Take a Trip to Edinburgh at Home

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Explore Edinburgh Castle, stroll up Arthur’s Seat and sip a wee dram: Here’s how to feel like you’re actually immersed in Scotland’s capital.

Your travel plans may have to wait, but with a little creativity, you can imagine you’re anywhere you want to be. As you dream of where your next trip may take you, our Bring Travel Home series will help you explore another place in the world right now – from the comfort of your own home.

Edinburgh is a city I can visit again and again. I spent a semester in the dramatic Scottish capital a decade ago and found it the perfect mix of historic and cosmopolitan; big enough to constantly be discovering, yet just the right size that I could really get to know it. I’ve returned several times, spellbound by the Old Town’s secret closes and winding streets, the intimacy of the pubs and the commanding features, including Arthur’s Seat and the Edinburgh Castle, that define the skyline.

Until international travel resumes, it’s easy to get an Edinburgh fix at home: Whether you’re learning about Scotland’s vast history via the National Museum of Scotland, sipping a whisky or gin made in Edinburgh or tuning into a live ghost tour in the Old Town, here’s how to get a taste of the city from wherever you are.

April 30, 2021
Three women sitting at Arthur’s Seat overlooking the vast city of Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat.   Photo: Evy Prentice

Get your bearings

Two vantage points that provide unbeatable views of Edinburgh are Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. Start at Arthur’s Seat with this 360‑degree video, which takes you on an express trip up the extinct volcano that makes up most of Holyrood Park. You’ll enter the park on Horse Wynd, strolling next to the Scottish Parliament Building, before skipping ahead to a swan‑filled St. Margaret’s Loch and then again to the 14th‑century ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. You’ll continue to get whisked along to the summit, 251 metres above sea level – at sunset to boot. For a trip up Calton Hill – my preferred view, since Arthur’s Seat is included in it, plus the Royal Mile leading up to Edinburgh Castle in the medieval Old Town, the neoclassical New Town and the Firth of Forth – explore this 360‑degree image, which includes a look at the Dugald Stewart Monument, one of the many Scottish monuments and buildings that dot the hilltop.

Dolly the Sheep at the National Museum of Scotland
Dolly the Sheep, National Museum of Scotland.   Photo: National Museum of Scotland

Learn some history

It’s tough to grasp just how much has taken place in this city, which dates back to the Middle Ages – there’s even evidence of human activity on Castle Rock upwards of 3,000 years ago. When you’re there in person, you can almost feel its history seeping from the streets and the Old Town’s 16th century tenement buildings. To help navigate Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s – epic backstory, kick things off at the National Museum of Scotland. Online, you can view some pieces from the collection in 3D, including the medieval Lewis Chess Pieces and, on Google Arts & Culture, scroll through the Scottish Inventions that Rocked the World exhibit (you’ll meet Dolly the Sheep, the first‑ever cloned mammal). Learn more about famous Scots by taking a deep dive into people like beloved poet Robert Burns and Mary, Queen of Scots, and be sure to read up on the country’s fabulously fringed Highland cattle.

The majestic Edinburgh Castle sits atop Castle Rock in Scotland
Edinburgh Castle.   Photo: Jorg Angeli

No trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to the medieval fortress that is Edinburgh Castle, perched atop the craggy Castle Rock, a volcanic plug formed up to 400 million years ago. Google Arts & Culture has a collection of 360‑degree images to view, including St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh, built around 1130) and the Battery ledges, which offer more spectacular views over the city and the Princes Street Gardens that separate the Old and New Towns. For a more in‑depth tour, the 3D model in Sketchfab allows you to travel through more than 40 annotations with information on every important building and feature, along with interesting details, like the fact that the medieval canon Mons Meg fired a salute for the first marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots; or that in the Dog Cemetery, where the pets of former soldiers are buried, there are dogs by the names of Fido, Topsy and Yum Yum.

The grass covered courtyard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh
Palace of Holyroodhouse.   Photo: russellstreet

Tour the royal residences

Scotland has long been a favourite of the British Royal Family and, while their preferred estate is Balmoral, in the Highlands’ mountainous Cairngorms National Park, the Queen’s official Scottish address is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Located at the base of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace has housed many monarchs since it was founded in the 12th century and is now used by Queen Elizabeth II when carrying out official engagements in Scotland. You can view three of the lavishly appointed rooms – the Great Stair, Morning Drawing Room and Kings Bedchamber – on a virtual tour. Over in Leith, a port area on the Firth of Forth, floats another royal residence – the Royal Yacht Britannia. The yacht served the Royal Family for 44 years before being decommissioned in 1997 and opened to the public. Until you can see it in person, explore all five decks of the ship virtually (including the teak‑lined Sun Lounge, the Queen’s favourite room), and read about what a day on the Britannia would have looked like for HRH.

Inside the Edinburgh Gin Distillery at their West End location
Edinburgh Gin Distillery, West End.   Photo: Bright Signals

Enjoy a wee tipple

Of all of the food and drink that comes out of Scotland – shortbread, haggis, fresh salmon and seafood – Scotch whisky is the most famous. While you can sample any type you like in Edinburgh, in one of the hundreds of pubs, at a local distillery such as Holyrood Distillery or at the Scotch Whisky Experience, the majority of distilleries are located in the whisky‑producing regions of Highland, Islay and Speyside. So, let’s take a side trip to Islay, shall we? The island off the west coast of Scotland is known for producing smoky whiskies (my favourite kind), thanks to an abundance of peat moss that’s used as fuel for the traditional pot stills. Join Master Distiller John Campbell on a virtual tour of the Laphroaig distillery – and make sure you’ve got a bottle on hand for tasting (it’s available around the world). If you’re not into whisky, perhaps you’d fancy a gin? Edinburgh Gin is made at two distilleries in the city and is available for purchase in Canada. Try one of the gin liqueurs, in flavours like Rhubarb & Ginger and Elderflower, which are delicious on their own or in a cocktail. If a sweet treat is more your speed, try this recipe for cranachan, a simple Scottish dessert featuring oats, cream, raspberries and, of course, a wee bit of whisky.

A ghost walk through the Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland
Anchor Close, in Edinburgh’s Old Town.   Photo: Dean Brierley

Tune into a live event

The closest you’ll get to being in Edinburgh without actually being there is through a live experience with someone on the ground. Peek into the city’s darker side by joining a seasoned local guide on the Edinburgh’s Ghosts, Murders and Monsters Online Experience via Airbnb – you’ll get an up‑close look at the city’s underground vaults, the dungeons at Edinburgh Castle, the Grassmarket (a large square and former market in the Old Town where public executions once took place) and more in this video game‑style virtual tour. For something a bit lighter, but equally historic, peruse the ongoing programming taking place in celebration of famed Scottish author Sir Walter Scott’s 250th anniversary, including the Public and Private Worlds of Sir Walter Scott, an online lecture coming up in June hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

A clocktower around the bend of a cobblestone street in Edinburgh, Scotland
One of the city’s winding, cobblestoned streets.   Photo: Matthew Kalapuch

Make it an Edinburgh‑themed movie night

There is an Edinburgh film for everyone. Select the cult classic Trainspotting (available to rent through the Cineplex Store), starring Ewan McGregor and a gritty 1990s Edinburgh, or try the cheerier Sunshine on Leith, a 2013 musical featuring songs by the Proclaimers that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. For an animated take on the city, stream The Illusionist on Prime Video – the whimsical story of an aging French magician who ends up performing at a small Edinburgh theatre was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards in 2011. Finally, for a speedy Edinburgh fix, I’ll sometimes watch the video for the Proclaimers’ 2018 song “Streets of Edinburgh” – with shots of the cobblestoned lanes, double‑decker buses and Arthur’s Seat at golden hour, it does a pretty good job of taking me there, even if just for a few minutes.