A visit to Scotland without visiting Edinburgh would be like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, visiting Rome without seeing the Colosseum, like cheese and crackers, beer and pizza, or salt and pepper, it is a perfect combination. The capital of Scotland attracts millions of visitors every year to its cobbled stone streets, not only because of its world known festivals that wow tourists from all over the world- such as Hogmany and Edinburgh Fringe, but because the city itself is extraordinary.
Centuries of history are symbolised through the imposing castle that stands surveying the city, whilst medieval relics and Gothic churches are hidden in the very narrow streets of the city, rubbing shoulders with modern architecture and enlightening museums and galleries. Winding down street corners you discover rich heritage, Scottish culture, fine shopping (where to get your favourites from The Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and delicious food. Around the city the scenery is stunning, with spectacular coastal walks; dramatic cliffs, and rolling hills are a plenty, which are equally as attractive as the mad revels that are filled in every noisy pub and heaving club that make up Edinburgh’s thriving night life.
The local people of Edinburgh can be quite hard to spot at times. Although walking with a knowledge of the area and purpose, its not like they are wearing kilts or don ginger beards. Students, expats, and tourists, encompass many of the city’s bars and cafes, creating a cosmopolitan hub of carefree opening people. I came here on a holiday with my mum, the first trip we did together outside of England (unleashing a passion for travel that still throbs in my veins now 13 years later). I was very young and enthusiastic about visiting all of the sights. That is why there is no personal accounts of night life, or how to explore Edinburgh like a backpacker, although all the main sights we visited- you should try see as much of as you can.
Like the cherry on top of the cake, or should I say the castle on top of the hill, you must visit the Edinburgh Castle. The castle not only plays a pivotal role on the horizon, but also in Scottish history, both as a royal residence and as a military stronghold. Entry is through the Portcullis gate and as you ascend and wander around the site, you are greeted with sweeping panoramic views of Edinburgh from the height of Castle Rock. Events are held here with momentous occasion, so book in advance if you want to immerse yourself with Edinburgh’s culture at such a poignant site.
St Giles Cathedral is another beautiful site that is steeped in history, being both a piece of art and a religious site for refuge and worship. The building has stunning architecture but a wander inside is equally as stunning and gives the visitor a quiet time to reflect, even if you are not religious. Other historical sights to see are the Abbey and Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of the British monarch, the Royal Botanic Garden, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery of Scotland: both providing scope into the diverse culture, visually powerful art, and rich history of Scotland. There are a number of independent art galleries situated around the area of St Stephen Street if you want to explore art that is unique and individual.
Edinburgh is a wonderful city to leave the travel guide at home and explore the city whatever direction you fancy, you will no undoubtedly find a treasure wherever your footsteps may take you. Although one area you really should try and check out is the Grassmarket district, a unique area of the historic old town which is thriving with artisan shops, locally sourced restaurants and cosy bars that all ooze with the traditional charm of Edinburgh, the quirkiness of its character combined with stone washed walls and its gutsy edge.
Arthur’s seat, at the top of the summit opposite Holyroodhouse, is a fine hike and merits any walker with stunning views over Edinburgh’s skyline, as well as the experience of walking over a dormant volcano. If this still doesn’t attract you, think of the lofty heaths filled with thistles and ferns which transports you to a scene from Braveheart or Harry Potter, whilst the bracing fresh air revives you. There is much to see around Edinburgh, both short and long distances, such as the town of Leith or a trip to the tourist’s favourite, Oban. Oban is known as a “gateway to the Isles”, where rural Scottish life blossoms by the sea. Tourists flock here in thousands at peak times, so if wanting peace and solitude whilst embracing the elements of Scotland, Oban is not the place. Tours from Edinburgh offer competitive packages and prices, all with similar experiences. Visit in off season or a neighbouring island for a more authentic experience.
Here is my ode to Oban for all those who want to read my poor attempt at poetry:
Oh Oban, you are so far away,
We didn’t know how long the journey would be,
On the bus with the horrific Celtic music you play,
And in Oban there is little to see,
but eat fish, visit the McCaig’s Tower and make friends with a hairy yak,
and note its majestical natural beauty,
I’m kinda glad were on the way back.
As I said before, Edinburgh has a wonderful attitude towards activities after dark. As well as numerous pubs, bars and clubs to choose from, there are also historical horror walking tours that lead you into the depths of City Chambers and Cemeteries to spook the living daylights out of you. Edinburgh is a city that entertains all types of guests, that plays with all your senses and leaves you wanting more. Restaurants are no different and vary from local cafés selling the infamous speciality of black pudding (dried blood anyone?), takeaways with deep fried pizza, funky restaurants and Michelin starred gourmet cuisine. The restaurants that are etched into my memory which we ventured too were; The Witchery– a luxurious restaurant that is set in a candle lit basement and introduced me to sea bass for the first time, (a life changing moment may I add) and the Tower Restaurant, situated above the National Museum of Scotland which serves impeccable food offering panoramic views.
Being with my mum (and not on my own personal budget) we stayed in, wait for it… The Scotsman Hotel. Where Scotland’s newspapers was born- and is now stylishly converted into a luxurious boutique hotel, which perfects its attention to detail by relating stylish interior to its history, has warm and helpful staff, and serves up a hearty full fry up in the morning.
N.B. I didn’t eat black pudding here funny enough, where the opportunity was best, but actually ate it years later on a first date with a man from Macclesfield, (later to be boyfriend, then ex boyfriend) where I ordered a fry up for our brunch date and was forced to eat it as he loved it and urged me to try it. Just for your own interest, it tastes as if meat but with a spongy texture- and when eating it and you remind yourself of its ingredients, is extremely had to ignore.