If there is any single location in Scotland that combines all of the amazing elements and characteristics of the country, it would have to be Edinburgh. This is quite a large city, with nearly one million people living in the city and the surrounding areas, but it still manages to offer a wonderful mix of historic and modern heritage. Edinburgh is home to a surprising array of sights and experiences, from medieval castles to modern architecture, vibrant nightlife to majestic Gothic churches, and much more. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy on a holiday visit to Edinburgh.
The city itself covers a very large area, so it is divided into several districts which make finding your way around a bit easier. The most famous and popular medieval sites and structures are located in the Old Town district. These stretch along what is called the Royal Mile, a strip of the city extending from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle and dating back to the 16th century or earlier. St. Giles Cathedral, the Scottish Parliament, and the Royal Museum of Scotland are all well worth stopping to see and explore. Be prepared, though, that you may want to spend a fair amount of time in these wonderful places so plan your itinerary accordingly.
Another terrific aspect of the Royal Mile is the tremendous variety and selection of pubs, bars, and eateries on each side. They are great places to rest and relax between sightseeing activities and enjoy some of the very famous Edinburgh Ale. For even more variety of places to choose from, walk out a bit from the Royal Mile along on of the "closes" that branch off from the main stretch. There you will find even more wonderful pubs, bars, and eateries, many of which offer an even more authentic Scottish experience because they are a bit further away from the main tourist areas.
For the really adventurous types who are up for a good ghost story and don't mind covering some ground on foot, take a "ghost walk" tour of the Royal Mile and its surrounding back streets. The guides do a wonderful job of capturing the sometimes sinister past of Edinburgh, revealing locations, stories, myths, and legends that will entertain and astound you. If something more mainstream is to your liking, there are several other walking tours available, most of which are free. Keep in mind, though, that the tour guides themselves work for tips so be sure to offer an appropriate gratuity for their efforts.
When you're ready to relax a bit and rest up from your adventures in Old Town, head to The Meadows. This is a wonderful park area where there is plenty of grass, shade, and scenery to soak up as you give your feet (and your mind) a rest. Take a book along with you, or join in one of the generally plentiful pickup football games in the park.
Another interesting district in Edinburgh is Stockbridge and Canonmills. There you will find some of the most luxurious, large, and elegant homes in the city and surrounding area. It is somewhat of an exclusive neighbourhood and well worth a stroll or drive to enjoy the surroundings. When you're done looking at the fantastic houses, head for the Royal Botanic Garden, also located in Stockbridge and Canonmills. There you will find an extensive and breathtaking collection of plants laid out in fantastic gardens. Be sure to stop by the Rock Garden while you're there, and enjoy the amazing beech hedge that is over 100 years old and a sight worth seeing all on its own.
If a vibrant nightlife and great food are on the agenda, head to the Edinburgh / South district. There you will find a huge array of restaurants, cafes, clubs, bars, and pubs to sample and enjoy. This district tends to attract a lot of younger people, especially college students, so you can be sure it is a rollicking place to experience especially on the weekends. For the really adventurous, be sure to visit the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, home to one of the longest artificial ski slopes in all of Europe. You can rent all the equipment you need right there, but it is strongly suggested you wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and perhaps even gloves, to protect yourself in case of a fall onto the artificial matting.
There's more the Edinburgh/South district than parties and year round skiing, of course. It is also home to the very famous Rosslyn Chapel, long shrouded in stories and myths about the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. The chapel became even more popular when the book "Da Vinci Code" was released, and since then has been a major tourist attraction. Although it can get crowded during the peak season, it is well worth taking the time to visit thanks to the amazing stone carving throughout the chapel and the grounds.
For an even more memorable activity while in this district, reserve a spot at The Royal Observatory. There you can learn about and experience what it's like to use the very large telescope located there; you can even observe the sun during the daytime (using a special viewing telescope) or the stars at night if the weather is clear. Because it is an operational observatory currently involved in cutting edge research, you will have an opportunity to learn about the very latest in astronomy and science being done there.
Getting to Edinburgh is rather easy, both from North America and Europe, via Edinburgh International Airport. There are many direct flights to choose from, operated by major and well known international air carriers. Getting into the city from the airport is easy and convenient as well, using the Airlink Express dedicated airport bus or the regular Lothian Buses that also serve the public transportation needs of the rest of the city.
An increasingly popular way to get to Edinburgh, though, is by train. Waverley Railway Station is centrally located in the city and is also a major hub location for the entire Scottish railway system. There are plenty of trains available from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, London, and many other cities. While this is a slower option than airline travel, it is definitely more scenic and allows you to travel in a more relaxed way. Even if you don't choose to arrive by train, be sure to stop by Waverley Railway Station just to see the historic building and its elaborate decorative architecture.
Once you're in the city, the best way to get around seeing the sights is via bus transportation. The Lothian bus company is the largest in Edinburgh, offering a huge variety of routes that can quickly and easily get you to and from wherever you want to go. They also offer an economical all day ticket, allowing you to get on and off as many times as you like for one reasonable price. Another company, First, also offers bus service throughout Edinburgh but less frequently than Lothian.
If you want a guided bus tour, then there are plenty of offerings to choose from, most of which are based at Waverley Bridge next to Waverley station. These sightseeing bus tours follow several different routes through the city, and although they are more expensive than the regular bus system they do offer the advantage of helping you "get your bearings" around the city before setting off on your own.