Now for part 2, and a more in depth look at Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, and the 2nd largest in the country. This is our 2nd trip to the city, and our third trip came when we stopped off on the way to Aberdeen. There are many wonders to explore in the city so this post will cover the most famous of these.
Status: City of Edinburgh Council Area, City, Scotland
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Edinburgh Haymarket), Scotrail (Edinburgh Haymarket – North Queensferry), Scotrail (North Queensferry – Edinburgh Waverley), Virgin Trains (Edinburgh Waverley – Carlisle)
Eating & Sleeping: National Museum Cafe, Travelodge Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh House Hotel, Pizza Hut
Attractions: Greyfriars Bobby, Royal Mile, Heart of Midlothian, National Museum of Scotland, Holyrood Palace, Holyrood Abbey, Calton Hill, Calton Hill Monuments, Edinburgh Castle, Scottish Parliament Building, Princes Street, Edinburgh Trams, Prince Street Gardens, Sherlock Holmes Statue, Picardy Place, St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Zoo, St Mary’s Cathedral, St Marys Cathedral (Roman Catholic) etc
This post brings together our various trips to the Scottish Capital of Edinburgh, with the best pictures of the most amazing sections of the cities. So many cities look good at night, however Edinburgh tops the lot so some of the photographs here are night shots to show you how beautiful the city looks at all times of the day. Let’s start with a trip up Calton Hill, the seat of a selection of fantastic monuments and sweeping views across the city…
Working from the top of the gallery, you can see a number of buildings. The first is the Gothic Tower, once the Royal Observatory founded in 1776 by Thomas Short, a local Optician. Today it is a hotel with 8 rooms so if you fancy having one of the best views in the city this could be the hotel for you.
Next is the Dugald Stewart Monument, a monument to Dugald Stewart (1753 – 1828, the famous Scottish Philosopher) which was completed in 1831. In the centre, between the 9 Corinthian Columns is a stone Urn.
The next monument is the Nelson Monument, dedicated to Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson after his fantastic victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument was constructed over 8 years between 1807 and 1815. At the very top of the monument is a Time Ball, which was added in 1853 as a signal to shipping in the harbour at Leith, a suburb of the city.
The wide, rectangular columned building is the National Monument of Scotland, which was unfortunately never completed. Construction began in 1826, and it was intended to be a memorial to the Scottish Soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars. Funds had run out just three years into the project, and it was shelved in 1829, however it is still a well known building in the city.
Lastly, you can see two shots of the City Observatory, one of it on the right looking towards the Dugald Stewart Monument and one of the main portion of it with it’s domes. This was created in the 19th century as an alternative to the original observatory on the hill, after the Royal Observatory moved to Blackford Hill, also in the city. It opened in 1898, until the main refractor was dismantled in 1926, although the dome was kept and used as a lecture theatre. The council currently own the building although is is currently unusable.
In the next set of pictures you can see the beautiful sweeping views of Edinburgh City Centre you get from the top of the hill. There are two daytime shots with similar night time shots showing how amazing the city looks lit up at night, although you can make our more detail on some of the unlit buildings during the day. We stayed over in Edinburgh on the way to Aberdeen one night so we came up here when it went dark.
Also from the hill, I took this panoramic shot of the city centre, with the old Royal High School sat on the side of the hill. Built between 1826 and 1829, the building opened as the Royal High School. It was used as this until 1968 when the building became empty, and with a referendum on Scottish Devolution looming it was set to become the new Parliament Building, however the referendum was a no, so it wasn’t until a later referendum that Devolution was granted, and a new Parliament Building was constructed, which I will show you later. The building is now offices for the City Council, and it may soon become a Hotel and Art Gallery.
The building is still a beautiful construction and easily visible throughout the city, and it stands out as one of the grandest in the city.
Moving into the city, you will come across the staggering beautiful Balmoral Hotel, constructed as the North British Hotel in 1902 as the station hotel, as Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, the main station in the city, is situated directly behind it. It contains over 188 rooms over a number of floors, and was given it’s current name in the 1980’s as a sign of Scottishness. The tower stands 190 feet tall, and as you look out over the city from any vantage points it is one of the most easily recognisable landmarks.
The clock is actually 2 minutes fast, so anyone running for their train by going off the clock has an extra 2 minutes to make it. It was, and still is, very popular with travellers arriving by train and station hotels are always very convenient. J. K. Rowling completed the last Harry Potter book in one of the rooms in 2007, and this is now the J. K. Rowling suite, the most expensive in the hotel.
The next route I want to show you is the Royal Mile, which is a series of streets leading from Holyrood Palace at the bottom (shown above) up to Edinburgh Castle at the top. The name suggests it’s a mile, however it is a Scots mile which is longer than the English Mile, although it hasn’t been used since 1824. It totalled around 1.12 English miles.
Let’s start at the bottom, at the famous Palace of Holyrood House, the official residence of the British Monarch in Scotland. The ruins of Holyrood Abbey adjoin the building, founded in 1128 by David I of Scotland (1084 – 1153). The palace was built in the early 16th Century by James IV (1473 – 1513) who was also the last British King to be killed in Battle (Flodden Field in Northumberland between England and Scotland). His successor James V (1512 – 1542) made a few additions to the palace including the North Tower.
The Abbey was destroyed in 1570, and the Palace Burnt during a siege of Edinburgh in 1544, although the Palace was soon repaired. Mary Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) stayed in the Palace between 1561 and 1567, and James VI (1566 – 1625) moved into the building in 1579. Many additions this historic building have been made over the years, as a result of various attacks including one by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. When England and Scotland became the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 the building fell into disuse, and the last royal user at this point was George II (1683 – 1760). It wasn’t until 1822 when a British Monarch next used the Palace, when King George VI (1762 – 1830) arrived on a visit to Scotland. He ordered that the Palace be restored for future use, and Queen Victoria (1819 – 1902) would come to stay in the building in 1871, followed by Edward VII (1841 – 1910) in 1903 and George V (1865 – 1936) in 1911, who had central heating and electricity installed before he visited, the building becoming a true modern palace. Today Elizabeth II uses the building for one week every year, around the beginning of Summer. You can still visit the Apartments of Mary Queen of Scots which have been kept in their original condition, and other main areas of the Palace is also open to visitors.
Moving away from the Palace, the new Scottish Parliament Building is located directly across the road, which opened in 2004 after 5 years of construction. The referendum held in 1997 to create a devolved Scottish Parliament received a yes, and the building was started 2 years later. It has a delightfully modern feel about it, and for the first time in 3 hundred years the Scottish Government met to discuss the future of Scotland. Queen Elizabeth travelled up to Edinburgh to open the premises on October 9th, 2004.
You will pass many fantastic old stone buildings on the Royal Mile, and moving back up into the centre of the city, the most amazing of these has to be St Giles Cathedral, rising up on the hill.
The type of buildings you can see on both the left and the right run all through the streets in this section of Edinburgh. Calton Hill and the Balmoral Hotel are all located in the New Town (18th century) section of Edinburgh, separated from this area, the Old Town, by the train lines. The two areas together form a World UNESCO Heritage Site. The oldest areas of the Old Town date back to at least the 14th century.
Just down from the position this picture was taken from is the junction with the A7 which runs over the North Bridge from the station, and if you follow it you can explore more of the historic buildings in this part of the city. Everywhere you go there is something to see, so make sure you have a few days to see everything in Edinburgh.
On the way up to St Giles you will pass the entrance to the City Chambers, which houses the City Council. It was built as the Royal Exchange between 1753 and 1761, and opened in 1760. It was never very popular however, as the cities old Mercat Cross stands opposite the building on the Royal Mile itself, so it was a lot easier for merchants just to meet here. By 1811 the council had bought part of the building, and in 1893 they bought the rest, and converted it into office space.
Outside the building in the courtyard is a sculptor called “Alexander & Bucephalus” by John Steell (1804 – 1891, Scottish Sculptor). Alexander refers to the figure, Alexander II of Macedon (365 BC – 323 BC, King of Macedonia) and his horse, Bucephalus (355 BC – 326 BC). The sculpture was erected in 1883 in Bronze.
As you approach St Giles itself, the sheer scale of the building hits you. It’s even more impressive that it is built on the side of a slope, unusual for such grand buildings.
Inside are four central pillars, believed to be from 1124. A fire in 1385 caused most of the rest of the building to be rebuilt, and a lot of the interior furnishings date from here. The beautiful tower with it’s crown spire was added in 1490, and was the basis for many other buildings in Scotland including St Nicholas’s Church in Perth.
In 1829 the building was restored after the demolition of the surrounding ones, which exposed some of the exterior walls properly. Then, between 1872 and 1883 Sir William Chambers (1800 – 1883, Scottish Publisher and Lord Provost of Edinburgh, sort of Mayor) put money towards a full restoration of St Giles. Only four cities in Scotland have a proper Lord Provost, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee, the four largest. The Edinburgh Lord Provost dates back to 1667 when Charles II created it, equal in rank to the Lord Mayor of London.
St Giles is truly beautiful and its odd that we still haven’t had chance to look inside but we are certainly hoping too on our next visit. Standing outside the far end of St Giles is a monument, atop which stands the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, Walter Francis Scott (1806 – 1884, British Politician).
There is one other famous Edinburgh Landmark located outside St Giles, between the main doors and the Duke of Buccleuch Memorial. It is the above Heart of Midlothian, that marks the position of the 15th-Century Tolbooth which was demolished in 1817.
It is named after Midlothian, the historic county that once covered Edinburgh, and still exists today albeit in a smaller form. A local tradition is for visitors to spit on the heart, as the Tolbooth was the old prison where executions took place. It was also where prisoners were released and it is thought they started spitting here to show disdain for the prison. It is also supposed to bring you luck, but we didn’t try it.
At the next main road on the Royal Mile, we veered left, towards one of Edinburgh’s quaintest monuments, the Grey Friars Bobby. The story goes that Bobby watched over the grave of his owner, Policeman John Gray, for 14 years until his own death in 1872. The bobbys grave is located not far from his owners, in Greyfriars Kirkyard a few streets away from here. The statue of him was created in 1872 by William Brodie (1815 – 1881, Scottish Sculptor) and it happens to be the smallest listed building in the city. It was built as a fountain originally but the water was turned off in 1975.
Find out more about the legend in Gemma’s post here.
Just past the Greyfriars Bobby is the National Museum of Scotland, completed in 1861. This building is genuinely full of wonder, and we stopped for lunch in the museum cafe. The original version of the building was designed by the same man who came up with the Albert Hall in London, Captain Francis Fowke (1823 – 1865) and many extensions have been made since, such as in the 1930’s. In 1998 the Museum of Scotland opened, and it is linked to the Royal Museum Building which is the original part.
The whole museum was renovated in 2011 and looks fantastic for it. There are a number of halls, from animals from all over the world, to a space exhibit and art installations.
You can see a selection of the exhibits above, and we must have spent a few hours going through the collections, and we found the animals particular fascinating.
Moving back to the Royal Mile, you can continue upwards towards the Castle, passing the fantastic structure that is known as the Hub, at the very top of the Royal Mile just before you arrive at the Castle. The spire is also the highest point in the city.
The building was built between 1842 and 1845, as Parish Church and Assembly Hall. The Church of Scotland met here until 1929. The Church of Scotland joined with the United Free Church of Scotland so now the building is used by the resulting United Free Church. The building was used by the church until 1979, when the congregation joined with Greyfriars Kirk, so in 1999 it reopened as the Hub, a focal point for Festivals in Edinburgh. It can hold at least 400 people, and it regularly holds concerts.
Eventually you will arrive at the summit, where the towering figure of Edinburgh Castle gazes out of the Scottish Capital. The history of the Castle covers hundreds of years and many many battles, so I will condense it and include a few of the main dates.
There is evidence of a fortified structure here since the time of King David I in the 12th Century. Some of the current buildings survived from this time, including St Margaret’s Chapel, supposedly the oldest building in the whole city. The Castle was badly damaged in the 1300’s and David II rebuilt it, to be used as his seat of Government within Scotland, after the treaty with England. He passed away before repairs were completed so Robert II (1316 – 1390) finished the job in the 1370’s. Subsequently the Castle survived various attacks by the English, including in the 15th Century when the English King Henry IV (1367 – 1413) invaded Scotland.
After the Union of the Crowns between England and Scotland in 1603 the monarchy moved to London so the Castle’s important was diminished, and by the 17th century it was only a barracks for the Scottish Army. A garrison was in place until 1923, and the Castle had been used as a prison During World War I, and again in World War II when Luftwaffe Pilots were held there. Today is in the care of Historic Scotland is open to the public, and is the most visited paid attraction in the whole of Scotland. It also houses the Scottish National War Memorial and the Royal Scots Regimental Museum.
Every year the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held at the Castle with a series of performances by Military Squads and Military Bands from all over the Commonwealth. The views back over Edinburgh are amazing and it dominates the skyline from the rest of the city.
We left the Royal Mile eventually and made our way back towards the New Town, via the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. It is used by the Assembly of the Church of Scotland for meetings. When the Free Church of Scotland emerged in 1843, a new building was required and William Henry Playfair (1790 – 1857) designed a series of buildings. This particular part of the complex was actually designed by David Bryce (1803 – 1876) who also designed the Surgical Hospital in the city that was built in 1853. When I mentioned before about the churches uniting, the building was then used by the new United Church of Scotland. They left the building in 1934 and it became the New College Library. Later, between 1999 and 2004 the Scottish Parliament met here until the new dedicated Parliament Building was completed and today the Assembly Hall is used for conferences and performances, along with the General Assembly of the church meeting every May.
When we first visited in 2012, there was a set of giant Olympic Rings stood outside the building, representing the London 2012 Olympics. Similar sets were in place in Newcastle, London and many other locations around the UK. They have since been taken down.
The General Assembly overlooks the Scottish National Gallery, sat far below at street level. The train lines in and out of Edinburgh from the North run underneath the gallery through a tunnel and then out of Edinburgh through the area known as Haymarket.
Also designed by William Henry Playfair it opened in 1859, and houses a large collection of Scottish Art, as well as Art from all over the world. Prince Albert himself laid the foundation stone in 1850. It is part of Princes Street Gardens, which run up Princes Street, the main street between here and Edinburgh Waverley Station.
From the Gallery you get a fantastic view over the train lines, towards the Balmoral Hotel. On the left stands in the imposing spire of the Scott Monument, dedicated to the Scottish Author, Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832). A marble statue of Scott sits in the centre of the monument, between the 4 support pillars. Construction started in 1841 and took 4 years, until completion in 1844. IT stands a full 200 feet tall, and you can climb the 287 steps to the top to get a view over the city, and even claim a certificate.
On Princes Street itself, especially when it gets dark, you can see the many beautiful buildings in the Old Town lit up, including the Edinburgh branch of the Bank of Scotland that really stands out, all lit up in glowing colours.
Princes Street was laid out in 1770 when construction on the new town of Edinburgh was started. Originally to be named St Giles Street after St Giles, who was also the Patron Saint of Edinburgh, but King George III (1738 – 1820) rejected the name and instead had it named after his two sons, both princes.
The street was recently dug up to allow the Tram Tracks for the new Edinburgh Tramway being installed in the city. It will run from Edinburgh Airport, through the city to Princes Street and then through the far side of the city. Depending on how many people use the service, the line could be extended. At the moment there are 16 stations on the 8.7 mile route, although it isn’t due to open until May 2014.
Going to the small square outside the Balmoral Hotel, you get a view back at the Old Town. Between the New and Old Towns, you can see the very extensive glass canopy roof of Waverley Station, which recently has it’s roof replaced. You can see the interior lights of the station, the Bank of Scotland and the Castle at the back, and I think this one of the best views I have seen, along with the Edinburgh City overall view from the top of Calton Hill at night.
There are two other Cathedrals in the city, both named St Mary’s, one Roman Catholic (from 1814) and one Episcopal (from the 19th Century). When we walked past St Mary’s we noticed a statue of Sherlock Holmes located across form it. This area is known as Picardy Place, and number 11 Picardy Place is the house where noted author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) was born. He went on to right the Sherlock Holmes novels, one of the most popular detectives in history, hence the statue commemorating this.
Sadly the actual house was demolished in 1970, otherwise it would probably be a museum by now.
There is so much to see in Edinburgh, including the Zoo which opened in 1913, and houses the only Giant Panda’s and Koala’s in the UK. It is home to 1075 animals across 171 species and is the second most visited paid attraction in Scotland.
Other attractions include Museum of Childhood, the People’s Story Museum and the Writer’s Museum around the City. The port of Leith, although part of Edinburgh, is a distinct district within the city and is the main port of Edinburgh. It is a popular tourist destination and there are various churches and docks you can visit, looking out into the Firth of Forth and the North Sea.
Edinburgh is served by two main railway stations. The first of these is Edinburgh Waverley which opened sometime after 1868, after the three original stations were demolished and one new station built in their place. Two bridges cross the stations and tracks from the New Town to the Old Town, being the North Bridge next to the Waverley Hotel, a three span iron bridge form 1897, and the Waverley Bridge further down. Both are accessible to both cars and pedestrians. Waverley is the 2nd busiest station in Scotland, after Glasgow Central, with Glasgow Queen Street coming in 3rd. It also has an amazing 18 platforms. It is bathed in natural light inside, due to the amazing glass canopy. This whole area was once a large loch, but it was drained in 1820 and Princes Street Gardens were built alongside the station.
The second is Haymarket, which opened in 1842. It is the 4th busiest station in Scotland and a lot of trains from Edinburgh heading North into Scotland call here and it is a busy interchange station.
Travel into Edinburgh is quite easy from the rest of the UK with direct trains to Glasgow, Perth, Dundee, Stirling, Aberdeen and Inverness, the other 6 Scottish Cities. Trains also run along the coast to Dunbar, and to Dunfermline and Fife. You can get almost anywhere on the Scottish Rail Network from Edinburgh, with Aberdeenshire and the Highlands being quite local, and other trains crossing the country through Glasgow to the West Highlands. The East Coast Main Line runs from Edinburgh to London (with occasional extension services to Aberdeen via Dundee) giving direct access to London, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Durham, York, Peterborough and others. The West Coast Main Line also runs to London, but down the West Coast of England through Carlisle, Lancaster, Preston, Birmingham and Coventry then on to London. Cross Country services also run from Edinburgh all the way to the South of England, and the city of Plymouth in Devon, via other main cities including Leeds, Sheffield, Derby, Wakefield and many more.
Edinburgh Airport is the busiest airport in Scotland and handles both internal UK flights and International ones. The tram system will link the Airport with Haymarket station when it opens. The bus system around Edinburgh and into the Lothian counties, East, West and Mid, is quite extensive.
Edinburgh is truly a magnificent city, and the one outside of our respective home counties that have visited as a tourist destination the most. Four trips later, there is still more for us to discover and we look forwards to it. The unique Scottish charm is present in every building and if you only get chance to visit one place in Scotland, then make it Edinburgh, as it must be the most beautiful old city in the British Isles. I think that as long as I can travel, I will visit Edinburgh as often as I can, and it is certainly one of my favourite world cities. I hope this post has inspired you to visit, so see what other treasures you find in the beautiful Scottish Capital City.