Edinburgh is the historical and cultural heart of Scotland. We’ll explore the city’s castle, peek at the new parliament, dabble in the local literature, sip a little Scotch, get wrapped up in a kilt, and then stow away on Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia.
For lots more information, check out our best-selling Rick Steves’ Great Britain guidebook — or join us on one of our free spirited Britain or Scotland Tours.
New Bell Restaurant
The New Bell serves up filling modern Scottish fare from steak and salmon to haggis in a Victorian living-room setting above the lovable Old Bell Inn. Along with wonderfully presented meals, you’ll enjoy white tablecloths, oriental carpets on hardwood floors, and a relaxing spaciousness under open beams (233 Causewayside, tel. 0131/668-2868).
National Museum of Scotland
This huge museum has amassed more historic artifacts than everything I’ve seen in Scotland combined. It’s all wonderfully displayed with fine descriptions offering a best-anywhere hike through the history of Scotland. Start in the basement and work your way through the story: prehistoric, Roman, Viking, the “birth of Scotland,” Edinburgh’s witch-burning craze, clan massacres, all the way to life in the 20th century (2 long blocks south of Royal Mile from St. Giles Cathedral, Chambers Street, off George IV Bridge, tel. 0131/247-4422).
Writers’ Museum at Lady Stair’s House
This aristocrat’s house, built in 1622, is filled with well-described manuscripts and knickknacks of Scotland’s three greatest literary figures: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Edinburgh’s high society would gather in homes like this in the 1780s to hear the great poet Robby Burns read his work (tel. 0131/529-4901).
Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour
This two-hour walk is interesting even if you think Sir Walter Scott was an arctic explorer. You’ll follow the witty dialogue of two actors as they debate whether the great literature of Scotland was high art or the creative recreation of fun-loving louts fueled by a love of whisky. You’ll wander from the Grassmarket, over the Old Town to the New Town, with stops in three pubs. The tour meets at The Beehive pub on Grassmarket (call 0131/226-6665 to confirm).
Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop
The shop is not a tourist sight. It’s a firm, founded in 1842, that prides itself on bottling good malt whisky from kegs straight from the best distilleries, without all the compromises that come with profitable mass production (coloring with sugar to fit the expected look, watering down to lessen the alcohol tax, and so on). If you want to learn about whisky — and perhaps pick up a bottle — they love to talk (172 Canongate, tel. 0131/556-5864).
This much-revered vessel, which carted around Britain’s royal family for more than 40 years and 900 voyages before being retired in 1997, is permanently moored at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Mall in Edinburgh’s Port of Leith. It’s open to the public and worth the short bus or taxi ride from the center. Explore the museum, filled with engrossing royal-family-afloat history. Then, armed with your included audioguide, you’re welcome aboard to tour the ship (tel. 0131/555-5566).