Two Go Ahead staffers hopped across the pond to the U.K. this spring to take in the sights, tastes, and welcoming local culture on our tour to London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Their favorite spot? Edinburgh! Katie and Sarah think the charming Scottish capital should be on everyone’s travel wish list. Read on for five tips for what to do in Edinburgh during your free time on tour.
1. Enjoy afternoon tea at Colonnades at the Signet Library
Located right on the Royal Mile next to St. Giles’ Cathedral, the elegant Georgian architecture of the Signet Library is the perfect setting for a proper afternoon tea at Colonnades in the Lower Library. Tea starts with an amuse-bouche, and then you’ll be served a Savory Tower with a variety of sandwiches, quiches, and savory pies. Tea ends with a Sweet Tower of pastries and traditional scones served with clotted cream and jam. The staff was absolutely wonderful and let us try as many different types of tea as we liked.
Travel tip: Booking in advance is advisable. Here’s the reservation info.
2. Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, this palace is located at the end of the Royal Mile. They offer an excellent audio guide so you can explore the State Apartments on your own, including the chamber of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Travel tip: Make sure to head outside and visit the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, and enjoy a walk through the stunning gardens.
3. See the city from above
If you’re someone who likes to get your steps in, Edinburgh has lots of opportunities! It’s a very walkable city, plus there are spots for more rigorous hikes in and around the city, which give you a different vantage point and a good lay of the land. Here are three great walks that showcase amazing views.
- The Scott Monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world! It has 287 steps up a Gothic spiral staircase and offers stunning views of the city. It costs 5 pounds and takes 30 to 60 minutes depending on how long you want to admire the views from each level. Word to the wise: The spiral staircase can get a bit tight at times.
- Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano in the hills that make up Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. This hike takes one to two hours and there are different paths and difficulty levels. The climb is it worth it—you’ll get gorgeous views of the city below and see the ruins of the 15th-century St. Anthony’s Chapel.
- Out of the three suggestions here, Calton Hill (shown above) is the least challenging climb and offers the most to see at the top! This short uphill walk leads you to the Nelson Monument, built in honor of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson and his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the National Monument dedicated to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died during the Napoleonic Wars, and the iconic circular Dugald Stewart Monument, which memorialized the Scottish philosopher. The walk up is only about five minutes to the top with some steps.
4. Explore the spookier side of Edinburgh on a ghost tour
It turns out that Edinburgh has some serious ghost stories! For those looking to learn more about the darker side of the city’s history, there are many different tours to choose from that take place later in the evening, making for a great after-dinner activity. A few of the tours will take you into the underground city and Greyfriars Kirkyard, which has been dubbed the most haunted cemetery in the world.
5. Taste the real thing at the Scotch Whisky Experience
Located in the heart of the Old Town, the Scotch Whisky Experience offers an ode to Scotch. There are plenty of opportunities to taste-test the regional whisky while you’re traveling through Scotland, but this is a great way to learn about it if you don’t have enough time to visit a distillery. They offer a few different tour options depending on your interest, which all take place in their modern facilities and restaurant/bar. During the tours, you learn about the specific regions of Scotland that are known for Scotch production and what makes each of them unique.
Travel tip: If you don’t want to do the whole tour, you can visit their bar for a flight of Scotch from four of the five different regions. It comes with a written guide to take you through each sample.
Have you been to Scotland? We’d love to hear your free time suggestions in the comments below!