Road Trip Adventures 6: Edinburgh
This is the sixth post in our series of Adventure Ideas for European family road trips, brought to you in conjunction with Avis Car Hire. This time we’re exploring a little closer to home, across the border in Edinburgh. Personally I think it’s one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities that ever graced the planet. It has hills. It has history. It has haggis. It even has magical connections to Harry Potter. What more could you want?
The cultural pearl of Scotland
The problem with Edinburgh isn’t with finding things to do. It’s with fitting everything in. Especially if you visit in the summer, where students and international artists collide in a rainbow of art and culture that spans the entire city for almost a month. The Edinburgh International and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals are packed with countless shows, projects and installations for the whole family; from the breathtakingly daft to the simply breathtaking.
So much more than a creative city
But Edinburgh is so much more than this annual celebration of creativity. This city goes back a few years you see. Before your granddad even got his first teeth people were sipping on cullen skink in its restaurants, and strolling its winding passages and narrow streets. Edinburgh is an expert at dealing with visitors and it has hosted its fair share, from thrill seekers to holiday makers to royals. But it isn’t a chocolate box on display for people to dip into. It is a city where people live and work, drink and party, battle with the cold in winter, and the tourist influx on Princes Street in the summer.
This city has the bite of a haggis
Edinburgh has had its fair share of battles and struggles, both historically and socially over the centuries. To understand some of its past you should make visiting Edinburgh Castle a priority. Sitting high above the city on an extinct volcano, not only will a tour fill you in on the stories and the colour, it also offers spectacular views. If you are visiting in August, and are lucky enough to bag a ticket, you should also take in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo; a choreographed display of music and marching that lights up the night sky as dusk descends on the city.
Take a seat and enjoy the views
Another top view and not too far from the castle is Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. Read up on some of the King Arthur legends surrounding it before you head up the biggest of the Hollyrood Park hills. Take a picnic and chill as there’s lots to see from the top. Maybe take a waterproof too. Just in case. This is Scotland you know.
In my opinion the best way to really feel this city is to get lost in its streets and alleyways. (If you are visiting in the winter try a ghost tour; they’re both fun and educational.) The architecture of this city; a mix of medieval and Georgian, is right up there with best in the world. Leave the car behind and feel the cobbles beneath your feet. It’s hilly though, so wear comfortable shoes. Or hop on a bus down the Royal Mile and see some of the great buildings like the Palace of Hollyroodhouse; the Queens official Scottish residence. We once scooted our way around the city which was fun but maybe not for everyone.
Culture vultures take flight
Part of Edinburgh’s immediacy and vibrancy is its cultural offering and you shouldn’t tour the city without taking in some of its art. The Scottish National Gallery is a national treasure here, so don’t miss out on that. At festival time you can’t go an inch without tripping over a show, magic act or impromptu stand up act. From huge international spectaculars and operas to one man bands with a budget no bigger than your evening meal, there is something for every taste. But all year round, there’s something going on here. If you’ve teenagers you might want to come for the International Film Festival, held over two weeks in early summer. Off season, there are several arts centres that host events and shows, and a number of stand up comedy venues attract big names outside of the festival. Or you could see one of the national touring shows at the city’s theatres.
There are thousands of restaurants offering great quality food in Scotland’s capital city. Try a traditional Scottish Breakfast at your hotel to set you up for the day.
Wherever you eat, make sure you try the haggis, tatties and neeps; a delicious traditional dish. The soup, especially the aforementioned cullen skink (possibly the best fish soup in the world?) is also a must. And the big hotels on or near the Royal Mile are a delight for afternoon tea. We recommend The Balmoral. But don’t book dinner anywhere afterwards as you won’t fit it in!
If you visit at Christmas ask someone to point you to the Dome Bar on George Street. This impressive building used to be the Commercial Bank and its Christmas tree and decorations are as good as it gets anywhere. They do a mighty fine club sandwich at lunchtime too.
One thing you have to try when in Scotland is the whisky. Sample a few and when you’ve found your favourite, see if the distillery is nearby and ask them for a tour. Or visit the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh and be bamboozled by their selection of hundreds of different whiskies.
Edinburgh for kids
The kids will love Camera Obscura. Its 360 degree panorama rooftop telescopes provide great views of the Old and New towns and its optical illusions have been fooling tourists since 1853. Slightly out of town, Our Dynamic Earth is a science centre where your kids can wander through the rainforest and find out what processes shaped the earth. Or get in touch with the earth for real at the Royal Botanic Gardens which span 70 acres, just a mile outside the city centre.
For family fun at night, try a ceilihd. This burst of fun, flings and traditional tunes may be one of the best nights out you have ever had. Look for one that advertises itself as a family friendly event.
The car comes into its own
I said this was a road tour right? Well it’s time to go exploring. But make sure you don’t run over a haggis or a bagpipe on your journey out of the city.
You can start just down the road at Leith Docks with a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, which has been permanently moored in Ocean Terminal since 1977 when it retired from spiriting the Royal Family to foreign destinations. It was allegedly the one place The Queen could really relax. See if you feel the same! If it’s raining and you have time on your hands afterwards there’s a big cinema complex just nearby.
Or you can head off to the beach. Just three miles east of the city centre, Portobello has lots of opportunities for seaside fun, including sailing regattas and traditional sweet shops.
The other Scottish City
If you’ve made some effort to get to Scotland, then it’s worth a day trip to Glasgow. While it may not be the capital, it is the largest city in Scotland. You’ll be amazed at how two cities can be so different as Edinburgh’s quaint quirkiness gives way to the real and the steel of Glasgow. But don’t be fooled by the hard exterior of the city. In the centre of every Glaswegian is a heart of gold. Stop and chat to a local and see if you can get your head around the lingo.
Love the lochs
If you’re visiting for a week or so, you might like to make a journey north to see one of the beautiful lochs. It’s only a ninety minute drive from Edinburgh to Loch Lomond and the start of the Scottish Highlands. You can pop into Stirling Castle on the way. Or take a trip up to Loch Ness. You might see a monster in a beret. Make a nice change from a haggis. Or try some paddling in some of the magnificent lochs of the Trossachs.
Have you been to Edinburgh? Got an idea or suggestion for a place to eat or visit, something interesting to see or do? Why not share it with us as a comment.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to the support of Avis Car Hire. All the research, ideas and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.