Day 1 – Get a grip
Now if you have visited any other European capitals before you make it to Edinburgh, the transition to the way of life enjoyed by the natives usually comes as quite a shock to the system, unless of course you have visited Ireland first. Scottish natives enjoy a laid back way of life synonymous with that enjoyed by the Irish. The city itself is most impressive with its imposing castle dramatically situated on an extinct volcano. And, for the party animals among you, you’ll be happy to hear that there really is no better way to truly appreciate this unique city than diving right in with the locals so prepare yourself for some pretty wild nights during your stay.
The best way to acquaint yourself with a new city is to spend your first couple of hours there simply strolling around. And there’s no better city in which to do so than Edinburgh. Any former visitors to the city will agree that it is best seen on foot and they’re absolutely right.
The two main routes are Princes Street, which encapsulates the New Town with its high street shops, department stores, bars and restaurants; and the Royal Mile which penetrates the very heart of the Old Town. We recommend kicking off on Princes Street to begin with.
After checking out the more modern side of things, cross Waverley Bridge and make your way to Edinburgh Castle. You won’t have any problems finding this omnipresent attraction as its position at the top of a rocky cliff looking over the New Town makes it visible from all over that side of the city. The climb to the castle looks more daunting than it actually is and you can always break it up by stopping off in any of the number of shops selling traditional Scottish paraphernalia along the way.
Take plenty of time to see the castle and definitely avail of the taped accompaniment when paying your entrance fee. It’s an excellent way to ensure that you don’t miss out on any aspect of the castle but you can take it entirely at your own pace. The building itself is very impressive but so too is the collection of artefacts on display there – a variety of cannon including the 500 year old Mons Meg, the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Of course, if you don’t feel like working your feet too hard on your first day you could always avail of the number of hop on hop off bus services. These will whisk you to all the main attractions in no time at all allowing you to spend as long (or as short) as you want at each one.
Don’t stray from the old town for your evening as you will find a wealth of restaurants, pubs and clubs to keep you occupied. Make your way to Grassmarket which lies just south of the castle which offers lots of culinary variety – local treats including the famous ‘haggis’ as well as those from right around the globe. This area of the city is also one of the city’s liveliest areas at night, while nearby Cowgate, which is probably the best part of the city for the clubbers among you, runs parallel to the Royal Mile.
Day 2 – Out of town
More walking required today folks as we hit the Royal Mile. Running between the Castle and Holyrood House, the street is the oldest in Edinburgh. It actually runs for just over one mile and is made up of four different sections – Canongate, High Street, Lawnmarket and Castlehill. Now while you might think a whole morning is a lot to dedicate to walking a mile, rest assured that there’s quite a bit to catch your eye along the way. Aside from the host of shops selling tacky tartan and the like, the buildings which line the street on either side are well worth a look.
Head out of the city for the afternoon and pay a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia which is anchored at Leith, Edinburgh’s main port. You can get there by catching the X50 bus at Waverley Bridge. This amazing ship served the British Royal Family for over four decades and travelled over one million miles. It has actually become one of the country’s main attractions and has greatly added to the rejuvenation of Leith and its surrounds. Give yourself at least a couple of hours on the ship because until you get there, you really can’t begin to comprehend just how impressive it is.
After your tour of the Royal Britannia, spend some time checking out Leith while you are there. While it might not have had a very good name ten years ago, it has improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade and is now home to a really good selection of bars and restaurants. Don’t stray too far off the beaten track, however, as it hasn’t been completely transformed just yet.
Day 3 – Look out behind you!
An easy start to day 3 with a leisurely stroll through Princes Street Gardens. With the castle towering overhead, it’s a really nice park in which to while away a couple of hours. It’s also an excellent picnic spot (weather permitting, of course). Unfortunately it’s usually not permitting at all. It also provides the perfect starting point for your afternoon.
Back to Princes Street for some retail therapy. Most of the shops are confined to the main street, and only to one side of it too which makes it even easier. But it is worth wandering off the main shopping strip. Princes Street Mall lies on Waverley Bridge towards the east end of the street and is home to a good mix of shops while further down you will find the James Centre which houses the renowned John Lewis department store. There are also some shops sneakily tucked away on side streets off Princes Street too so put plenty of time aside for this.
No visit to Edinburgh would be complete without participating in one of the countless haunted tours of the city. You will see these advertised everywhere. Advance bookings are not usually necessary, although it could be worthwhile during summer as they are really popular with tourists. Now while most of the tours won’t even raise a goose bump there are others which will raise every hair on your head.
The most famous one sees a poltergeist by the name of Sir George MacKenzie joining it every now and again. It’s the City of the Dead tour and MacKenzie usually makes his appearance in the black mausoleum at the Convenanter’s Prison in Greyfriar’s Cemetry so if you do this tour, keep an eye out for old George. He’s not the most friendly of spooks by all accounts. The tour is a good way to end your visit as you get to see the city in a completely different light and will have a memory to take with you that you won’t forget in a hurry too.
Day 4 – Looking for monsters
From Edinburgh head all the way north to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. This journey takes about four hours by bus or train and will take you through some amazing scenery so keep your camera handy at all times.
Widely used by tourists as a base for exploring Loch Ness, the city itself also has plenty to occupy the visitor so don’t leave to look for monsters until you have checked out the views from the castle as well as the castle itself, the museum and art gallery, the town house and the host of wonderful pubs too of course.
Day 5 – Take the high road
From Inverness you’re southward bound as you travel by the world-renowned Loch Ness and through the Scottish Highlands en route to your next overnight stay in Fort William. The route travels along a natural fault line, the Great Glen, which divides Scotland in half, and includes sights including the Spean Bridge, the Commando Memorial and the ruins of Urqhuart Castle. Located in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, the town also serves as the starting point for some excellent hiking around the mountains and lakes of Lochaber.
Day 6 – Island adventure
Next stop on your tour of Scotland is Oban, the most important harbour town on the west coast, and also one of the prettiest. And, while there may not be a whole lot to see in the town itself as it is quite small, the hillsides and islands around the bay more than compensate.
From the harbour you can also reach a variety of Hebridean islands including Mull, Iona and Staffa so if you have time catch a ferry to at least one of them where you will experience the beauty of the Scottish landscape in its most natural state.
Day 7 – The grand finale
From Oban travel to Scotland’s second largest city, Glasgow and while there may not be a castle in sight, the city is home to some of the most impressive architecture in the country. In fact, Glasgow attracts architectural students from all over the world who come to study and admire the wealth of Victorian and Georgian structures on offer. As well as the architecture, however, the city is one of the liveliest in all of Britain and has a magnetic appeal which you will find difficult to avoid during your stay. The best way to see the city is to join one of the many walking tours which take place from June to September.
After you’ve conquered Stirling, it’s time for your return journey to Edinburgh and so concludes your tour of Scotland. If you feel that you have missed anything, and rest assured that you have, it is worth taking one or more of the many tours which will take you to the highlands, the lowlands and any other lands you might care to visit.