What are the best places in Edinburgh? The list is long, but let’s face it, you never have enough time and want to squeeze most of the destinations in the time you actually have. I will try to show you a list of the best places in Edinburgh that you can visit in 24h! Moreover, you can see all of them for free! Sounds awesome? Let’s go!
You are in Edinburgh! In the city, which by many is described as the most beautiful in the world. Edinburgh is a mix of medieval buildings and modern technological solutions. You can find here some wonderful architecture, vast green parks, narrow streets and dark cemeteries…This is the birthplace of Harry Potter and Dolly the sheep! When the sun shines it looks like a fairy-tale land. When it doesn’t shine a mysterious mist falls over the city and you can almost sense the dark secrets of the past floating in the air. Yes, I know there is so much to see and you only have one day. No worries! After all, nothing is impossible, I invite you for a walk that you will never forget …
I start the walk from the place where everyone arriving in the city usually lands, i.e. from Waverley railway station. It is located on Edinburgh’s main street, Princes Street. The best place in Edinburgh where I can find myself at the beginning of the walking tour is this street. Why? It’s kind of like the place in between two worlds as it’s separating the city in two parts. Also gives you a perspective of how Edinburgh is constructed. Walking along, on one side I pass green royal gardens and the famous castle towering on the rock. While on the other side I see neoclassical buildings in which shop windows are presented.
Princess Street, along with two streets parallel to it, George Street and Queen Street, is an invention from the 18th century and was built to improve and enlarge the city. It is worth mentioning that at that time Edinburgh and other major cities in Europe were extremely overpopulated. To the extent that some residential buildings reached a height of 5 floors and were probably the tallest buildings at that time!
The decision was made to enlarge the city in the spirit of modern solutions. Therefore today, in one city of Edinburgh you will find two completely different cities. To the south of Princess Street, you can admire the medieval old town, while to the north, wander through spacious streets, elegant squares and beautiful gardens. Being on this street I stand with one foot in the mystery medieval world of cobbled streets and with the other in the European centre of culture and art. So which way I go first?
I choose to go to the green Princess Street Gardens. It’s one of the best places in Edinburgh to enjoy the view of the Royal Castle. The majestic building of the 12th century is piled upon a rock, which stood here much earlier. Something about 700 million years ago and was a volcano! No worries, these are now only remnants of an extinct volcano and an extremely effective arrangement of space. At the foot of the castle rock, impressive gardens spread out. Once, they were a lake which served as a defence for the castle. Then, the lake was completely drained and, in its place, beautiful gardens were created, which are now a popular meeting place for local residents. Therefore, you definitely want to take your pictures here.
I go through the Royal Gardens to a place near the Scottish National Gallery, which separates the gardens into two parts. It is also a kind of link between the new and old city. I am talking about The Mound, which is an artificially created hill. It was created from 1.5 million tons of land that remained from the construction of the New Town. It is now a fairly steep hill that leads to the oldest part of Edinburgh, full of medieval buildings and narrow streets. Follow the road up The Mound and plunge into this mysterious surroundings out of this world!
Going up The Mound I come to the heart of Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is among the best places in Edinburgh because of its beautiful architecture. You can feel the magic of this city as well as see its dark corners. I raise my head and see the tall, dark, stone buildings. Although the day is sunny, there is a mysterious mist in the air. This part of Edinburgh is the oldest corner. I can almost hear the clatter of horse hooves that once roamed this path towards the castle, carrying monarchs and important personas.
I go out to the castle esplanade, i.e. undeveloped space just before the castle fortifications. Once it was a place where witches were burned at the stake, today it offers a beautiful view of the city. Edinburgh Castle is one of the strongest and oldest fortresses in Great Britain. There are also theories that this is one of the most haunted castles. Although, I do not want to check that out. For all those interested, the entrance to the castle is paid and costs about 20 GBP. From here I decide to go for a coffee and since we are in a magical scenery I intend to drink coffee in a place where magic was created by J.K.Rowling!
I head towards one of the most beautiful streets of Edinburgh via Castle Hill street. On the right I pass The Hub, a building that looks like a church, but has never been recognized as such. Although, the spire of this building is the highest point in the centre of Edinburgh. I turn into Upper Bow Street to go straight onto Victoria Street. It is an arched, narrow street with colourful, tall tenement houses, piled up on both sides. Just as they used to be before the town was modernised in the 13th century.
Today, you will find here, many shops with traditional Scottish products and countless cafes and restaurants. I’m going up the street to exit at George IV Bridge. Just in front of me, the National Library of Scotland emerges. Now I turn right and go up the street to find the famous café. The whole way takes me less than 5 minutes. The Elephant House is one of the best places in Edinburgh for fans of Harry Potter. A place that was an inspiration for J.K. Rowling to write the first book about a young wizard.
The Elephant House cafe looks quite unnoticeable, despite the large inscription “The birthplace of Harry Potter” that appears at the entrance. I go inside and, strangely enough, is not crowded. I go through the corridor to the very end of the room. The windows here overlook the Royal Castle from a distance and just below there is the view of Greyfriars Kirkyard. Greyfriars is a cemetery from the 16th century, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. It is also a place that inspired the names of many characters from the famous Harry Potter book. The gravestone of Tom Riddle and many others can be found here.
Probably J.K.Rowling, looking through the window of the café drew a lot of inspiration for her books about Harry Potter. Sitting here today, I have no doubt why. The unfolding landscape of the dark, gothic atmosphere and the beautiful surroundings of Edinburgh Castle is truly inspirational. Today, the Elephant House cafe is a very popular place among Harry Potter fans. As evidence, they created a colourful graffiti in the bathroom with sentences from the book. I drink coffee and move on.
I take a course for the Scottish Parliament Building which is only 15-minute on foot from The Elephant House. The Parliament Building it’s quite interesting and you can always enter for free. Although, my goal is the view from there. View of Arthur’s Seat, which looks a bit like a lion’s rock from “The Lion King” movie. Artur’s mountain is a close proof that there used to be a volcano here. Arthur’s Seat ranks highest among the best places in Edinburgh for long walks in the nature. It is worth mentioning that Edinburgh was recognized as the greenest city in the UK. Parks and green areas cover almost half of the city’s area. There are 112 parks in Edinburgh!
Climbing to the top which is 823 feet high, takes about 30 minutes and can be quite exhausting, depending on which trail you choose. Regardless of the path selection, you won’t be disappointed, once you get to the top. There is a panoramic view of the entire city, the coast and a view of the Firth of Forth Bay and the famous three bridges. Often during walks on Arthur’s Mountain, you can hear or even see traditionally dressed Scotsman playing bagpipes. This sound cannot be compared to other instruments. When you hear this melody, wandering the Scottish hills, it’s like you were in a “Braveheart” movie set.
Depending on how you allocate your time, you can decide whether you want to climb to the top or just delight your eyes from below. If you’re in shape, I highly recommend going up, but remember to have water with you! Also take notice that the wind is extremely strong at the top. I am heading now towards a very special place with equally impressive views. Any idea which one?
Calton Hill, also called the Athens of the North. You will understand why once you see the National Monument on top of the hill. Majestic colonnade, reminiscent of the entrance to a Greek temple. This is not the only beautiful building on the hill, but what impresses most, is the view. Calton Hill is one of the best places in Edinburgh to take stunning photos! One of the most beautiful panoramas you have seen!
If you managed to get to the sunset like I did, you are lucky! The colours of the sky with the sun setting over Edinburgh are like balm for the soul. It’s hard to believe that this was once a place of execution. This thought pulls me out of the blissful dreams of a beautiful sunset. If you look at the map, I’m almost at the starting point, because Calton Hill lies at the foot of Princess Street. The day has passed and I didn’t even mention the coast. I know you want more. Worry not, there will be more. There is still so much to tell so keep your eyes open!