Edinburgh (Photo:Johannes Valkama/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Edinburgh

Historic Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, has so much to offer that you can't possibly do it in a day. The city lies in a beautiful setting, sprawling over an extinct volcano, known as Arthur's Seat, and dominated by the grey, brooding hulk of the Medieval Edinburgh Castle -- the tourist hub of the Royal Mile, a street exactly one Scots mile long. (The outdated measurement is equivalent to 1,807 meters, longer than the standard 1,609-meter mile.)

Old Town, as this area is known, features a wonderful labyrinth of alleyways and cobbled streets filled with a castle, museums and churches. After the 1707 Act of Union joined Scotland and England politically, many of Edinburgh's wealthier residents abandoned Edinburgh for London. The Georgian terraces -- individual terraces found on the front of Georgian-style row homes -- of nearby New Town were built in an effort to attract them back. Both Old Town and New Town are part of the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tourism staples include Scotch whisky (with opportunities to learn taste and buy) and golf at St. Andrew's Links, 50 miles north of the city. Edinburgh is, perhaps, most well known for its annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, taking over the city for three weeks every August (if you can time your cruise during this time, it's well worth it). In addition to a wide array of performances, the city's iconic Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place at the same time, with the castle as its backdrop.

Alongside this tradition, Edinburgh has an edgy, modern vibe, too. Galleries display cutting-edge art, while chic restaurants, day spas and hotels peddle sophistication. A hip pub culture and nightlife scene complete the picture. Meanwhile, on the city's doorstep is the Scottish countryside -- miles of rolling, heather-covered hills, craggy mountains and still-as-glass lochs (one has a resident monster you might have heard of).

About Edinburgh


Pro

One of the most stunningly situated capital cities in Europe; world-famous arts festival in August

Con

Wet and cold from November to April

Bottom Line

Scotland's capital is beautiful, the people are welcoming and the surrounding countryside is breathtaking


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Where You're Docked

Smaller ships (less than 50,000 tons) usually dock in Leith, while large ships stop at Rosyth or South Queensferry.

Leith is a historic port that's a 30-minute bus ride, a 15-minute taxi ride or one-hour walk from central Edinburgh. Located two miles from the foot of the Royal Mile, this is the closest and most convenient place to dock for sightseeing in Edinburgh.

Rosyth is on the other side of the Firth of Forth estuary, 15 miles from the Royal Mile, and has no direct public transportation, aside from taxis. For some ships, the port operates a free hop-on, hop-off service, which takes you to Dunfermline and North Queensferry. Or, you can opt to take a taxi to central Edinburgh (30 minutes). There's also a train from Dunfermline (35 minutes) or a bus (five-minute taxi ride to the stop; 40 minutes to central Edinburgh).

South Queensferry is a tender port, with good transportation connections; it's located 10 miles from the Royal Mile. You'll be anchored with great views of the Forth Bridge. Once ashore at Hawes Pier, you can take a private shuttle service directly from the pier to the city center (30 minutes), or opt for a public bus (40 minutes), train (10-minute walk to the station before a 20-minute train ride) or taxi (30 minutes).

Port Facilities

In Leith, the purpose-built cruise terminal offers tourist information, while the adjacent Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre has a taxi rank, bus stop with service to Edinburgh and ATM, in addition to a variety of retailers, a large cinema, cafes and restaurants -- some with stunning views out across the Firth of Forth. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen's retired floating palace, is moored on Leith's waterfront (entry via the shopping center) and is worth a visit.

At Rosyth, there's a shuttle to the terminal building (two minutes), where volunteers provide information. This port has no shops, although souvenirs are available. The terminal lounge has restrooms and free Wi-Fi, and taxis are available. There's no ATM, but you'll find them, as well as shopping, in Dunfermline (15 minutes on the free shuttle service). Security does not allow passengers to depart the port area on foot.

South Queensferry doesn't have a terminal building, but the little town of South Queensferry is a few hundred yards from the pier. There, you'll find an ATM at Clydesdale Bank on High Street, as well as restaurants, shops and pubs. A welcome team at the pier can provide you with transport information, and a list of cafes with free Wi-Fi.

Good to Know

Rain. It rains a lot, which gives the city some of its allure -- the misty, cobbled alleyways, the gorgeous green gardens -- but you will get wet.

Speaking of cobblestones, you'll encounter plenty of them in Old Town, so good walking shoes are a must.

Be careful when crossing streets because the Scottish drive on the left-hand side of the road. It's easy to forget that you need to look in the opposite direction for oncoming traffic. Same goes for mass transit. You need to board on the opposite side of the street from what you may be used to.

Many streets change names from block to block, so don't let this mix you up.

In July and August, especially out of town, Scotland is plagued by small biting insects called midges, so take plenty of insect repellent.

Getting Around

On Foot: Once in central Edinburgh, you can walk anywhere. Old Town and New Town are separated by the easily traversed Princes Street Gardens.

By Taxi: Central Taxis offers 24/7 service, and cabs can be booked in advance (0131 229 2468). Another option is City Cabs (0131 228 1211). Edinburgh Taxi also accepts bookings for mini-buses and chauffeur-driven cars (0131 610 1234).

By Bus: Buses are easy to figure out, and they're trackable on smartphones. The Leith port terminal is also a terminal point for several bus routes. Drivers do not make change; plan on exact fares. It's also possible to purchase a day pass (available from ticket machines at tram stops, from the tourism center, or by downloading an app from Lothian Buses) for unlimited combined travel on both buses and trams. For maps and timetables, check the Lothian Buses website.

By Tram: Trams travel in New Town on Princes Street and head as far as the airport, with many stops along the way. You need to buy a ticket from the machines, located at each stop, before boarding. It's also possible to purchase a day pass (available only at tram stops or from the tourism center) for unlimited combined travel on buses and trams. For information, check Edinburgh Trams.

By Car: Enterprise has a lot near the Leith port terminal (0131 555 0555). Other Edinburgh rental agencies include Thrifty (0131 337 1319) and Hertz (0843 309 3026). If you rent a car, remember that you need to drive on the left in Scotland.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the pound Sterling. Scotland has its own bank notes, but they're interchangeable with English notes and have the same monetary value. For currency-conversion rates, check www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.

Old Town, New Town and the port area in Leith all contain plenty of ATMs.

If you are visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back some of the 17.5 percent VAT (value-added tax) you pay on certain goods. Not all shops participate, and there's a minimum purchase level. You need to have your passport and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to customs officials at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents probably will ask to see the goods. Visit www.globalrefund.com for more information.

Editor's Note: ATMs in Scotland require a PIN to be no more than four digits long, so plan ahead. Also, many display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit them to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.

Language

English is spoken -- with a Scottish accent. This is fairly gentle in Edinburgh but much stronger in Glasgow, should you choose to take a daytrip there.

Food and Drink

Edinburgh is big enough and diverse enough to offer an assortment of restaurants and cuisines, from pub grub to a French wine bar and from traditional Scottish to Thai food.

If you're looking to try traditional, it doesn't get more Scottish than haggis -- sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal and spices, cooked in a sheep's stomach and often served with a shot of whisky (you might want to drink that first once you've seen this concoction). Also in the daunting category is black pudding (blood sausage with oatmeal); it's surprisingly tasty.

You'll also see familiar dishes with names that seem contrived just to baffle travelers. Mashed potatoes and turnips are called "tatties and neeps," for example. A typical meat, onion and potato stew goes by the name "stovies." Even oatmeal, a Scottish favorite, is known instead as "porridge."

If you enjoy wine and food pairings, you'll definitely find those at finer restaurants. But you can also have a meal paired with whiskies. (Just don't miss your ship!)

The Scots are justifiably famous for their shortbread cookies, so be on the lookout for locally baked versions. There are tea rooms, where you can have a "nice cuppa" along with baked goods that might include scones, shortbread and oat cakes. Or, for a traditional Scottish dessert, try cranachan (also known as atholl brose). It combines fresh raspberries, whipped cream, honey, toasted oats -- and sometimes a dram of whisky, too.

Along the Royal Mile: Fun pubs (that also serve snacks and bar food) include The Bow Bar (80 West Bow), Deacon Brodie's Tavern (435 Lawnmarket) and The Jinglin' Geordie (22 Fleshmarket Close). The Fruitmarket Gallery Cafe (45 Market Street; open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last orders at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4:30 p.m.) is good for casual fare in an art cafe attached to the Contemporary Scottish Art Gallery. And for fabulous Medieval atmosphere and seasonal Scottish produce, try The Witchery by the Castle (352 Castlehill; open noon to 11:30 p.m. daily).

In Leith: Check out The Central Bar (7 Leith Walk) and Port O'Leith Bar (58 Constitution Street).

In New Town: Cafes and bistros line Rose Street. Whisky fans might want to lunch in the elegant Georgian townhouse of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (28 Queen Street), where you can pair your meal with a whisky flight.

Shopping

Cashmere and malt Scotch are ideal. Try Jenners on Princes Street, Ragamuffin on the Royal Mile, or Halibut and Herring on Bruntsfield Place for the soft stuff. For the hard stuff, consider Royal Mile Whiskies on High Street in Old Town. Serious Scotch connoisseurs might visit the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street in New Town, where an entry fee lets you in to taste and buy upwards of 100 single-barrel malts that can't be found in stores.

Best Cocktail

You're in the land of Scotch whisky, so skip the umbrella-topped cocktails and order up a wee dram. Ask for something "peaty" if you favor a smoky Scotch, or chat up a bartender to discover many brands that never make it to the U.S.


Edinburgh Awards

Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

2018 Top-Rated British Isles & Western Europe Destinations