The English/Scots Border has been my home for over twenty years. Edinburgh with its wealth of attractions is my nearest city. However, it is known for its hills and ancient buildings which may not appear friendly to the less mobile, but there are still plenty of disabled friendly attractions in Edinburgh. Some years ago my mobility was reduced due to rheumatoid arthritis, so I had to look at ways to allow me to continue visiting Edinburgh’s attractions. I was pleased to find many venues accommodate the less mobile. When Silver Travel Advisor asked me to write an article on accessible attractions in Edinburgh I was delighted to do so.
Edinburgh Castle stands at the top of a very steep hill! However, for blue badge holders only, there is car parking on The Esplanade, which has to be pre-booked by telephone. When you approach the Esplanade you will be stopped by staff who will direct you to a parking bay. The Castle have a mobility vehicle which can take you from the Esplanade to the Castle doors and back again. This vehicle can house a wheelchair.
Entry to the castle includes concessions for seniors. Carers for disabled people are admitted free of charge. Wheelchair hire is available.
Inside the castle, it is partially accessible. The venue can inform you in advance of accessible and non-accessible areas. However, walking/pushing a wheelchair on areas of cobbles and walking on uneven paving can be tiring so allow plenty of time for your visit. The restaurants and shops are accessible. Ramps are appropriately situated. There are disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets in the castle, restaurants and Esplanade.
With a little bit of pre-planning and pre-visit contact with staff who I found helpful, a visit to this castle can go well for the less mobile.
Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is around a mile from the city centre. Car parking is available at the garden, disabled car parking being at the West Gate.
The garden extends to around 72 acres, dates back to 1670 and is a joy to visit. Admission is free, although there is a charge to visit some of the glasshouses.
The garden is largely accessible to all, with respite seating present. The glasshouses are wheelchair accessible as are all the buildings including the shops, restaurants and cafe – either by level/ramped access or wheelchair friendly lift.
Wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be hired – staff advise to book in advance as they are popular due to the size of the gardens. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets.
The Scottish parliament is housed in a modern building of unique architecture at the east end of The Royal Mile. Taxi, public bus or tour bus is the easiest way to reach the venue which is a 15 minute walk from Waverley Station. There is some car parking nearby for the Holyrood area, including disabled blue badge parking but it is limited. Telephoning the visitor steward at the Parliament in advance of your visit, can provide assistance with disabled parking. There are drop off points at the entrance.
Entry to the Scottish Parliament is free. Visitors need to go through a security check at the entrance. The building is light and airy and fully accessible to all. It is easy to walk on flooring, plenty of respite seating, wheelchair friendly lifts and automatic doors. Wheelchairs are available to hire – please telephone and book in advance. The cafe is wheelchair friendly and there are disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets.
Visitors can either look round the Parliament themselves or book in advance for a tour. There are exhibitions throughout the Parliament, visitors can visit the debating chamber (book in advance if you wish to listen to a debate and experience history taking place). There are committee rooms to see and the Public Gallery. The Parliament is large consisting of a number of buildings and gardens.
Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is berthed at Ocean Terminal in Leith, a short way drive from Edinburgh’s city centre. It provides full accessibility to everyone. Car parking at the Ocean terminal car park is free with wheelchair accessible lifts to level E where you will find the ticket office, gift shop and pathway to the Royal Yacht. Concessions are available and our ticket entitled us to as many future visits as we wanted for a year.
There is free wheelchair hire. The pathways are wheelchair accessible. There is plenty of seating available throughout. Decks are accessed by stairs or wheelchair accessible lifts.
The Royal Deck tea room provides good food in elegant surroundings with beautiful views over the Firth of Forth. It is licensed, it is also caters for those requiring gluten free or lactose free diets. Electric wheelchairs cannot be used in the tea room due to lift width restrictions, but manual wheelchairs can be used. There are wheelchair friendly toilets. Assistance dogs are welcome. Audio tour handsets are provided free of charge as are tablets in sign language.
The tour allows you to see the private living quarters of the Royal Family, the State Rooms, life below deck and operational rooms.
Update May 2015: There are now 27 languages on the audio tour, which is believed to be the world’s most translated tour. There is a British Sign Language tablet for the tour and it is also available in Braille.
The Queens Gallery and Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queens Gallery lie at the east end of The Royal Mile, opposite the Scottish Parliament. The visit is best achieved by taxi, local bus service from Waverley Bridge or tour bus. Walking takes around 15 minutes from Waverley Station. There is public car parking in the Holyrood area including 6 disabled bays in Horse Wynd but these are for the whole Holyrood area, not just the palace. The Palace is keen to accommodate disabled visitors and if you telephone in advance they will try and assist with parking close by.
There are various ticket combinations available to visit the Palace, the Gallery, the Abbey and go on a garden history tour. Concessions are available and carers for disabled people are admitted free on all ticket types.
The Queens Gallery has a separate entrance to the Palace. It holds changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection. It is fully accessible with the following provisions for the less mobile. Wheelchair hire is available – please book in advance. There are standard size wheelchair accessible lifts, level/ramped access to shops and cafes, and disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets. Respite seating is available. Assistance dogs are welcome. There is an induction loop system. Printed information and pre-bookable verbal tours for the partially sighted are available.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is mostly accessible, although there is no wheelchair access to Mary, Queen of Scots chambers which involves climbing a spiral staircase. For those that are unable to use stairs, a virtual tour of the chamber is available from the e-gallery. The venue provides standard size wheelchair accessible lifts, disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets and respite seating. Wheelchair hire is available – please book in advance. There is a level/ramped access to the cafe and a hearing loop induction system and printed information. Assistance dogs are welcome. Mobility scooters are allowed in the grounds but not the Palace.
The tour of the Abbey may prove difficult for some as the ground consists of gravel chippings. The garden history tour is accessible.
Do check opening times in advance as the Palace is not open to the public when the Royal Family are in residence.
Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is in the city centre, on the Mound with Edinburgh Castle towering above. It houses a large selection of Scotland’s remarkable collection of fine art from early Renaissance to the late 19th century.
The venue is divided into three buildings. The Gallery which houses a permanent art collection, The Academy which houses temporary exhibitions, and the third building beneath the Gallery is called The Garden Entrance. It links the Gallery to the Academy and contains a waiter service restaurant, a self-service cafe and an information desk. The restaurant and cafe both have additional outdoor eating areas which offer superb views of Princes Street Gardens.
The venue has car parking with disabled bays. Entry to the Gallery is via steps or a separate ramped area. Disabled entry to The Academy is at the rear of the building. Entry to the Garden building is via a wheelchair accessible lift from the Gallery or by direct access from Princes Gardens, the latter involves using railed steps.
There is full access for the less mobile and all routes are wheelchair friendly. There is respite seating throughout. Lifts accommodate wheelchairs and have voice announcers. Wheelchair/disabled toilets are provided. Staff are helpful and have received disability awareness training. There are visual alarms and a hearing induction loop system. Wheelchair hire is free. There is a Gallery Bus which can take you to and from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at Belford Road.
Entry is free, although there are sometimes charges to some exhibitions.
The Scotch Whisky Experience
The Scotch Whisky Experience is located at Castlehill on the Royal Mile, not far from the Castle. It offers excellent facilities for the less mobile.
The Scotch Whisky Experience takes you through a replica distillery and allows you to see close up the World’s largest whisky collection. There are five different tours available at varying costs, each lasting around 90 minutes. Each tour differs in what it offers depending on what it is you want to learn about whisky, but all take you through the replica distillery to see the whisky collection. There is also the possibility of seeing the resident ghost!
There is some metered car parking on Johnson Terrace. Alternatively taxis can take you.
The building is spacious, allowing plenty of room to move about. As well as the Scotch Whisky Experience there is a bar, shop and restaurant providing full wheelchair access. Lifts are wheelchair accessible and there are wheelchair accessible/disabled toilets.
Part of every tour includes the Barrel Car which takes you through the Replica Distillery. This car has been designed for wheelchair users.
The tour guides have excellent knowledge, tours include printed materials and sensory aromas.
Edinburgh Bus Tours
For visitors to Edinburgh wanting to locate the major attractions without the hassle of city centre driving, these tours which start at Waverley Bridge (opposite Waverley Station) and nearby St Andrews Square provide the opportunity. Whereas Edinburgh does have an excellent public transport service, it is not always door to door service (for example to the Royal Botanic Garden) whereas the tour bus services do. They provide a hop on hop off service, they run approximately every twenty minutes, so you can stop, visit an attraction, with the knowledge you can continue your tour without having to wait too long for a bus. All the tour buses can accommodate wheelchairs. Tickets are competitively priced for unlimited use over a 24 hour period or can be upgraded to 48 hours. The tickets also allow discounts to some attractions. The tickets are especially good value for the solo traveller when compared to taxi prices. The tours have the advantage of providing you with information either through their audio or live guide tour. I chose the live guide because that gave the opportunity to ask questions.