This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
On our visit to Edinburgh, we had a little less than 2 days there – from mid-afternoon on a Thursday through about noon on Saturday. We knew we wanted to see the Harry Potter-related sites we covered in our last article in this Trip Report. We also spent some time visiting the University of Edinburgh campus, as Maria had been admitted there. Those things took up some of our time, but beyond that, we tried to do as much as possible in our less-than-48-hours in Edinburgh. We truly enjoyed the city, and we’d love to go back.
In this article, we’ll share several of the things we did during our (less than) two days in Edinburgh (in addition to the Harry Potter stuff!). We’ll also talk about some other things we would have loved to do, that will be on our “to do” list for next time.
Things We Did and Enjoyed in Edinburgh
Before we dive in, I’ll note that the dates we were in Edinburgh were June 9-11. You might think it would be warm in July, but in fact, it was fairly chilly. You’ll notice that we’re wearing jackets and sweatshirts in most of our photos. It was around 50 degrees on our one full day in Edinburgh (Friday, June 10), although it was a bit warmer – around 60 degrees – on the days before and after. Remember to pack and dress for the weather!
(1) Visiting Edinburgh Castle
Poised prominently on the top of a steep hill in the middle of town, Edinburgh Castle is the crown jewel of Edinburgh. And, in fact, the Crown Jewels of Scotland are housed at Edinburgh Castle. On your way to see the Crown Jewels, you’ll see paintings of the Kings of Scotland, in chronological order, which we really enjoyed. Aside from the Crown Jewels, there are a number of other exhibits, including the National War Museum of Scotland. The Castle dates back to the 12th century.
Be sure to catch the ceremonial firing of the “One O’Clock Gun” if you can, and don’t miss the small chapel (St. Margaret’s Chapel) that is the oldest building in the Castle. Given that Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction, I’ll stop here, as this is an attraction you won’t miss.
See the Edinburgh Castle website for daily hours and tickets. If at all possible, buy your tickets in advance online, as you’ll want to reserve a good time and you’ll also save a few pounds that way. Tickets are marked for a specific date and time. As of October 2018, advance tickets cost 17 pounds for adults 16-59; 10.20 pounds for children 5-15; and 13.60 pounds for ages 60+. On-site prices are slightly higher – 18.50 pounds for adults; 11.50 pounds for children; and 15 pounds for seniors.
(2) Getting Scottish Souvenirs at the Tartan Weaving Mill
Just outside the front gate of Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile, is the Tartan Weaving Mill. It’s a large store with a lot of Scottish clothing and many souvenir choices. We bought most of our “local” Scottish souvenirs there and found it to be a fun and lively place to shop. The Mill also includes an exhibition showing the whole process involved in tartan production, from the shearing of the sheep to the making of a kilt. Middle Age Miles says check it out.
(3) Experiencing Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
Also just outside the Edinburgh Castle front gate and right next door to the Tartan Weaving Mill is Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. Sure, this is a cheesy tourist attraction, but we had a blast there.
The namesake for Camera Obscura is a 360-degree telescope, made up of a number of reflecting mirrors in a dark room, that projects a virtual tour of Edinburgh. It’s hard to explain, but trust me, it’s cool. The camera itself is on the top floor/roof of the building, and below it are 5 levels with various illusions, tricks and activities. The rooftop also provides a nice view of the city. It’s good for all ages if you’re in the mood for some lighthearted fun along with a very cool science trick with the camera.
Hours and tIcket prices are on the Camera Obscura website. As of October 2018, prices are 15.50 pounds for adults 16 and up; 13.50 pounds for students with ID and seniors; and 11.50 pounds for children 5-15. Tickets are good all day; you can come and go as you please.
(4) Hanging Out at the Grassmarket
The Grassmarket is an open plaza, now mostly surrounded by pubs. It sits in a valley, and the views up to Edinburgh Castle towering over the Grassmarket are dramatic. The Grassmarket has a colorful history as a former gallows site, among other things, but now it’s safe and clean and quite charming.
Tables, chairs and umbrellas spill out onto the plaza; the Square must be a lovely place to eat, drink and visit cafe-style, when the weather is nice. Sadly for us, it was too chilly for outside dining when we were there, but we still had a nice meal in the midst of our other Edinburgh activities.
On Saturdays, the Grassmarket hosts a farmer’s market. We didn’t get to go, but it’s on our “to do” list when we return to Edinburgh some day.
You may also recall from our article about Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh that the east end of the Grassmarket, turning left (to the north), is the entrance to West Bow Street/Victoria Street, the model for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
(5) Taking a Picture at the Heart of Midlothian Mosaic
The Heart of Midlothian is a lovely heart-shaped mosaic, created with pieces of colored granite, built into the sidewalk outside St. Giles’ Cathedral. The Heart and Cathedral are on the High Street section of the Royal Mile.
Similar to the Grassmarket, the Heart and the prison it commemorates have a colorful and unhappy past. But the Heart is beautiful, and Philly and I wanted a picture here, no matter how many Scots have spat upon it!
(6) Shopping on Princes Street
If you’re up for some retail therapy shopping while you’re in Edinburgh, Princes Street is the place for you. Running along the northern edge of the Edinburgh Castle grounds, it has all of the shops that you know and love to spend money at. Just a quick review of Google Maps reminds me of some of them – Urban Outfitters, shoe stores, Zara, Levi’s, Estee Lauder, Samsung, The Gap, Marks & Spencer, H&M, Topshop, and an Apple Store – just to name a few.
The Princes Street area is also home to many restaurants and hotels, so it’s a bustling part of town all around. If you’re a shopper, you’ll enjoy it for sure!
(7) Going for a Walk Through the University of Edinburgh and The Meadows Park
We love strolling through college campuses. On a nice campus there’s a balanced combination of open space, interesting buildings, tranquility and youthful energy that makes for a good feeling. The University of Edinburgh is relatively compact, moreso than we’d prefer for a campus, but it’s still a nice and interesting place to visit.
Founded in 1582, the University of Edinburgh is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world and still one of the highest-ranked. Its prominent alumni include Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many, many others.
If you’d like to visit the University, its website provides a very helpful brochure with a self-guided tour map. The University also offers student-led tours each weekday, which are free but you must book in advance. These appear to be focused on prospective students and their family and friends.
Immediately adjacent to the University is The Meadows park, a large, open public park. It’s beautiful for a stroll or picnic, and it’s full of activities. The day we were there, the park was hosting a 5k obstacle course race. It looked quite fun, and the obstacles weren’t too daunting.
If you’re ready to get away from the crowds and the bustle of the city, the University and The Meadows provide an oasis for a break.
Other Things We’d Like to Do in Edinburgh
(8) Attend the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
We weren’t in Edinburgh at the right time, but when we return, we’d love to attend the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We’ve heard nothing but raves from friends and fellow travel bloggers who have attended the Tattoo (which is a very funny name, by the way). The Tattoo describes itself as “One of the greatest shows on earth. A thrilling mix of music, ceremony, military tradition, theatre and dance.”
The Tattoo occurs every August. Dates for 2019 are August 2-24. It’s located in a temporary stadium constructed on the east side of Edinburgh Castle. Tickets are available online through the Tattoo’s website. Tickets for the 2019 Tattoo go on sale in a few weeks on Monday, December 3, 2018, at 10:00 am GMT (5:00 am Eastern / 4:00 am Central / 2:00 am Pacific in the US).
If you’re planning on visiting for the Tattoo, get your tickets and book your hotels early! It’s an incredibly popular attraction.
(9) Hike to the Top of Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is a prominent hill/mountain overlooking Edinburgh. It’s close to the main part of town, only a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. At its peak, Arthur’s Seat rises to about 822 feet, and it provides panoramic views of the city of Edinburgh and beyond.
Although we didn’t get to go, Middle Age Miles son Zack and daughter-in-law Erin have made the hike up Arthur’s Seat and enjoyed it. We love to be active and hike when we travel, and this will be a perfect activity for our next visit to Edinburgh.
(10) Climb Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument
Another place we’ll visit and hike on our next trip to Edinburgh is Calton Hill and the Nelson Monument. The Monument is a circular tower built atop Calton Hill, commemorating Admiral Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (a pyrrhic victory for the Admiral himself, no doubt, as he met his fate there).
The top of Calton Hill is about 561 feet elevation, and the Monument’s tower rises another 105 feet. For a fee of 5 pounds, you can climb the 143 narrow steps to the top of the Monument tower for more great views of Edinburgh and the North Sea. We’re definitely putting this on the agenda for next time in Edinburgh.
(11) Tour the Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of Edinburgh’s top tourist attractions. It’s a museum and tour of the Britannia, the Queen’s floating royal residence. The ship is docked in Edinburgh’s harbor, on the north side of town. Tours are self-guided, and the price of admission includes an audio headset.
The Britannia is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours are posted on the Britannia website. Tickets are available in advance on the Britannia website, or on-site. Ticket prices are 16 pounds for adults; 14 pounds for seniors (60+) and students with ID; and 8.50 pounds for children (ages 5-17). There is also a “Family” ticket option for 45 pounds, for 2 adults and up to 3 children – this would save you a bit of money if you have 2 adults and either 2 or 3 children.
(12) Hang Out at the Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe
We love cats at Middle Age Miles, and Middle Age Miles daughter Maria seeks out the cat cafes in every city she visits. Somehow we didn’t know about the Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe in Edinburgh. We even walked past it a couple of times without noticing it! By the time we realized it was there, it had closed and we weren’t going to have time to get there before we left.
The Maison de Moggy is located at 17 West Port Street in Edinburgh, near the western end of the Grassmarket. Bookings in advance are recommended, and they can be made on the Maison de Moggy website. Entrance is 8 pounds for an hour in the Cafe, and you may also purchase refreshments there. Time slots are available throughout the day.
(13) Go Back to the Grassmarket on Market Day
Another favorite Middle Age Miles activity when we travel is visiting local markets, including farmer’s markets. One of us always ends up purchasing a jar of local honey from the places we visit and eating it on peanut butter sandwiches for the next few weeks (ok, it’s me).
As we mentioned above, the Grassmarket hosts a farmer’s market on Saturdays from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, and next time we’re in Edinburgh, we’ll plan to check it out.
(14) Visit the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery
At Middle Age Miles, we tend to be out and about more than we spend time indoors at museums and art galleries. But we didn’t want to conclude this article without pointing out the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. Both are conveniently located in the heart of Edinburgh.
Admission to the National Museum of Scotland is free, with donations being welcomed. The National Museum is open every day except Christmas. Hours are 10:00 am until 5:00 pm each day except for December 26 and January 1, when hours are from Noon until 5:00 pm.
Admission to the Scottish National Gallery is also free, although there may be a charge for some special exhibitions. The Gallery is open daily from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, with extended hours until 7:00 pm on Thursdays.
If you love museums and art galleries, or if you have a rainy day during your visit to Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery look like very nice options.
Have you visited Edinburgh? Do you have other insights or additional great places in Edinburgh to add to our list? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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