just before sunset for some perfect shots of the illuminated Castle, the Royal Mile street and the surrounding views. As I wrote before, the city consists of two distinct areas which are the Old Town and the New Town. I completely loved to walk through the Old Town which is located up hill. It’s dominated by a medieval fortress and it stretches along a high ridge from the Castle (situated on a rock) down to the Palace. The cobbled streets, the tall and dramatic buildings, the restored 16th and 17th century merchants’ and nobles’ houses, narrow closes and wynds makes this part of the city to conquer your heart. When in the old town, it’s nice to visit the Edinburgh Castle where you can see the Scottish crown jewels and visit the Scottish National War Memorial. Don’t miss St Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating back to the early 12th century.
2. Climb Calton Hill for stunning panoramic views
Calton Hill is Edinburgh’s main hill located 100 meters above the city. If you walk towards the east end of Princes street, you’ll run into stairs that take you up the hill. You’ll soon see several historical buildings (two observatories) emerging and the striking Athenian acropolis which is an unfinished monument built after the Napoleonic Wars. If you enjoy walking through a quiet and green area, a visit to Calton Hill is definitely worth your time. We really took some great panoramic pictures of Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town, the Castle and the cliffs of Salisbury.
Edinburgh offers a great variety of shops located in the New Town, which contrary to the old town, is constructed with neo-classical buildings and wide lanes. Princes Street is home to big brands, warehouses and several nice souvenir shops where you can buy yourself a quirky Scottish woolen scarf and nice Scottish accessories. Jenner is the oldest warehouse department of Edinburgh and certainly a must visit for its interior and the clothes and accessories sold. If you’re looking for local design and one-off boutiques with nice local fashion, interior design and other (luxurious) retail shop in George Street (one street up Princes Street), West End Village, Morningside or Stockbridge. As for shopping in the Old Town, it’s best to head towards the Royal Mile, Grassmarket, West Bow, Victoria Street and Cockburn Street.
4. Try the finest Scottish spirits! Cheers…
Scotland not only produces one of the best Whisky’s in the world: beer, wine, cider, gin and vodka are all produced in Scotland too. We were very much fond of the typical Scottish bars scattered around town serving nice local brewed beers. You can find some nice bars at Rose Street and Cockburn Street. Here’s a nice blog with a top 10 craft beer pubs in Edinburgh. You can also taste some excellent (single malt) Scottish Whisky at one of the many pubs in Edinburgh. Fetch yourself a nice glass at the award-winning WHISKI Bar on the Royal Mile. It has a selection of over 300 Whiskies! We were interested to learn more about the Scottish Whisky, so we booked ourselves a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. We liked the interactive way in which we learned about the production, the tasting of Whisky and the different districts in Scotland where Whisky is produced. We ended our tour with taking a look at the World’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky, it was a dazzling big amount of bottles!
5. Discover Edinburgh’s dark past through a ghost tour
Book a ‘ghost’ tour through the streets and closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town or better yet, visit the Real Mary King’s Close. Beneath the Royal Mile lies Edinburgh’s deepest secret: a warren of underground streets and houses frozen in time. This tour is quite unique and guided by a guide in costume who takes you along the streets and closes of Edinburgh. He/she tells the stories of the people who lived, worked and… died here. The tour takes about an hour and really brings you back in time. Tip: take the night tour, which is even more spooky!
6. Have a traditional Scottish breakfast
Order yourself a full Scottish breakfast that includes (homemade) black pudding and haggis. The latter consists of a mix of sheep’s innards, oatmeal and spices, all wrapped up in a sheep stomach. It doesn’t sound as nice as it tastes, really. But when in Scotland you should try it at least once, you’ll find out it’s not that bad. I actually quite liked it and ordered it twice during my stay. A nice and informal eatery we ordered Scottish breakfast was at Ryan’s Bar and Restaurant located in Hope Street (in between Princes Street and Shandwick). A full Scottish breakfast is quite heavy so you’ll do good sharing your dish with your travel buddy. If you’re thinking of ordering haggis for lunch, I can recommend you to visit The Guildform Arms restaurant at West Register Street.
Here’s a list with nice places to have breakfast in Edinburgh.
7. Explore Edinburgh’s wynds and closes
From the Castle to Holyrood runs the slope of the Royal Mile from which a series of lanes and alleyways grew. These are called wynds or closes. Stroll around the Royal Mile and get lost in Edinburgh’s various closes where you might run into a nice bistro, café or restaurant. Then explore Edinburgh’s nicest and lively streets such as Victoria Street, linking South Bridge and the Grassmarket. We loved the many boutique shops and restaurants that you can spot here.
8. Enjoy the most cheerful Christmas market in Europe!
From the second half of November till the 4th of January, Edinburgh’s Christmas market brings festive cheer to locals and (foreign) visitors of the city. We had heard great things about the market, but it was even beyond our expectations! The Christmas market was scattered over three locations, but we particularly liked the one located at Princes St Gardens. It was situated next to the illuminated Scott Monument which placed the market in an astonishing dramatic setting. The different levels on which the chalets where scattered added an extra dimension to the entire Christmas market experience. I really liked the different crafts, gifts, gastronomic delights and handmade products that were sold at the beautifully decorated and illuminated shops. And the fantastic view over the Old Town and the Castle made us want to come back to the Christmas market every evening. You could fine us here drinking mulled wines (glühwein) and enjoying the fantastic atmosphere at the ice rink.
9. Climb the Scott Monument
Climb the tallest monument in the world (dedicated to a writer) to get a splendid panoramic view over Edinburgh. At first we had no clue about the meaning of this grotesque historical construction which resembles the tower of a church. It seemed to us as if the monument was a leftover after a damaging fire so that only the tower of the building had remained. We found out that you can actually climb all the way up the Scott Monument. The monument was built to commemorate Scots novelist Sir Walter Scott and dates back to the 1840’s. The monument has over 200 steps and is about 60 meters tall, getting narrower when reaching the top. has a series of viewing platforms reached by a series of narrow spiral staircases giving panoramic views of central Edinburgh and its surroundings. I wouldn’t recommend you to climb it when you’re afraid of heights (I am a little) but it was definitely worth the climb. Admission: £4,00
E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh
10. Visit the countryside
Head out into the surrounding Lothian countryside to explore stunning sceneries and the beautiful coastline. Find out more via www.visitscotland.com/touristroutes
Practical information about Edinburgh
Transport between Edinburgh Airport and the city center is very well arranged. The best option is to take the Airlink 100 bus leaving every 10 minutes into town (stop 19). It takes you about 30 minutes to get into the city and a return ticket costs about £7.
More information about Edinburgh: www.visitscotland.com
Special thanks to Visit Scotland for their support and information.