A tour of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

By David Waters, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Edinburgh.

Overall rating:3.0 out of 5 (based on 2 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range

Let me show you the attractions in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, from the Castle at the top to Holyroodhouse at the bottom

Of course we had heard of the Royal Mile but, other than the Castle, we really did not know what to expect from our Edinburgh short break. Our trip was too late in the year for the Festival, The Fringe and the Tattoo, so would there be enough to do? The answer would be a resounding YES, and now we include Auld Reekie as one of our favourite places.

We like to organise our trips in advance and Edinburgh was to be no different, so we researched the internet and came up with a long list of attractions that we both fancied. We were also lucky enough to read about the Edinburgh Pass, a pass that allows you to see a number of attractions at a reduced rate, and it was those tickets that really made us plan our time wisely. A two day pass was £35 per person (www.edinburghpass.com).

As the Royal Mile is a hill, let’s start at the top and work our way down together looking at some of the attractions:

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk) is actually not included in the pass, but we felt was an obvious place to start. If your budget stretches, do get the audio guide, as there is much information and history to impart. The use of different voices and atmospheric music ensures that you will not get bored. We missed the historic one o’clock gun but thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the views. The tiny St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh and contrasts so well with the spectacular Great Hall with its amazing ceiling. We did not realise that Scotland had its own Crown Jewels (known as the Honours) and were pleased to see them, together with the Stone of Scone, now returned from England.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Outside the castle, just across the esplanade where the Tattoo is performed each August, is the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (www.camera-obscura.co.uk). This was a chance to act a little childlike while experiencing three galleries of illusions. We thought we were too adult to enjoy this ‘fun stuff’, but how wrong we were. From the top floor the views are terrific, so take your camera. Also on this floor is the camera obscura itself. Here, in a small auditorium, 20 or so people can view Edinburgh through a periscope, with the images displayed on to a large dish in the middle of the group. Informative and fun, especially the ability to pick tourists up from the table, and throw them back down without harming them.

Gladstone's Land

A little more grown up, but just as interesting, is our next stop down the hill, Gladstone's Land. This is a National Trust for Scotland property (www.nts.org.uk) and gives an insight into 17th century living. Then tenement living was the norm and families from different social levels would live in the various apartments within the building. The NTS provide a single A4 sheet in each room with excellent explanations, but we found the human guides to be incredibly well informed. Within each room we were given a real insight into those times - a worthy historical visit.

The 3D Loch Ness Experience

The 3D Loch Ness Experience (www.3dlochness.com) is one of those things you just have to see. It is perhaps a little expensive for 25 minutes, but of course is included in the pass. It covers the famous sightings and lets you know about research into finding ‘Nessie’. It also gives insight into the hoaxes and possibly incorrect sightings. I still believe…but make your own mind up.

Where to stay

As we cross over North Bridge/South Bridge to continue down the mile please look left and view the Georgian splendour of the façade of the Barcelo Edinburgh Carlton Hotel, our impressive hostelry for this trip. Booking online was a breeze, and although we arrived earlier than check-in time, the friendly receptionist allowed us access immediately which made things easy.

We stayed Bed & Breakfast terms and both aspects of that phrase were very impressive. Our large cooked breakfast saw us through to our evening meal, and the bed was so large I actually couldn't find my wife!

John Knox House

Our history lesson continues with the 15th century John Knox House (www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk).  Originally the home of Mary Queen of Scots’ Catholic goldsmith James Mosman and later the final resting place of John Knox, Scotland’s controversial religious icon. The exhibition is about both inhabitants and very interesting, but the house itself is the true showpiece.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

At the bottom of the mile, opposite the Scottish Parliament buildings, is the Palace of Holyroodhouse (www.royalcollection.org.uk). Although this deserves its own visit, we were there to visit the Queen's Gallery, a fine building situated in front of the Palace. The current exhibition The Heart of the Great Alone is a display of remarkable photographs taken on expeditions to the Antarctic. Frank Hurley attended Shackleton’s Polar expedition in 1914-16, and his work is photo-reportage in its most spectacular way. George Ponting attended Scott’s ill-fated expedition of 1910-13, and the skill of the landscape photographer, combined with the poignancy of the moment makes these some of the most incredible images I have seen.

Dynamic Earth

Finally, behind the Parliament we visit Dynamic Earth (www.dynamicearth.co.uk). This exhibit first takes you back to the Big Bang, and then through separate sections brings you back to the present day experiencing earth's past. You can experience volcanoes, polar regions and a very loud tropical rainforest. This visit then rounds matters up with a new and exciting film projected onto the dome of the theatre. Everybody at our showing was enthralled.

Thank you for taking the Royal Mile tour. It is all uphill from here (literally). Please show your appreciation in the time-honoured way.

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David Waters
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 3 (2 votes)
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First uploaded:
24 November 2009
Last updated:
4 years 51 weeks 7 hours 51 min 54 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range

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Community comments (2)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This guide covers the main attractions of the Royal Mile with a nice personal account of what it is really like to visit these places.

The idea of starting at the Castle and working your way to the Palace is very useful for readers to orientate themselves.

I have a couple of tips. You have recommended 3 hotels, but only describe one of them in your guide. I think readers would like to know more about the other two hotels. I do like that line you use about not being able to find your wife in the bed!

You said that John Knox house is a true showpiece, but saying why this is case would be useful for readers. You also mention the current exhibition in the Queens Gallery. This one has now finished, so it might be worth revising this section.

The photos are a nice selection.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This is a really good idea for a guide and provides a comprehensive overview of the sights on the Royal Mile. Thank you David. I would have liked you to tell us whether you found any less well known attractions or shops off the Royal Mile - but perhaps this is another guide in itself? Please also tell us about the hotels that you recommend in your Make it Happen section and perhaps add a "Where to stay" section at the end of your tour. You mention the hotel that you stayed in briefly but please tell us more so readers are reassured enough to book directly from your guide. Thanks.

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