Let me just start this post by saying that Edinburgh is awesome. It is one of our favourite cities from our entire journey, if not the favourite. Edinburgh is full of rich history, architecture, personality, and charm. It is a great city that has a bit of everything and sits in an absolutely stunning setting flanked by mountains and the sea; and the fact that a great big castle sits at its heart, perched atop an old volcano overlooking the entire city, definitely adds to its awesomeness.
Upon our arrival in Edinburgh, we received a warm Scottish welcome of a flash monsoon, sideways rain, lighting and all, which forced us to huddle with the masses beneath a wee bus stop just outside of the very busy Waverly train station. Luckily though, the rain soon passed, which would be the last rain we would experience during our entire time in Scotland, and we were on our way to our B&B, which was about a 15-minute walk away. We had arrived later in the afternoon, as it had taken roughly eight hours of train travel to cover all of that ground from Stratford-upon-Avon, in the West Midlands of England, to reach Scotland. So, naturally, our first day in Edinburgh was spent almost entirely in the pub just up the street from the B&B.
We spent our first full day in Edinburgh partaking in our usual city walking tour, which focused on the upper portion of the Royal Mile, the part closest to the Castle (the other end being the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace), and, our guide, despite being relatively nervous and seemingly not too fond of speaking in front of crowds, was quite informative and shared some great tidbits about the city’s, particularly the Royal Mile’s, rich history. One of the stops on the tour was a visit to the popular Greyfriars Kirkyard, a 455-year old cemetery that is home to some notable Scotsman, with the most popular gravesite, sadly, being that of the Lord of Darkness himself, Tom Riddle, or at least Thomas Riddell, who apparently was the “inspiration” for Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort – speaking of which there were quite a few cafés that all claimed to be the spot where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.
One often forgets that Edinburgh has a very rich writing and intellectual history. It has been home to countless great writers and thinkers, with plenty of monuments and reminders to this storied history. The likes of David Hume, Walter Scott, Adam Smith, and Robbie Burns are forever enshrined throughout the city, but alas very few cafés claim to be the spot where Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations.
After our tour ended, we continued on our own down the rest of the Royal Mile, where we reached the World’s End, a delightful pub that sits on the corner where medieval Edinburgh’s walls once stood – beyond which lay the unclean English hordes. But today, instead of the English lying in wait, just beyond the World’s End it is the politicians at the Scottish Parliament; and depending on who you talk to some would prefer the English hordes of yore.
We spent our next day entirely at the top of the Royal Mile, atop Castle Rock exploring Edinburgh Castle. Now, through our travels in Europe, we have visited some pretty great palaces and cool castles, but Edinburgh Castle had to be one of the best. It was huge, in excellent condition, and offered a commanding view of the whole of Edinburgh. This is another part of Edinburgh that is rich with history and myth, as we learned from the audio guide that I could not help but overpay for, which had some five hours of information readily at hand. Inside the castle we saw the Honours of Scotland (crown, regalia, and the Stone of Destiny (the Coronation Stone) that has quite the history in its own right) that were, to be honest, not the most impressive of official royal gear – needless to say it was obvious that Scotland had never been a truly wealthy country. We timed it just right to be in the first row to watch the firing of the One o’clock Gun, which, as the name suggests, marks the one o’clock hour in the afternoon via artillery fire.
And speaking of the lack of wealth flowing through Scotland’s history, Carlton Hill offered a great example of this, as perched atop the hill on the other side of the city, is the unfinished National Monument. It was intended to be another Parthenon to commemorate Scottish Soldiers lost in the Napoleonic Wars, but due to lack of money, it never got past the erection of the first twelve columns. Yet there is a certain charm about it, as it is a fitting analogy for the Scottish: even if their aspirations outreached their grasp, it never stopped them from trying. Carlton Hill also offered great views of the city and castle, especially at night, and its great big green space was perfect for afternoon napping and soaking up some faint Scottish sunshine.
We even squeezed in a hike up Arthur’s Seat on our fourth day in Edinburgh, which is a curious name for a small mountain and offers a very suggestive sentence to write. But I digress… Arthur’s Seat was not too difficult to hike, but offered tremendous views of Edinburgh and the surrounding Scottish countryside in all directions from its peak. While the views were great, the wind was howling and made our stay at the top a loud, constantly-leaning-forward affair.
Our last day in Edinburgh was spent at the National Museum of Scotland, which was free, and offered an awesome hodgepodge of a natural history exhibition, Greek sculptures, science and technology exhibition, Renaissance Art, and the entire history of Scotland from the birth of the British Isles from volcanoes to modern politics. It was really an awesome museum full of randomness.
And in between all of that, we spent plenty of time in pubs chatting with locals and tourist alike, roaming about the various famed, and random, streets of Edinburgh, eating deep-fried Mars bars and Haggis (well that last one was mostly just me), and basically doing our best to soak up as much as we could of this awesome, charming city.
Edinburgh is a city that embraces both the new and old, and yet seamless integrates the two to create something unique, something that is just plain awesome.