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Edinburgh, Scotland --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Edinburgh, Scotland – Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The trouble with planning an unforgettable day in Edinburgh is that it is so steeped in history with so many memorable sites, you’ll always be spoilt for choice. However, it is possible to dip into enough of these attractions to get an amazing experience of this beautiful city.

An excellent place to start is its highest point.  Arthur’s Seat is a hill shaped like a lion resting on its haunches, rising 250 metres (823 feet) above the city. Surrounded by Holyrood Park and three lakes (known in Scotland as ‘lochs’), the area is popular with hillwalkers, joggers and wildlife spotters.  Reaching the summit involves a reasonably easy climb and the panoramic views are breathtaking.

A short jaunt brings you to the Holyrood area, home of the devolved Scottish Parliament.  Housed in a spectacular example of contemporary architecture designed by the late Spanish architect Enric Miralles, this splendid building is certainly worth a visit.  Free guided tours are available.

Opposite the Parliament building is Holyrood Palace, the official Scottish residence for British royalty. The Abbey nestling in the palace grounds dates from 1128 although just a shell remains today: it was sacked during periods of warfare with England.  The palace has been a backdrop to many events in Scotland’s turbulent history.  One of the most notorious was the lynching of David Rizzio, one of Mary Queen of Scots servants, by jealous courtiers in 1566.  Public tours take place, apart from the summer week when Queen Elizabeth is in residence.

At this point you have arrived at the foot of the so-called Royal Mile, a long winding street connecting the palace with Edinburgh Castle.  A stroll up this thoroughfare will bring you to museums (such as the People’s Story or the Museum of Childhood) and shops selling everything from mouth-watering confectionery to souvenirs.

Restaurants serve traditional Scottish fare, from haggis (a savoury dish comprised of sheep’s offal served in a sausage casing that is infinitely more tasty than its description!) to fresh salmon.  To persist with the Scottish theme, the pubs and eateries in the Royal Mile offer a wide range of locally brewed ales, as well as many bottles containing a bewildering assortment of whiskies.

At the top of the hill you’ll find Edinburgh Castle, a superb example of a well-preserved medieval fortress. This impressive building has guarded Scotland’s capital city for centuries, withstanding many a siege by invading armies.  Today the castle has several regimental museums taking you back through hundreds of years of British and Scottish history.  If you’re in the vicinity of the world-famous One O’Clock Gun, brace yourself.  This modern cannon fires its titular salute every day at the allotted time.  You’ll also see Mons Meg, a massive piece of 15th century siege artillery.

Due north from the castle you could picnic amongst the tranquil flower arrangements of Princes Street Gardens, then head up to Edinburgh’s most famous thoroughfare, Princes Street.  After soaking up all that history, what better way to unwind than enjoy some of the best retail therapy this fine city has to offer?!