Top five not-so-obvious things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city that simply must be explored. Not only is Edinburgh one of the most beautiful cities in the world but it is also one of the smallest making everything accessible, which means you can explore a lot of the city in a relatively short time.

Edinburgh has a host of world class attractions that everyone who comes to Edinburgh has heard about before they get here such the picturesque Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and the Scotch Whisky experience. Here are five alternative things to do when you make your trip to Edinburgh:

Climb Arthur’s Seat

Not many cities can claim to have an extinct volcano in the middle of their city centre. Well Edinburgh has two! One of which the Castle now sits upon. The other is Arthur’s Seat which is visible from all over the city hovering 280metres above Edinburgh.

It’s one of the seven hills of Edinburgh and offers many different walks. Without question the best views are to the west overlooking Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town and the New Town. On a good day, the Ochil Hills beyond the Forth Road Bridge and the Firth of Forth can be clearly seen. It can be climbed within an hour, no matter what your fitness level and once you have reached the summit there is no reason to head down in a rush.

Visit the Elephant House Cafe

Arguably the best coffee shop in Edinburgh. Here you will find maybe the best views of the Castle anywhere in Edinburgh. The name is due to the little effigies and images of elephants everywhere. Excellent coffee and pizza makes this place popular with students, locals and tourists alike.

The Elephant House is also well known as the location where J.K Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books during her time living in Edinburgh although I am told there aren’t any elephants in the Harry Potter books!

Take an Underground Tour

To view Edinburgh on a street map is nigh impossible. The best way to view it is on a pop-up map to try and make sense of it. In the 18th century many old buildings were demolished and new bridges were built to link the Old Town to the newly built New Town, but the buildings were built so close together that to the naked eye you would barely notice the bridges. Due to the Highland Clearances and Irish Potato famine the population of Edinburgh exploded in the 19th century.

Dark damp cellars and vaults previously used as storage space and drinking dens based in the South Bridge and Cowgate areas were given over to penniless Highlanders and Irish refugee’s who lived in conditions that we not fit for animals. Many hundreds of people were known to have died of disease or starvation before the vaults were closed in the late 19th century. However, Edinburgh’s ghoulish past did not start there. Like most of Europe, Edinburgh suffered from the great plague of 1645. To try to put a stop to it the authorities rounded up all known plague sufferers and placed them in Mary Kings Close just off the Royal Mile and walled it off from the rest of the City leaving the inhabitants to die a slow miserable death.

These vaults had been all but forgotten about until the late 1970’s when they were discovered by construction workers and Edinburgh council began offering tours of the vaults. Today there are several different companies who offer tours of the vaults, ranging from historically accurate tours to comedy ghost tours. You can now even visit Mary Kings Close which offers a fascinating insight into the daily life of Edinburgh in the 16th century.

Visit the Scottish Parliament

Scotland was finally awarded devolution in 1997 and a Spanish architect, Miralles was given the job to design our new parliament which is now based at the bottom of the Royal Mile at the foot of Arthur’s Seat.

Miralles believed that the building would be seen as a work of art and the envy of the world. However, the weird concrete construction with Ikea-like wood sticking out of it and oddly shaped windows left the locals initially scratching their heads and then banging them with anger when it turned out it would cost a mere £414 million after an original estimate of £50 million. The Main Hall, inside the public entrance has a low, tipped ceiling and has a very arty cave like feel to it. In it you will find exhibitions and historic information concerning Scotland. The magnificent Debating Chamber is the centre piece of the parliament, designed to let as much light in as possible which is meant to represent the light of democracy. There is a public gallery for those wishing to listen into the political debates. It is truly a magnificent building inside despite the dodgy exterior. Sadly Enric Miralles died a few months before the opening of the parliament so he never got to see his finished masterpiece. Is it worth £414 million? You can decide.

Have a cheap round of golf

If you are not a big golf fan or do not have the extraordinary amount of money it costs to play golf here, but want to have a little sample, Edinburgh has the solution for you. Situated off the beautiful meadows and next to the plush surroundings of Marchmount, ‘The Bruntsfield Links’ is the one of the oldest golf courses in the world founded in 1456.

It is a short golf course but has a full 18 holes that can be completed in well under ninety minutes depending on the size of your group. The golf course is actually free if you already have your own set of clubs and golf balls. The unofficial 19th hole: The Golf Tavern’ offers the hire of a clubs and golf balls, a meal and a drink all for 12 pounds. Make a day and quite possibly an evening of it!


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