Oh, bonny Scotland. Scotland was my last destination before heading home earlier this fall. I knew Scotland would be great, but I had no idea how incredible, stunning, and wonderful it actually would be. I flew to Edinburgh from Belfast on a rainy Saturday morning. I was greeted by a happy-go-lucky taxi driver with his strong Scottish accent and friendly nature. This was a stark comparison to the angry and rude taxi driver I had leaving Belfast a few hours before arriving in Scotland. So my Scottish trip started off on the right foot. Edinburgh was my first stop, followed by a day tour to northern England, and then to Glasgow. Had I known how charming Scotland would be, I would have stayed an extra week or month or year...or forever.
As I mentioned above, I had the best taxi driver ever who dropped me off at the flat I was staying at near the University of Edinburgh. I was staying with a student who I had met off of Couchsurfing. My plan was to stay two nights there and then at a hostel in the city centre on my last night. The hostel I stayed at was central and overall it was an okay place. With two full days in Edinburgh, I was not able to do everything I wanted to. So word of advice, spend at least three full days if you are visiting the city.
One of the things I was looking forward to about Edinburgh was all its history, museums, and old buildings. Most of the main attractions are on the Royal Mile, which is a cobblestone street going east-west through the city centre. Along this street are historic buildings with Edinburgh Castle on one end and Holyrood Palace on the other. What I loved about walking along the Royal Mile was how Harry Potter-ish it was. Victoria Street, which may have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley, is just off the Royal Mile.
Edinburgh is full of museums and art galleries that are FREE (yay for my wallet!) The first one I went to was the Museum of Edinburgh. It looks small on the outside, but it is large on the inside. The museum was a great start for me as it introduced me to Edinburgh history. I then went to The National Museum of Scotland. It is huge and can easily take a full day, so I stuck to exhibits focusing on Scottish history. On the 6th level of the museum is a terrace that gives you a nice (but not the best) view of Edinburgh (especially Edinburgh Castle).
Edinburgh Castle is located on a hill on the west end of the Royal Mile. It towers over Edinburgh, which means excellent views from the top. The castle is a major tourist attraction, and thus quite expensive. There are several historic buildings on site that feature various exhibits looking at the history of the castle and city. Scotland's Crown Jewels are also kept here including Scotland's Stone of Destiny (not to be confused with Ireland's Stone of Destiny). Guided tours are included in the admission, but I opted to go at my own pace.
View from Edinburgh Castle looking south-east towards Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crag
Aside from being drawn to the castle for its history, I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to try (and buy) a particular brand of whisky that you can apparently only get at the castle. Before I left Toronto a friend had told me about this whisky that she could only ever find at the castle. It was apparently really good. I am not a whisky person as I prefer sweeter drinks, but I just had to try it. Inside the castle are a few gift shops, one specifically a Whisky Shop. Luckily, I was able to taste a bit of the whisky before purchasing it and my friend was right. I am now obsessed with this drink. So this is how I ended up with 3 big bottles of Bruadar Liqueur in my carry-on luggage. If any of my readers are going to Edinburgh (or live there), please mail me some! I will forever be thankful.
HOLYROOD PALACE AND ABBEY
Holyrood Palace or the Palace of Holyroodhouse is on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. Keep in mind that Edinburgh is a walkable city, so it took me 30 minutes to walk there from the Castle. Since the Palace is still used by the Royal family, only some of the rooms are open to the public. There is also a gallery, The Queen’s Gallery, however there is an extra fee for that. So I only did the Palace and Abbey.
My favourite part was Holyrood Abbey, which was founded in 1128 by King David I and was in use until the 18th century when it was abandoned. Much of its structure is still standing although the roof has mostly collapsed (not cool when it is raining, which is what happened to me). There are some old tombstones that have been weathered down so I couldn’t read names or dates.
MARY KING'S CLOSE
Old town Edinburgh originally had one main street, the Royal Mile, and alleyways that ran north and south. These alleyways, also called ‘close’, were usually named after a prominent person who lived along the close or after a successful business. A close would typically be narrow with tall buildings on either side. Most of these closes were eventually demolished and/or built on top of.
Mary King’s Close is one of many in Edinburgh and you can explore it by paying for a guided tour. I thought it was quite expensive for an hour long tour, but it was neat going underground and walking through tunnels that were once alleyways to tall buildings in the medieval period. The tour gets you a guide who talks about the history of the close and Mary King, access to the close as well as other smaller ones, and into apartments that were used for centuries by people. Mary King’s Close is also well known for being haunted, and although there was only one scary story told on the tour, they also do haunted tours year round.
If you don’t want to pay to see this close, there are many other closes that are open to the public and connect to streets from the Royal Mile. Most, if not all, have signs at the entrance so you know when you enter a close.
CALTON HILL & ARTHUR'S SEAT
The unfinished parthenon at the top of Calton Hill
Calton Hill is personally my favourite spot for a view of the city. Arthur’s Seat may have offered an even better view, but I didn’t get an opportunity to go there so who knows. Calton Hill is within walking distance of the city centre and involves a steep climb up to the top. Totally worth it though for the view as well as the structures at the top of the hill. The most recognizable one is the National Monument of Scotland, an unfinished parthenon which was inspired by the parthenon in Athens. Construction started in 1826, however due to lack of funds it was never completed. Since then it has been given a few nicknames, most notably “Edinburgh’s Disgrace.”
Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crag in the background
Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano in Edinburgh that you can hike up to. There is also Salisbury Crag which separates Arthur’s Seat from the city centre. Although I didn’t get a chance to go up myself, I have seen some pictures with stunning views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area.
Where do I even begin with food. Edinburgh is a multicultural city, so you can find food from all cultures. I went to a many places, including The Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling spent much of her time writing Harry Potter. The Elephant House was fairly busy, so I unfortunately left after waiting a few minutes in line. I was too hungry to wait. I ended up going to George IV bar, which was a block away. The bar is large and they have friendly staff...but do not get their mac and cheese. I found it to be too dry and tasteless. I also went to Rabbie's Cafe one morning, which is where Rabbie's tours depart from (post on this coming next). They had affordable breakfast sandwiches and drinks. I tried a sausage roll, which I had never tried before. SO GOOD.
Two full days is certainly not enough to explore Edinburgh. I did not have time to visit the Scott Monument, Arthur’s Seat, The University of Edinburgh, and explore new town. But this just means I have to go back for another visit :)
Have you been to Edinburgh? What is your favourite spot or place to eat? Also, if anyone is visiting or living in Edinburgh please mail me some Bruadar Liqueur. Thanks a bunch!
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