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Edinburgh Sites

Thanks to all who have responded to a number of posts as I have been working on planning a 12 day car tour in the UK this September for my wife and me. I believe my final questions concern the full 3 days we will have in Edinburgh.

On day is dedicated to a Highland and Loch Lomond 9 hour excursion using Viator. We have taken a number of Viator tours over the years and they have always been wonderful. Concerning the weather -- I guess it's a crap shoot whether it's raining, foggy, partly sunny, etc. But as it needs to be booked in advance (more than the "5 day forecast!"), we'll just roll with what happens.

However, for the remaining two day - that is my question. We always enjoy the HOHO bus loops to get a good overview and interesting commentary. So, that's a possibility.

Except, I see online that different carriers have different bus loops, with one even having five loops over 2 days. Prices are anywhere from $22 for the one day simple loop tour to $75 for the 2 day/5 loop which include entrance to Holyrood, Britannia Ship, and the Edinburgh Castle. Perhaps the best value, but we really don't need Holyrood, and the Ship.

Then, there are several "guided" Castle tours that cost upwards of $40, but I see online that the Castle has costumed guide strategically placed throughout the castle, and even audio guide that can be purchased for a fraction of a live guide.

Finally, for $25 there is a very highly rated 3 hour tour throughout many of the important but less visited areas, led by historian and local, Stuart Usher, whose family Scottish roots go back for centuries.

As this is the last couple days on our trip we don't want to "rush, rush, rush" from one HOHO bus stop, up and down the Royal Mile, off to the Queen's Ship, into the Highland with Viator, etc. Plus, I'd rather spend $100-150 than $300 and save a little for a nice meal or two.

So...... any thoughts or advice on the Edinburgh city strategy. Do this; don't miss that; forget it - a waste of time; or any other
HOHO bus, guided tour, audio tour, just walk around advice would be appreciated. Thank you. Ted

Posted by
484 posts

Inside the castle, there are free walking tours by the castle staff and volunteers. We did this and enjoyed our stroll. You can ask the people who check tickets at the entrance and they will tell when and where to meet a guide. You can also ask questions of the staff at the different sites inside the castle like at the war memorial. The workers were always very friendly and helpful to me. Next, stroll down the street and check out St. Gile's. Look for the tiny yellow square out back in parking lot which marks John knox's burial place. The National Gallery of art is free as is the national museum. Both are very good sites.

Posted by
783 posts

Edinburgh is a small enough city that most of the main sites are walkable. However, I found the HOHO tour useful in helping me learn the lay of the land and getting to some of the further out sites- The Britannia, for example. I stayed on the bus for one full loop and still had plenty of time, never felt rushed. As you probably figured out in your research, each bus company has very similar routes. I just picked the one that got there first.

In addition to the castle, I loved the Britannia and the Arthur's Seat hike. And I am not generally a hiker at home.

I did a Highlands tour with grayline tours that was a little different from yours but also a full day tour. We spent a total of about 2 hours off the bus- the rest of the time we are on the bus. Of course traveling through Scotland is better than not traveling through Scotland, but that is not my preferred style of sightseeing. So if you think that would bother you, research that that. And Viator is a third party booking company. Double check your actual tour company so you can read their reviews.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
1829 posts

Besides the galleries and museums here are two things we've done that I don't think get mentioned. My wife and I are readers of Alexander McCall Smith. The Scotland Street series in particular takes place in Edinburg. We have tried to find places that he refers to such as bars, groceries and other shops.

The other thing ins the Royal Botanic Garden Ediburgh which is one of the greatest botanic gardens in the world. You can spend the good part of a day here and there is a cafe.

Posted by
31289 posts


A few thoughts on your last two days.....

  • I wouldn't bother with tours of the Royal Mile. You can easily walk from Holyrood Palace to the Castle. There are lots of interesting shops along the way and a pleasant walk.
  • Visiting the Royal Yacht Brittania is very easy, but I'd allow at least 4-6 hours (including transportation). You can take a Bus from Waverley Station to the Port of Leith. The ship is accessed via a shopping mall. Walk upstairs to the top level, and you'll see the entrance to the yacht. It's quite fascinating to see the various staterooms, and the differences in the type of accommodations between the various crew members.
  • The Military Museum inside the Castle is worth a stop (IMO).
  • If you have time, stop in one of the local Pubs for a pint (or two). Sandy Bell's is not very big, but often has some good musicians playing. You could also try Greyfriar's Bobby (look for the statue of the wee dog outside).
Posted by
5654 posts

We just used our RS Gide book and pretty much walked on our own.

Prince Street and the Scott Monument for a hawk's view of old town. National Gallery nearby.

Walk the Royal Mile to the castle. The Whiskey Experience is worth the admission unless you have problems with alcohol.

Speaking of drink the Mussel Inn on Rose St (parallel to Prince on the New Town side) was my culinary hilite but then I'm easy to please when a kilo bucket is placed in front of me. Nice seafood restaurants on Shore in Leith, a long walk or short bus ride from central Edinburgh.

We stayed in New Town. The Royal Botanical Garden is near New Town and worth a few hours if you are into plants.

Hike up to Calton Hill and Holyrod Hill (Radical Road path) for views and some exercise. Pick a blue sky day for the views.

Three full days is a minimum to do Edinburgh justice at an enjoyable pace.

PS. With a full Scottish breakfast to start the day who needs lunch.

Posted by
1829 posts

That's when you are standing on the sidewalk and a bus load of tourists go by. They all have their noses to the window, see you, and think they've spotted a local person so they wave like crazy. You wave back at the zoo going past and say "HOHO, fooled you".

Posted by
71 posts

Thanks to everyone. Perhaps the Hop On / Hop Off Bus tour (HOHO) may not be necessary since Edinburgh is fairly compact, but it could be a nice overview. I think we probably will do the HOHO and Castle, and since the Castle has posted guides scattered around (along with the audio guides available) I'm going to forget any other guided city tour. Plus, the different sits mentioned sound interesting.

And I'll check into Grayline for the Highlands tours (we have used them before, as well).


Posted by
4957 posts

Ted - sixteen years ago (!) we visited Edinburgh Castle, and they had a good audioguide then -- hopefully technology and other innovations have made the current one even better.

And from our visit last summer, the Britannia has an audioguide, too, along with color-coded signs by the elevators to help direct you around the ship. There are even displays inside the building before you board the yacht, so there's a lot to see. The mall is big, by the way, so turn right when you enter it from the bus stop to reach the Britannia. There are public bathrooms/heads on board, but we hunted for WC's inside the mall (to the left upon entering from the bus stop) before continuing to the Britannia exhibit.

Posted by
5559 posts

I know a lot of people like HOHO buses and I expect that in bigger cities they can be great. But Edinburgh is very compact. I suggest that you go first to the Castle. Once up in the Castle you will be able to see all of Edinburgh laid out before and you will be able to orient yourself quite well. Have a map and you'll be able to visualize your plan quite well.

Also, the tours of the castle are quite good. Sometimes I get the audio tour as well, but you can see a lot just on your own. And as for the Royal Mile, do some reading on the different sites and make your choices on what you want to see. I really have enjoyed Gladstone's Land. I was less impressed with the John Knox House. I've done the Camera Obscura, but I am not sure I would do it with limited time. Another favorite of mine is over in New Town, The Georgian House. It is a nice contrast to Gladstone's Land. If it is rainy and you need indoor sights, it's hard to beat the Museum of Scotland.

I'm going to second the recommendations for Sandy Bells. Go in the evening to catch a session. I sat at the bar one night and had great conversation and heard great music. I also like the Mussel Inn. And, if you do want a place to slow down, the Royal Botanic Gardens are lovely. I also like the walk along Leith Water if you just want a break.

The Stuart Usher tour sounds quite good and one I'll have to think about the next time I go to Edinburgh. I'll now have two tours I need to do do next time as the Rebus Tour was already on a list of things to do next time....


Posted by
7908 posts

The 3 hour tour by Stuart Usher sounds like the best thing you have on your list for Edinburgh.

I dislike HOHO buses and avoid them like the plague. I would much rather spend my money on a local company, walking the streets, having a guide that I can ask questions from and going inside of buildings. There was a literary walking tour that we wished we had done and when we go back, it is high on my list of things to do. Our favorite thing in Edinburgh were the Underground Vaults. We did a tour with Mercat Tours. Fascinating history and very unique.

Viator is a tour consolidator. Anything they are selling, can be found online elsewhere. Have you found tour recommendations in the RS books? Have you looked at tours on Trip Advisor? Read the reviews? Just checked Trip Advisor and there are 136 different tour companies offering all kinds of tours in Edinburgh. Have a look and see what piques your interest the most.

Posted by
552 posts

I did not use the hop on/off bus tour, Edinburgh is easily walkable. I got on a city bus to get to the Britannia. You can do the Royal Mile either from starting at the top at the castle, or at the bottom at Holyrood. I also really enjoyed the Georgian House, and of course climbed to the top of the Walter Scott monument, and Calton Hill. With just three days don't over-plan as you will find once you get to some of these locations that you will suddenly lose half a day exploring.