Things to Do in Edinburgh - page 2
Lovers of spooky kitsch, you have discovered your Mecca. The history on which these gruesome attractions of Edinburgh Dungeon are based - hangings at the Grassmarket, Plague victims abandoned to die - may be real, but the treatment, complete with actor-led 'experiences' and rides, is true theater.
Descend into the bowels of the place and be confronted by ghosts, dodge grave-snatchers and cannibals, witness the drawing and quartering of William Wallace, creep into a 19th-century autopsy room with fresh plundered cadavers and even experience the thrill of your own hanging - as many times as you like! Teenagers will love it, but keep the little ones at home.
So expansive is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s collection of modern and contemporary art, that it takes over two enormous buildings – somewhat unimaginatively named ‘Modern One’ and ‘Modern Two’ – separated by a vast stretch of landscaped parkland. The striking façade of Modern One is characterized by its twinkling ‘Everything’s Going to be Alright’ banner, the work of artist Martin Creed, and fronted by a giant stepped landform and water feature by Charles Jencks.
Inside, the extensive permanent collection includes an outstanding array of 20th century artwork, with a special emphasis on Cubist and Expressionist works and a number of galleries devoted to 21st century art. Highlights include works by household names like Picasso, Matisse, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, as well as more recent masterpieces by luminaries like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George and Antony Gormley.
The second installment in the duo of Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, the aptly named Modern Two was known as the Dean Gallery until 1999 when it became home to the National collection of Dada and Surrealist art. From Modern One, it’s a short stroll through the neighboring parklands towards Modern Two, with the route paved with striking sculptures by artists like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Henry Moore, Rachel Whiteread and Barbara Hepworth.
Modern Art Two is most renowned for its huge collection of works by local Edinburgh artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, including a recreation of his home studio and his 7.3-meter tall Vulcan sculpture that forms the centerpiece of the museum café. Other notable works include an extensive collection of Dada and Surrealist art, mostly taken from the private collections of Sir Roland Penrose and Mrs Gabrielle Keiller; Richard Wright’s large-scale art installation The Stairwell Project.
Reputedly the last residence of Scottish clergyman and author John Knox, the 15th-century John Knox House is one of Edinburgh’s oldest preserved buildings, now housing a museum devoted to its namesake. Despite its name, the house actually belonged to James Mossman, loyal goldsmith to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was eventually beheaded for counterfeiting once Edinburgh Castle surrendered in 1573.
The dramatic histories of Mossman, Mary Queen of Scots and Knox, famed for his significant role in the protestant reformation of the 16th-century, are the subject of the house’s permanent exhibition, which brings to life one of the most colorful eras of Scottish history. Today, the John Knox House Museum is part of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and is celebrated for its original architecture, including the 17th century Netherbow bell, now installed in the Storytelling Centre’s bell tower; the wood-paneled Oak Room and a series of early 17th-century ceiling paintings.
Located on the cusp of Edinburgh’s New Town, the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) is run by the Scottish National Galleries and is linked to the neighboring National Gallery of Scotland via an underground mall. Primarily used to host large-scale temporary exhibitions, the RSA is the country’s largest space devoted to contemporary Scottish art and is dedicated to breaking new talent as well as supporting the country’s long-standing art scene. Housed in a grand Grecian building at the foot of The Mound, the Royal Scottish Academy is most memorable for its Doric-style pillared façade, the early 19th-century creation of architect William Playfair, and its crowning statue of Queen Victoria by John Steell. Along with its varied program of art exhibits, workshops and events, the gallery also hosts a number of renowned annual events. Most notable is the RSA Annual Exhibition, which takes over the gallery in May or June each year for a gigantic themed showcase of contemporary paintings.
More Things to Do in Edinburgh
An enormous telescope-shaped tower perched 456 foot above sea level on the summit of Calton Hill; the Nelson Monument is one of Edinburgh’s most instantly recognizable landmarks, dedicated to the revered Admiral Lord Nelson. Designed by Robert Burn to appear like Nelson’s naval spyglass, the 106 foot tall monument was built in 1816 to commemorate his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Climbing the tower is a popular pastime for visitors, affording spectacular views over the city, but with a 170-step spiral staircase and a small trapdoor leading to the observation deck, it’s a feat best left to those fit enough. The tower isn’t just monumental – it was designed to double up as a signal mast for ships coming into Leith harbor and in 1852 a 762kg mechanized time ball was installed to help ship captains reset their chronometers. Today, the ball still rises and falls at precisely 1pm each day, synchronized with the One O’clock Gun fired from Edinburgh Castle.
The iconic Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge that arches over the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Situated 14 kilometers from Edinburgh’s city center, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed by English engineers, John Fowler and Benjamin Baker. The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure is owned by Network Rail.
The distinctive red bridge, which links the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, was opened by the Prince of Wales in March 1890, although was only classified as a UNESCO site on its 125th anniversary in 2015. The bridge spans a total length of almost 2500 meters and is an iconic symbol of Scotland’s engineering and architectural prowess and ingenuity. It also transports approximately 200 local and intercity trains across the Forth every single day.
Just outside the village of Roslin near Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel was made world famous by Dan Brown’s best-selling 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, but it has been appreciated for its intricate stone carvings since long before then. Built in the mid-15th century by the Orkney earl William Sinclair, many of the designs are supposedly connected to Freemasonry and the Knights Templar, and as a result Rosslyn Chapel has been the subject of many myths and legends. There’s also plenty of speculation on what the Sinclair vault conceals, with theories that it contains everything from the Holy Grail to the body of Jesus himself.
From the outside, Rosslyn Chapel looks like a beautiful, mini cathedral. Scotland’s churches are normally very somber, but inside this chapel it’s incredibly ornate—every inch of stone has been sculpted into flowers, vines, and figures by the exceptionally skilled masons of the day.
Alnwick Castle has been home to the aristocratic Percy family, who hold the ancient title of the Dukes of Northumberland. It is one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK and is now perhaps best known as the setting for Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter movies.
Starting life at the end of the 11th century as a Norman motte and bailey defence castle, Alnwick has expanded piecemeal and been consistently restored down the centuries; a visit today encompasses architectural styles from medieval through Gothic and on to Italianate neo-classicism. Alnwick has one of the finest private collections of decorative arts in the country as well as several museums or weaponry, war and archaeology – plus one dedicated to the successful TV series Downtown Abbey – housed in the castle’s towers, courtyards, keep and ornate state apartments, which were decorated by Robert Adam in the late 18th century and are crammed with paintings from the likes of Titian and Caneletto.
Linlithgow Palace is the classic romantic ruin, steeped in royal history and set beside a picturesque loch. It was begun in 1424 on the site of another palace that burnt down. Its halcyon period was during the reign of the Stuarts, who used it as a pleasure palace; it was particularly popular amongst the queens. Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I lived there as babies.
The palace is roofless now (it was gutted by a fire in the eighteenth century), but plenty of the old grandeur remains. There's an impressive great hall and a magnificent three-tiered fountain in the courtyard - visit on Sundays in July and August to see it playing. It only flows with water occasionally to preserve the exquisite carvings of mermaids and musicians from erosion.
Spanning the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and the Kingdom of Fife, the Forth Road Bridge opened up in 1964 and runs parallel with the famous Forth railway bridge. As well as offering the quickest driving route from the capital to the Scottish Highlands, the Forth Road Bridge also has cycling and walking lanes that are open to the public.
The Forth Road Bridge is perhaps best known for its dramatic views of the neighboring Forth Bridge, the world's longest cantilever bridge and recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The striking red bridge is one of Scotland's most famous architectural icons and a remarkable feat of modern civil engineering, dating back over 125 years.
Often referred to as the “ship that never sailed,” Blackness Castle is a 15th century fortress sitting on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, not far from Edinburgh. With a long, narrow shape resembling a ship, the castle has been used as a residence, prison, artillery fortification and fortress over the centuries. Technological innovations were made in the 16th century and a cast iron pier with a gate and drawbridge was added in 1868. When the castle was restored between 1926 and 1935, most of the 19th century additions were removed and the medieval era features of the castle were restored.
Though most of the buildings are empty today, the castle is open to the public as a historic monument. An exhibition provides insight into the history of the castle, including information about the powerful Crichton family, for whom it was built.
Once the favored countryside retreat of the Stuart kings and queens, the magnificent Falkland Palace has seen a long list of famous royals pass through its grand gateway. First built as a hunting lodge in the 12th century, the residence was transformed into a French Renaissance-style palace in the 16th century by King James IV and King James V, complete with 3 hectares of parks, orchards and flower gardens.
Now a National Trust property, Falkland Palace is a popular tourist attraction and an easy day trip from Edinburgh, offering visitors a fascinating insight into the lavish lives of the Scottish royals. As well as exploring the beautifully restored Royal Apartments and drawing room, visitors can take a peek at the Royal Chapel, admire the fine artworks on display in the Tapestry Gallery and Edwardian Library, visit the Gatehouse and walk around the vast grounds.
St. Columba’s Bay, on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, is a beach of colorful stones that have been polished by the tide. It is known for its scenery and tranquility, with grassy knolls to relax on beside the water. Iona is a spiritual hub for Scotland as it was the center of early Christianity in the country.
Saint Columba is said to have first set foot on Iona landing on this bay in 563 AD, setting up his monastery thereafter. The bay is on a remote area of the island and it can take a bit of a trek to reach it, but the views and calm nature of the area are worth it. Seasonally there are often birds and wildflowers lining to path to the bay. Be on the lookout for the beautiful, small green stones that are known as “St Columba’s tears.”
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