Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities to visit. Set against the ancient backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh is a delightful blend of old and new. With endless opportunities for culture, food and fun, this vibrant city has something for everyone. The iconic Royal Mile is one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist destinations. The ancient mile-long thoroughfare linking Hollyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle attracts visitors for its medieval architecture, ubiquitous tourist shops and not one, but two royal seats.
Off the Beaten Cobbles
I (Peggy) absolutely adore tracing the well-worn cobbles of this historic district, but there are times when I choose to stray from the main tourist trail. One of the many things I love about Edinburgh, is that in addition to its celebrated tourist sites, there are countless other places that are just as interesting and unique, but perhaps not so busy.
In this article I will recommend some of my favourite places that will take you off the beaten path. Join me as I take you on a journey through ancient streets and Off the Beaten Cobbles to explore unique Edinburgh attractions.
The Royal Yacht Britannia
Just two miles from Edinburgh’s city centre, sits The Royal Yacht Britannia docked at the Port of Leith. Serving as a floating royal residence, this spectacular 126-metre vessel was used by the royal family for state visits and family holidays for over 40 years. Since launching in 1953, Britannia has circled the globe, sailed over one million nautical miles and hosted notable world leaders such as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.
After decades of service, the Britannia was retired in 1997. Officiating over an emotional Decommissioning Service, the Queen bid goodbye to the celebrated vessel that had been a constant for the Monarchy and the source of many happy memories. Now permanently docked at the Port of Leith, the ship is open to the public. Today, visitors can retrace the steps of the Royal Family by exploring the stylish State Apartments, the Sun Lounge and even the Royal Bedrooms. For a below-deck perspective, the Engine Room, Crew’s Quarters and Sick Bay are also open to visitors. Those looking for the royal treatment can partake in the time-honoured tradition of Afternoon Tea, which is served daily in the Royal Deck Room.
Whether you are a lover of the Royals, of history or of all things nautical, The Royal Yacht Britannia offers visitors an exceptional experience that is certain to impress.
Grassmarket is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Today’s lively neighbourhood has been an important gathering place for centuries, dating back to the 1400s. Bustling with traders and home to numerous taverns and inns, Grassmarket was also the site of public hangings. A number of infamous characters met their ends at the Grassmarket gallows, most notable were the over 100 Covenanters who were executed between 1661 and 1668. A reminder of those dark days is the shadow of the gibbet; painted directly onto the pavement, the shadow eerily marks the site where the gallows once stood.
Retaining its market roots, today’s Grassmarket is a vibrant area dominated by independent merchants, trendy restaurants and of course colourful pubs. Just steps away from the former gallows, visitors can stop in for a pint at the Last Drop (a macabre nod to the market’s darker days). Steeped in history, the pub is also allegedly haunted by a young girl who appears in medieval dress. Even older is the White Hart Inn, which claims to be Edinburgh’s oldest pub, dating back to 1516. Those who drink at this establishment can count themselves in the company of former notable patrons such as Robert Burns and William Wordsworth.
With such a colourful history and lively atmosphere, how can one resist a visit to Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.
National Museum of Scotland
Just a short walk away from the Royal Mile, the National Museum of Scotland offers a welcome respite from Edinburgh’s bustling streets. Taking visitors on a journey through history, science, art and culture, the museum has over 12 million items in its collection and is the largest multi-disciplinary museum in the country. Highlights from the museum’s vast collection include the 12th century Lewis Chessmen, personal items belonging to Mary Queen of Scots and Dolly the Sheep (the first mammal to be successfully cloned).
Visitors are welcome to explore the exhibits themselves or take a tour from one of the museum’s knowledgeable guides. With an ever-changing itinerary of events and engaging exhibits, the National Museum will captivate and is well worth a visit.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery and Visitor Centre
Edinburgh Gin Distillery is a small batch, multi award winning distillery that offers daily tours of its Edinburgh facility. Offering a variety of tours that cater to the novice, or connoisseur, the Edinburgh Gin experience is certain to impress. Guides are extremely knowledgeable in not only the distilling process, but also the fascinating history behind this iconic spirit.
The high point of course, is the sampling. After an informative tour, visitors are invited taste the finished product while putting their newly acquired knowledge to use. An excellent way to spend an afternoon, a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery is an interesting and educational experience, but most importantly, it is a lot of fun
Surgeons’ Hall Museum
The Surgeons’ Hall Museums is a short distance from the Royal Mile. An intriguing blend of science and history, this award-winning museum complex houses three exhibits that explore the fascinating evolution of medical science.
The History of Surgery Museum highlights Edinburgh’s contributions to modern medicine, such as the discovery of antiseptic and the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic. At the Dental Collection, visitors can learn about the history of dentistry with an impressive display of dental instruments and even visit a reproduction of a 19th century dentist’s office. At the Wohl Pathology Museum, the history of pathology is explored from the origins of medieval Cabinets of Curiosities to the emergence of scientific methods. This exhibit also explores medical dissection of the 19th century and its contribution to the crime of body snatching. Included in the exhibit is the infamous story of Burke and Hare, the body snatchers who turned to murder for profit. A particular macabre highlight of this exhibit is a pocket book made from the skin of William Burke.
For visitors looking for an engaging and unique museum experience, the Surgeons’ Hall Museums are an excellent choice.