Edinburgh is the United Kingdom’s second-most popular tourist destination after London, thanks to its stunning medieval architecture and impressive cultural and historic attractions. From its spectacular castle dating back to the 12th century to theatrical performances that tell its remarkable history, there are so many attractions in Edinburgh to keep visitors of all age groups and interests entertained.
Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city’s most visited tourist sight. Historians say the castle has been besieged 26 times during its history, more than any other castle in Britain. Few buildings survived the Lang Siege in the 1570s, and much of what stands of Edinburgh Castle today was rebuilt afterwards. The exception is St Margaret’s Chapel built in the 12th century. King David I built this Romanesque church for his mother, Margaret of Scotland, a pious English princess granted sainthood in 1250.
Highlights of your visit to Edinburgh Castle should include the Scottish Crown Jewels, including a crown made of Scottish gold and adorned with 22 precious gemstones, the Stone of Destiny, used by Scottish monarchs during coronations for hundreds of years, and the Royal Palace’s Great Hall, dating back to the early 16th century. It’s a good idea to purchase tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines at the ticket office.
Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions
Next to Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is one of Edinburgh’s most family friendly attractions. This museum of optical illusions dates back to 1853 when entrepreneur Maria Theresa Short created a museum of science and art in a townhouse on Castlehill. The main attraction then and now is a camera obscura in an observatory at the top of the townhouse that projects live moving images on a viewing table using a large periscope. The museum offers five floors of interactive exhibits including one of the largest hologram exhibitions in Europe. You can enjoy wonderful panoramic city views from the rooftop too.
The Edinburgh Dungeons
A visit to the Edinburgh Dungeons is a fun way to learn about the city’s long and often dark history. The attraction combines live performances, special effects and even underground rides. Tours led by a cast of actors take 80 minutes and include visits to a torture chamber and a graveyard.
At the bottom of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, also known as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is one of Edinburgh’s most historically important sites. The Neoclassical palace is an official residence of Queen Elizabeth II but is also open to visitors for the chance to see the State Apartments, the ruins of a 12th century Abbey and the manicured royal gardens. Holyrood Palace was home to Mary, Queen of Scots, the unlucky queen of Scotland, and rival of Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled Scotland from 1542 until she abdicated in 1567.
Whether you’re intrigued by horrible histories or just in the mood for spectacular scenery, the Royal Mile will put you within walking distance of the best attractions in Edinburgh.