You know it’s never going to be a typical trip to Edinburgh when your guide is a delightful chap dressed to the nines in tartan and a kilt. Thrusting his bagpipes in every direction, Steve encourages all of his guests to have a go; blow hard at the mouthpiece and you’ll struggle to muster even a squeak.
The masterclass is just one of several experiences north of the border that demonstrate the Scottish capital is full of unexpected surprises. From forgotten riverside temples modelled on ancient Italy, underground civilisations and even a psychotic poltergeist, there’s an Edinburgh you never knew existed just waiting to be discovered.
A new dawn
I am by no means a morning person but this is one occasion in which I would relish a pre-dawn wake-up call. Rising early and reaching for your walking shoes, this guided sunrise hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat is an unrivalled way to start your day. The pace is nice and gentle as you ascend to the top of the iconic dormant volcano, in time to see the first rays of the day settle over the city’s rooftops, while enjoying a breakfast of haggis scotch eggs.
King of the castle
Stretching from Holyrood Palace to the gates of the 12th century castle, the Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous – and packed – thoroughfare. But you can beat the crowds to discover its delights and secrets. This walking tour, led by an expert guide, reveals its many hidden corners, including the unknown gardens, closes and alleys that were once frequented by Robert Burns and Mary Queen of Scots, before skipping the queue for VIP entrance into Edinburgh Castle.
This is one for the seriously foolish or recklessly brave. Greyfriars Kirkyard – a graveyard dating back to 1562 and home to the legendary and fearsome Mackenzie Poltergeist – is regarded by experts as being one of the most haunted places in the world. There have been countless reports of attacks and other unexplained incidents on this spooky after-dark tour, which also includes rare access to a locked part of the cemetery normally out-of-bounds. Are you brave enough to venture inside?
A bike ride like no other, this guided 20-mile cycling tour takes you beyond Edinburgh to places few ever see. Highlights along the way include beaches, old fishing harbours, pretty woodland and quiet country parks, as well as historic castles and the grand Newhailes House, which some say resembles Downton Abbey.
There are few things more intrinsically Scottish than the bagpipes. And this is your chance to have a go at playing them yourself under the guidance of a professional piper who will teach you the basics and get you playing a tune or two (warning; it’s harder than it looks). Along with treating you to a private rendition, he’ll reveal some enlightening anecdotes and will recount the history of this curious instrument, while explaining how it came to make such an impact on Scottish culture. And where better to do all this than atop Calton Hill, with all the city laid out beneath you.
Old Town Tipple
Scotland may be most famous for its whisky, but the city also has a thriving beer scene. This walking tour of the Old Town starts on the Royal Mile, weaving into perfect pubs and tiny taverns as you explore the city’s relationship with beer that spans centuries. And, yes, you’ll get to sample amazing ales along the way.
Lights, camera, action
Outlander, Mary Queen of Scots, Monty Python, even Game of Thrones – Edinburgh’s castles and landscapes have appeared in a whole host of much-loved films and TV shows. This full-day tour includes the 14th century Craigmillar and Doune castles, as seen in Outlander, and a visit to Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and where Robert the Bruce’s wedding was filmed. But there’s more to this tour than just getting a taste of Hollywood. You’ll also learn the real stories behind these places – those of plotting, murder and revenge.
Edinburgh has not always been such a welcoming and pleasant place. Once upon a time, squalor and suffering reigned supreme and the 19 dark and dinghy vaults located under the South Bridge were home to thousands of poor souls. Hear the tales of their plight as you roam through the darkened remains of this infamous underground city with privileged access to the cavernous Edinburgh Vaults, where those on the very fringes of society once lived, worked and died.
These experiences and more can be booked at MakeMyDay (020 8895 6828, makemyday.travel).
For more information on the destination, go to visitscotland.com.
- Press Association