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What to see and do in Edinburgh – a guide to notable attractions and landmarks

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Crammed with history and intriguing secrets, Edinburgh and its surrounds are a hilly playground for anyone interested in a dark past, royal regalia or a brisk country walk. From the heights of Edinburgh Castle to the hand-carved depths of Gilmerton Cove, the city satisfies or scares at every turn. Just don’t forget to immerse yourself properly with a good dram of the fiery stuff.

Paul McGlinchey

My Destination local expert on

Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

 

Clearly the city’s most iconic attraction, the towering stone walls of Edinburgh Castle adorn millions of Scottish postcards and are visible from much of the city. A stroll around this historic fortress is a must, offering not only an impressive vista over the city, but a scattering of treasures to discover such as the speckled Royal Palace, the ancient Stone of Destiny and the gloomy vaults with scrawlings from past prisoners of war. Visitors also listen out daily for the 1pm gun salute from the battlements.

 

Scotch Whisky Experience

 

No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a dram of fiery whisky. The Scotch Whisky Experience, based in the Old Town near the castle, takes you on a journey through the creation of authentic Scottish whisky. Connoisseur or not, visitors can try the sweet and smoky blends of malt, plus marvel at the expansive depths of their vault – housing the world’s largest collection of Scotch. You’ll leave feeling thoroughly educated on the special spirit, after witnessing its complete history and sampling a dram with the experts.

 

The Royal Mile

 

Five streets stretching the length of a Scots mile, this area of Edinburgh is famous for its cobbled alleys and endless terraces of sandstone store fronts. Part of the historic Old Town, the Royal Mile represents quintessential Edinburgh - don’t miss Mary King’s Close, the gothic St Giles’ Cathedral and some of the most interesting shops, restaurants and pubs in the city. The ancient trading square of Grassmarket is also nearby, now the perfect for spot for a pint below the castle walls.

 

Gilmerton Cove

 

A little-known yet fascinating attraction, Gilmerton Cove can be found in the sleepy suburbs of Edinburgh. Although the city is famous for its subterranean passageways, under the streets of Gilmerton lie a series of tunnels and chambers that harbor something altogether more mysterious. Hand-carved from soft sandstone, Gilmerton Cove has been associated with the Knights Templar, the Freemasons and the notorious ‘Hellfire Club’. Adorned with strange symbols, crude stone seating and a baptismal font, this has to be one of Edinburgh’s most intriguing discoveries.

 

Arthur’s Seat

 

Edinburgh is famously built on seven hills, and Arthur’s Seat is the highest, with its grassy knuckles looming 251 meters over the city below. Featuring the remains of a long extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat is a popular walking spot very close to the city center, and climbers are rewarded with magnificent views across Edinburgh from atop its peak. For another city vista, Calton Hill is a windswept option - and walkers can often experience the sight of the mysterious sea mist – the ‘haar’ – rolling in.

 

Rosslyn Chapel

 

Seven miles from the city center, the ancient Rosslyn Chapel perches on a hill above Roslin Glen. An ornate 15th century church, it found fame in 2003 in the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s epic novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Shrouded in centuries of mystery and intrigue, Rosslyn Chapel has connections to the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, as well as displaying intricate carvings and symbolism, dramatic gothic architecture and vibrant stained glass windows. Also look out for the friendly presence of the chapel cat.