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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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: