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Issue 30 - Edinburgh – a perfect day

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 30
December 2006


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Edinburgh – a perfect day

Edinburgh is one of the world's great capital cities, and its sites well documented. Dominic Roskrow plans an indulgent and less obvious day out there

Some cities simply look after themselves. They are so familiar from photographs and travel programmes that you feel you know them before you ever set foot there. And a few – Prague, Paris, London, Milan, Madrid and most definitely Edinburgh – live up to the hype.

Cities such as these are to the cultural traveller what a toy shop is to a child. You need no second telling to go out and have fun, and if you find yourself bored in such places than frankly, you need to check you still have a pulse.

All of which makes the job of a travel writer with a few hundred words to play with quite difficult. It’s pretty much all been done bigger and better elsewhere, hasn’t it?

So here lies the challenge. And the solution?

How about planning one luxury day out that covers all the bases and includes something for the whole family?

So let’s get the children in to the spirit by considering them first and beginning the day with something for all the family.

Our Dynamic Earth is built on the site of the old Holyrood Brewery at the bottom of the Royal Mile not far from the Palace. It is a wonderfully executed educational science interactive experience that plots the development of our planet through history.

While much of it is educational it’s great fun, too, with lots for youngsters to press, experience and watch. Great staff, too.

A time machine, for instance, transports visitors back 15,000 million years, passing through key points of history to the Big Bang and the emergence of dinosaurs. There are demonstration areas looking at how our world works, with weather checks, tidal flows, erupting volcanoes and wild weather systems. You can even experience the effects of an earthquake with shaking floors, heated air and the smell of sulphur.

Experiences include going under the ocean in a yellow submarine, walking through the icy cold of the Antarctic complete with iceberg and through tundra, forest and desert. Perhaps the best is kept to last – a walk through a tropical rainforest, with the sounds of tropical birds and monkeys and steamy air.

Every few moments the clouds darken, the animal sounds become agitated and a tropical storm arrives. It’s truly excellent stuff.

This year Our Dynamic Earth has introduced two other attractions, all but guaranteeing that next year visitor numbers will rise from their current level of 2.5 million a year.

Earthscape Scotland is an external exhibition that explores Scotland’s geological heritage. Its centre-piece exhibit takes visitors to the very centre of the earth.

Best of all, though, and the exhibit that will have the children captivated, is Future Dome.

This is a 360 degree dome that combines moving video with an interactive facility.

Visitors are asked to become delegates and make choices about the planet. They are then transported to 2030, 2055 and 2080 to see how the decisions of the majority have impacted on the planet. I doubt there is a more fun way to get young people thinking about their responsibilities for the future.

Our Dynamic Earth will easily take up a morning, so you might want to stop for lunch somewhere on the Royal Mile or even at the Our Dynamic Earth café – it’s very good and unsurprisingly offers healthy options.

At this point it might be an idea for dad to take the children and for mum to have her own treat.

For dad and the young ones The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre at the top of the Royal Mile might not seem the most obvious choice, but you might be surprised. Whisky is, of course, at the very core of Scottish history and culture, and the Heritage Centre is doing a very good job of bringing this all to life.

A barrel ride back in to time through Scotland’s past will keep the children amused and the quality of the exhibition is now of a sufficiently high standard to justify a visit even if you’re not keen on whisky. If you are, then adults can enjoy a dram and buy a bottle of something special from the wellstocked shop.

If you don’t think this is the right destination for you and aren’t scienced out by Our Dynamic Earth, Camera Obscura, which plays tricks with light and mirrors and is spread over three or four floors, is slightly back down the hill on the other side of the road.

So what’s mum doing while dad’s entertaining the children? Having a luxury spa if she’s got any sense.

There are several options in Edinburgh but if you’re really going to indulge yourself you should consider a few hours at One, which is part of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Conference Square close to Princes Street at the castle end.

Everything about One exudes class and style, with the emphasis on relaxation through holistic approach to the treatments it offers. There are 11 multi-purpose treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy room and a 19 metre ozone swimming pool.

Best of all, though, are the thermal room, which offers a range of relaxing experiences using and hot and cool treatments, and a rooftop hydro-pool, which keeps its water temperature at 35 centigrade and gives stunning views over Edinburgh. At night the hydro-pool is lit up and a soft mist hangs in the air. Truly stunning.

One is something of an other-worldly experience and you can easily lose track of time here. Special lighting helps create the limbo effect. And to make the whole experience extra special your time at the spa will be designed specifically around your needs. It’s all very sophisticated too, with each guest being given a special key that gives the holder access to the areas they have signed up for.

Should you wish to do something more strenuous, there is a fully fitted gym and trained fitness staff on hand to offer advice and help.

After a few hours in this sort of luxury chances are you’ll be in the mood for just sitting back and watching the world go by. So the way to spend late afternoon is a tea at the Balmoral at the other end of Princes Street.

There are a range of options available to you and if you’re conscious of taking your children in to such a hallowed environment, then you shouldn’t be; the Balmoral staff are wonderful with younger ones and there are relaxed areas where you will feel at ease.

That just leaves your evening meal. Our suggestion? Luca’s (tel: +44 (0)131 446 0233) at 16, Morningside Road or Umberto’s (tel: +44 (0)131 554 1314) on Bonnington Road Lane, off Bonnington Road.

Luca’s does a great range of ice-creams but provides quality evening meals too.

Umberto’s is geared up for children in a big way but there is a quality restaurant that adults will appreciate and a themed area for children up stairs. Altogether a fine family dining experience.

One, Sheraton Hotel, Conference Square, Edinburgh Tel: +44 (0) 131 221 777
Our Dynamic Earth, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh Tel: +44 (0) 131 550 7800
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Royal Mile, Edinburgh Tel: +44 (0) 131 220 0441

Other spas
The Balmoral: Half day passes so you can enjoy the luxurious old style comfort and relaxation this iconic hotel has to offer Escape.
The Scotsman Hotel: With arguably the coolest pool in Britain in its basement – stainless steel and majestically lit to create a total cocoonlike experience