Edinburgh, Scotland is probably the best example I have to use as a way to see everything, including the fun touristy things. Obviously Edinburgh Castle is a must. It’s there, it’s big, it’s a castle, it’s historic and, it’s not *really* a typical tourist trap.
Then there’s Mary King’s Close. A well-preserved part of Edinburgh’s past with the original street and homes that were long built on top of but… it’s also supposedly haunted. So that kills two birds with one ticket! Greyfriars Cemetery is another must stop. It’s old, it’s creepy, it’s also supposedly haunted and it is a photographers dream… not to mention if you walk down the right street you can also pass the building where it’s rumored J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book – which is a must for any Harry Potter fan.(Above: Covenanters’s Prison. Now closed to the public) I was fortunate that on the day I was at Covenanters’ Prison there was a ceremony starting to which they invited me in to watch.
Other ‘must see’ places within Edinburgh itself include St. Giles Cathedral – I actually spent five hours photographing in there one time! Another, and this is an odd one and by no means based solely on my love of coffee but the Starbucks at 128 Princes St – it has one of the most amazing views of Edinburgh Castle! However, for convenience, there is also a Starbucks along the Royal Mile for that much-needed refill as you explore the more historic side of Edinburgh. I am sure there are plenty more tourist sites to see in Edinburgh that I’ve missed (Holyrood being one of them – it’s still on my list).
I don’t know about anyone else but whenever I travel I have to rent a car! I cannot stand not being able to get where I want when I want. Obviously going from the US to the UK, driving can be a tad tricky with that whole left side of the road thing so for the more daring, rent a car! There are so many things to see within driving distance of Edinburgh or, better yet, plan a route that takes you in a loop and stay at any of the many bed and breakfasts or even some of the hostels (the one in Inverness is a castle and, again, supposedly haunted).
For anyone who is interested in the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the paranormal, Angels and Demons or history, Rosslyn Chapel is an absolute! Located just south of Edinburgh in Midlothian, it is a tiny chapel with a lot of history and a lot of mystery. Built in the mid 15th Century, it was rumored to have been the hiding place of the Holy Grail, a vortex to the ‘other side’ and a theory states that many of the designs and symbols located throughout the chapel are related to the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. Legends and rumors aside, it is well worth the visit for anyone. Be sure to take time and wander down a small path beside the chapel that goes along a cemetery. That path will lead you to the remains of Roslyn Castle (though don’t go too far, there is a private home now at the end of the drive).Once there, if you follow another path down the hill, you can walk around the exterior of the current home and see that it is built on top of the old castle.
A stop by Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans, is always a nice ‘hey look there’s the exit let’s stop’ stop. Do not, however, plan your day around it. It’s random remnants of an old wall. Well worth a quick stop to be able to say “been there, done that, got the pictures. There should be an exit somewhere near Roslyn.
Stirling is another great little stop. Easily done as a day trip (along with other things thrown in), be sure to stop at the Old Town Cemetery and Church of the Holy Rude just below Stirling Castle – one of the best kept secrets of Stirling. I have not yet made it to St. Andrews but I hear that is also a ‘must-see’ trip that can also be done as a day trip from Edinburgh or book a room and stay the night there.
For those who are interested in the more paranormal aspects of Scotland – I highly, highly recommend taking some of the evening ghost tours available most nights in Edinburgh. Take more than one! I took one that took me to Greyfriars and had access to Covenanters’ Prison the one night. The other night I took one that ended inside the Edinburgh Vaults. They all will walk you through the town and do a wonderful job of combining actual history with the legends and rumors and ghosts. And, for another day trip outside of Edinburgh, no ghostly visit would be complete without a visit to Glamis Castle, believed by some to be the most haunted place in Britain!
Overall, Scotland has it all. If you have the time, drive around. See the Highlands, see the Isles, see it all! Often in my travels I try not to repeat a visit to a place but there are two exceptions – Vancouver, B.C. and Scotland.
*All statements are based upon my own experiences and opinions.