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What to see and where to go

Edinburgh is the Capital of Scotland and its most popular tourist destination, with its most famous attractions being Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile right in the heart of the Old Town part of the City with the Military Tattoo and Highlands Games being the highlight of the year around August each year.

Edinburgh, like Rome is surrounded by 7 hills, with Edinburgh Castle crowning the top of Castle Rock overlooking the city below it. There's a lot to see in the Castle and at night the castle is lit up creating its own aura over the City with its parapets, battlements, towers and fortress walls forming a golden silhouette against the sky.

Inside the walls of the Castle you will be able to see St Margaret's Chapel, Queen Mary's Apartments, the Royal Palace, Scottish Crown Jewels, the Crown Room, the Stone of Destiny, the Great Hall, National War Museum, Prisons of War, and the Regimental Museum and if you are here at 1 o'clock you will hear the One O'clock Gun. It is a fascinating place to visit and you need at least a few hours to see all that is here.

The Scottish Crown Jewels are older than the British Crown Jewels held in the Tower of London, while the Stone of Destiny has an amazing history too. The Stone of Destiny was a 'Coronation Stone' where Scottish Kings would sit on when they took a Coronation Oath and were crowned King, a tradition that went back centuries, but in 1296 the Stone was taken by the English King Edward I and placed under a special designed ceremonial chair in Westminster Abbey, this chair becoming known as St Edward's Chair. It symbolized English supremacy over Scotland. In 1950 four Scottish students broke into Westminster Abbey and took the stone. A massive police operation followed, and a few weeks later the stone turned up in Scotland. The stone was then returned to Westminster Abbey and again placed under St Edward's Chair which was used again for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, but after this it was agreed that its rightful home was in Scotland, and so here you will see it in Edinburgh Castle. St Edward's Chair can still be seen in Westminster Abbey, but without the Stone of Destiny.

Edinburgh itself is an old walled city and Edinburgh Castle sits almost right in the middle of Old Town with the Esplanade leading up to the Castle. The Castle originally had a wall around it called the 'King's Wall' built in 1450, and then the Flodden Wall was built around the city below the Castle to protect the City from English attack, the English having beaten the Scots in the battlefield at Flodden near Branxton in Northumberland in 1513. The best place to see what remains of the wall is in the Church yard of Greyfriars Church. Also Edinburgh Museum has more information on the battle and history from those times.

Below the Esplanade you will find the Princes Street Gardens and Lawnmarket Street that leads directly onto High Street and becomes the Royal Mile leading to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace) which is the official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II when she stays in Edinburgh. Parts of Holyrood Palace are open to the public when the Queen is not in residence.

Holyrood Palace is where Mary, Queen of Scots lived when she first came to Scotland (see history above). There is a lot to see in Holyrood Palace including King James Tower, the Royal Dining Room, King's Bedchamber, Great Picture Gallery and Queen's Gallery.

Almost surrounding Holyrood Palace is Holyrood Park, a Royal Park that even has pre-historic history. Most parks are on flat land, but Holyrood Park is made up of crags and hills – given great names like the 251 metre high Arthur's Seat, as well as Dunsapie Crag, Samson's Ribs and Salisbury Crags, with the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel and Duddingston Loch with its geese and other birds also here. Duddingston Kirk (Church) is close to here too, an area originally known for its weavers and beer brewing.

IN OLD TOWN

In the cobbled streets between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace you will find streets lined with Georgian buildings and a number of interesting places to see including –

  • Camera Obscura & Outlook Tower – Castlehill – dating back to 17th Century
  • Scotch Whisky Experience – Castlehill . Get to know more about this National Drink.
  • St Giles Cathedral and Chapel of the Order of the Thistle – on High Street
  • John Knox House – at 45 High Street, where John Knox (1505-72) lived for some time.
  • Old Parliament House – used until the Act of Union in 1707, when it was disbanded and Parliament joined with England and moved to Westminster in London. The Old Parliament Building is located on Parliament Square – also look for Parliament Hall (See history above)
  • National Library of Scotland – on George IV Bridge and dates back to 1689. If you are looking to research your Scottish heritage, this is a good place to come to. Also see www.scotlandspeoplehub.gov.uk
  • Gladstone's Land – a 6 storey tower dating back to the 16th century with beautiful ceilings
  • The Writer's Museum in Lady Stair's house built in 1622. This museum has information and original documents relating to Scotland's Literary greats, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robbert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
  • George IV Bridge and Grassmarket
  • Greyfriar's Church, built in 1620 and Church yard. The old graves and their inscriptions make interesting reading. The Remains of the Flodden Wall can be seen here too.
  • Greyfriar's Bobby Statue – the dog made famous in the Disney film – Bank Street off Lawnmarket Street, next to George IV Bridge
  • Real Mary King's Close – a historic laneway where people with Bubonic Plague were taken
  • National Museum of Scotland – Chambers Street
  • New Scottish Parliament building – Horse Wynd
  • Canongate Tolbooth – a museum where the Canongate council once met.
  • Edinburgh Museum – on the Royal Mile tells the history of the City.

Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace are two of the most interesting places to see in Edinburgh, and if you time your visit to see the Edinburgh Tattoo held each year in August, you will be seeing one of the world's most spectacular events. See www.edinburghfestivalcity.com/festivals/royal-edinburgh-tattoo

Highest on the list of places to see in Edinburgh is -

The Royal Yacht Britannia located in Leith, the port city just a few miles from Old Town in Edinburgh and located on the Firth of Forth Harbour. The Britannia is located here next to the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. It is perhaps the only yacht in the world not to have sails and it is more of a luxury small ship than a traditional yacht. The Britannia was used by the British Royal Family from 1954 to 1997 and you can go on-board with the ship maintained in pristine condition. It is definitely a MUST SEE when you are in Edinburgh, with lots of memorabilia relating to Royal visits and the Royal Family.

Other Places to see -

Leith – where the Royal Yacht Britannia is located was once a hive of industry and port side activities with warehouses lining the docks. In its industrial heyday everything from glass to lead and soap were manufactured here, along with warehousing and distribution of whisky with whalers, seamen and traders all working and living here in Leith. Today most of the old industry is gone and the city is being re-generated. Passenger Cruise ships have replaced the cargos of old, with the old warehouses that line the Harbour have now being gentrified with restaurants, galleries, offices and residential developments. A long walkway - the Water of Leith Walkway runs beside the river, with places to sit down and places to eat, have a coffee, tea or just wander. The Leith Walkway is almost an extension of Princes Street in Edinburgh, about twenty minutes walking distance away.

Princes Street – is in the New Town part of Edinburgh, though the New Town dates back to the late 1700's when the Architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) created plans for a series of grid streets outside the old walls of the City. Here you will find on one side the Princes Street Gardens and then parallel to Princes Street, Rose, George, Thistle Streets and Queen Street which borders Queen Street Gardens on the other side. The street called 'The Mound' links Old Town to New Town with the National Gallery of Scotland (opened in 1859) and the Royal Scottish Academy both located on Mound Street. The National Gallery has a large collection of paintings by the 'Old Masters' with names like Van Gogh, Monet, Turner and Rembrandt all here to see, as well as famous paintings by Scottish painters too. You will also find shops in the New Town area along Princes Street where on the Eastern end the very impressive Sir Walter Scott Monument, built between 1840 and 1844 close to Princes Mall and Waverley Railway Station. The monument, which looks like the spire of a church is 200 feet high and 287 steps that lead to the top of the tower to a small viewing platform.

Charlotte Square – is located on the west end of George Street, surrounded by Georgian buildings, while on the east end of George Street is St Andrew Square, with George Street also lined with shops.

Scottish National Portrait Galleries - are located at 1 Queen Street in New Town. See www.nationalportraitgalleries.org The Galleries have both historic and modern works of art as well as Photographs and changing exhibitions.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art – is located on Belford Rd in Dean Village with works by Picasso, Matisse and other modern artists.

Calton Hill – is on the eastern end of New Town and has great views over the City. Here you will also find a number of buildings on top of the hill, including the Nelson Monument tower, designed to look like his telescope, City Observatory, Robert Burns Monument, Old Royal High School, Dugald Stewart Monument, Political Martrys Monument and the National Monument, designed in 1822 in honour of those Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The design was based on the Parthenon in Athens, but only partly built due to a shortfall in funding.

Royal Botanic Gardens – Plants love the Scottish weather, particularly Rhododendrons and Azaleas, and the Gardens that cover around 70 acres of grounds have a massive display of these flowers. Here you will also see Inverleigh House, a Georgian house built in 1774. See www.rbge.og.uk

Edinburgh Zoo – see www.edinburghzoo.org.uk Located at 134 Corstorphine Road, (west of the city). The Zoo first opened in 1913 and covers around 80 acres (33 Hectares) of grounds with Chinese Pandas, Australian Koalas and over 1000 other animals and birds to see.

Forth Bridge – the railway bridge over the Forth is one of the most famous in the world and stands next to the road bridge. The rail bridge is a cantilever bridge built in 1882 and both bridges are located next to the small village of South Queensferry, where there is a Museum on High Street and close by the Deep Sea World aquarium, with a 110 metre long glass tunnel tube to walk through and see sharks and other marine life. The world's Harbour Light Tower at North Queensferry has just 24 steps to reach the light up top, and it is sometimes open during the week. See www.forth-bridges.co.uk

Mansion Houses and Castles - just outside Edinburgh there are a number of historic villages, mansions and castles. These are some of them –

Bars, clubs, nightlife – in and around Edinburgh there are hundreds of bars and places to eat and have a coffee or a meal and you will find plenty of places to enjoy at night. Check what is near to where you are staying or ask a local when you are out in the day seeing some of the sights. There are also tours that will take you around Edinburgh and to see parts of the country out of Edinburgh too. The best place to check what's on and also find tours to suit you is with the Visitor Information Centre located at 3 Princes Street near Waverley Station.

When it comes to having a holiday in Scotland, it really depends on how much time you have and what you like seeing – be it to play golf, experience night life in a city, check out pubs, watch football, visit castles, hike, ski, see famous sights or just drive to see the countryside and the coast. You can certainly do all of these things in Scotland. Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland, but it has just around 590,000 people living in the City, compared to Edinburgh with about 490,000, but neither are huge cities by world standards. In fact Scotland itself has just over 5.2 million people living here, but there are millions of people of Scottish descent living all over the world in England, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.

Scotland is not a huge area, so most times it will take one or two hours to get from one major town to another, depending on weather and how often you stop.

To give you an idea of rough distances between towns –
Edinburgh to Glasgow is around 50 miles (80 Kilometres) across Scotland.
Edinburgh to St Andrews (Golf) around 50 miles (80 Kilometres) heading north east
Edinburgh to Aberdeen is around 130 miles (210 Kilometres) heading north
Aberdeen to Inverness is around 105 miles (170 kilometres) heading north
Inverness to Glasgow is around 175 miles (280 kilometres) heading south
Inverness to John o' Groats (most Northern tip of the Scottish mainland) 110 miles (180 kilometres) heading north.
John o' Groats to Land's End (the Southern-most tip of England) 874 miles (1400 km)

Glasgow
Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland with a city population of around 600,000 and is located on the Clyde River, a river that was made famous as a centre for shipbuilding and heavy industry. There are many famous ships that were built on the Clyde, including the original RMS Lusitania, RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, SS QE2 and Royal Yacht Britannia (Now in Leith, near Edinburgh), with ship building dating back to around 1840 and continuing through World War I, when many destroyers and battle ships were built.

In World War II, ships built on the Clyde played an important role in the War, but this also made Clyde and Clydebank Shipyards a prime target for German bombing raids, when over 1000 people were killed and around 16,000 houses destroyed in the Clyde and Clydebank area.


The shipyards fell on hard times after the War, with fewer ships being built on the Clyde, and though for a time in the 1980's Oil Rigs were built, by 2000 the shipyards were closed.

Glasgow has a proud industrial past, but when the shipyards and other heavy industry closed, it also experienced great unemployment numbers and this brought with it many social problems too. Areas such as the Gorbals became best known for crime and drugs, and city had a bad reputation for many years.

The City however is in revival mode, and the River Clyde is again centre stage of the City, with Glasgow's Architecture now recognized for its Victorian grandeur.

Beside the River Clyde, the giant 150 ton Titan cantilever Crane, built in 1907 still stands, but it now has a lift to the top and is used for taking people to the top for the views and also for Bungee jumping. (See www.titanclydebank.com)

A new leisure centre is being built here, and beside the River in the Pacific Quays area you will see the silver dome of the SSE Hydro Arena with seating capacity for 12,000 people and next door to this is the SECC (Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre), both buildings having stunning new architecture, the SSE Hydro alone costing some 125 Million Pounds to construct.

Also nearby next to the River Clyde is the Riverside Museum at 100 Pointhouse Rd. This is a great museum and beautiful new building to see, as it houses a museum of Scottish transport. You can also catch a 1 hour Clyde Cruise from here to see and hear more about the River Clyde. See www.clydecruises.com You can also get on board the cruises from Broomielaw Pontoon.

Glasgow has many art galleries, museums and also has its Opera, Ballet and the Scottish National Theatre are here too – with a number of big events happening in the City – sporting, music and other.

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens are outstanding with the massive Kibble Palace Glasshouse building here, and the gardens spread out over 27 acres. It is located at 730 Great Western Road. See www.glasgowbotanicgardens.com

Another unique place to see is the National Piping Centre, located at 30-34 McPhater Street, with a museum, information and everything you might want to find out about bagpipes and the 300 years of piping history. You can also buy your own bagpipes here. See www.thepipingcentre.co.uk

Of all the museums, the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum located on Argyle Street is the most impressive. It is located in a stunning old building, built in 1901, is free to enter and has some 22 Galleries with over 8000 different items to see. See www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/kelvingrove

The Waverley Ocean going Paddle Wheeler Steamship sails from Glasgow and if you get a chance to see it, or better still go on board to cruise, you are bound to have one of the most memorable trips ever. This Paddle Wheeler was built here on the Clyde and launched in 1947, replacing an earlier Waverley that was dunk off Dunkirk in the Second World War. It is the only paddle steamer that is built to handle ocean waves , all others have been largely used on rivers. Just seeing the ship on the River will give you a thrill if it is moored here. See www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk

Some of the other places you might want to see are –

  • Glasgow Cathedral – The High Kirk of Glasgow located in Castle Street in the city centre
  • Glasgow Science Centre – 50 Pacific Quay
  • Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery – Gilbert Scott Building at the University of Glasgow. See www.gla.ac.uk/huntererian Here you will see Roman and Viking History come to life.
  • Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum -
  • Pollok House and Garden – Pollok Country Park, 2060 Pollokshaws Road. The Burrell Collection (Art Gallery) is also located in the big park.
  • St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art – 2 Castle Street (near Glasgow Cathedral)
  • Provand's Lordship - House museum. The oldest house in Glasgow. 3 Castle Street.
  • House for an Art Lover – Bellahouston Park, 10 Dumbreck Road
  • Gallery of Modern Art – Royal Exchange Square.
  • Springfield Quay Casino – on Paisley Road. Gaming, restaurants, bars, accommodation – see www.thequayglasgow.com
  • SHOPPING – the main Shopping Street in Glasgow is Buchanan Street in the City Centre. Also look for Princes Square, Argyle Street and Argyle Arcade, and West Regent Street. Also head to Great Western Road in the West End where you will find lots of bars, pubs and nightlife.
  • MARKETS – look for Barras Market, at Gallowgate, Glasgow Townhead. The name 'Barras' is derived from the time when market men would wheel their goods on 'Barrows' to the market. This market has lots to see particularly on weekends. See www.glasgowbarras.com

When you were in school, you probably remember being taught about the Industrial Revolution and how people tried to smash the spinning wheels and weaving equipment that was putting them out of work, and then about child labour in mines, the rise of craft and trade Unions, farm workers leaving their homes for a life in the mines and factories and other stories.

Here in Scotland you can get a real sense of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolution that took place by visiting two very different Museums - the National Museum of Rural Life on Philipshill Road in East Kilbride, just south of Glasgow and the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, just east of Glasgow at Heritage Way, Coatbridge. See www.nms.ac.uk/rural and www.visitlanarkshire.com Both Museums are worth seeing.

SPORT - There was a time in Scotland's history when Football was banned, and the King forced the people to take up archery instead! This ban didn't last long! Here in Glasgow there is fierce rivalry between the two Glasgow teams – Rangers and Celtic. See www.rangers.co.uk and www.celticfc.net If you get a chance to go to a game, make sure you're wearing the right colours. The game and the atmosphere created by the fans make for a great time.

Glasgow has lots to see, with some of the highlights above, but equally the countryside and towns around Glasgow have many places to see too in the Clyde Valley, north and south of the City. If you are a fan of Robert Burns – then head south to the towns of Irvine, Troon, Ayr and Alloway. For those looking for great scenery and a magnificent Palace Castle – head to Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. See www.mountstuart.com Mount Stuart is open from end of March to beginning of October. It takes around 1 ½ hours to get there from Glasgow and you cross to the island by the Wemyss Bay Ferry. This carries both passengers and cars too, a very scenic journey if the weather is good. See Caledonian MacBrayne Clyde Ferries www.calmac.co.uk They also have ferries operating to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and to other parts of the Hebrides.

Mount Stuart also has small cottages where you can stay too – see website. The island is named in honour of the Marquess of Bute, a remarkable family dynasty, linked to the Stuart line of kings, hence the name 'Mount Stuart'. If you love seeing Mount Stuart, also if travelling to Wales, you should see Cardiff Castle that also directly relates to the Bute family dynasty. See www.cardiffcastle.com and www.butefamily.com

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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