Travel Review: Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens
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IT’S amazing what a piece of bamboo shoot can do to cheer up one’s spirit!

Trudging up the big hill at Edinburgh Zoo on a freezing cold March Sunday morning was not my idea of heaven. But all my blues disappeared when I entered the panda house and heard Ruaridh (6) and Flora (3) shriek with delight as they spotted Yang Guang happily engrossed in a big stick of bamboo. And if this beautiful male panda could have given us the paws up, he would have.

Sitting opposite him his mate, Tian Tian, had other ideas! She was peacefully asleep in her hay basket, no doubt dreaming of warmer places, but she lived up to her pet name of Sweetie as did Yang Guang, otherwise known as Sunshine.

The two are the star attractions at the zoo and we were lucky to see them. Just up from their house was the new look penguin colony where our feathered friends were adjusting to the strange Scottish weather a little better than the rest of us.

Visit Scotland is promoting 2013 as the Year of Natural Scotland and its capital Edinburgh is probably one of its most beautiful and historic, after all it is the UNESCO City of Literature, with such greats as Sir Walter Scott having been born in the city.

The city centre is undergoing a major transport revamp as tram tracks are being laid down, so in reality its best to stay a little further out to avoid the chaos.

And where better than the Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor. This fine building has been turned into a lovely hotel and so far as the Hay clan is concerned it boasts the best shower gel in the world! Ruaridh and Flora could not get enough of the mega rich micro beads bursting with vitamins A C E and B5. The children thought the beads looked like sweets and were amazed you could rub them into your skin!

As with all Hilton hotels, the rooms are spacious and give that little extra luxury we are all looking for, with comfy beds, big screen televisions and Wi Fi access. And the food is good too, with the breakfasts offering a hearty or healthy option and the dinners made up from locally sourced ingredients with a wealth of Scottish and European choice on the menu in the Townhouse Restaurant , all washed down with some fine wines.

When time is short, a good way to get your bearings is to hop on a tour bus and with Edinburgh’s current tram work, its an excellent way of getting around the city without the stress. Edinburgh Bus Tours run by Lothian Buses has four different options from a vintage tour to one taking in the botanic gardens and the Royal Yacht Britannia. We hopped on the tour which took in the castle, Holyrood and the old and new town.

First stop was Edinburgh Castle. It’s the oldest and arguably the most well known building in the city. And its beautiful. You need time to explore as there is so much to see from the crown jewels and stone of destiny to the Scottish National War Memorial and the famous 1 p.m. gun firing. There are lots of interesting artefacts and military medals and equipment to see too.

Just a few yards from the castle is the Camera Obscura museum. This wonderfully quirky place has been going for 150 years. From inside the Victorian building you can see Edinburgh through a giant periscope which allows you to pick people up and squash them to a pulp and even make the traffic climb over paper bridges! There is also a wealth of fun to be had from optical illusions to magic mirrors and lenses which change your shape and height with some hilarious results!

The old part of the town and particularly The Royal Mile is a haven for attractions from The Museum of Childhood which is fun for all the family, to ghost tours and a chance to visit the underground dungeons. Walking round takes you to the odd looking Holyrood, home to the Scottish Parliament, the more conventional Holyrood Palace and the museum Dynamic Earth, which takes you through the planet’s past, present and future through interactive exhibitions.

To mark the Year of Natural Scotland, a visit to The Royal Botanic Garden, a mile away from the city centre and set in 72 acres of stunning scenery is a must. It was founded in 1670 and has unusual and beautiful plants. There is also a magnificent glasshouse featuring Britain’s tallest palm tree. Overseeing the city is the famous Arthur’s Seat, which provides the best view in Edinburgh and just outside the centre is the trendy district of Leith which is home to the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Water of Leith Walkway which takes the visitor through some lovely landscape away from the hustle and bustle.

There really is so much to do in Edinburgh from museums and attractions to fine dining (it has the most number of Michelin restaurants outside London) and entertainment, that a weekend doesn’t really do it justice. We will just have to return soon, with more bamboo shoots of course!
Factfile:~

Accomodation: Only an eight minute walk into the heart of the city, the graceful looking Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor is a haven of peace away from the centre. For more information and special offers, log onto www.hilton.com or telephone 0131 226 6001

Attractions: The Edinburgh Pass is an ideal way to see the sights and save money. Log onto www.edinburghpass.com

A bus tour is an excellent way to get your bearings. Check out: www.edinburghtour.com

See the pandas and other exotic animals at Edinburgh Zoo. See www.edinburghzoo.org.uk

Discover the history of Edinburgh Castle, via www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk

Fun for all the family at Camera Obscura. Log onto www.camera-obscura.co.uk

2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland and www.visitscotland.com, the official tourist board site is filled with lots of information to help you chose where to go and stay.