I recently spent a weekend in Edinburgh visiting a friend and the weather was miserable for all of it. I know what you are probably thinking: Scotland, in the middle of November, what the heck were you expecting? Let me continue by saying that to my surprise, I actually enjoyed my time there. I am the kind of person that just doesn’t go out if it is raining unless I have to. Before you go on and judge me, you should know where I grew up I used to get the day of school when it was raining. And let’s face it: trying to explore a city in the rain sucks. So the fact that I had a great time out and about in the rain is really saying something!
Unfortunately, and as I said at the start, rainy days in Edinburgh are usually the norm, so here is a day-plan for how to still make the most of it!
1. Visit Rosslyn Chapel
I had actually never even heard of this place before, and this was not my first time visiting Edinburgh. But as soon as my friend mentioned the Da Vinci Code I was set on going. This small chapel is located on a hill in the town of Roslin which is about a 30 minute journey by bus from the city. It was made famous by starring at the end of the movie the Da Vinci Code: Movie spoiler – it is where at the end, Sophie finds out she is a descendant of Jesus Christ.
We actually watched the movie again after our visit and I must say it doesn’t do it any justice! And even if you have absolutely no interest in the Da Vinci Code, it is definitely worth a stop. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside, so I am going to have to convince you with my words. The interior is all made out of beige stone and it is full of intricate and very detailed carvings. For such a small place, it is packed with small details and symbolisms. It costs 9£ (7£ if you are a student) to get in and it is definitely worth the money. They have guides offering talks throughout the day, which are included in the price, and last for about 30 minutes. I am not one that would enjoy listening to someone talk about a chapel for 30 minutes, but this chapel is featured in a lot speculative theories, including the Knights Templar, as well as the Holy Grail, and the tour guides definitely do a brilliant job at keeping you hooked to the stories.
Also, the chapel has a famous cat. I’m not kidding! His name is Sir William, and he is a beautiful black cat that lives inside the chapel during opening hours. He even has his own merchandise and everything!
2. Lunch at the elephant house
After spending the morning exploring the hidden secrets of Rosslyn Chapel, you can take the bus back into the city and stop at the Elephant House for an early lunch. Those of you who are hardcore Harry Potter fans, may recognize the name as it is the place where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. Whatever you do, do not leave this place without visiting the toilets: their white walls have been covered with writing tributes to the Harry Potter series. It is rather amusing to read what people have written over the years. Although I would not want to actually be in need of a toilet, as queues can be long during busy times! But even if you are not a big Harry Potter fan (even though I can’t understand how such a person could exist in this day and age), the overall elephant-themed makes it an interesting cafe, and the back room has amazing views overlooking Edinburgh castle.
3. Visit the National Museum of Scotland
Just across the road from the Elephant House you will find one of the entrances to the National Museum of Scotland (free entry). This museum has now made the list of my most favorite museums in the world, together with the Science museum in Boston and the Deutsches Hygiene museum in Dresden. It is one of those museums that just gets the perfect balance of not showing neither too much so that you feel you can’t take anything in, neither too little so you get bored. Most of its rooms are rather spacious and their collections are very diverse. Also, they are working on a new science section that will be opening up next year, which of course my scientist self cannot wait for! I will be definitely going back to Edinburgh to see it.
Also, one of the best things of the museum is its roof terrace. You can take the lift to the highest floor ( 7th floor), and you can get out on to the terrace and enjoy one of the best views across Edinburgh, including Edinburgh Castle (the first picture from this post of the castle was taken from the roof terrace) and Arthur’s Seat. And it is all completely free of charge!
4. Walk up to the top of Scott Monument
If like me, you just can’t get enough of city views, other ways of seeing Edinburgh from above include hiking up Arthur’s seat and from the top of the Scott Monument. I would strongly recommend walking up Arthur’s seat, particularly if you enjoy the great outdoors and hiking, but definitely not on a rainy day, as the path to the top can get rather slippery. Instead, you can walk up Scott’s monument. It is located on Prince Street, which is about a 10 minute walk from the National Museum. You can take the opportunity to walk down one of Edinburgh’s famous closes, which are the stair alleyways you will find ascending and descending from the Royal Mile, one of Edinburgh’s most popular and central street. The only downside is that you do have to pay to go up, although it is only 4£, and you will be undercover most of the time. Additionally they have small expositions inside about Sir Walter Scott, the author in honour of which the monument was erected.
5. Go for an afternoon coffee at the Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is just around the corner from the Scott monument and it is free entry. It is
not very big but I can’t usually look at paintings for more than an hour before getting bored so it is perfectly sized for people like me! If you are not into art at all you can just skip all the paintings and head down for the cafe. There is also a fancy restaurant which I hear is very good, if you are lucky enough to not be on a budget (it was about 25£ a menu, last time I checked). But the cafe, is rather average, apart from the fact that one of the side walls is just glass doors, and you can enjoy views of Prince Street, the University of Edinburgh and even the Castle as well, while sipping on your coffee (or hot chocolate in my case). Also, directly in front of it there is an esplanade where the christmas market takes place, so this whole area must be buzzing this time of the year!
6. Evening plans
Finally, for the rest of the evening, the options are so many depending on what you are into that I can’t really recommend one thing in particular. In terms of dinner, Edinburgh is known for having a very wide choice of peculiar restaurants of all sorts, although I have never had dinner out while in this city so I can’t really say anything in that regard. What I can say, is that you should not leave without having tried haggis. Don’t be put off by its description (it is basically made out of the insides of a sheep): I am generally a fuzzy eater and I love haggis!
If you happen to be in Edinburgh on a Friday evening I would strongly recommend going for a ceilidh at the Ghillie-dhu. In summary, a Ceilidh is traditional Scottish or Irish dancing to local music. The Ghillie-dhu has one every Friday night. It is celebrated in their upstairs function room which looks like the interior of a medieval castle and it is absolutely stunning. Entry costs 5£, and there will be a live band playing as well as somebody teaching you the steps of every dance throughout the night. Also it tends to be group dancing, so if you are on your own, this is actually a great way to meet people!
If you are looking for a more chilled activity, try the Dominion Cinema. Yes, I know, I am always of the thinking, I didn’t come here to do things that I can do at home, so why would you go all the way to Edinburgh to go to the cinema? Well, this cinema is special because it has couches! It is very spacious, and it is just like watching a movie as if you were at home. Although for that reason, there is not a lot of capacity so it might not be a bad idea to book tickets beforehand.
In the end, whatever it is you choose to do, and wether it is raining or not, Edinburgh is such a fun and lively city it will be hard not to enjoy it!
Have you been caught in bad weather while visiting Edinburgh too? What did you end up doing?