Quick Guide: Edinburgh

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Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill

IN SHORT

People often think of Paris as a literary city, but Edinburgh has a fascinating history of its own in that respect. Great writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have called Edinburgh home, and even J.K. Rowling is said to have penned much of the first Harry Potter novels in a cafe sitting below Edinburgh Castle (inspiration for Hogwarts!). After going to Edinburgh, you can see why the city has inspired these writers–there’s just something that seems mysterious and adventurous about the place!

BEST ATTRACTIONS
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Edinburgh Castle

1. Edinburgh Castle & the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle was great fun. It’s a historic castle perched atop an extinct volcano in the middle of Edinburgh. The views of the surrounding city are fabulous from the castle’s well-situated vantage point, which was one of the first things we noticed. I definitely recommend starting with a guided tour. Our guide’s name was Gavin and he was a fount of information about the castle, but also very hilarious–he mocked the movie Braveheart and used expressions like “as useful as a chocolate teapot”. We then went on to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, tour the Scottish War Memorial, see one part of the castle that was set up as it was when it was a prison, St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving part of the castle), and the Regimental Museum. At one o’clock everyday they shoot off the One O’Clock gun, which is quite loud. Everyone flocks around it, but you can get a better view or shot of it from above. Another thing I recommend doing while there is eating at the Edinburgh Tea Rooms (see Best Food below). Outside of the castle is the Royal Mile, which is lined with museums (like the tartan-weaving mill) and souvenir shops and ends at the gates of Holyrood Palace.

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View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

2. Calton Hill

A short hike up Calton Hill yields awesome views of the city of Edinburgh, the Scottish countryside, and the Firth of Forth. There are also all sorts of monuments, mostly in the classical Greek and Roman architecture styles, on top of Calton Hill. They’re part of what gives Edinburgh its nickname as the “Athens of the North”. Monuments include the City Observatory, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Robert Burns Monument, and the never-completed National Monument, which was my favorite.

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Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens

3. Princes Street & Gardens

Princes Street is a nice street in Old Town Edinburgh that has some really great shopping and restaurants. Princes Street Gardens is right across the street from all of the shops, and there are some really amazing views of Edinburgh Castle from the gardens. We were there in the spring, so there were a lot of really beautiful flowers there, as well as a pretty fountain, and a church and cemetery nearby. We basically started there when we got to Edinburgh, and I think that’s a nice way to do it before visiting Edinburgh Castle.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

We only saw one street performer playing bagpipes while we were there, and we were surprised to see that it was a young lady (about our age!). I’d always thought it was more of an old Scottish man hobby, but she played very well and we got some great photos and video. We were quite satisfied that we were able to hear live bagpipe music while we were there!

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Monument to Greyfriars Bobby

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Greyfriars Bobby was a loyal little Scottie dog who lived in Greyfriars Kirkyard, staying with his master’s grave for 14 days after his death. There’s a life-size sculpture of him outside of the churchyard, and you can leave a gift or little stick (for him to fetch in heaven!) at his grave in the churchyard.

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The Firth of Forth

BEST MEMORY

Mickey wanted to buy a tin whistle while we were there, so we found a store (Scayles Music) that sold them online. We walked there from the nearest bus stop and then walked all the way to Calton Hill, shopping as we went. We got to see a less-touristy area of Edinburgh, with thrift stores, book stores, and even a “Pound savers” (like a dollar store, but everything costs 1 pound). Later, we rode one of the buses all the way to the end of the line, got off, and walked along the Firth of Forth. It was a nice day in an area of Edinburgh that didn’t have souvenir shops everywhere.

BIGGEST LETDOWN

We originally were planning on going to Stirling Castle outside of Edinburgh, but it got cut from the trip. Next time I’m in Edinburgh I’m definitely going to try to take a day trip there, especially after learning about the importance of the castle in the history of Scotland when visiting other places in Edinburgh.

BEST FOOD

We had scones, jam, and clotted cream in the Tea Rooms at Edinburgh Castle, and it was amazing! It sounds like such a simple food but it was really delicious. Haggis, on the other hand, was a different story…

FAVORITE SOUVENIR

I really love the Heathergem necklace I bought while in Edinburgh, though I regret not buying a plaid cashmere scarf as well!

WHY YOU SHOULD GO

Edinburgh is an enchanting city. It’s no wonder that the minds who created the characters of Long John Silver, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes were all either born or lived there. The place just seems to spark the imagination–you feel as if anything could happen, and there is a varied landscape for inspiration. There’s a beautiful landscape surrounding the city, the tall grey buildings just seem full of history, and going down to the shore of the Firth of Forth is a nice change of pace as well. It’s urban, but not so urban that a group of Midwesterners felt at all out of place there, and I loved all the things unique to Scotland–from the accents to bagpipes to tartan and kilts. It’s definitely a great place for castles, history, and exploring!

Have you been to Edinburgh? What was your experience like there? Comment below!

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