The Edinburgh Castle has loomed over Scotland's capital city for the past 1,000 years, watching it evolve into what is today; a modern city that combines medieval relics, gothic churches and Georgian grandeur. Known as "the Athens of the North," Edinburgh was once home of the Scottish Kings and now is the seat of the Scottish Parliament. Visitors will want to spend time in the medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, both listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
What to see:
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
This dazzling show of optical illusions has been entertaining visitors since 1835. The World of Illusions contains five floors of hands-on exhibits, including holograms, a shrinking room, a hall of mirrors and a vortex tunnel. Don't miss a climb to the Tower, where visitors can check out a 360-degree view of the city.
From its position atop Castle Rock, this fortress dominates the skyline of Edinburgh. The site has been inhabited in one form or another from as far back as the 9th century. Visitors tour the atmospheric castle today to learn about its varied history, but there's also still a military presence, mostly ceremonial.
A fun day for the whole family can be had at the Edinburgh Zoo, the largest animal collection in Scotland. More than 1,500 animals live on the 80-acre site, including penguins, rhinos and hippos.
Situated on Charlotte Square, considered to be a masterpiece of urban design during its day, the Georgian House contains late 18th century furnishings including beautiful china, shining silver and exquisite paintings.
This six-story 17th century tenement house has been restored and furnished with period furniture. Visitors can get a feel for what it was like to live in the confined living conditions of 400 years ago at this popular attraction.
Holyrood Abbey and Holyrood Palace
At the eastern end of the Royal Mile, the ruins of a 12th-century abbey lie adjacent to a 16th-century palace. All that remains of the abbey is the roofless nave, while the palace has many chambers to explore. Don't miss Queen Mary's Bed Chamber, which is said to be the "most famous room in Scotland," for its rich tapestries, paneling, and antiques that date from the 18th century.
John Knox House
This 15th-century home is the oldest mansion along the Royal Mile and is noteworthy for its painted ceiling and former tenants. Mary, Queen of Scot's Catholic goldsmith was the first owner, and later Protestant Reformer John Knox, a controversial religious icon, is said to have lived here during the 16th century.
Museum of Childhood
This children-focused history museum houses a fantastic range of toys and games. It serves up a nostalgia trip for parents, and children will love the hands-on activities.
Museum of Edinburgh
A treasure trove for anyone interested in the history of Edinburgh, this free museum focuses on the history of the capital city. A maze of rooms features reproductions and original items that represent the city and its traditional industries from the earliest times to the present day.
National Gallery of Scotland
Housed in an elaborate neoclassical building, the National Gallery of Scotland houses a renowned collection of Scottish and European art. Highlights include pieces by Cézanne, Degas, Bernini, Botticelli, Gauguin, Goya, Monet and more. Don't miss the basement wing where Scottish art is on display. The Royal Scottish Academy is connected to the gallery by a tunnel and hosts rotating and often blockbuster exhibitions.
National Museum of Scotland
Housed in revamped Victorian galleries, the National Museum of Scotland's large collection covers topics ranging from the natural world and science to Scottish history and world cultures. Egyptian mummies and a cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex are among the popular exhibits.
Our Dynamic Earth
From the Big Bang to the world we know today, Our Dynamic Earth is an attraction that celebrates evolution and the diversity of the planet. Learn about meteor showers, earthquakes, early life forms, and the rainforest via hands-on exhibits and audio and video clips.
The Real Mary King’s Close
Underneath the Royal Mile lie several hidden streets where people lived, worked and died between the 17th and 19th centuries. Walk through the mysterious streets as a guide tells tales of dramatic episodes that happened here and ghosts that are rumored to haunt the secret streets.
Royal Botanic Garden
Founded in 1670, the Royal Botanic Garden is a 72-acre expanse of stunning scenery and peaceful tranquility. Take an eco-tour of the glasshouse, which includes Britain's tallest Palm House, or walk through he award-winning art gallery at the Inverleith House. There is also a Chinese Hillside, Rock Garden, and a Woodland Garden with giant Redwood trees.
Edinburgh's Royal Mile is a succession of streets that form the main thoroughfare of the city's Old Town area. The area is approximately one "Scots mile" long, running from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Castle Rock down to Holyrood Abbey.
Royal Yacht Britannia
This famous floating palace has served as an official residence for Her Majesty the Queen and the British Royal Family. Visitors are welcome aboard to take a tour of the five decks and see many original pieces from the Royal Collection.
Completed in autumn 2004 at a cost of about $925 million, the new Scottish Parliament building was designed by the late Barcelona-based architect Enric Miralles. Take a free guided tour or get tickets for a seat to watch the political action in the main debating chamber.