TT&S Edinburgh: Top 10 Ways to Travel Back in Time While Visiting…
Edinburgh is one of my favorite places to visit! The city offers so much history and architecture in such a compact locale that it makes it easy to explore and lose yourself in the surroundings. The Old Town dates back to the Medieval period, while the New Town dates back to the mid 18th C., together they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason…
- Edinburgh Castle
- Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey
- The Royal Mile
- St. Giles Cathedral
- Calton Hill
- The Scott Monument
- Scottish National Gallery
- Greyfriars Kirk
- National Museum of Scotland
- Day Trip
Have you been to Edinburgh? Do you have any additional suggestions to travel back in time while visiting? I would love to hear in the comments…
1. Edinburgh Castle is the perfect place to start exploring the city! The castle sits atop of an extinct volcano, which has been inhabited since the Iron Age. There has been a royal castle on the rock since the 12th C., St. Margaret’s Chapel dates to 1130 and is thought to be the oldest building in Edinburgh. While visiting, you can see the Stone of Destiny or the Crown Jewels, as well as tour several museums located inside like the Prisoner of War exhibit or the Scottish National War Memorial. Total time will depend on how long you linger exploring in all the nooks and crannies of the castle, but plan on at least 2-3 hours. ((If you are traveling around Scotland and plan hit other historic locations then you may want to look into an Explorer Pass –3 and 7 day passes are available.))
2. Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey is at the other end of the Royal Mile and is the official Scottish residence of the British Monarchy. The palace was built in the 17th C. and sits adjacent to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, which date to the 12th C. The palace was once home to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th C. and many historical artifacts are on display throughout the rooms. The Queen’s Galley also sits adjacent and tickets can be purchased in conjunction with the Palace. Total time should take 1-2 hours to explore all 3 areas, about 1 hour if just the palace and abbey. I highly recommend the Abbey!
3. The Royal Mile is one Scots mile long, about 1.25 miles, which runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Yes, it is a jammed packed tourist area but worth exploring for the architecture alone! The Flodden Wall, built in the 16th C., once encircled the Old Town and while not much is left (some of it still remains in Greyfriars Kirkyard) you can see the outline still on the Royal Mile. Outside of the World’s End Pub there are brass plates in the cobblestone street which indicates where it once stood. So much to see up and down this Medieval Street! Total time varies but plan on a half day or several short visits during your stay in Edinburgh.
4. St. Giles Cathedral is on the Royal Mile but it deserves a mention on its own! A church has stood on the site since the 12th C, however much of it was destroyed in a fire in 1322 and was later rebuilt. Some of the stonework survives. The dating of the stained glass windows vary, most date to the late 19th C but some medieval fragments survive. Total time is less than a hour but it is a must see.
5. Calton Hill is one of my favorite spots in Edinburgh! The hill is part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage site due to the cultural significance of the location- the Nelson Monument, theold City Observatory, theOld Calton Burial Ground, and much more. My favorite is the National Monument of Scotland, built in the early 19th C. to commemorate the lives lost during the Napoleonic Wars. Intended to mimic the Parthenon, it was soon abandoned due budget issues earning it the nickname Edinburgh’s Disgrace. Sitting atop the hill over looking Arthur’s Seat, the unfinished 12 columns is now a beloved site by many visitors to Edinburgh. Total time spent exploring the hill varies, an hour or more depending on weather and timing.
6. The Scott Monument is the largest monument to a writer in the world and you can’t miss it in the Edinburgh skyline! Standing in the midst of the Princes Street Gardens, the Victorian monument built in 1844 and dedicated to Sir Walter Scott also features 16 other Scottish poets and writers amid its façade. During the day you can climb the 287 steps to get a great view of the gardens and Princes Street. Total time is under 1/2 hour but worth checking out!
7. Scottish National Gallery is located on The Mound, an artificial hill that connects Old Town and New Town and divides the Princes Street Gardens in half. The gallery opened in the mid-19th C. and features Scottish and international art from the Renaissance to 20th C. Botticelli, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Monet, van Gogh and perhaps one of the most famous paintings in Scotland, Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen. With over 30,000 paintings, prints and drawings (not on display all at once of course) there is plenty to see without being overwhelmed. Total time is 1-2 hours, it varies depending on your interest and schedule.
8. Greyfriars Kirk, once a Franciscan friary, was founded in 1562 when Mary Queen of Scots granted the land as a burial ground or kirkyard. The Kirk (church) itself was not finished until 1620 and was unfortunately gutted by a fire in 1845. The kirkyard contains many historical figures, yet perhaps the most well-known is a dog, Greyfriars Bobby. A plaque erected by the Dog Aid Society in 1981 marks his grave however his monument around the corner from the kirkyard is more celebrated. There is also a part of the Flodden Wall, built in the 16th C. to protect the city, that can still be seen surrounding the 716 headstones. The kirkyard does offer tours as well. Total time is around 1 hour.
9. National Museum of Scotland includes historical artifacts from the Paleolithic era to the present! World Cultures, Science and Technology, Natural World and Art, Design and Fashion — the museum covers it all however as you are in Scotland it is loaded with Scottish History and Archeology. Pictish stones, Lewis chessman, Jacobite artifacts and the baffling mystery of the miniature coffins discovered 200 years ago on the nearby hill called Arthur’s Seat. The museum also offers special exhibits throughout the year, so there is always something new to see! Total time is about 2-3 hours but varies by interest.
10. Day Trip(s), while the city has so much to offer one would be remiss if all you saw was Edinburgh! Whether you dare to drive yourself, take the train or opt for a guided tour I recommend exploring the surrounding area steeped in history. Hadrian’s Wall, Rosslyn Chapel, Stirling Castle, Dunnottar Castle, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and sooo many more! Rabbies and Timberbush are both great tour companies in Edinburgh and have toured the surrounding area with both. Total time= one day of your trip!
** Bonus Spirits (the otherworldly kind, not the drinking kind): I have done both The Dark Side and Historic Underground tours and both vary– not just by content and location but also in part due to guides. All–OK MOST tours differ as a result of guide’s personality so even the same tour can have a different feel however both offer interesting historical tidbits about Edinburgh. Yes, a story or two may overlap or a guide may be a bit dramatic but it is worth doing both. Total time 2 hours for 1 or 3 1/2-4 hours for both.