Scotland, United Kingdom
A Few Days in Edinburgh
4 people found this review helpful
I arrived in Edinburgh in time to catch the last Mac Tours Hop On, Hop Off tour bus for the day. I had checked into the Clan Campbell Hotel which was a 15 minute walk from Waverley train station and doubled back as the tours start on the Waverley Bridge right by the railway station. The ticket is good for 24 hours so it is an excellent way to get your bearings and plan out your route for the next day when you can use the bus to visit the various attractions you want to around town and fit more visits in when you have limited time. There are a variety of tours to choose from and I picked the Vintage Bus tour which is an open double decker bus which provides good views from the top and a perfect vantage point for taking pictures. The tour also includes a live commentary and as you hop on and off the next day you are able to hear different guides’ stories. The next morning I walked to the Waverley Bridge to catch the first bus of the day and got off in Charlotte Square for The Georgian House. This and Gladstone’s Land are both National Trust for Scotland properties and accept the National Trust membership that I have for England. The Georgian House is in what is referred to as the ‘new town’ of Edinburgh, designed by Robert Adam and reflects a typical Georgian townhouse of the late 18th/early 19th century. The new town street plan was designed by James Craig to improve the overcrowded living conditions in the old town. Your visit starts with a film in the basement depicting re-enactments of the day in the life of those above and below stairs. You can then roam about the rest of the basement, the ground floor and first floor where there are volunteers who provide history of the house and explanations of the artefacts in the rooms. There is a lovely view from the Drawing Room of the square and the statue of Prince Albert on a horse.
After visiting the Georgian House I took the vintage bus back across to the old town to Gladstone’s Land which is on the Royal Mile just across the street from the Lawnmarket stop on the tour route. You can clearly see the difference in the building style compared to the new town. The buildings in the old town appear to be falling all over each other with very small rooms and disjointed interiors whereas those in the new town are very neat and orderly. The same square footage in the old town would house many times more people in its tenements than the new town where the more wealthy families lived. The rooms in Gladstone’s Land have much lower ceilings which makes it easy to see the detail in the ceiling in the Painted Chamber which dates back to the 17th century.
After visiting Gladstone’s Land I walked down the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyrood House and replenished my energy with some whiskey fruit cake (this is Scotland after all) and an elderflower presse in the Cafe. I bought a combined ticket for the palace and the Queen’s Gallery. When looking at the palace from the Forecourt you can detect that although both sides of the palace are similar, they are not identical. The left side is older, shaped slightly differently and the bricks are a different colour. There is a good audio guide to follow as you explore the State Apartments in the palace (including those that were occupied by Mary Queen of Scots in the oldest part of the Palace) as well as the ruins of the Abbey Church of Holyrood and the gardens. It is hard to imagine the thousands of people who attend the Queen’s garden party every year as the gardens do not appear to be big enough to hold that number. If you do not see everything in the one day, you can sign your ticket as a yearly membership before you leave and use the ticket again at no extra charge.
The Queen’s Gallery was showing an exhibit of Dutch Landscapes and also included an audio tour providing background on some of the paintings. A couple of my favourites, for the way the clouds and light were captured in the skies, were ‘An Evening Landscape with Figures and Sheep’ by Aelbert Cuyp and ‘A Country House on the Vliet near Delft’ by Jan van der Heyden.
Across from the Palace you will see the Scottish Parliament which has a very unique and modern design. I walked around the corner to Our Dynamic Earth to catch the bus back to Waverley Bridge. Those of you with children will enjoy a stop at Our Dynamic Earth where they can experience events that have shaped the earth from tropical thunder storms to earthquakes.
Another day I went to the National Gallery which is on the Mound in East Princes St Gardens. The touring exhibit was ‘Dance’ as depicted by various artists over the centuries from Nicolas Poussin about 1640 with ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ to Edgar Degas in 1898 with ‘A Group of Dancers’ to Pablo Picasso in 1959 with ‘Bacchanale [Bacchanal]’. I also explored the other galleries such as European art from the 16th to the 19th centuries (e.g., Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough, Titian), European art from the 18th to the 19th centuries including Impressionist paintings (e.g., Delacroix, Sargent, Cezanne), Scottish Collection (e.g., Guthrie, McTaggart, Graham, Nasmyth, Raeburn).
St. Giles’ Cathedral is a short walk from the National Gallery up the Mound to the Royal Mile and is well worth a visit to see the stained glass windows, the memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson and the Thistle Chapel where the Queen meets with the members of the Royal Oder of the Thistle. Although the chapel which was built in 1911 has an entrance from the cathedral, it also has a private entrance separate from the cathedral for the queen to enter as, unlike in England, she is not the head of the church in Scotland. The volunteers in the cathedral and chapel are happy to explain the 1,000 year history of the cathedral including John Knox during the Reformation, the Order of the Thistle and the elaborate carvings and hangings in the chapel.
Shopping in Edinburgh can keep you busy for a few days. There are many shops along the Royal Mile and Princes Street which are parallel to each other with the Princes Street Gardens and Waverley railway station in between the two streets. Jenners is the local department store and has much to explore including a little coffee shop overlooking Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle. Behind Princes Street are cobbled lanes full of shops and restaurants and of course, pubs. Across from St. Andrew’s Square you will find Harvey Nichols and more shops leading to the St. James Shopping Centre. Breakfast does tend to be the largest meal of the day when staying at bed and breakfasts so I don’t tend to eat large restaurant meals and just have a couple of light snacks throughout the day. One cafe recommendation is Henderson’s at 94 Hanover Street. I was there one afternoon for hot chocolate and a slice of ginger loaf which were both delicious and the cafe was busy with tourists and locals alike. Another nice spot for a bite to eat which has great views over the Firth of Forth is the 4th floor restaurant at John Lewis in the St. James Shopping Centre.
Any intrepid walkers may be interested in walking up Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags behind the Palace of Holyrood House. I did not have time or the right shoes with me for such an adventure however my last morning in town I checked out of the B&B and left my backpack there while I went for a walk up Calton Hill, Edinburgh’s first public park. It has been 30 years since I was up on the hill and it was a beautiful sunny morning with clear 360 degree views over to the Firth of Forth, around to the Palace of Holyrood House, along the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street. The hill is kitty corner to the Castle and is just as imposing when seen from the streets below. One of the storyboards on Calton Hill called ‘Of Fire and Ice’ explains the formation of Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock by volcanoes 340 million years ago. It was interesting to be reading about this just when the volcano in Iceland was erupting and causing so much disruption to British air space.
There are a number of buildings and monuments on top of the hill that are also interesting to explore which date from the 1760’s to the 1820’s. The buildings relate to a period of time known as the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ and are part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. One of the monuments on the hill commemorates Dugald Stewart who was a writer and philosopher and a key player in the enlightenment. Another is for Robert Burns.
This is just a small selection of things to see and do in Edinburgh. Of course there is the Castle itself, the Royal Yacht Brittania which is docked in Leith, the Royal Botanic Garden, and the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre to name but a few. Plenty of options for another visit….
I booked the B&B on LateRooms.com. The Clan Campbell Hotel has open spacious hallways and stairs and the room I had was small as it was in the rafters, but it was clean and had everything necessary including colour tv, hairdryer and coffee/tea station. Breakfast orders are left on the hall table every night for the next morning and the selection is varied and very good. The Hotel is located on a quiet street in the new town just past Calton Hill on the right and John Lewis in the St James Shopping Centre on the left.
Mac Tours also provide other city and boat tours in the Firth of Forth as well as combination tickets for local attractions:
Visit www.nts.org.uk for other National Trust for Scotland properties.
4 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.