Scotland’s compact, hilly capital is steeped in history and has a contemporary vibe. Stunning castles loom over the city, while wide, handsome squares and elegant cocktail bars make it a great destination for a short break.
Geologically, Edinburgh is carved into a steep slope between the Pentland Hills and the broad Firth of Forth estuary. This slope is punctuated by lava thrusts that cut into the softer rock above.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is the centre of the Scottish capital city and one of the most popular tourist attractions. It was initially a royal residence and has witnessed many significant events in the country’s history.
The castle is set atop an extinct volcano, which has formed an ancient plug of volcanic rock that dominates the central city. It is surrounded by rocky cliffs to the south, west and north and rises to a height of 80 metres creating natural defences.
Over the centuries, Edinburgh Castle has been constantly adapted to meet the military needs of its inhabitants and has witnessed many sieges and battles. It has also served as a jail for prisoners of war.
The castle consists of three internal areas; the Upper Ward with the Palace, Great Hall and St Margaret’s Chapel; Middle Ward; and Lower Ward. The main entrance is from the broad esplanade and is accessible via the Portcullis Gate with its spiked portcullis.
2. The Scottish National Gallery of Art
A must-see on any trip to Edinburgh, the Scottish National Gallery of Art is home to Scotland’s national collection of fine art. The elegant neo-classical building is located on The Mound in the heart of the city, just off Princes Street and is free to enter.
The Gallery houses one of the world’s greatest collections of fine art, spanning from the early Renaissance to Post-Impressionism. Among the highlights of the collection are works by European painters such as Raphael, Tiziano, El Greco, Velazquez and Rembrandt.
The Gallery is divided into two areas: the ground floor (north) features paintings by Italian, Belgian and Dutch artists before 1530; while the basement houses a collection of Scottish art and various temporary exhibitions. The museum also has research facilities with the Prints and Drawings Collection (30,000 works on paper) and Reference Library.
3. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is the first of its kind and is a collection of portraits of Scotland’s most famous people. From kings to politicians, artists to actors, poets and philosophers, every major figure in Scotland’s history has a place here.
This art museum was founded in the late nineteenth century and is housed in a beautiful red sandstone Gothic revival building. The project was funded by the Scottish newspaper tycoon John Ritchie Findlay and prize-winning architect Robert Rowand Anderson.
Its elaborate arts and crafts decorative scheme, glittering friezes, evocative murals and extensive sculptural embellishment are all part of its special visitor experience.
It also has a wonderful cafe called Café Portrait, which is open daily from 10am to 4.30pm. They serve a wide range of lunch options as well as great coffee and homemade cakes.
4. Dynamic Earth
Dynamic Earth is one of Edinburgh’s most popular visitor attractions. It offers a fascinating understanding of the processes that shape our planet.
The centre is housed on a former brewery site beneath Salisbury Crags, just beside the Scottish Parliament building and a short walk from Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s largest hill. It opened in 1999 and was a project of the Millennium Commission to regenerate the Holyrood area.
During its time in Edinburgh it has been awarded numerous awards for its innovative design and educational content. It is also fully accessible and wheelchair friendly.
It is the only attraction in the UK dedicated to a detailed understanding of the story of Planet Earth. Its many interactive exhibitions, a deep time machine and cinema show offer an unforgettable experience for all ages.