It’s easy to imagine yourself back in time in Edinburgh, Scotland. A walk down the Royal Mile conjures up images of a busy marketplace where trader’s haggle over the price of goods, and horses trot back and forth down the ancient thoroughfare from the castle at one end to the royal palace at the other. In the middle of Old Town, a rowdy crowd of tartan and kilt-wearing clansmen stumble from pub to pub in search of another shot of whiskey or pint of ale. With lantern in hand, they belt out Scottish folk-songs as they make their way home through a maze of dark alleys and steep cobblestone streets in the wee hours of morning.
Our experience in Edinburgh was nothing like that, but it’s easy enough to imagine! As the last stop on our CIE tour of Scotland, I felt like we had saved the best for last. Don’t get me wrong, ALL of Scotland is beautiful! It is a diverse country with castles, rocks, highlands and lowlands, but Edinburgh has it all. Thanks to its spectacular setting high on Castle Rock (which is literally a plug in an extinct volcano), the view is of green hills, blue seas and some of the grandest medieval architecture you’ll ever see.
We arrived late in the afternoon with just enough time to explore the vicinity of the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel before dinner. From the look of things, Edinburgh was going to be incredible! Our Scottish evening included a meal, drinks and a show complete with delectable items such as bangers and mash, fish and chips, cheese and oatcakes, and of course haggis and black pudding. Cranachan (cream, honey, whiskey-soaked oats and raspberries) with strong black coffee was served during a lively song and dance show featuring bagpipes, fiddles and tin whistles.
The next morning was brisk and blustery; none the less, we started our tour at the highest, most windy spot in Edinburgh—the Castle. It totally dominates the city skyline. Archaeological evidence suggests the location of the castle has been a fortified stronghold since the 6th century and a royal castle has existed there since the reign of Malcolm III around 1060. Due to damage, decline and reconstruction over the years, little remains of the original structures. A small chapel on the highest point of the rock dates back to 1124 and is the oldest surviving building. The iconic castle, where centuries of royalty have lived and died, has stunning views of all that surround it.
After the castle tour, we strolled along the Royal Mile, a street which connects the castle to the Royal Palace. Because space was physically confined in the Old Town area, buildings were compelled to expand upward which explains the 6, 10, and even 12-story tenements. Most of the medieval structures have retained their original form over the years, so the area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most popular section of the Royal Mile is near High Street. Beautiful St. Giles Cathedral is here, as well as popular shops, pubs and restaurants.
At the lower end of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyroodhouse as well as the ruins of a 12th century abbey, Holyrood Park (aka the Queen’s Park) and the Scottish Parliament. The Palace is the official residence of British royalty when they visit Scotland. Queen Elizabeth spends one week each summer at Holyrood, at which time they fly the Royal flag of the United Kingdom; at all other times the Royal Banner of Scotland is displayed.
The palace as it stands today was built between 1671 and 1678. Next to the palace are the remains of what once was the finest medieval abbey in Scotland. The Abbey was enlarged over the centuries, its grandeur evident by the size of the roofless nave, the walls of Gothic windows and a vaulted ceiling. I found it hauntingly beautiful! The gardens were magnificent as well, offering a peaceful atmosphere and a kaleidoscope of color.
We spent a few hours of our free time at the National Museum of Scotland. It contains a wonderful assortment of displays featuring science, natural history, world cultures and Scottish artifacts. Not far from the museum is the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a little dog who famously guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years until the dog passed away in 1872. We headed back along the Royal Mile where we checked out a few shops and had dinner at the well-known “World’s End” pub. It was a pleasant evening, so we walked to Princess Street after dinner. The street has no buildings on the south side to allow for unobstructed views of Old Town and the Castle. The Scott Monument, a Victorian Gothic structure dedicated to the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, stands in the Princess Street gardens.
Our tour group was headed for Belfast, Northern Ireland the next day, so it was time to say goodbye to Edinburgh. During our brief stay here, we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but it was long enough to appreciate the historic city scene of Edinburgh, Scotland.
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