Exploring Edinburgh City Centre for beginners
If you are heading to Edinburgh it can be difficult to decide how best to start your explorations. With this in mind, we designed an Edinburgh walk for first-time visitors to give you a flavour of what there is to see in our compact city centre. If you’re staying with us at Craigwell Cottage, walking is an easy option no matter how you’ve arrived, but we’ve started the walk from Waverley Station so that the walk is of more general use to visitors. There are lots of options to spend more time, or to visit specific attractions along the way.
The idea for this walk came originally from finding out that a friend (Rosemary) was coming to the city for just 6 hours during August. During August the city hosts visitors from all over the world who come to experience the excitement of 5 of the main festivals which happen throughout the year. We knew that she was particularly interested in seeing art exhibitions during her trip, and that she wouldn’t really have time to go to shows, but of course you have that option if you’re going to be here longer.
Rosemary’s Edinburgh Walk
Arriving by train to Waverley Station: There are several ways you can exit the station, so take the escalator route towards Princes Street (the north exit of the station) over by Platform 1 or 2. Or for views, take the glass lift up to the roof of Princes Mall (from there you’ll catch a glimpse of the views towards Edinburgh Castle. At the top of the escalator, or with the Balmoral Hotel on your right, turn right and walk along the front of the Balmoral Hotel (do not divert to the Apple Store on the opposite side of the road… know you’ve got a MAC!). But do look over to the General Register of Scotland building opposite, as it’s a beautiful. It’s where many people come to carry out genealogy research on their Family Trees. Head across to Waterloo Place where you’ll see a tree covered hill straight ahead with an upside-down telescope monument on the top of it. This is the Nelson Monument to the Battle of Trafalgar. Cross onto the left side of the road, and just after Howies Restaurant, you’ll see steps to your left leading up Calton Hill. Note Rock House on your left as you head up the steps. This was where Hill and Adamson – early photographic pioneers – had their studio.
As you reach the level path, turn right up the next set of steps. Take your time, no need to rush up, and you’re almost there… continue on till you reach the top of Calton Hill. It’s only 300 ft high, but definitely worth it for the panoramic views of the city. Once on the top you’ll find monuments galore and views towards Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, west towards the Forth Bridges – you can see the new Queensferry Crossing which is currently being constructed, north towards Fife and east towards the East Lothian coast. Calton Hill has great views of the Georgian New Town of Edinburgh, and the Old Town, the combination of which gave Edinburgh it’s World Heritage Status.
On top of Calton Hill is a little cafe: Cafe Milk – serving decent coffees, teas and a couple of choices of cakes etc. If it’s good weather, you might like to take a while to have a seat and just enjoy the views.
Make sure you walk round the path in front of Observatory House as this has the best views – you may have to elbow other photographers out of the way here. As I passed yesterday, one of the locals who was taking a friend round there called it “selfie corner”.
Once you’ve had your fill of views from here, you’re ready to head off on your city centre walk.
Go back down the steps you came up and turn right, retracing your path along Waterloo Place. Cross over to the left side of the road, and just before the Balmoral Hotel, turn left on to North Bridge. You want to be on the right pavement of North Bridge here so that you can see towards Edinburgh Castle. About half-way over North Bridge you’ll also see over the roofs of Waverley Station towards the Scottish National Gallery and Scott Monument (we’re big on Sir Walter Scott here, as Waverley Station was named after his novels too).
At the top of North Bridge, you’ll see the Scotsman Hotel. Turn off North Bridge and head towards the entrance of the hotel. To your right, you’ll see The Scotsman Steps. The marble steps are an art installation by Martin Creed – each step is made from a different colour of marble. Head down here and if you wish, go into the City Art Centre to see the exhibitions there and also cross over to The Fruitmarket Gallery where there is a current exhibition as well as a cafe and bookshop.
After you’ve enjoyed this, head towards Waverley Bridge where you have the option of going on one of the Edinburgh city centre bus tours for an hour. They’re a hop-on-hop-off experience and your ticket lasts all day. If you don’t fancy the first whole section I’ve written, then you can simply take the Waverley Bridge exit from the station instead of going to Princes Street, and start your Edinburgh adventures here.
So, after either your first hour or two walking and exploring, or your bus tour, head up Cockburn Street where there are numerous bars and cafes and also some decent craft-type gift shops. I like Liquorice Tree Gifts, but others are good too.
You’ll also find a photographic exhibition at Stills Gallery.
If you want to grab a quick bite to eat, The Baked Potato shop near the top is the cheapest option around for a speedy lunch (all vegetarian and lots of vegan options too).
At the top of Cockburn the mayhem which is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe street theatre will greet you. You can stop for a while and watch excerpts from shows at the mini stages, lots of street entertainment, loads of people trying to give you flyers for shows etc etc. Above it all is St Giles Cathedral where you can duck in for some peace or shelter if it’s raining. There’s a small charge for a photography permit if you want to take pics in here. Opposite St Giles is the City Chambers, and the courtyard in there can sometimes be a little haven of peace if you wish to have a sit on one of the benches for a few minutes.
If you want a classy afternoon tea en route, then book to go to the Colonnades before you come, it’s right by St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile.
Keeping on up the Royal Mile towards the junction with George IV Bridge, turn left here and cross over to Victoria Street. Keep on the upper walkway here and look down on Victoria Street to see the classic postcard views of the colourful painted shops. You’ve got lots of choices here, so you can choose to go back up on to the Royal Mile at Castlehill, and head towards Edinburgh Castle, but the stands are up on the Esplanade for the Tattoo, so you won’t get the full approach views, and to be honest, you simply don’t have enough time to do a visit to the Castle justice on a short day trip.
So, either walk down the steps onto Victoria Street and browse the shops on the way down to the Grassmarket, or as I did, head up to your right at the top of the steps to West Bow, take a peek at Edinburgh Castle, then head down one of the flights of steps to the Grassmarket – down Castle Wynd steps or Granny’s Green Steps.
Once in the Grassmarket, you’ll find lots of open-air cafes, a market and if you’re ready for an ice cream head to Mary’s Milk Bar – where the lovely Mary is a complete witch with her flavour combinations. She makes fresh gelato daily and the flavours are amazing. Strawberry and Black Pepper is a particular favourite of mine.
After enjoying an ice cream (if you did) head towards the Victoria Street end of the Grassmarket, but at this time, you should head up Candlemaker Row where you’ll find some shops beginning to ‘cash in’ on the Harry Potter phenomenon – one is now sporting signs for Diagon Alley etc.
At the top of Candlemaker Row, is Greyfriars Bobby, the monument to the wee Skye Terrier, and to the right at the top is the entrance to Greyfriars Kirk. If you are interested in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, then you’ll see glimpses of George Heriot’s School through the graveyard, and you’ll also be able to see the grave of Thomas Riddell whose fictional alter ego should not be mentioned.
Opposite the exit from Greyfriars is the National Museum of Scotland which is where you can spend a while enjoying the Museum’s exhibits (or a long time if taking the rainy day option), or you can head down George IV Bridge, continue on down the Mound and turn right at the traffic lights in front of the General Assembly building to go down Market Street to Waverley Station for your return journey. At any point on the route, you’re only 15/20 minutes walk from the station so you can expand/contract your walk to suit the time. You also have the option at the National Museum of Scotland to head up to the roof terrace for more fantastic views of the city.
You’ve also got the option to head to Princes Street for some chain-store shopping, or on to George Street for specialist shops and lots of bar and café opportunities.
Hope you enjoy Rosemary’s walk, and if you do it, tag me on any Instagram pics you take on the day: @2edinburgh. I’d love to hear what you do, what you enjoy and if you don’t like any of it, say that too. Very best wishes for a fabulous Edinburgh day.
Rosemary’s Instagram Pics of her Edinburgh Walk
When Rosemary followed our suggested Edinburgh walk, it was a rainy Saturday, but she still found plenty to enjoy and some ideas for her next visit.
Find out more: Edinburgh Festivals in August
During the remainder of the year, you’ll find many other festivals and events taking place in the city. The major ones can be found on the Edinburgh Festivals site.
We hope you’ll let us know, as Rosemary did, if you take this walk around Edinburgh, and if you’re looking for accommodation in Edinburgh, you can check our available dates by putting your preferred start date into the “Book Now” box. Look forward to welcoming you to Edinburgh!
Pin it for later – Edinburgh Walk for First Time Visitors
We hope this has encouraged you to come and visit us at Craigwell Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or if you’re ready to book, just follow the link: