My week in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival wasn’t limited to comedy shows and avoiding being leafleted by upcoming comedians; even without the festival, there’s plenty to do.
As this was my second visit, I’d done the main tourist activities before, such as walking up Arthur’s Seat, admiring the work in the National Art Gallery and visiting the lofty castle. As it turns out, these things to do in Edinburgh are pretty self-explanatory and don’t require much explanation, so I’m going to run through the new activities I tried this time that didn’t occur on a first visit.
An Edinburgh city bus tour
On my first day back I opted to get a lay of the land with one of the cities popular bus tours, of which there are at least three operating companies to chose from. Opting for City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off after doing the same in Berlin, I took an hour’s tour through the capital with my dad.
As standard, the ride came with a pre-recorded audio tour that tries to strike a balance between educational and humorous, without quite achieving either fully! If you jump on a green bus for the same price of £14 you get a live tour guide able to answer questions as you go along; for us, the wait was too long even though it was only ten minutes as we had just one hour before meeting up with the rest of the family.
Taking you from the top of the high street down to the Parliament, Palace, Castle and main shopping district, it’s success is in familiarising you with a very hilly city that can be difficult to navigate from the streets. Afterwards I felt a lot more confident back on foot and even knew some more facts as well… most of which I haven’t retained!
In short, a fun, short journey ideal for a first day in Edinburgh when you want to see everything very quickly. I imagine it is perfect in the rain as whilst open topped, you can sit under the canopy upstairs or of course downstairs fully covered under the top deck.
A visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Opposite the modern Parliament building is the rather more historic Palace of Holyroodhouse where Mary Queen of Scots stayed after her return from France in 1561 at aged 18. The entrance is a beautiful courtyard with a water fountain that guides you into the grassy centre of the building. Taking around one hour to explore with a free audio tour given to all visitors, the ornate rooms really bring to life the era and actually provide an insight into the bloodthirsty past of the royal line.
In Mary’s chambers you see how she was influenced by French fashion and hear how she came to be executed as a traitor due to her blood-claim on the English throne. The room adjoining hers now showcases a range of jewels and luxuries that stand the test of time for inciting awe. You’ll also find a great deal of moose heads hung on the walls, so be prepared – they’re huge!
Perhaps the most visually interesting aspect of the Palace is the ruined Church, where the sky is the ceiling and the idea of reaching the heavens through tall spired buildings is somewhat poetically achieved.
A day trip to Loch Tay
Just over one hour away from the city centre is the understated Loch Tay, which is a good compromise if you can’t make the roughly three hour journey to the famous Loch Ness. Tay doesn’t have a mysterious monster, but there’s plenty of ducks, fish and even an information centre that offers trips on the water and ice cream when the weather is a bit warmer (we visited on a rather fresh day).
I say understated because there were only a handful of other visitors at the time and where the water meets land, there is very little development, which means the loch is surrounded by beautiful greenery. There’s a restaurant to the east of the loch but making a trip to nearby Killin is a better option for a bite to eat.
A stop-off at Killin (less scary than it seems)
En route to Lake Tay and only twenty-five mins from Edinburgh is a small village called Killin that has a truly picturesque waterfall and beautiful rock formations. Up in the mountainous countryside, it reminded me of Norway but with a localised Scottish charm.
Perfect for an afternoon relaxing with fish and chips at the local pub or a picnic on the rocks, there is almost nothing to do here apart from enjoy the view and fresh air. Whilst tempting to tweet ‘I love killin’, it’s not really advisable unless you tag your location!
Quick funny story if you’d been there; a woman tried to get into the wrong car and terrified a family of four! Only in Killin…
So, in and around Edinburgh there’s loads to do that you might not consider. Exploring the surroundings if you have the transport is a great experience as Scotland has so much beauty to offer outside of the city centre.