(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Even if you wanted to avoid it, you can’t. Almost everywhere you happen to be in the town centre of Edinburgh, you will see it – like the sentinel of the city.
I’m talking about Edinburgh Castle and I am not suggesting that you skip this landmark. It’s well worth the visit. Of course, there is also the famous Royal Mile that ends up at the Palace of Holyrood House (Britain's Queen Elizabeth II’s residence when she’s in Scotland).
But there are many other spots that also deserve attention and time, which I managed to fit in on my tour. Here are five.
1. Up a hill
Calton Hill is one of Scotland’s capital’s Unesco World Heritage Sites. It offers great views of the city and, if the weather is good, a spectacular sunset. It is located at the end of Princess Street (the shopping street), which runs almost parallel to the Royal Mile, where the main railway terminus in the city – Waverley – is sandwiched between.
What’s that you see - the Acropolis of Athens? It’s supposed to be a replica and dubbed the National Monument, which was never finished after building began in 1822 (and is now called by another not-so-flattering name), but I like it as it is, as do the locals. You can also spot two observatories - the Old Observatory House, designed in 1792, and the City Observatory, built in 1818.
Then, there’s the Nelson‘s Monument in honour of the famous British hero and admiral of Trafalgar fame. But the one structure no one misses out when it comes to selfies because it also offers spectacular views of the city as a backdrop is the Dugald Stewart Monument, which is modelled on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.
2. The other hill
For even more spectacular views of the city and beyond, there is the 250.5m hill past Holyrood House and the Scottish Parliament. An extinct volcano, it offers a vigorous climb (about 150 minutes) and you have the option of scaling the peak, called Arthur’s Seat (supposedly because it might be one of the possible sites of the legendary Camelot). However, it does not offer much room, so you might be jostling for a space on the “seat”.
From the seat, you can also see a spur, which is a rough-looking series of cliffs called Salisbury Crags. My friend and I decided on this hike, as it was shorter, but also gave us a chance to look down the cliffs while soaking in the same views as observed from Arthur’s Seat.
3. Aye for whisky
It would be a pity if you do not drink whisky while in Scotland. If you do not have much time, I recommend The Scotch Whisky Experience at Castlehill.
There a few different tours, but the basic one would show you how whisky is made, its history and the types of whisky in Scotland. You also are taught to differentiate the types of whiskies. Then, it’s off to view the most extensive whisky collection in the world – there is even a chess set in which the pieces are filled with whisky.
4. Cruising royally
I managed to grab a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is permanently docked at Ocean Terminal. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II’s former floating residence (it has been decommissioned) gives you a rare insight into how the royals lived while travelling on the high seas.
It’s a self-tour of the five main decks, thanks to the complimentary audio handset. It is fascinating realising that space is a premium even on a royal yacht.
5. Royal floral
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, founded in 1670, is a well-tended and well-thought-out garden. It’s a garden that can be covered at a leisurely pace in less than half a day. Entry is free, but there is an admission fee for the Glasshouse.
The grounds are delightful and most of the plants and trees come with descriptions, although I wish the common names would also be included instead of only the scientific ones. The glasshouse was a surprise because for part of the exhibits, especially at the entrance, I was brought back home – beautiful and rare orchids.
There are two entrances - if you exit the right one, it leads you to the suburbs and to a river where you can take a delightful stroll along the riverbanks, which the city has labelled the Water of Leith walkway.