We don’t often find ourselves with only one day to explore a new place. That’s the whole point of this full time travel thing: to be able to settle in a place a little longer, to explore a little more, to see and experience beyond a typical vacation or holiday.
But sometimes circumstances dictate our travel. In this case we found ourselves with a Sunday morning in northern England and the coming Tuesday evening on the western coast of Scotland with only that bit of free time between. Having never been to Edinburgh, we figured it’d be good for a quick exploration. It would be only one full day—Sunday would be mostly a travel day, as would Tuesday—but we figured it would be just enough to let us figure out if that was enough or if we should plan a return to the Scottish capital.
We fell in the second category. Edinburgh is a great city, perhaps one of our new favorites. We’re already considering a swing back through when we start making our way home in the spring.
So what did we do with one day in Edinburgh? To be honest, we had a bit more than only Monday. We arrived early enough Sunday afternoon to walk about the city, find a great pub for dinner, and even see the National Museum of Scotland. Monday we hit our top two sites for Edinburgh, which is the subject of this blog. And Tuesday morning we managed to see Scotland’s St. Giles Cathedral. We can’t really underestimate the value of that extra time: the best way, really, to get the feel of a city is on foot with a touch of serendipity.
But if you find yourself in Edinburgh for only a day, there are two sites you shouldn’t miss.
Edinburgh Castle – the skyline of Edinburgh is dominated by a rocky hill called Castle Rock because, unsurprisingly, there’s a castle sitting on top of it (doh!). Climbing to the top of this rock would be worth it for the commanding views alone, but fortunately for us the Scots in the 12th century decided it was a fine spot to build a fortress. And much of that fortress—modified throughout the centuries—still stands.
Rainbow over Edinburgh Castle
Scottish Memorial at Edinburgh Castle
View of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle
Twilight view of Edinburgh Castle
Spring for the audio tour and ask the very well informed (and proudly Scottish) guides any question you can think of (of a Scottish nature, that is; I mean you can’t expect them to be experts on string theory and the deconstruction of ancient Tibetan literature, can you?) Don’t miss the Scottish crown jewels, recovered from a trunk hidden away for a century-plus in a church after the unification of the crown with England, and don’t miss the cathedral-like memorial to Scotsmen who’ve died in Britain’s wars.
HMY Britannia – no, “HMY” is not a typo. This is Her Majesty’s Yacht, the Britannia. This 412 foot megayacht was commissioned by the Queen in 1954 and served as the private floating palace for the royal family until it was decommissioned in 1997. Now it is a grand floating museum in Edinburgh’s port, perpetually maintained in its glory days when the Queen called it the only place she could truly relax. During her service as a floating palace and embassy, Britannia carried the royal family, British nobility and who’s who, and world politicians (including U.S. Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Clinton; Carter couldn’t come up with the boarding fee) more than a million miles, enough to circle the globe each year she was in service.
Normally we prefer ancient and medieval history to such sites, and we’re about as far from “royal mania” as Americans can be, but the HMY Britannia was well worth the visit, from the opulent state dining room (which you can now rent out for private and corporate functions, by the way) to the Queen’s stateroom, the crew’s quarters, and the engine room. We could have spent the entire day here. Honestly, if you have time to see only one thing in Edinburgh, we recommend the HMY Britannia.
Grand Staircase on HMY Britannia
State Dining Room on HMY Britannia
The Queen’s Stateroom; you’d expect something more…regal, but at least she didn’t have to sleep in a hammock.
The royal family, back in happier days when they got to use the HMY Britannia
Notes on pronouncing “Edinburgh” The Scottish capital is generally pronounced “ED-in-burr-uh” (emphasis on the “ED” syllable). The “hard G” sound is never, ever pronounced, yet there is a touch of guttural pronunciation behind the “burr”. Perfectionists will run the ED-in together so it’s more like ED’n, and the “uh” can lean toward an “ah” sound…but not too much. It takes repetitive practice, leading up to a faster and faster utterance of the word, so that “on the street” it sounds something like ED’n-brauh in two syllables. A quicker way to learn how to say it is to say something, anything really, with a mouth full of haggis.