Five ways to explore historic Edinburgh

by Christine Orford

The view from Calton HillFounded way back in the seventh century, it feels like stepping back in time when you wander through Edinburgh’s streets. Expand your horizons and learn about the Scottish capital’s rich and varied past—among other things—on your next visit.

Under the knife

Royal College of SurgeonsUtterly fascinating and stomach-turning all at the same time, the Surgeons’ Hall Museums are not for the faint-hearted. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has a history stretching back over 500 years and these museums’ collection tells the story of early operations.

Here you can examine preserved bone and tissue specimens and archaic dental and surgical tools, and discover interesting facts at each exhibit. If you’re interested in medical history or like your museums gruesome, this is a must. However, if you’re feeling a bit queasy, it might be best to give it a miss!

Entry is £6 and the museum’s open seven days a week, making planning your trip a little easier.

Money, money, money

Money makes the world go ‘roundThe compact Museum on the Mound is jammed full of fun exhibitions and displays all about money, banking and economics. Housed in the former Bank of Scotland Headquarters, the building itself is impressive enough to warrant a visit.

Have a go at cracking a safe, track the evolution of money over the last 4,000 years and marvel at seeing £1 million in the flesh. You can also learn all about the history of banking in Scotland and see significant artifacts, such as the oldest Scottish bank note in existence.

With free entry and a central location—just a stroll from Princes Street—this is a great way to kill an hour.

Going underground

Edinburgh cavernDescend into the bowels of Edinburgh with the Historic Underground Tour. Built in the 18th century, this is Edinburgh’s deepest, largest system of underground caverns.

Throughout the tour of these creepy structures, you’ll learn about the great expansion of the Scottish city and its extraordinary feats of engineering, as well as the darker aspects of this time period…

Tickets are £12 and tours kick off at 2pm and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays in winter and they’re daily in the summer.

Fun and games

Creepy sailor dollYou don’t have to have a little one with you to have a ball in the Museum of Childhood. It’s the first museum in the world dedicated to growing up and covers health, school days, holidays and clothes, as well as toys and games.

Regardless of the decade in which you grew up, this museum is sure to be a nostalgia trip, with a collection spanning the 18th century right up to the 21st. The Six Million Dollar Man, Cabbage Patch Kids and Teletubbies all have a place here.

However, the older toys are really the stars here; don’t miss the beautiful miniatures, including a tiny, fully-fitted 1880’s butcher shop, complete with mini replicas of all the prime cuts of the day.

Although entry is free, you might want to save a few pounds for the cute gift shop.

Medieval meander

Edinburgh Castle detailIf you like taking things at your own pace, check out the GPS My City Old Town Tour. Free to download on iOS or Android phones and easy to use, this self-guided tour takes you past lots of the main attractions of Edinburgh’s historic centre.

Stroll down the medieval streets and marvel at the well-preserved Reformation-era buildings. The tour covers just over 3km of the Old Town, taking in Edinburgh Castle, Magdalen Chapel, Telfer Wall and more. It’s excellent for getting your bearings of the city and for quickly immersing yourself in the history of the Scottish capital.

Where to stay?

Castle Rock HostelTo complete the historic experience, why not stay right beside Edinburgh Castle in the Castle Rock Hostel? With art and antiquities all around, it’s got 19th-century charm and a relaxed backpacker vibe. Alternatively, stay in High Street Hostel, where the building dates back to 1564. Along with its Renaissance credentials, this hostel also boasts carbon-neutral status and free walking tours.

Meanwhile, The Westend Hostel has a mix of private rooms and dorms and every single guest gets a 20% discount on food and drink from the hotel bar.


Thanks to fw42, Royal College of Surgeons, evanrudemi, Martin Moscosa, Moyan Brenn and Museum on the Mound for use of their great images under the Creative Commons license.

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