Edinburgh with all its grace and grandeur makes a stirring first impression … and then gets even better. It’s pure theatre – castles, crags and classical columns stand against the skyline as a backdrop not just for some of the most dramatic stories of Scotland’s history but also for a vibrant and contemporary arts culture.
It’s not a city with 10 obvious sights. There are dozens. You will need to prioritise.
A compact city, it’s best explored on foot. That way you don’t miss the closes and alleyways running like ribs from the backbone of the Royal Mile that runs down from the Castle, through the heart of the Old Town to end at the Queen’s official residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, built under the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. Close to the Palace is the new Scottish Parliament with free admission. And don’t miss the Museum of Childhood on your way down. It’s free too. And noisy! But maybe you want to spare yourselves some foot-slog and enjoy our windy, hill city from the top deck of an open-topped double-decker bus? It will help you get your bearings in this beguiling city and allows you to hop on and off near attractions. Stout walking shoes are recommended for sightseeing in Edinburgh: the cobblestones are heartless. And remember to keep them on if you take an Old Town literary or eery ghost tour in the evening, walking in the footsteps of the past – from kings and queens to literary figures like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, all of whom strolled these ancient thoroughfares. Deep underground are a warren of hidden streets and closes for you to discover Edinburgh’s ghoulish past.
Allow several hours to explore Edinburgh Castle which dominates the city skyline, a castle with dramatic tales of siege, dark deeds and intrigue. Purchase a Historic Scotland Explorer Pass if you intend to visit at least two Historic Scotland properties. The excellent Honours of Scotland Exhibition there is an excellent crash course in Scots History.
Next to the Castle is a “must” for anyone curious about the “water of life”. The award-winning Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre will fill you in while increasing your appetite to drink some of our glorious national drink.
Or drop in at Camera Obscura and enjoy superb rooftop views (pick a clear day) and incredible optical illusions.
Allow time to see around the main galleries, such as the National Gallery of Scotland, the Gallery of Modern Art and neighbouring Dean Gallery and in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery see the Scots who shaped the nation. All are free. (You can park your car free in Dean Gallery’s car park and it's a pleasant half-hour stroll into Princes Street in central Edinburgh via architecturally impressive buildings but make sure you are back before the gates close late afternoon!). Explore yet more of the story in the, still free, Museum of Scotland which presents the history of Scotland, its land, people and achievements, through rich national collections. Many of these museums and galleries have excellent cafes, typifying the enormous choice of cafes, restaurants and pubs in this city exuding a cosmopolitan ambience. Edinburgh is nothing short of inspiring, a capital meeting place of culture and heritage embodied in its arts venues and museums and home to many large art festivals.
Needing a contrast to all this cultural stuff? Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, with its glorious displays of plantings and the largest collection of rhododendrons in the world. Again free, except for the wondrous glasshouses. Or stroll round the New Town with its gracious squares, wide streets, leafy gardens and handsome facades and drop in at 7 Charlotte Square, The Georgian House. It is this contrast of old and new which lends Edinburgh its unique atmosphere. Or if you have children yearning for something different, take them either to Our Dynamic Earth which tells the story of the Earth’s history and ecology with plenty of high-tech effects and dramatic displays, or whisk them off to Edinburgh Zoo with the largest penguin pool in the world. Either way they will be enthralled.
A surprise hit with our visitors is the 5 STAR Royal Yacht Britannia, berthed in Leith. You get to tour five decks with a fascinating audio handset and this attraction is very wheelchair friendly. A bonus, right beside it, is Ocean Terminal, the largest waterfront development in Europe offering a wide range of shopping.
Whether you are into art, sports, shopping, science, history or music you’ll find plenty to inspire in Edinburgh.
Upfront and affable, Scotland’s largest city overflows with sheer personality and a sense of style. A fascinating city with a wealth of free museums and architectural gems and some very exclusive shopping, its magnificent architectural heritage is a blend of styles including Classical, Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau.
Perhaps start your discovery of Glasgow’s buildings at The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City. Maybe then stroll along the pedestrian shopping zones of Buchanan Street or Sauchiehall Street where you can enjoy Charles Rennie Mackintosh designs in the Tearooms and then continue the CRM theme in a visit to his masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art. Or move onto George Square and marvel at the Italian Renaissance style of the City Chambers, as impressive inside as it is outside. Free guided tours are available, something that characterises Glasgow: the breath-taking choice of free museums.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one such. Not long re-opened after a multi-million pound make-over it is the most visited museum in the UK outside of London. Imposing on the outside, it houses immense wide-ranging civic collections of everything from fine and decorative arts to archaeology, natural history, armoury collections and artistic masterpieces. And all for free. Most of the other museums are also free, including the Hunterian Art Gallery and the Burrell collection with its eclectic displays of objets d’art donated by a shipping magnate to the city and housed in a custom-built centre with lovely grounds. Opposite Kelvingrove is the Museum of Transport with its reconstructions of a typical Glasgow street of the 1930s.
Culture takes a historical theme at the spectacularly Gothic Glasgow Cathedral which dates back to the 12th Century and is the only one on the Scottish mainland to survive the Reformation of 1560 intact. Contrast this with the totally modern flavour at the exciting new Glasgow Science Museum with four floors of hundreds of family-focused interactive science exhibits and experiments and a planetarium which fascinates children. And a breathtaking IMAX screen. What a fantastic rainy day excursion this is! There is an entrance fee for this one however. And if you are ardent football fans, the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden is a must.
Glasgow acknowledges its mercantile past with visitor attractions such as the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour, evoking the long-vanished days of sail and Glasgow’s former life as a great trading port. And then it comes right up to date with the exclusive designer shops of the Merchant city. Princes Square has added an elite note with a sophisticated ambience appropriate for a style conscious city.
Glasgow is the Headquarters of many artistic companies including Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, playing to full audiences in superbly equipped venues such as Glasgow Royal concert Hall and the Theatre Royal. If you don’t catch them there, you’ll be sure to find something else that captures your imagination, either in Glasgow or Edinburgh or even somewhere unexpected. Check out www.list.co.uk for what’s on.