This is a guest post by Emily Starbuck Gerson.
When I visited Edinburgh, Scotland for the first time two summers ago, I fell in love instantly. The ornate architecture, the traditional bagpipe music, the beautiful green hills, the fascinating accents… I could hardly find anything I didn’t like (besides the haggis). I also found its residents to be the friendliest people I have ever met in my life. While Edinburgh feels like a very modern city, it is bursting at the seams with rich history, and every building and street seems to tell a story.
If you plan to visit Edinburgh, which you most definitely should, be sure to take the time to visit the following attractions.
1. Edinburgh Castle
This historic sight should absolutely not be missed. It is no surprise that it’s the most popular attraction in the city, bringing in over 1.25 million people a year. The massive stone castle is perched upon a hill overlooking the city and was built into existing volcanic rock (it sits atop an extinct volcano). It was first built by David I around 1130 AD, along with a chapel that is still there. After changing hands several times through war, the castle was rebuilt in 1356, and it again in 1574 with more additions. Much history happened in this castle, including Mary Queen of Scots giving birth to her son, King James. The exhibits in the castle are incredible, including the guns and swords in the great hall. The castle also has a massive cannon and a dog cemetery. The views of the city from the top of the castle are incredible.
2. The Scott Monument
You can’t miss it; it’s the massive blackened monument sitting on Princes Street (more on that below). This Victorian Gothic tower is just over 200 feet tall and was built to honor Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish writer. In 1832, right after Scott’s death, a design contest was held to build a tribute to him – this incredible work is what came of it. The tower has several viewing decks that you can climb up to. Prepare for long, spiral staircases, but beautiful views of Edinburgh.
3. Royal Botanical Gardens
These gardens weren’t on my must-see list; in fact, I didn’t even know they were there before I visited Edinburgh. But we stayed in the Canon Court apartments, which was right across the street from the gardens. After passing by them several times, we decided to pop in, and I’m so glad we did. Upon entering, we were greeted by lush green grass and ponds with ducks. There are five separate gardens and four nature sanctuaries. We wandered through the enclosed areas for each habitat and were stunned by the variety of flora and fauna we saw, including a pond with lilly pads bigger than me! We also went into a greenhouse with a motion device set up so that as you moved around, little chimes all throughout the greenery sang (it was some form of an art installation). When nobody was looking, we danced around the room and made music.
4. The Scotch Whisky Experience
What’s a trip to Scotland without some Scotch whiskey? Built in faux distillery, this museum takes you through all the steps that go into making whisky and reveals history and the story behind the infamous drink. They have tour guides and whisky advisors to help you pick your poison. They have an on-site restaurant, where you can dine and try a variety of whisky. You can also shop in their store, which offers over 300 types of whisky (when I walked in that room, I was floored by how many there were). If you really want to become an expert, they offer a full-day certified whisky course.
5. Princes Street
This scenic street divides Edinburgh into its old town and new town. It is about half a mile long and is the city’s most popular street. It is incredibly scenic, with great even more views of the city and its monuments. Princes Street is also populated with loads of great stores for shopping. It also features the beautiful Princes Street gardens.
6. Arthur’s Seat
If you enjoy an easy hike and a great view, you should spend some time at Arthur’s Seat. It is a craggy hilltop that overlooks the city and provides astounding views of the castle and both the city’s old town and new town. The rocky hill was formed 350 million years ago by a now extinct volcano. The hill is not very difficult to climb, and you can approach it from many different directions, though coming from the east is the easiest. Depending on where you start, it can take 30 minutes to an hour, or more.
If you don’t have a specific time set to visit Edinburgh, you may want to consider going during August so you can be there for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This annual event claims to be the world’s largest arts festival in the world, and features dance, music, comedy, theater, and more. During the same month you can also attend the incredible Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is held just in front of Edinburgh Castle and features performances from dancers, acrobats, and musicians.
This guest post was written by Emily Starbuck Gerson. Emily is a journalist and copywriter who lives in beautiful Austin, Texas. She is obsessed with travel, so she runs a travel blog, Maiden Voyage, in her free time (follow @themaidenvoyage on Twitter). Emily is also an avid photographer.