Last updated: 03:53 PM ET, Sun August 14 2016

How To Spend A Summer Weekend in Edinburgh

Destination & Tourism | Michelle Rae Uy | August 09, 2016

How To Spend A Summer Weekend in Edinburgh

Photos by Michelle Rae Uy

An easy, four-and-a-half-hour train ride takes you from London’s King’s Cross Station to Scotland’s historic city of Edinburgh. It makes a quick visit to the captivating city very possible for wanderers who only have a weekend to spare.

The city is simply bubbling with things to see and do, however, from the Royal Mile’s most historic attractions to the city’s spookiest spots to the New Town’s retail shops. If not planned well, your family could easily get distracted with attractions that may not necessarily be worth your short time there. Here’s how you can spend your weekend in Edinburgh and make your visit worth your while.

Day 1: A Day Along the Royal Mile

One of the best things about Edinburgh’s Old Town is that it is essentially a collection of historical sites neatly crammed in one small area. This means that you can pack in and visit as many attractions as you can in a single day.

Not that you should. Take your time; it’s quality over quantity, after all. 

Start your day walking the Royal Mile, which starts at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and ends at Edinburgh Castle. Take it all in: the stunning medieval and classical architecture, the charming closes (alleyways) that stem out of this main thoroughfare, the bagpipe music, the shops selling shortbread cookies, cashmere scarves and tacky souvenirs, and even the kitschy sidewalk characters that make you feel like you’re on Hollywood Boulevard.

Once you’ve gotten the feel of the Royal Mile, it’s finally time to visit some of the sites. Start at Edinburgh Castle and spend a couple of hours there. The Great Hall, the Honours of Scotland and the Half Moon Battery are must-sees in this top tourist sight. Come early as it draws a flurry of tourists, and buy your tickets online so you won’t have to stand in line.

Next, head to Camera Obscura where it’s not just kids who are in for an amazing treat. While the attraction’s centerpiece is the 19th century device that allows visitors to see real-time moving vignettes of the city, the journey there is full of curious art and illusions as well as interactive exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours here.

After lunch and maybe scoops of delicious ice cream, pop in for a quick visit at St. Giles Cathedral whose grand gothic style will impress architecture enthusiasts. Photos are allowed, but make sure to obtain a photo pass before you snap away.

Across the street is the intriguing Real Mary King’s Close. The one-hour guided tour will take you through the buried remnants of Edinburgh’s most famous and once thriving close. Visit the now underground alleys, passageways and houses; and learn about the city’s unforgettable history and the fascinating (albeit hard) way of life in 17th-century Edinburgh.

If you have time to spare before sampling Scottish fares for dinner, which you most likely will, squeeze in some arts and culture. Head to the Scottish National Gallery. Its Victorian décor and impressive collection of European art are not to be missed.

READ MORE: Where to Drink Whisky in Edinburgh

Day 2: A Haunted Tour of Edinburgh

Perhaps the most fascinating things about Edinburgh are its dark and often spooky history and its intricate network of secret rooms and tunnels that have their own grim stories to tell. So you must spend most of your second day experiencing haunted Edinburgh.

Head first to Calton Hill for some fresh air and a bit of history. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great stop when exploring the city’s haunting history, what with the Old Calton Burial Ground located here and the hill being the location of the notorious Calton Jail. And it’s a terrific spot to start your day, as the hill affords epic panoramas of the city and its breathtaking skyline.

From Calton Hill, stop by the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It’s the official residence of the royal family while in Scotland, but it’s better known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots. The palace harbors a dark past. It was here where the Scotland queen’s second husband (and his Protestant co-conspirators) murdered her private secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her. Today, a plaque in the palace now marks the spot where he died.

Refuel for lunch and take a short break from the macabre. There’s plenty of time to do that later in the day. For a couple of hours, head to the New Town for some retail therapy. Along Princes Street, a quick walking distance from the Old Town, are shops like Topshop, New Look, Zara and bargain retailer Primark, as well as the Apple Store, Levi’s and Debenhams.

When you’ve had your fill and you’ve stowed away your shopping bags, spend your last evening in Edinburgh actually visiting its most haunted locales. Along the Royal Mile are several tour companies that offer ghost tours for an affordable price. Pick one—many of them visit the same spots­ anyway—and schedule an evening tour. These ghost tours will take you to the city’s spookiest spots like Greyfriars Kirkyard as well as underground rooms and tunnels where dark events have taken place and are said to have had ghostly apparitions. Beware: you might witness or experience strange things yourself. 

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