With its winding cobblestone streets and iconic Georgian architecture, Edinburgh is something out of a storybook. Whether you’re visiting the world-class golf courses, to see the sun setting from Calton Hill, or just to marvel at the castle that towers over the entire city, Edinburgh is breathtaking. If you’re on the fence about whether you should take your next trip to the capital of Scotland or what you should be doing while you’re there, we’re here to help.
Why Edinburgh is Perfect for Seniors
If Scotland is a place you’re itching to visit, it can be difficult to know where to start. Do you head for the Highlands? What about the Isle of Skye? Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, so wouldn’t that be the best place to start? While everywhere in Scotland has its own appeal, we argue that Edinburgh should be your first stop. Whether you’re arriving by plane, train, or automobile, the moment you arrive, it feels like Scotland. The sense of ancient timelessness pervades every building and square. It truly feels like taking a step back in time while having all the modern amenities you could want.
For anything Scottish that you can’t get in a city, like the landscapes and the famous hairy cows, Edinburgh has the infrastructure to get you there. It’s the perfect jumping off point for the rest of Scotland since it is a major train nexus and has an airport. As a major tourist hub, you’ll also have your pick of organized day tours that launch from Edinburgh to other areas of Scotland. That way, instead of picking a single part of Scotland to explore, you can have it all in Edinburgh.
Notes on Getting Around
Edinburgh’s historic center is very hilly since the castle is built on an extinct volcano. While there are streets that gently slope up to the hill and steps for the steeper areas, it can be taxing even if you are quite fit. With the Royal Mile, the historic center of Edinburgh that bisects much of the city center, it means you’ll likely be crossing a hill or two while making your way through the city one way or another. For any seniors concerned about getting around, you do have options.
First, there are numerous taxis and rideshare options, like Uber, to help you get around. Edinburgh also has affordable buses and a tram that can help you traverse longer distances. Depending on your fitness, it may help to think strategically about walking if there are hills, specifically around the Royal Mile. The Mile slopes downward from the castle. If you’re heading up toward the castle, instead of going up steeper hills directly toward the castle, try starting further down the Royal Mile and easing your way up. If you’re trying to get around the Royal Mile from the Grassmarket area to the New Town, try walking along King’s Stable Road toward Princes Street. This leads you behind the castle for a less steep way to walk around town.
Where to Stay
In Edinburgh, you’ll find many different and worthwhile areas to rest your head at night. It can be tough to know where to begin. Here are a few neighborhoods that have plenty to offer as you begin your search.
Around the Old Town
When choosing a neighborhood to stay in, the Old Town of Edinburgh makes a lot of sense. Many of the common tourist attractions are in the neighborhood, which includes the historic Grassmarket Square and Royal Mile and stretches to Holyrood Palace. Here, you’ll also find a wealth of hotels and vacation rentals, as well as restaurants and attractions to fill your days with. The prices may be higher for accommodation, but the convenience may offset this, depending on your preferences.
In the New Town
On the other side of the Royal Mile is the Edinburgh New Town. It’s still quite an old section of town, but you’ll find more modern attractions here. From shopping to art galleries and wide-open squares, the New Town is a vibrant hive of activity. Still close to the historic sites and many great restaurants, the New Town could easily fit the bill for an area to stay in.
If the center of town isn’t your thing, how about staying in the port just outside of Edinburgh. Leith is about an hour’s walk outside the center of Edinburgh, but with a very affordable tram that regularly takes visitors into the heart of Edinburgh in around 20 minutes. This small waterfront village boasts beautiful views, a small-town aesthetic, and some of the best fresh seafood available. Being located outside the city center also means you’ll likely find less expensive hotels, making it an easy way to save on your trip.
What to Do
You could easily spend a week in Edinburgh doing something entirely different every day. Even beyond these ideas we’re sharing below, you could easily hop from pub to pub, there are some really cool historic pubs in Edinburgh after all. Animal lovers may want to visit the chihuahua or cat cafes. Sports fans could go to a local soccer match (Hearts of Midlothian and Hibernian F.C. are the local teams, while the two big teams in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers, are just down the road in Glasgow). There’s even an intriguing food scene bubbling away in Edinburgh for the foodies among us.
Explore The History
Of course, anyone visiting Edinburgh should experience the history that influences the city to this day. The earliest evidence of humans living around Edinburgh can be traced back to 8500 BCE, while the Old Town has been around since at least seventh century CE. With thousands of years of history to delve into, a great place to start is the National Museum of Scotland. The imposing Edinburgh Castle should also not be missed. Old Town history tours, such as those run by the local Little Fish Tours, help guide you through the ancient culture and history of the city in digestible and enjoyable way. For a darker slice of history, schedule a tour of the Edinburgh underground or walk the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, where you can see graves of Tom Riddle and the Greyfriar’s Bobby.
Experience the Scottish Lifestyle
As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the perfect place to envelop yourself in the local culture. Take time to visit some of the oldest pubs in Scotland. Try different Scotch whiskies from around the country. Visit the John Knox House along the Royal Mile, which now houses the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Go listen to some traditional Scottish music. Try haggis! Seriously, don’t psych yourself out, and just give it a try. It’s pretty good.
Go for a Hike
Despite being a city, Edinburgh offers some incredible hikes and walks for anyone looking for a more active way to explore. You could certainly walk the Royal Mile and around the castle, but the other main peak of Edinburgh is called Arthur’s Seat. This extinct volcano towers over the skyline of the city and sits within Holyrood Park. Both are a slice of nature in Edinburgh, though they aren’t the only large parks in the city. While you’ll have an amazing view from the top of Arthur’s Seat, the best view of the city actually comes from the significantly smaller (and easier to hike) Calton Hill. For a more leisurely walk, check out the Royal Botanic Gardens.
If you’re a golfer, there is no better place to play than the birthplace of the sport. The modern version of golf was first recorded in Scotland in the 15th century. Today, there are over 550 courses around Scotland, including the world-famous St. Andrews. There are even tours that take the organization out of your hands so you can focus on enjoying the golf, instead of the logistics.
Where to Eat
Scotland isn’t known as a food capital of the world. Despite claims that “most Scottish food is based on a dare,” if you give it a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Located so close to the sea, Edinburgh and nearby Leith are blessed with exquisite fresh seafood. Good examples of this can be found at Fishers in the City in Edinburgh and Ship on the Shore in Leith. For something a little more familiar, swing through one of Edinburgh’s many historic and interesting pubs.
Now, let’s talk about the most famous example of Scottish cuisine — Haggis. We’ll level with you. It can be difficult to get beyond the idea of what haggis is, but, the “grossness” of haggis is a mental-hurdle, not a taste one. Flavor-wise, it’s well-seasoned so it doesn’t have the iron taste that organ meat can sometimes have. The best comparison to haggis is a loose meatloaf. When it’s served with its traditional accompaniments, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), it’s actually quite good.
Another Scottish favorite you should try while you’re over there is a soft drink called Irn Bru (pronounced iron brew). Irn Bru is so popular in Scotland, it’s one of the few countries in the world where Coke isn’t the most popular soft drink. It’s so loved that it caused an incident when former President Donald Trump tried to ban it at his Scottish golf course. Having tasted it, it’s difficult to put the exact flavor into words, but if we had to reach to describe it, it’s like a bubblegum flavor. We’ve even seen it described as tasting like the color orange. Not the fruit, the color. Like haggis, it’s surprisingly good, so don’t miss out while you’re in Scotland.
Day Tours from Edinburgh
As we said earlier, Edinburgh serves as a great jumping off point for other nearby locations. While you could easily spend your entire trip in the city, here are a few places worth considering for a day trip.
Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is only a short train ride away from Edinburgh, generally under an hour that run multiple times every hour. In Glasgow, you’ll find a more modern town (though it is by no means less ancient) with high-end shopping, clubs, restaurants, and more. There are also several famous art galleries and museums that enthusiasts won’t want to miss. History buffs will want to visit the Glasgow Cathedral (consecrated in 1197) and the University of Glasgow, one of the centers of the Scottish Enlightenment. If either team are playing at home while you’re visiting, the previously mentioned Celtic and Rangers are both based in Glasgow.
While you’re in Edinburgh, you can’t not visit the famous Highlands. A trip to some of the further destinations, like the Isle of Skye or even Inverness, may be a bit far for a day trip (inverness is over 3 hours by train or car), there are some places you can visit in a day. An organized bus tour may be the wisest decision, since they can take you directly to the destinations, but if you’re comfortable, renting a car is an option, too. So, if you’re planning to visit the Highlands, what options do you have?
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (under two hours away) lie at the southern end of the Highlands and are a day’s-worth of hiking and views. Glencoe (3 hours by car) is a glen of dramatic natural beauty, of towering mountains and deep valleys. From Glencoe, you could head to Fort Augustus. From here, you can explore one of the most famous bodies of water in the world, Loch Ness, or the Cairngorms National Park, a massive collection of glens, mountains, and forests about an hour away. Theoretically, you could do these in one day, though it would take over eight hours of driving if you don’t stop. Alternatively, you could split it into a few days or find a place to stay for a night or two in the Highlands. Taking time to see these breathtaking places is definitely worth it.
The North of England
For a totally different direction, you could head South for the day, to the northern cities of England. The closest major city would be Newcastle upon Tyne, only an hour and a half by train. In town, you can visit places like Ouseburn, Newcastle Castle, the Victoria Tunnel, or the Segedunum Roman fort where Hadrian’s Wall begins.
If you’re willing to go a bit further, you can reach many of the gems of England’s north, like Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds. Each is roughly 3 hours away, making them doable, especially if you leave Edinburgh early and are fine returning late. Liverpool offers its guests the famous Royal Albert Docks, a host of art and music venues, two Premier League soccer clubs (Liverpool and Everton), and, of course, everything to do with the Beatles, including tours. Similarly, Manchester has two Premier League teams (Manchester United and Manchester City), its own museums and art galleries, and a vibrant music scene. While Leeds no longer has a Premier League soccer team (Leeds United were relegated in the 2022/23 season though may return next season), you can go shopping at the Leeds Victoria Quarter or Corn Exchange, check out the nearly 900-year-old Kirkstall Abbey, explore the Royal Armouries museum, and more.
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Whether you’re an avid golfer or someone who loves atmospheric cities, Edinburgh has something to offer you. It could be your pathway to the whole of Scotland or your entire trip. Whatever you do, you’ll fall in love with the capital of Scotland, and for good reason. This is without mentioning the locals, who you’ll find welcoming and proud of the city they call home. You can call it home, too, if only for a little while. But, when you leave, you’ll find yourself excited to return!
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