Edinburgh’s Royal Mile; a Three Day City Break

You wouldn’t think three days is enough to explore a city, and you’d be right. It is, however, just enough time to explore the historical, cultural, and foodie treats offered by Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, a tourist hot-spot between the castle and Holyrood Palace. I flew from Gatwick for a Valentine’s break with my girlfriend, and packed most of it in with time to spare.

I felt a bit sad with pre-booked tickets for almost every attraction, but it helped organise our time, and saved on queues. We took the airbus to the centre on arrival and checked into a beautiful Georgian guest house a ten minute walk away, which made for a nice base.

We spent the night at Arcade Bar, where you can try Haggis, neeps and tatties nouveau cuisine style, a very Edinburgh dish. You can find an array of pubs and restaurants, but the highlights for us were Deacon Brodies Tavern, the quaint Saint Giles Café, and nearby Brew Dog.

Despite my well planned itinerary, I deviated to Regents Park on the first day to enjoy a great view of the city. There are several parks to see, one with an art gallery and open air theatre.

We made our way towards the start of the Arthur’s seat walk from Holyrood park, and stopped to take a picture of the palace. You can try and take a picture from the outside, unless, like me, you really want to get up close, and are willing to pay £12 or so to go inside for an audio tour. It seemed a lot for something I hadn’t planned on doing, but it was actually quite fun. The highlight for me was seeing the room used by Mary Queen of Scots where her private secretary was murdered. In summer the gardens are open, which I would’ve liked to see.

Arthur’s Seat is a must for anyone who likes a good walk. I’d printed a guide from the internet to take a different route, but there’s a clearly marked summit path to the top. You can walk a set of steps down to the bottom and take the flat volunteer path, or if you want more of a challenge, climb the Salisbury Crags and take the ridge to where you started.

The day ended with the Real Mary King’s Close, a tour named after a lady who once lived in the claustrophobic streets now buried under the mile. I expected a ghost walk, but it was more about the history and how people used to live, and the tour guides, dressed as different characters, really went out of their way to re-create the mood. Just bring a toy for the ghost of the little girl, or prepare to be haunted.

Day two was spent at Edinburgh Zoo, home of Britain’s only Giant Pandas, who you can see at pre-booked times throughout the day. It snowed as we took the safari bus to the top, but reduced walking time, and allowed us to shiver our way back down past the enclosures.

The Scotch Whisky Experience was more for me. There are several rates but each includes a barrel ride to give a little history and show how whisky is made. Our group gathered in a holding area with more facts before being led upstairs to a projection room with glasses at the ready. Our guide told us about the different styles before a tasting sample. I went with Ardbeg, a smokey Islay single-malt. You get a whisky tasting lesson, a chance to visit a large collection of vintage bottles, some dating back to the late 1800’s, and can even keep the glass.

Our final day took us to Edinburgh Castle, but it’s more museum than historic site. I liked the prisoner of war museum and its display of old prison doors still with markings carved by inmates. You can see the Scottish crown jewels, watch a living history demonstration, and the firing of the One O’clock gun, a method of time keeping in operation since 1861.

Edinburgh makes a great city-break as there is much to see and do, and focusing on an area at a time makes for easy exploration. I’d still like to see the West End, try a ghost walk, and a few other bars. I went over Valentine’s week and enjoyed its romantic charm, but whatever your reasons for visiting, you’re sure to find something you’ll like, and probably, like me, will look forward to going back.

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