To me, Edinburgh is the most beautiful city in the world. Hands down, it remains unbeaten and unrivalled. Having lived in the Scottish capital for three years, I am still in awe by all the things there are to see and do in such a small city.
The classic sites such as the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Museum of Scotland, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill are must-sees, however, as a history-lover, foodie, and keen walker, I have uncovered some special places that I like to recommend to visitors to Edinburgh.
Here are my suggestions for alternative historical sights, pubs, and lovely walks that might not always make it into the top ten lists (but deserve to!) …
Three miles south of the city you will find Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’. Much less crowded than Edinburgh Castle – 14th century Craigmillar Castle provides stunning views of Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle itself. Here, you are free to wander through dungeons, the Laird’s Hall and the kitchens, and climb narrow stone steps to admire the spectacular view from the castle ramparts.
The Outlander film crew was recently spotted at Craigmillar Castle, which is rumoured to be standing in for Ardsmuir Prison in the 3rd season of the TV series.
A short train trip from Edinburgh will take you to the pretty seaside town of South Queensferry, where you can tick the iconic Forth Bridges off your list.
From here, the Maid of the Forth will guide you through the waters of the Firth of Forth to Inchcolm Island, where you’ll find one of the best-preserved group Monastic buildings in Scotland – Inchcolm Abbey. The 13th-century Augustinian abbey still retains its complete cloisters and even a Medieval fresco! You can wander around the ruins of the abbey and explore the ‘Iona of the East’ while taking in the dramatic views around the island.
Next to Edinburgh Castle’s Esplanade at the very top of Princes Street Gardens you can see an original 11th-century Swedish runestone. It was donated to Scotland in 1787 by Sir Alexander Seton of Preston and Ekolsun. A forgotten and often unnoticed Scandinavian relic that sits lonely beneath the castle.
One of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh is to wander down to Dean Village and walk the Water of Leith walkway to Stockbridge.
On Sundays, there is a Farmers’ Market where you can have a hearty lunch or a decadent snack. Try the paella by Casa Roble, or Chocolate Tree’s pure chocolate shots!
Being a ‘Southside’ girl, my classic spot for a good meal is the Old Bell Inn in Newington. Always cosy, always busy (but not too busy), and boasting an excellent choice of cask ales and single malt whiskies, the Old Bell never disappoints. Try their roast lamb or Balmoral chicken!
A bit further out of the city centre is The Sheep Heid Inn (est. 1360), which has a strong claim to be the oldest pub in Scotland. Located in the small village of Duddingston next to Holyrood Park, it is a 30 – 40 minute walk from the city centre, or short taxi journey. If you don’t mind a leisurely evening walk through Holyrood Park, often accompanied by the wonderful fragrance of coconut-scented yellow Gorse that grows all around Arthur’s Seat, this pub is worth it. The most curious thing about the Sheep Heid is its own Skittles alley!
As long as Royal Mile prices don’t catch you by surprise, there are many great pubs and bars in Edinburgh’s famous Old Town that are worth spending an extra penny. My idea of a casual Saturday night consists of going to the Ensign Ewart – a little pub at the top of the Royal Mile, where a local band called The Gorms make a weekly appearance each Saturday, entertaining guests with well-known Scottish folk songs with their own creative (and hilarious!) tweaks.
Banshee Labyrinth is known as the most haunted pub in the city, and is a an alternative to the ghost tours which visit the infamous underground vaults beneath nearby South Bridge! Banshee Labyrinth was once part of the vaults and is a true maze, with comedy nights, karaoke, live music and even its own cinema. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is one of the most unique watering holes in Edinburgh.
Last but not least on my list is Ghillie Dhu – a venue which hosts ceilidhs on the weekends in its stunning auditorium. Ghillie Dhu is a converted Georgian church dramatically decorated with Gothic ornaments and neon lights.
Compact, walkable, diverse, arty, fun and close to nature – the attractions in Edinburgh award the city top prize, and there is nowhere in the world that I’d rather be!
Katia Fernandez Mayo
P.S. Why not incorporate Edinburgh into a self-drive holiday of Scotland and experience the wonders of the Scottish capital for yourself?