Experience Edinburgh in just a day
Going to Britain? Here’s how to make the most of a quick visit to the Scottish capital
Say Britain and you will immediately think of London. Sure, it is the tried-and-true stopover for most Singaporeans who visit Europe. But the next time you are headed that way, plan for a short diversion to Edinburgh.
The capital of Scotland is rich in history and architecture, and Potterheads would know that J.K Rowling got much of her inspiration for the magical wizarding world after she moved to Edinburgh.
It is also a cultural playground that is home to 70 festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival that takes place every August.
Flying to Edinburgh from London is easy – it takes just one and a half hours by air.
And there is at least one flight departing every hour from one of the four London airports.
If you prefer to take it slow and savour the scenery, hop on the train.
The leisurely journey will have you traipsing Edinburgh’s central streets in 5½ hours.
Here are the Edinburgh must-sees that can be covered in two days.
WALK THE ROYAL MILE
The buildings of Edinburgh are worth raving about, and it is home to Georgian and medieval masterpieces. Head to the Royal Mile, the historic heart of Edinburgh’s Old City.
The 1.8km cobbled street stretches from the iconic Edinburgh Castle (situated on the base of an extinct volcano) to Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen when she visits Scotland.
You can spend the whole day exploring the Royal Mile, which sets the tone for your journey.
No doubt, it is touristy, but there is an advantage to that – there are many different “quickie” guided experiences you can join.
Try Mercat Tours, where a guide provides commentary on the city’s hidden spots and the stories behind them.
An added bonus: You get to skip the long, meandering queues to get into Edinburgh Castle.
Then there are tours that show you a darker, ghostly side of Edinburgh.
In a city steeped in medieval history, folklore abounds.
In the 17th century, Edinburgh experienced a population boom.
Its housing infrastructure collapsed, and some of the impoverished took to living in underground alleyways that branch off from the Royal Mile.
The most famous of these is the dark, dank Mary King’s Close. Its proximity to a marsh and the confined living conditions meant that hygiene was terrible and many residents died in these quarters.
Today, ghosts of those poor souls are said to haunt those places.
The Real Mary King’s Close is a one-hour tour that takes you through the preserved streets and gives insight into the lives of the people who lived and died there.
After that, you will probably need a stiff drink.
Whether you are a whisky virgin or an aficionado, the Scotch Whisky Experience is worth a try, offering introductory workshops as well as masterclasses.
For this whisky newbie, the 50-minute Silver Tour (£16, or S$28) was perfect. I learnt everything from how Scotch whisky is made, to appreciating the different tastes that define whiskies from different regions.
There are Gold and Platinum Tours too, the main difference being a wider range of whiskies to savour.
There’s also a Taste of Scotland option, where you get a dinner featuring Scottish produce.
At £75, the three-hour experience doesn’t exactly break the bank.
STAY IN A GREAT HOTEL
There are plenty of options for lodging in buzzy Edinburgh, from historic hotels to charming apartments via Airbnb.
A service apartment in the city’s hottest new offering, The Edinburgh Grand, turned out to be a great choice.
Housed in a 19th-century building and home to the Royal Bank of Scotland until 2006, it is Edinburgh’s most talked-about restoration project.
It is also centrally located. Edinburgh’s main Waverley train station is just five minutes away on foot, and a stone’s throw away from luxury department store Harvey Nichols.
Much of the classic architecture – which includes solid wood panelling with carvings, preserved brass door handles and retro harlequin floors – has been beautifully restored.
Rooms are Mad Men-esque, more New York loft than oldworld business hotel, and mod cons like Bosch sound systems and Nespresso machines give that extra luxe feel.
CLIMB ARTHUR’S SEAT
It is time for more walking. Hike from Holyrood Park to the peak of Arthur’s Seat. There, take in the spectacular panoramas of Edinburgh.
If you happen to be there on a Saturday, make your way down to Castle Peak for breakfast at the weekly Edinburgh Farmers’ Market.
This is where local producers peddle pies filled with haggis and peas and fishmongers shuck fresh Scottish oysters on the spot.
Then it is time to head back to London, or wherever the wind blows you next.
But a day here would probably whet your appetite enough for a return to Auld Reekie or Scotland as a whole – perhaps to the Highlands or the Lothians the next time.