Scotland scenes: Edinburgh gray, grimy and great fun
Trying to fit as much as possible during two weeks in Europe is an exercise in temptation. It's easy to try and squeeze in too much in a finite amount of time. Too much generally turns into too hectic if you're not careful.
Sure, you could theoretically hit London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Munich into two weeks but you're going to be spending a lot of time queuing in airports and "on the go" rather than soaking up the culture of whatever country you're in.
Such was my quandary on a recent trip that's primary focus was Ireland. My wife and I flew into London to stay two nights prior to making our way to Edinburgh via Virgin East Coast lines train service from King's Cross in London to Waverly Station in Edinburgh.
My worry was adding four days in Scotland (really 3 since we arrived late in the evening) might be too little time to enjoy ourselves. So we settled on spending two full days sightseeing in Edinburgh and one day in the highlands on a day trip.
In the end it was just right, though I'd love to go back to Scotland and see other parts of the country that we missed because of time.
Edinburgh Castle is probably the most hyped tourist attraction in all of Scotland (with the possible exception of Loch Ness). The good news is it delivers. We spent almost three hours here and were entertained every step of the way. The castle offers stunning views of Edinburgh, and is steeped in history and loaded with artifacts from the castle's history including Scotland's crown jewels and Scotland's National War Museum.
Just across the street from the funky Scottish Parliament building sits Holyrood Palace. It's still a "working" palace as Queen Elizabeth II usually stays here for part of her visits to Scotland each year. It was also the home of Mary Queen of Scots for awhile. Well preserved and with loads of history it's worth a visit. The ruined abbey on the grounds is also impressive.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is well away from the bustle of the Royal Mile, but it's worth the effort to get there by cab or bus. Moored off what is now a giant shopping mall it's a must if you have any interest in the royal family, or yachts in general. This tour covers just about every nook of the yacht including quarters for a small detachment of Royal Marines who accompanied Queen Elizabeth II during the yacht's service life which ended in 1997. You'll also see where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh slept (separate rooms) and the impressive formal dining room that is lined with artifacts the family collected during their travels.
Attractions aside, just walking down the street in Edinburgh can be a nice way to kill some time. The city has a grimy look to it largely because it was once the most polluted city in Europe thanks to coal burning fireplaces that were once found in virtually every dwelling in the city. That's not the case now, but the buildings still bear the stains of the Victorian age.
Other things to do: Edinburgh has a fairly active theater scene. During our trip we caught a traveling production of the Shawshank Redemption at the King's Theatre that was outstanding. Others might enjoy hiking to the top of Arthur's Seat which offers views of the city from a natural setting. Day trips are also popular. That's how we spent one of our days in Scotland. Up next: The Scottish Highlands.