Forgive us for the overly alliterative title of this post, but enchanting is just the perfect adjective to describe Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The city is brimming with street scenes and architecture that make you feel like you have been transported back in time or to a magical realm. It’s no wonder that most of the Harry Potter series was written here.
Here are the top 10 highlights from our visit to Edinburgh.
National Museum of Scotland
One could spend weeks in the National Museum of Scotland and not see everything. This museum is packed with wonderful exhibits on the history of the country, science, technology and nature. Our kids enjoyed the hands-on activities and many rooms have a section just for children.
With so many excellent exhibits to see it is surprising that the museum is FREE to enter (which is really nice since many of Edinburgh’s attractions can be quite expensive). There is a suggested donation to contribute if you can.
The museum has a cafe where we enjoyed some snacks and tea between visiting exhibits.
The only downside of the museum during our visit was that it was quite warm in several areas. We visited Edinburgh during a heat wave and there’s no AC in most museums!
Harry Potter Walking Tour
Edinburgh is the birthplace of the Harry Potter series so we decided to take advantage of one of many Potter-themed walking tours on offer. The tour we selected began near the Greyfriars Bobby statue. Many of the Potter tours (and other themed tours) are free to join (of course you should tip your guide at the end!).
Our knowledgeable guide Becky led us to some of the cafes where JK Rowling penned the novels and to other areas that inspired places and characters in the book.
At the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. The school on the other side of the fence inspired some of the aspects of Hogwarts.
The Edinburgh Castle is the one attraction that almost every visitor to Edinburgh goes to at least once, which is evidenced by the lines to get in and the lines inside to see the crown jewels.
One way to beat the entry line is to buy a Historic Scotland membership. Besides the benefit of skipping the line, we found that the 110 GBP annual membership saved us hundreds of pounds compared to paying entry fees at each site individually. The Edinburgh castle alone costs 72 GBP for a family of five, so any family visiting this and at least one other castle is likely to come out ahead with a membership.
Many of the guides to Edinburgh Castle recommended visiting the crown jewels first and we found this to be a good strategy. We don’t have any pics to share though since photography is prohibited.
Our best tips for the castle are get there early (a few minutes before opening time), buy a Historic Scotland membership beforehand, head straight to the crown jewels, then explore the rest of the exhibits and museums. Have a snack then get a spot along the wall near the chapel to watch the firing of the 1pm gun.
Camera Obscura (& World of Illusions)
After seeing some advertisements the kids really wanted to go see Camera Obscura. We adults were skeptical since the place screams tourist trap and the entry fees are not inexpensive (11.5 GBP for kids and 15.5 GBP for adults). Reassuringly, Camera Obscura does offer a money-back guarantee for anyone that feels like they did not get their money’s worth (after our visit we did not take them up on that offer).
Our visit started with a trip to the roof with excellent views of the city, then we went into a dark room to see the Camera Obscura (a Victorian-era display of a mirror on the roof that projects light onto a viewing table) in action. After the 15 minute demonstration we toured the rest of the exhibits.
Many of the exhibits featured optical illusions.
We particularly enjoyed the mirror maze. At the exit of the mirror maze is the “Vortex Tunnel” that made the Intrepid Dad a little motion sick. It didn’t seem to bother the kids, who went through again and again.
One can’t visit Edinburgh without strolling the Royal Mile at least once. The streets that make up the Royal Mile are lined with cathedrals, shops, and restaurants.
It is also interesting to explore the alleyways (called “closes”) that branch off from the street. Down the “Lady Stair’s Close” we found the Writer’s museum, focused on Scottish authors Robert Burns, Robert Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott.
We headed to Holyrood Park to stretch our legs and take in the views of Edinburgh from up high. Holyrood is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike to walk, hike, run and bike.
Another great place to see Edinburgh from up high is Calton Hill. There are several monuments on top of the hill, one of which is the National Monument that commemorates Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The monument was originally supposed to resemble the Parthenon but only one side was completed due to lack of funding.
We visited the Parliament building to see the interesting modern architecture and to learn about Scotland’s government. The building is free to visit and there are frequent guided talks about the building and the legislative process.
Summertime means beach days, even in Scotland 🙂 We found Portobello Beach to be a perfect spot to soak up some rays; it is only a few miles from central Edinburgh and has miles of sand.
Museum of Childhood
The Museum of Childhood has a collection of toys going back hundreds of years. The kids gained an appreciation for modern technology when they saw the toys available to kids a long time ago. We were also reminded that a room full of old dolls staring at you can’t help but feel a bit creepy. Maybe we have seen too many movies.
The museum is right on the Royal Mile and is free to visit (donations are appreciated).
In our next update we’ll catch a ferry across the north sea before making our way to the birthplace of the plastic brick! 🙂