Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the second largest city (after Glasgow) with a population of 500,000. The city is famous for its castle, Scottish history and traditions, ghosts, extinct volcano and… its whisky!
What are the best things to do in Edinburgh? How long is the ideal time to visit Edinburgh? Where to stay in Edinburgh?
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A brief introduction to Edinburgh
Edinburgh remains the capital of Scotland and was its most prominent city for centuries before being overtaken by its neighbour Glasgow during the industrial era.
Edinburgh was founded at the foot of an ancient extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat, about 5 km from the sea. The Old Town is dominated by the Old Castle, a military fortress that was the heart of power in the Kingdom of Scotland for a long time.
A little history…
Often an enemy of its powerful neighbour, England, Scotland signed a treaty with France, the “old alliance” (Auld Alliance) in 1295, which is still dear to the hearts of the Scots!
This tradition of alliance between the two kingdoms gave birth to Mary Stuart, Scotland’s most famous and tragically ill-fated sovereign!
Traditionally Catholic, Scotland eventually gave in to the siren calls of Protestantism and drew closer to its former rival, England. Mary Stuart’s son, James, inherited the English crown when Queen Elizabeth died without issue.
Although the two kingdoms remained officially separate, the kings resided in England, and Edinburgh lost some of its political importance. But it remained an essential commercial and intellectual city!
Today, Edinburgh remains a university city (known for its Erasmus exchanges… before Brexit!), wealthy (low unemployment rate) and the second most popular tourist destination in the UK, thanks to its rich historical heritage and museums.
But what are the must-visit areas in Edinburgh?
Edinburgh’s historic centre, of course!
It’s made up of the medieval Old Town, which stretches south of the Royal Mile,
and the “New Town” to the north, now the main shopping district, extended by the Saint James Quarter financial centre.
The rest of Edinburgh remains residential and sparsely populated, with rows of houses and small blocks of flats typical of the United Kingdom!
The modern city of Edinburgh is said to stretch over 7 hills, just like Rome! The city is dotted with parks and green spaces, and the River Water of Leith runs through it for a pleasant stroll.
The city of Edinburgh stretches out towards the sea to the north and east, with the port of Leith now part of the city and Portobello Beach.
It is bounded by the Firth of Forth estuary, 5 km from the centre.
Why visit Edinburgh?
Of course, for its pleasant climate, rich gastronomy, and cheap prices… On a more serious note, Edinburgh is well worth a visit for :
- its two castles
- are the Scottish traditions, architecture, heritage and a pretty old town!
- its refreshing summer sunshine (yes, that was one of my reasons, there’s no heatwave here!)
- its pretty parks and gardens
- its rich museums!
- its a famous zoo, where you can see the giant pandas!
- the kindness of the Scots!
- the Royal Highland show
How many days do I need to visit Edinburgh?
How long is the ideal time to visit Edinburgh? How long will it take to visit Edinburgh?
The centre of Edinburgh is relatively compact: you’ll see most of the outside with a visit to the two castles in one day in Edinburgh. But many sights are scattered around the city, as well as several rich museums that are well worth spending 2, 3 or 4 days or more in.
Edinburgh is the second most visited city in the UK after London! Take your time booking in summer or during the school holidays to make sure to experience good-value accommodation!
How to visit Edinburgh
Of course, you should visit Edinburgh on foot, although many attractions are outside the city centre.
The Old Town and its extension, the New Town, are small and easy to explore.
Good to know: Scotland seems to be a country of “night owls”! Edinburgh’s places of interest close between 5 and 6 pm, and most pubs serve their customers on time.
Visit Edinburgh for free
Edinburgh is an expensive city, I won’t lie to you! Most tourist attractions are costly, and accommodation is very expensive… But rest assured, budget-minded friends, it’s possible to visit Edinburgh without breaking the bank!
- The national museums are free! You can visit the Scottish National Museum, the National Gallery, etc.
- Visits to churches, including the cathedral, are also free.
- The parks, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, are free (except for the greenhouses). This is only sometimes the case elsewhere in Britain…
- Of course, walking around Edinburgh costs nothing.
- Nor do its cemeteries, including the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard.
But for the rest (the castles in particular), you’ll have to get your wallet out…