Edinburgh, Scotland: A Great Destination for a UK City Break

Updated on November 27, 2017
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis lives in England. She enjoys travel in the UK and in Western Europe with occasional trips further afield.

This was my first visit to Scotland's capital city, and I totally fell in love with it. The architecture is so wonderful that it's a pleasure simply to stroll—but take warm clothing, there is often a very chilly breeze. When you have only a few days, there's not too much time to waste strolling though, as there is a wealth of galleries, museums, and shops to visit. We wanted to see as much as possible during the three days that we were in Edinburgh and used a guide book to pre-plan a rough wish-list of places to visit and things to do. When travelling, my personal choice is the Marco Polo guide books, which have detailed maps in the back covers, with sites of interest marked on them. The Edinburgh guide book has suggestions about what to do on rainy days (always useful in Scotland) and information about restaurants to suit different budgets.

Edinburgh Old Town Roofs

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Scotland's Greatest Spectacle

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been held every year since 1950, on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, when the Army of Scotland took part in the Edinburgh International Festival. It's held in the first three weeks of August and so far no Tattoo has ever been cancelled. If it rains—they carry on. Umbrellas are not allowed—take a hooded waterproof, just in case!

220,000 people attend each year. The shows are always a sell-out so, if you want to see a live event rather than watch it on television, it's a good idea to book at the earliest possible date. We opted for the cheaper seats, at £25, but prices vary considerably—tickets for the Royal Stand cost £300 (2017 prices). There is only one entrance to the event and long queues form. Arrive early or be prepared to queue for a long time.

The Spectacle of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle 2010
The Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle 2010 | Source

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival coincides with the Royal Military Tattoo. It is the world's largest arts festival, providing a platform for new talent as well as events by well-known artists.

If you haven't pre-booked tickets for a show and are prepared to cue, a visit to the Virgin Hut on the Mound might produce half-price bargain tickets. We couldn't fit in time for a show but didn't feel that we had missed out because the streets of Edinburgh are buzzing with free live performances throughout the period of the festival.

Edinburgh Streets are Buzzing During the Fringe

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show route and directions
A markerOcean Terminal, Edinburgh -
Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ, UK
get directions

B markerEdinburgh Castle -
Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2YT, UK
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C markerEdinburgh Mound -
The Mound, Edinburgh EH2, UK
get directions

A Visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is Scotland's biggest tourist attraction. We made a thrilling visit there on the second day of our stay in Edinburgh. It was one of the most memorable highlights of my trip.

Royal Yacht Britannia at Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh

Travel Directions to the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is accessed via the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre (allow time for shopping after your visit—if you still have enough energy. for it). There are plenty of car parking spaces but you can catch the Number 11 or Number 22 bus from Princes Street. The journey takes approximately 25 minutes. A single bus ticket in Edinburgh is charged at a flat £1.50, regardless of the length of your journey and where you dismount. In the future, I would pay £4 day ticket for a hop-on/hop off bus.

About the Royal Yacht Britannia

Between its launch date in 1953 and the decommissioning in 1997 Her Majesty's yacht Britannia sailed one million miles. During that time it was the favourite leisure resource of the Royal Family and a place where the Queen entertained numerous Heads of State and dignitaries, including President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. Now berthed at Leith in Edinburgh, it is a fascinating museum piece, a glimpse into the life of the British Royal family and one of Scotland's major tourist attractions.

The Main Salon on the Royal Yacht Britannia

A partial view. This is where numerous Heads of State have been entertained. And yet there is an informal aspect - tables are laid out for card games, scrabble,and children's board games.
A partial view. This is where numerous Heads of State have been entertained. And yet there is an informal aspect - tables are laid out for card games, scrabble,and children's board games. | Source

Access to the Royal Yacht Britannia

Access is via the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. Each deck is boarded by a shore to ship gangway (as seen on the photograph above) which is reached either by the lift or stairs.

The yacht is open to the public on 363 days of the year. But be warned—it can be wet and very cold in Edinburgh during the winter months and you will inevitably spend some time out of doors—so dress for the weather. In late October, when we visited, the rain held off, and the tourist crowds had diminished, so we were able to tour the yacht at a leisurely pace and a quiet time. The politeness, cheerfulness, and courtesy of the staff was outstanding; they are very evidently aware that this is a special occasion for most visitors and do their utmost to enhance the experience. Those stationed on the main deck made an unsolicited offer to take our photographs for us and the staff in the on-board restaurant treated customers as Royal guests.

The Grand Piano on the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Grand piano, bolted to the floor in case of storms, was played by both Princess Margaret and Noel Coward
The Grand piano, bolted to the floor in case of storms, was played by both Princess Margaret and Noel Coward | Source

The State Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia

State Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia
State Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia | Source

The Officer's Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Officers Dining Table on The Royal Yacht Britannia
The Officers Dining Table on The Royal Yacht Britannia | Source

H.M. Queen Elizabeth's Bedroom on the Royal Yacht

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The Operating Theatre on the Royal Yacht Britannia

The operating theatre on the Royal Yacht Britannia
The operating theatre on the Royal Yacht Britannia | Source

Tour Times for the Royal Yacht Britannia

6 admission times
First Admission
Last Admission
Jan, Feb, March, Nov, Dec
10.00am
3.30pm
April, May, June, July, Aug, Sept
9.30am
4.30pm
October
9.30am
4.00pm

Eating Out in Edinburgh

As in any cosmopolitan city, the choice of restaurants is immense and eating and drinking were an important part of our weekend. After the family had met up at the apartment that we had rented for the weekend we spent Thursday evening strolling and then ate Tutti Frutti di Mare at an Italian restaurant. Friday evening found us eating very generous portions of delicious mezes and mains in a Middle Eastern restaurant ( a first for me). A special celebratory lunch at a restaurant with a distinctly French flavour followed drinks at the Black Bull on Saturday.

Black Bull on Grassmarket in Edinburgh Old Town

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Shopping in Grassmarket

There are a number of small specialist and upmarket clothes shops on Grassmarket which we were unable to resist visiting before what turned out to be a long uphill walk in search of our lunch venue.

Grassmarket in Edinburgh

Lots of upmarket shops for shopaholics
Lots of upmarket shops for shopaholics | Source

A Restaurant With a View of Edinburgh Castle

Our celebratory lunch at the Outsider Restaurant, where we had requested a table overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Fabulous food (I had a fish stew) and wine. The extensive and quirkily descriptive and amusing wine list is a talking point at this restaurant. On leaving the restaurant we passed queues of Japanese tourists waiting for admittance to the Elephant House Coffee Shop—the place where J K Rowling did much of her early writing.

One of the Many Excellent Restaurants in Edinburgh

Pre-booking is advisable at this very popular restaurant. Ask for a window table with a view of Edinburgh Castle.
Pre-booking is advisable at this very popular restaurant. Ask for a window table with a view of Edinburgh Castle. | Source

Interview With J K Rowling in The Elephant House, Edinburgh

show route and directions
A markerUsher Hall Edinburgh -
Lothian Rd, Edinburgh EH1 2EA, UK
get directions

Concert Venue

B markerGrassmarket Edinburgh -
Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JU, UK
get directions

Bars, cafes, upmarket shops, interesting architecture

C markerOutsider Restaurant Edinburgh -
George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EE, UK
get directions

D markerJazz Bar Edinburgh -
1A Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1HR, UK
get directions

E markerOld Town Edinburgh -
Edinburgh Old Town, Edinburgh EH1, UK
get directions

F markerThe Elephant House Edinburgh -
21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN, UK
get directions

Where J K Rowling wrote early Harry Potter chapters and where other famous writers enjoyed a cup of coffee

Edinburgh Jazz Bar

The Edinburgh Jazz Bar is deep in a cellar close to the old town. It hosts first rate musicians in an intimate area with a relaxed ambience. We visited in the afternoon and managed to get a table—it's heaving in the evenings.

Edinburgh Jazz Bar

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The Architecture on George Street

On Sunday morning we visited the shops on George Street (even if you don't plan to buy it's worth it just to see the architecture on the inside of the buildings) and then managed to fit in a visit to the National Gallery of Scotland to see an exhibition of art by the Scottish artist Arthur Melville before the journey home.

The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh

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Spend an hour strolling around this peaceful setting and you’ll find masterpieces from Raphael, Velázquez and Vermeer to Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh. For a nation of Scotland’s size, the collection is rightfully regarded as one of the very best in the world.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

  • Don't store your luggage in the Left Luggage office at the train station. It costs £6 per bag for up to 3 hours. £10 per bag for 3 -24 hours. Very expensive, but the train stations now use similar security checks to airports
  • Tourist attractions have cheaper storage facilities, but the lockers are not large enough for anything bigger than carry-on luggage cases.
  • Familiarise yourself with the bus routes and then use the hop-on-hop-off bus to travel around the city. A bus ticket is £4 for as many journeys as you care to make in a day – but a ticket for a single journey is £1.50.
  • If you plan to travel by train within the UK try to book your tickets twelve weeks in advance - they will be considerably cheaper than a last-minute purchase. Sign up to emails from Virgin Trains, which operates the East Coast line from London to Edinburgh if you would like to receive notification of deals. If the budget will stretch it's worth booking first class for a longish journey (around 4 hours London to Edinburgh) - more leg space, quieter; a meal, drinks, and newspapers included.
  • Compare the price of a train ticket with the price and convenience of a flight. My sister flew from Bristol for £47, which was considerably cheaper than my train ticket!
  • Pack comfortable walking shoes

© 2016 GlenR

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  • Glenis Rix profile image
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    GlenR 4 months ago from UK

    Claire-Louise. I imagine Bristol is your closest airport. My sister flew to Edinburgh for £47! It cost me twice as much for a train ticket on the East coast line - and for a much shorter journey. Keep collecting the freebies and coupons and you will soon save enough to visit! Cheap to stay in a StayCity apartment, especially if three split the cost.

  • Claire-louise profile image

    Claire Raymond 4 months ago from UK

    Some beautiful pictures, it is a stunning place!

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 21 months ago from The Caribbean

    Glenis, isn't this a great example of how to retire gracefully--showing our assets instead of our age? Thanks for the tour. Beautifully written with good pictures.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 22 months ago from SW England

    Great photos, Glenis! I've never visited this and rarely go to Scotland. I know it's a beautiful country but it's cold! A cousin used to live in Aberdeen and we stopped in Edinburgh on the way but I don't think this was there then. Next time I'm in Edinburgh I'll go to see it.

    How the other half live, eh?!

    Ann

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