This Christmas, I took a solo winter city break to Edinburgh in Scotland as part of my plan to make the most of what I had closer to home. I can now confirm that I have found one of my favourite cities on earth. It’s not for nothing that this great city has been named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites because it is simply beautiful. Old Town blends seamlessly into New Town with its well-preserved architecture and winding cobblestone streets.
The city’s skyline rises up in moody spindly rooftops, and dark stone buildings which mould to the shape of the hills they sit on. It’s a place of cosy cafe corners to write in, aimless wandering, and sociable watering holes. Edinburgh is delightfully budget-friendly with well-priced hostels and hotels alike. And, you don’t have to worry about public transport as the majority of the city’s attractions are within walking distance!
So, if you’re planning a short getaway but you’re not sure where to go, then I highly recommend Edinburgh. If you need some more convincing, here are just some of the activities you can do below:
1 Take a tour
In my opinion, tours are like marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Edinburgh is no stranger to tours. In fact, you’re spoilt for choice and they’re far from dull. If you only have a short time in the city or you like a bit of structure to your trip, taking a tour is a good option. There’s one to suit every taste; you can learn about Scottish history and its part in shaping the city we see today. Or if you happen to be thirsty then a whiskey and gin tour is a perfect choice on a chilly winter’s day.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Edinburgh if you couldn’t find something out of the ordinary so if spooky is more your speed you can do ghost tours, night tours and even underground ghost tours! For the literature buffs, you can learn how the world of Harry Potter came about on those cobbled streets, or explore Outlander location sites. Whatever you feel about tours, Edinburgh is brimming with them so it’s well worth adding one to your itinerary.
2 Explore Carlton Hill
Fun fact: Edinburgh is known as ‘The Athens of the North’, and you can imagine why when you visit the busy architectural structures of Carlton Hill. On top of the mound sits the Edinburgh Acropolis, more formally known as the unfinished National Monument of Scotland. It doesn’t exactly transport you to Greece but it’s a striking image. In fact, there’s not just a homage to Greek architecture to entertain you on Carlton Hill. Visitors can enjoy, once again, panoramic views of the city without the steep climb to Arthur’s seat. If you want an even better view you can pay a small fee to walk up Nelson’s Monument, a tall tower that sits on top of the hill.
Or, if you have an interest in astronomy you can wander into The City Observatory on the same hill. But you can’t leave Carlton Hill without getting a photo of the Dugald Stewart Monument framed by the city skyline behind.
3 Make up your own tour
The best part about visiting a new place is allowing yourself the opportunity to explore it without having a particular goal in mind. If tours aren’t really in your budget, or you just can’t hack the crowds, do a walking tour of your own. Edinburgh accommodates this perfectly as the city is made up of narrow winding streets, bridges and hidden passages to duck into, and intriguing staircases to follow.
The city’s architecture is so dramatically beautiful that you can always find a picturesque moment wherever your feet take you. Taking your own personalised tour of the city is the best way to get a unique feel of the place and see the real Edinburgh behind its popular tourist haunts. In doing so, you get to witness a fresher, more intimate side to the city, and the best part is the activity is completely free!
4 Climb Arthur’s Seat
You can’t go to Edinburgh without climbing Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. It’s essentially a rite of passage. This volcanic hill dominates the skyline and offers stunning panoramic views of the city and its surroundings below. Its beauty is not without effort, however, as there’s a steep climb to the top. But, if you want to get a flavour of the wild Scottish countryside but you don’t have time to explore the Highlands, Holyrood Park is a strong alternative. You get a glimpse of rolling hills, wild heather, and even a few small lochs nestled here and there. It’s a brief escape from city life without being too far from it. I recommend doing this walk on a clear morning as by lunchtime Arthur’s Seat gets very busy. Once you’ve climbed to the top, make your way down to the picturesque ruin of St Anthony’s Chapel before wandering back to the city. Entrance to the park is completely free so there’s no excuse for those on a budget!
5 Visit The National Museum of Scotland
Sometimes, when you’re travelling the weather decides to throw a spanner in the works and you end up with torrential rain on a day when most of your itinerary is outside. In the UK the probability of rain is slightly higher but fear not because a trip to a museum is perfect for this occasion. So if you find yourself on a cold, rainy day in Edinburgh, consider visiting The National Museum of Scotland. It has a wealth of fascinating exhibitions and entry is free! It’s the best place to seek refuge from the weather and expand your knowledge of Scotland and the world at the same time. From natural history to design and fashion, there’s so much to see so I can guarantee that you won’t get round to it all in a day.
6 Visit the world famous Edinburgh Castle or The Palace of Holyroodhouse
It’s impossible to visit Edinburgh without noticing its castle watching over the city from the rocks above. It’s a magnificent fortress which allows in visitors by day and lights up a bright ruby red at night. Take your time wandering up the cobblestoned Royal Mile to Castle Rock, observing the quaint little shops and street performers as you go until you get to the castle. It has stunning views from all sides, and from history to the Scottish Crown Jewels, there’s so much to do and see within its walls that you won’t complete it in a hurry. If you prefer something a little more modern, then The Palace of Holyroodhouse is a worthy alternative. The official home to the British Monarch on her visits to Scotland is filled with decadence, art, and culture to admire.
7 Be puzzled by The Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions
Much like The Edinburgh Dungeons, The Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions has a whole host of interactive puzzles and tricks to leave you befuddled and entertained. Despite its modern appearance and interesting display of clever technology, The Camera Obscura was one of the oldest attractions to bring visitors to Edinburgh. It was first established in 1835 and began as a live moving picture of the city of Edinburgh which amazed visitors from all over the world and can still be seen today. Nestled on Castle Rock overlooking Edinburgh Castle, the attraction has been extended to host mirrors that make you shrink, mazes, holograms, and illusions. Plus, you can even climb the attraction’s tower and observe yet another stunning panoramic view of the sprawling city below.
8 Do some shopping on Victoria Street
Collecting memories, whether it’s photographs, postcards, or trinkets is an important part of travelling. But when it comes to Edinburgh’s Victoria Street, it’s no ordinary shopping spree. The gently curving street is one of the most photographed locations in Edinburgh with its vibrant colourful shop fronts and quirky old Flemish style architecture. The street is steeped in history with tales of its old resident, the famous and notorious Thomas Weir who voluntarily confessed to witchcraft in 1670. In fact, magic is no stranger to the street. Fans will be delighted with the Harry Potter merchandise shop on its corner. But that’s not all. The street’s vibrant higgledy-piggledy nature is said to the inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s very own Diagon Alley. So, don’t forget to put Victoria Street in your itinerary!
9 Get creepy in The Edinburgh Dungeons
If the creepy ghost tours aren’t enough for you and you want more grizzly action then you can always pay a visit to the Edinburgh Dungeons. Deep underground, these dungeon tours offer an interactive, immersive adaptation of some of the darker points of Scottish history. Boasting rides, live action shows, and special effects, it’s definitely a family pleaser with an adrenaline-inducing edge. If you’re travelling solo you can still join in and you may even meet people along the way. After all, nothing prompts a bonding sesh more than being voluntarily scared witless by some actors dressed as ghosts. The Edinburgh Dungeon is a good choice if you find yourself on a rainy day (there’s a lot of those in the UK) and don’t mind spending a bit of cash on some guaranteed entertainment.
10 Pay attention to the time of year you plan to go
Edinburgh is a bustling cultural city with a whole host of unique and exciting events all year round. So, when you’re booking your trip, research the time of year you’re going because you might find something special that you wouldn’t want to miss. The big one is of course The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s the world’s largest arts festival which spans twenty-five days in August. The city comes alive with poetry readings, performances and live comedy on street corners, cafes, and bars. It’s well worth visiting during this time of year, but if you do, accommodation is a lot busier and more pricey so start booking early to avoid disappointment.
Christmastime is a wonderful time to visit because the city is lit up with twinkling lights, garlands and baubles. You can find a Christmas market on East Princes Street with stalls selling handcrafted nicknacks, Bailey’s Hot Chocolate, and a lot of delicious indulgent food. You can even take part in events like silent street discos and pub crawls on in the spirit of festivity. It’s a lot of fun. During the turn of the New Year they have a three day Hogmanay celebration. You don’t know what a New Year’s Eve party is until you take part in this annual three-day celebration where you can expect street parties, concerts and torchlight processions!
Thanks for reading,