Perched high up on an ex-volcano (here’s hoping!) is Edinburgh’s second prime tourist attraction. With wonderful views over the city and the surrounding countryside as far as the Pentland Hills in the south and the Lomond Hills in the north, it is rather windy. Step inside to visit sparkling jewels and powerful weapons. Make sure you are nowhere near at 1pm unless you have your earplugs in – that is when they fire the enormous canon. Tip: book online to get a small reduction.
Set amongst spectacular grounds and with a peaceful Japanese Zen Garden, Lauriston Castle is on the banks of the Firth of Forth. There are daily tours to show off the sumptuous Edwardian interiors, and special events at Easter and Christmas. With free entry to the grounds, and castle admission being relatively cheap compared to Edinburgh Castle (adult £8, concession £6 (under 5 free)), it is worth taking the bus there and enjoying this elegant landmark. Tip: it is occasionally closed for functions so check before you travel.
This ruined castle was once a place where Mary Queen of Scots was sequestered for her own safety. Set a little way outside the city centre, you will need to take a bus (number 49 from the Bridges or Leith Walk, with a 13 minute walk at the other end). There are events in the grounds such as Medieval archery between July and September. Free to Historic Scotland members and children under 5; otherwise £3.60 (5-15 years) / £6 (adults). Tip: there is nothing much else in the area, so take your own sandwiches.
Tantallon is a semi-ruined, 14th century fortress in a spectacular setting featured in the film ‘Under the Skin’ with Scarlett Johansson. Walk the battlements and admire the Bass Rock, an island nearby which is a haven for seabirds, including puffins (you can take a boat trip there from the Sea Bird Centre in North Berwick). The quickest way is to take the train from Waverley Station to North Berwick and then get the 120 bus (from Dunbar to Edinburgh) with a 4 minute walk when you get off. Otherwise, this castle is best visited if you have the use of a car (it is an easy hour’s drive eastwards -very close to the A198 main road). Tip: make it a day out and visit North Berwick for fish and chips in the fresh sea air.
The hall-house part of Aberdour Castle was built in stone in the 1100’s, and you will discover it alongside later architectural additions (including a gorgeously painted wooden-beamed ceiling), a walled garden, and gay terraces. Located in Easter Aberdour, a pretty village in the Kingdom of Fife, this is a half day-trip from Edinburgh taking 30 minutes by train from Waverley Station, costing approximately £6 (Scotrail) and crossing the Forth with a fine sight of the new road bridge.
Or if you fancy a smart seafood lunch in the Room with a View restaurant followed by a walk along Aberdour beach for your digestion, you can make a whole day of it. Tip: St Fillan’s Norman church is close by and also worth a visit.
Wondering what the best Scottish visitor attraction is? Apparently it is the Royal Yacht Britannia at Ocean terminal in Leith, Edinburgh.
Craigmillar Castle is at Craigmillar Castle Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4SY. 0131 661 4445.
Tantallon Castle Opening times 1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm.
1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm Last entry 3.30pm
It takes about an hour if you do not take photos, have a coffee, or stop to smell the flowers.
Then turn your back on the Firth of Forth (and the Kingdom of Fife across the water – see blog here) and take the road to your left, Granton Place for the first stage:
This short part of the walk will give you a glimpse of the Granton and Boswall residential areas and I am sure you will appreciate the number of green spaces and trees. At the end of Granton Place turn left. At the T junction turn right (small park ahead where people are sure to be playing with their dogs), and cross over so that you are next to its railings. Go round and up Boswall Drive on the right and past a small shop / post office on your left. (There are not many of these left in local places in the UK, so we are all very grateful to the family who keep it alive.) You will walk along this avenue of trees and houses, past another community pasture on your right, and Wardie Bowling Club, founded in 1930, opposite (Bowls: a peculiarly British pastime). Keep going up. If you are on a bicycle, you can go right at Boswall Avenue and join the cycle track at the end of the road on the left.
Otherwise, continue walking until you get to another T junction, this time with the busy main Ferry Road and turn left. Immediately think about crossing over because you will want to take Arboretum Road which is on the other side. However there is likely to be a lot of traffic and so you might prefer to walk along to the left until you get to the crossing at the top of Granton Road facing the church, and then walk back a little way.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and Inverleith Park
Now you will have the sports playing fields on your right (they might be playing cricket if it is a weekend) and you will start to head downhill, keeping straight, crossing a mini roundabout where you have a lovely choice: either walk through the hedge and into Inverleith Park:
Or on the left is the world famous Edinburgh Botanic Gardens where my kids and I spent many a happy day amongst the flowers, trees and sculptures come rain (there are extensive tropical glass houses) or shine.
This is a long road (it becomes Arboretum Place) but you can buy yourself a ice cream opposite the West Gate to the Gardens half way down to boost your energy levels.
Water of Leith
When you get to Inverleith Terrace on your left, cross over, and instead take Arboretum Avenue which is even more downhill because you are about to come to the Water of Leith, our city river (seen below, winter and Spring).
Quite soon take a hidden left turn (which if you carried on would take you past the lovely Glenogle Colonies (houses) to Cannonmills and Leith along the Water of Leith walkway). However, if you are carrying on into town to the Castle, take this opening but immediately afterwards open the gate on the right and go through to a tiny wooded path with the river on your left. At the end of the path is another gate (opposite the tennis courts) and you turn left out of there, walking on down to the end of that road where it joins Bridge Place (go left to the Colonies and the charming Glenogle swimming baths) veering right to come to the rather active Raeburn Place and Stockbridge.
Stockbridge is a lively part of Edinburgh: full of tasty cafe food (Patisserie Florentin, The Pantry, Soderberg); Saturday brunch (Hector’s); pubs (The Stockbridge Tap); excellent charity shops (Mary’s Living and Giving, the Oxfam book); and artisan gifts (Caoba, Sheila Fleet). Not to mention the famous Sunday Farmers Market. So here is a good location to stop, browse or sit and have a coffee.
So, you have now entered Raeburn Place between the two pubs mentioned above, and turned left past Sainsburys. Just over the bridge (past Pizza Express) on the left there are free public toilets (also not many of these now!) on Hamilton Place. At this junction / traffic lights on the right is an entrance onto the Water of Leith walkway which will take you to The Gallery of Modern Art (approximately 1 mile, 25 minutes) if you are so inclined.
But we are going uphill steeply now to the Edinburgh New Town, so walk through the shaded, sandy market place (to your left is NW Circus Place) and turn right onto Gloucester Lane into the…
Edinburgh New Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
This famous area of elegant Georgian houses stretches east-west on this north side of Princes Street and encompasses many delights.
Walk up Gloucester Lane and take the second on the right which is Doune Terrace. Faced with the garden, turn right onto Moray Place (below).
The road curves round and right onto Great Stuart Street, then left onto Ainslie Place (sounds complicated but it is not!). Now it is left again as you head up through a slightly busy traffic intersection between St Colme St and Glenfinlas Street. Go up Glenfinlas Street on the right there, and carry straight on by the side of Charlotte Square where there is a memorial of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, in the middle. Charlotte Square is the home of the annual Edinburgh Book Festival (11 – 27 August 2018) and the Georgian House owned by the National Trust for Scotland). If you are lost, ask for Charlotte Square as everyone knows where that is.
Keep straight, along Hope Street (Whighams Wine Cellar is on your left – you might need a glass of grape after all that climbing!), to the department store – House of Fraser and Cafe Nero – on the corner of:
Prince (not Princess) Street
where you will see – look upwards, slightly to the left and ahead of you –
Princes Street is our main shopping street with clothes, mobile phone, book and divers other shops on one side and, delightfully, Princes Street Gardens (I did tell you there were lots of ‘green spaces’ in this city!) on the right. It stretches all the way along and includes the National Gallery and the Scott Monument.
Do not go along to the right if you are still wanting the Castle. Rather, find your way right across this busy thoroughfare and go up Lothian Road (another landmark which everyone will know). Look right because you might just see a filmstar coming out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel! The Edinburgh International Film Festival is 20 June – 1 July 2018. On the left is the grand St John’s Episcopal church with St Cuthbert’s Church of Scotland behind it.
Going up Lothian Road, the first left comprises two streets: first, Kings Stables Road which takes you to the Grassmarket (a venue for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (13 – 22 July 2018) with cafes, pubs, and designer clothes shops as well as a backpackers hostel and urban garden); and immediately afterwards, Castle Terrace which takes you where you want to go, ie the Castle.
As you walk all the way up Castle Terrace, you will get magnificent sights of the Castle. Take the steps (if you are still fit) on the left when you are almost there, and you will come out onto the Castle Esplanade with amazing views of Edinburgh, beyond and all around. It costs £18.50 (£17 in advance if you book online) and is full of jewels and weapons. You can walk around for free. Enjoy!
If you want to return by bus, walk back down Castle Terrace, turn right onto Lothian Road, back to the House of Fraser department store which is at the top of Queensferry Street and on the left (beside the delicious pastries of Patisserie Maxime) you can take the #19 bus (£1.70 exact money) and get off at Granton Square where it is a short walk up Granton View on the right.
This blog has been written for my air bnb guests. If you have a smartphone, download the Granton View – Edinburgh Castle map before you start. Just in case you need extra directions.
More about the Grassmarket – the page takes a long time to load because of the many adverts, but there are also entertaining facts.
The church-like building on the right of the skyline is now the Edinburgh Festival ‘Hub’. Built between 1842 and 1845, as the Victoria Hall, to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the building was created by architects: James Gillespie Graham and Augustus Welby Pugin. Curiously the building was never consecrated as a Church. In 1929 the Church of Scotland ceased to use the building and it became a temporary home for a variety of congregations. It was named the Highland Tolbooth St John’s Church in 1956, before falling into disuse in the 1980s. (http://www.thehub-edinburgh.com/about-us/history/).
The snow on the hills of Fife, over the Firth of Forth, was visible to the naked eye in the far distance.
The impressive, neoclassical buildings of the National Galleries, built by William Henry Playfair in 1859 at the foot of the Mound.