Day 2. Exploring Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

After the lovely sunny weather we’d experienced the previous day, it was a little disappointing to wake up to a dark, gloomy sky accompanied by rain soaked pavements. Still, undeterred we braved the elements to find somewhere for breakfast. After being brought back to life with two cups of coffee and my favourite smashed avocados on a toasted muffin, we were ready for action and with our hoods up we made our way to the Scottish Parliament, located at the lower end of the Royal Mile.

The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

This like it or loathe it building was opened in 2004 and has divided opinion ever since. I can’t say that I’m a fan of its exterior but that’s all forgotten once I’ve stepped inside. The Scottish Parliament is free to visit and is open daily, except Sunday. We familiarised ourselves with its role by joining a complimentary 10 minute talk which helped to set the scene by giving us an overview of the Parliament, the work of its members and the architecture and design of the building. Continuing our self guided tour, we then viewed the ‘Parliament for the People’ exhibition which focused on the role of the Scottish Parliament and its fascinating history.

The Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament

Having learnt some useful background information on the workings of the Scottish Parliament we then took the lift up to the visitor’s gallery of the Debating Chamber where the action takes place. From this elevated position we had an excellent view of the chamber and of the voting screens attached to each desk. It was extremely interesting to view the chamber but found it surprising that there were only a handful of other visitors there. I’m uncertain whether people just don’t realise that the Parliament is open to the public but each time I have visited it has been almost empty which is such a shame as it’s definitely worthwhile, so do try and fit in a visit if you can. After a glance in the gift shop we crossed the road to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Standard admission to visit the Palace is £15 and combined tickets can also be purchased to include exhibitions taking place in the Queen’s Gallery for £20.20. Beneath the archway of the outer courtyard we were equipped with audio guides (included in the ticket price) and were then able to start our self guided tour.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Photography inside the Palace is not permitted but I’m certain you can imagine how elaborate and beautiful it would be. Our self guided tour led us through the State Apartments, to the Throne Room and the Great Gallery. The palace is still used today by HM The Queen when carrying out official engagements in Scotland.  As we progressed through the rooms of the Palace we explored its close association with some of Scotland’s most famous historic figures, including Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Holyrood Abbey

The Palace Gardens are not open during the winter but we caught a glimpse of them through some of the state room windows. Included in the ticket is a visit to the remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey located in the Palace grounds.

A selection of gifts on offer at the gift shop

After completing our tour we looked in the Palace gift shop which had been decorated in readiness for Christmas with plenty of gift ideas. Just outside there, we collected a second audio guide for our visit to the temporary Leonardo Da Vinci ‘A Life of Drawing’ Exhibition in the adjacent Queen’s Gallery.

The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse

This exhibition brings together 80 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings marking the 500th anniversary of his death and continues until 15th March 2020. It was certainly proving very popular on the morning of our visit and we enjoyed viewing his talented sketches.

The Leonardo da Vinci exhibition taking place in the Queen’s Gallery

After leaving the Palace we slowly made our way along the Royal Mile stopping to visit numerous small museums between the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom until we reached Edinburgh Castle at the top.

The Museum of Edinburgh, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Our first stop was to The Museum of Edinburgh (admission free). This small museum is located in the Canongate area of the Royal Mile in the historic Huntley House. If you are a fan of the television programme Outlander then you might recognise the building as it featured in Season 3. Navigating the interior is a bit of a maze with its higgledy-piggledy nature but it’s worth the effort as it contains a fine collection of Scottish silver, pottery and porcelain alongside a history of Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns.

The People’s Story Museum, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Lying directly opposite stands the related ‘People’s Story’ (free entrance) another small but well laid out museum which provides an insight into Edinburgh’s working class people from the 18th to the late 20th century.

Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh

Continuing further up the hill, next on our list was a return visit to the Museum of Childhood. Those of you who are familiar with my travel writing will be aware of my love of toy museums which I try to seek out wherever I may be visiting. This is yet another free museum and despite lacking in size it’s packed with relics of childhood from children’s clothes and shoes through the ages to toys, games and dolls.

Bears on display in the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh

There was a Paddington Bear of the same vintage as mine, and numerous teddies. In a previous post on Ilkley Toy Museum I included a photo of my very own bears and if you’d like to take a look at them, just follow the link at the bottom of this post.

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Slightly further up the hill stands St. Giles Cathedral (admission free) so we toured the church with its distinctive crown steeple which is one of the city’s historic landmarks. Nearing the top of the Royal Mile stands Gladstone’s Land, one of the oldest buildings on this historic thoroughfare. The 17th century building was home to wealthy residential and commercial tenants during its heyday and still retains its original arched shop frontage designed to prevent shoppers getting wet. It’s now saved for the nation and under the ownership of the National Trust (admission £7 and free to NT members). It’s very small but if you are an NT member, it’s worth a look.

Gladstone’s Land, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Nearing the top of the Royal Mile we paused to admire an Eagle Owl on display from a local falconry centre then turned down a narrow alleyway to the final museum located in Lady Stair’s Close, just off the Royal Mile in the Lawnmarket district. The Writer’s Museum is an exceedingly vertical building with a narrow, winding stone staircase and celebrates the lives of Scottish literature, namely Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. The small free museum contains rare books, portraits and other memorabilia.

The Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh

This brought to an end our tour of numerous small museums on the Royal Mile and with most of them being free, there’s definitely much of interest especially on a wet, winter day such as the one we experienced.

Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

Last but not least, we strolled up the steep Castle Hill to the castle esplanade to take in the hazy but splendid city views. Edinburgh Castle is absolutely wonderful, but as we’d visited previously, we decided against making a return visit on this trip, saving that for next time. Instead, we wandered down Castle Wynd, a lengthy flight of stone steps leading to Grassmarket, a lively and picturesque part of town with its eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, hotels and gift shops.

Grassmarket, Edinburgh

The district was originally a marketplace for horses and cattle between 14th and early 19th centuries. The Grassmarket was also renowned for its public executions, such a contrast from the popular visitor destination it is today,  Our walk continued up the slight incline to Lady Lawson Street from where we made a left turn along Lauriston Place passing the magnificent George Heriot’s School. Some pupils were waiting at the school gates with their sports bags and I thought how smart they looked in their tartan uniforms.

Teviot Row House, University of Edinburgh

Our legs were becoming a little weary after so much walking so we were pleased to arrive at the University of Edinburgh where we enjoyed a snack in its beautiful Library Bar, bringing back some fond memories. Teviot is the oldest purpose built student union building in the world having been opened in 1889.  Little seemed to have changed since our last visit, and it was still as lovely as ever and a place dear to our hearts.

The Library Bar, Teviot, University of Edinburgh

The same couldn’t be said about the weather though as we ventured back outdoors as it was tipping it down with rain. There was nothing else for it than to put our hoods up again and to sprint through the university campus and along to South Bridge. The reason for taking this route was to check that there was still a beautiful Christmas tree adorning the University’s Old College quad. Thankfully, the tradition continues and the illuminated tree seemed to take on an added charm with its fairy lights reflecting in the puddles that had formed around it.

The Christmas Tree in the Old College quad of the University of Edinburgh

By the time we returned to our hotel we had walked 22,500 steps so we put our feet up awhile and enjoyed a couple of hours rest. The drizzle had all but ceased by the time we went out to eat and as we quite ravenous after so much activity earlier we settled on a restaurant close by on George Street which suited us very nicely.

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

Other posts in this series:

A Christmas break in Edinburgh

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ScotlandsPeople, Portobello seafront and Georgian House, Edinburgh

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61 thoughts on “Day 2. Exploring Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

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  5. Pingback: Day 2. The Royal Mile, Edinburgh – Love Travelling Blog

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  13. jasonlikestotravel

    Another lovely read. I actually considered visiting the parliament building when I passed it on the way to Holyrood. Unfortunately it was a Sunday though so will have to wait until next time, it looks interesting though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for this wonderful post. I was in Edinburgh for only two days in the 1980s but I have fond memories. The city reminded me of San Francisco before it got indescribably dirty. A town of hills surrounded by water and scoured by clean air. Men still wearing tweed jackets. I’d walk and walk and walk until I got tired and then I would hail a cab to take me back to my hotel. I especially loved the Royal Botanic Garden. The new Parliament Building was not built when I visited but your photo reminds me of what Tom Wolfe once remarked. He said, “We all have to live with an architect’s mistakes.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Thomas for your much appreciated thoughts on my series of posts on Edinburgh. It’s so pleasing to read that these posts have brought back some fond memories and reminded you how beautiful the city is. I can never tire of visiting Edinburgh whatever the time of year. Incidentally, I’ve visited San Francisco a couple of times but my last visit was around 20 years ago so I’m certain it has changed a lot since then.


  15. I was fortunate to visit Edinburgh last April. Unfortunately, our time was limited and we spent most of it exploring the castle. I did get to visit the writers museum and the history museum on my own time. What eclectic exhibits at the latter! Wish we had had more time, but i thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Agree with your views on the exterior of the Parliament building Marion; quite ugly in my view. Great amount of steps in one day and I really would love to visit the Writer’s Museum. I have first editions of Sir Walter Scott…one question how old is your Paddington Bear?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How wonderful that you have first editions of Sir Walter Scott definitely to be treasured Sue! As for my Paddington Bear, he will be 40 this year as I remember being given him as a gift in 1980. I dislike the modern day Paddington – he looks as if he’s been on a strict diet and denied his favourite marmalade sandwiches! Do you also own a Paddington Bear Sue?

      Liked by 1 person

  17. federica

    Edinburgh is my dream destination. But we have Holiday in March, so we have to put it off also this year 😦 I hope I will visit this marvellous city very soon!

    Federica |

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Great set of beautiful photos.

    Oh, Paddington Bear. When my granddaughter was small child, we bought him Paddington bear from London. She loved it very much!!! The Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, must have been interesting. I just read an article about him and his thoughts, inventions and visions. Thank you for this post.

    Happy 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jepsy Babu

    Wowwwwwwww Edinburgh is so beautiful. The Palace of Hollywood House and the Queens gallery is lovely. St.Giles cathedral and the Writers museum is amazing. The Castle esplanade and the Grass Market is also beautiful. The Teviot Row House is breathtaking. Thank you for sharing these photos and wish you a very happy new year’s eve.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Jepsy Babu

    Wowwwwwwww Edinburgh is so beautiful. The Palace of Hollywood House and the Queens gallery is lovely. St. Giles cathedral and the Writers museum is amazing. The Castle esplanade and Grass Market

    Liked by 1 person

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