You can’t plan a trip to Edinburgh without expecting to spend a lot of time on the Royal Mile. The beautiful stretch of the Old Town that leads up to Edinburgh Castle, which sits majestically on its perch, overlooking the city. You could in fact spend your entire visit just exploring the historical sights this street has to offer.
Sitting at the top of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, an array of buildings having been built gradually over the course of the last few centuries. The entire castle is kept in beautiful condition and exploring all the different facets of it can take hours! Be sure to time your trip so that you can witness the 1.00pm gun, which rings out across the city every day. The crowds start building up around the gun from around 12.45pm so grab a tea from the nearby cafe, and park yourself somewhere in the sun to witness it!
I found myself fascinated by the prisons at Edinburgh Castle. There are two open to explore, one a very classic old Victorian prison and one depicting the Prisons of War. The detail and effort that has gone in to recreating how the conditions may have been for prisoners is incredible, and it’s difficult not to become emotionally involved in their lives when you see the graffiti, hundreds of years old, on the the doors and walls of the prison rooms.
A little further down The Royal Mile from the castle is The Real Mary King’s Close – one of the few ways to explore the city, buried hundreds of years ago by the new Edinburgh on top. Tickets are around £15 per person, and the tour is about an hour, taking you deep underground into the rooms, roads and alleyways of Mary King’s Close. Hundreds of years ago, Edinburgh was built in a higgledy-piggledy way along the hillsides; with buildings of varying heights, and the residents crammed in to the city living at the height of their station, i.e. a lower class person would live on a lower floor, near the ever present flow of sewage down to the river, whereas higher class people could live on the seventh, eighth or ninth floor. Eventually, the plan to expand Edinburgh as the capital city kicked into action and these teetering towers were partially knocked down and used to level the city, allowing the bigger government buildings to be built on top. Mary King’s Close has somehow survived, hidden beneath the buildings and streets above, but not entirely buried in rubble. It’s remarkable to explore down there, and get a glimpse into life. Our tour guide “Agnes Chambers” kept the tour fresh and exciting, keeping her character throughout and providing loads of interesting information for the group.
Up and down The Royal Mile you can find yourself exploring alleyways and pubs and of course, the incredibly beautiful churches and of course the imposingly beautiful St Giles’ Cathedral. Whether for religious guidance, spiritual comfort, historical fascination or simply to escape from the rain, people congregate inside St Giles’ Cathedral and a sense of awe and calm comes over them. The stained glass windows, the sheer size of the place, it’s all so impressive and so beautiful.