Destination- Edinburgh: Travel Tuesday 3
I will not lie, it look me a few days to get used to saying "Edinbur-ah" without feeling silly. It just wasn't computing in my head properly, as Edinbur"g" just made more sense. However, no matter how you choose to say it, or what accent you say it in, the city will accept you with a warm embrace either way. It's a small city, with compact streets and towering buildings, built of heavy stone and adorned with huge statues and memorials. Cobble stone streets lead you up to small alley ways and curvy pathways, packed with knick knack stores and coffee shops.
Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city, and made for an amazing first stop in my travels across the country. The city is overlooked by the majestic Edinburgh castle, that sits upon a mountain smack in the middle of the city. Despite the small, toothless old lady who cursed me on the street my first morning there, people were super friendly and would carry on a conversation with you- whether you could make out their accents or just nod in agreement. It wasn't an hour into my time in the city that the sound of bagpipes filled the air from a busker dressed in traditional Scottish fashion, including his typical Scottish kilt.
I woke up early on my first morning there, in order to get all that I could in during my stay, and started the day with a hike up to Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park. A visitor must, this hike up the mountain to the east of the city, gives you grand views of the steeple tops of Edinburgh, the ocean's coast in the distance, and the castle across the way. Be sure to wear your hiking shoes, and take some water for the trip. Once up on the mountain, the luscious green grass and rocky terrain will have you feeling less like you're in a city, and more like your exploring the highlands.
I mapped out my day, and actually, it was easy to make one big circle to fit all of the key spots of interest. No need for public transit or a car here, as everything is fairly close and within walking distance (as I said, it's a very small city). After the hike, there was visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the northernmost part of the park, and then off to Carlton Hill, a hill filled with large, grand monuments. I stopped for lunch at Howie's afterwards, right there on Princes Street, for traditional Scottish food in a relaxed, yet classy dining room. Next, there is Edinburgh New Town to the west, with shops and malls and Edinburgh's Hard Rock Cafe. Also in this area, you'll find Scott's monument, a huge gothic-style monument dedicated to the writer Sir Walter Scott.
Edinburgh Castle was next on the list. It's grand and royal, and a huge tourist attraction. Long lines and an entrance fee and you can see inside and make it onto the royal grounds. Just in front of the castle is the start of The Royal Mile, with lots of visitor oriented shops with plenty of kilts and whiskey, plaided scarves and souvenirs.
Saint Giles' Cathedral is next, which is beautiful, both inside and out. Make sure you purchase a "photo taking ticket," or just click a few, nonchalantly, without getting caught. When you're finished sneaking around the Cathedral with your incognito iPhone camera, take a turn down Bank Street to see the famed Elephant House, a small coffee shop with a backroom view of the castle. Sit and sip, and take in the atmosphere that JK Rowling breathed as she birthed Harry Potter, at those very same cafe tables.
After enough coffee, you can go down and check out the Edinburgh University and grab dinner at MUMS Great Comfort food. I would recommend you try the Shepherd's Pie or Haggis, with a scotch whiskey. As the name states, it is comfort food served in a very small, homey restaurant with a great retro music playlist. It is sure to fill you up! I ended my day at The Jazz Bar, on Chambers Street, where a solo performance of Scottish Blues had me questioning the decision, but a later set of collaborative Jazz reminded me why I chose to visit to begin with. You could just sit in the basement club around your little table, scotch in hand, and enjoy the music of the night.
A few other places to check out during a trip to this historic city would be the National Museum of Scotland, a very large, and very beautiful museum that is free of charge and harbors a lot of interesting items and inventions native to Scotland, as well as exhibits from around the world. Some key exhibits include the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep and an eerie Millineum Clock tower, that sounds on the hour, as small figures move about the base on a system of pullies and clockwork, commemorating the human suffering of the 20th century.
Also, take a walk down Cockburn Street, near the Edinburgh Waverley, and you will feel like you just transported to the cobblestoned street of Diagon Alley. It's easy to see how inspiration for the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts came to be, as you explore one of the cities where it all began. Then, Get a beer at Greenmantle Pub, a traditional local pub, or walk around some more and explore all of the crevices and secret doors that the city is hiding for you to find.
The city immediately felt like home. I don't know if it was the kind eyes of the people, the classic feel of the warm buildings and welcoming store fronts, or the dozens of other red beards I crossed on the street. Either way, it is a city worth exploring, and a stop you should be sure to make if you find yourself in that part of the world. And after your stay in Edinburgh, begin planning for your next!