As the most visited tourist destination in the UK after London, Edinburgh is as historically and culturally rich as the Big Smoke, and – dare we say it – more picturesque.
This almost unanimously loved city, is one of Europe’s most beautiful and – luckily for us – is easy to access. If you’ve only got a couple of days to explore, these are our top five must-dos. You’ll be back for more, guaranteed.
What: OK, we had to kick off with it. Set atop the volcanic Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle has been a royal residence since the 12th century. It’s the city’s most iconic edifice.
Why: Try to time your visit for around 1pm, when a field gun inside the castle walls blasts a round of shellfire to mark the hour (every day except Sunday). A memorial bench to commemorate Tam the Gun, a sergeant who fired the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ for 27 years before he died of cancer, is thebest place to sit for an eardrum-splitting.
Fact: King James IV spied on subjects gathered in the castle’s Great Hall through a specially designed barred window above the fireplace. When Mikhail Gorbachev was set to visit the castle in 1984, the KGB asked that the window be bricked up for security purposes. Hmmm.
The Scotch Whisky Experience
What: Riding a whisky barrel through a replica distillery is just one of many highlights over the course of this tour. You’ll be taken on a sensory journey of discovery, appreciating the sights, sounds and smells of whisky production. It ends with a peek at the world’s largest collection of Scotch Malt Whisky and includes a free dram.
Why: Really? You need more convincing?
Fact: When whisky is distilled, it is completely colourless.The colour comes from the casks in which it matures.
What: Think of Edinburgh and what might not immediately spring to mind is a volcano. Presiding over Edinburgh’s skyline, this craggy peak was formed when a glacier eroded an extinct lava-spewer about 350 million years ago.
Why: At 823ft high, Arthur’s Seat doesn’t pose too tough a climb, but it does afford an incredible view of the city below.
Fact: Arthur’s Seat is also known by the less fortunate name of ‘Pratt’s Hill’. This is because in 1840, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt travelled to Edinburgh and found only eight members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So he climbed the hill and asked the Lord to give him 200 souls to convert. Apparently it worked out.
Mary King’s Close
What: An underground warren in Edinburgh’s Old Town said to be haunted by plague victims who were walled up in the close in the 1600s and left to die.
Why: A tour of Mary King’s Close gives a fascinating insight into life in the city between the 16th and 19th centuries. Walking the dark, spooky passages with a costumed guide is a nerve-jangling experience, and you’ll be told more than your fair share of ghost stories and urban legends, too. Check the website for tour times.
Fact: People have reported scratching noises coming from inside a chimney on Mary King’s Close, where a child chimney sweep is said to have died. The Close has even featured on TV’s Most Haunted.
What: The Scots like to do New Year properly – and that means a massive party called Hogmanay, which sees more than 80,000 people taking to the streets of Scotland.
Why: Huge street parties, fireworks displays, an atmospheric ‘torchlight procession’ and live bands all feature. This year, Pet Shop Boys are performing an open-air gig – their only UK performance – ending the duo’s hugely successful Electric world tour, which has toured the world.
Fact: The Loony Dook is a tradition that sees more than 1000 ‘loonies’ jump into the freezing waters of the Forth Estuary in an attempt to numb their New Year’s Day hangovers.
Looking to book your own Scottish adventure? TNT Tour Search has affordable deals for all budgets.