A July 2003 trip
to Edinburgh by Taylor Shelby
Quote: Edinburgh is easily one of the most vibrant cities in Great Britian. I spent a week there in late summer and quickly fell in love. Here is what I did...
Edinbugh is dominated by two large crags. Arthur's seat is at one end, unadorned and magnificent. Opposite is the reason Edinburgh exists at all, the brilliant defensive position that is home to Edinburgh Castle. The first settlers came here around 900 BC, and by 1124, King David I was holding court at the castle here. Since then, Edinburgh has grown into the center of Scottish culture and government.
You could spend months in the city and not even begin to see everything. I loved it so much, that I changed my entire trip around, and took a 9-hour train ride, just so I could spend an extra day in the city. If you only see two things, make them Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House. The castle was mainly for defense, and was used in times of crisis. Holyrood House was the home of Scottish Royalty for hundreds of year and is quite luxurious. Its most famous resident was Mary Queen of Scots, and you can see her bedroom, perfectly restored. They are both beautiful, fascinating, and memorable. There are also a number of Museums, including the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The Royal Museum and Museum of Scotland are also very well done and massive in scale. If you find you have some time, just wander around. The city is a wonderful maze of tall buildings, winding alleys, and enclosed courtyards.
To save some money, think about joining Historic Scotland. You can get an explorer pass for as little as 17 pounds. Just the entrance fee to Edinburgh castle is over 10, so when you think about going to a lot of places, it adds up quick. To order or get more information, visit Historic Scotland online.
Edinburgh is a pretty large city, but most of the sites are located in one small area around the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is the street that stretches from Edinburgh castle to Holyrood House. Make sure to walk around it at least once, it is very beautiful.
The National Galleries museums have a free bus that links the art museums. You can catch them outside of any of the sites.
Hotel | "Castle Rock Hostel"
For views, you can't beat Castle Rock. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, when you walk out the front door, you are standing right under the massive castle. Just to your right, a looming cathedral takes up the other view. Also, being that near the castle makes it incredibly easy to find. It is right off the royal mile, just left of the castle. You can easily walk there, but since it is mostly uphill from the bus stop, my backpack started getting really heavy.
I was very impressed with the staff at all of the hostels I stayed in, and they were no different at this one. They were always friendly and smiling and extremely helpful. The front desk also has a small selection of necesseties, and I spend quite a few pences on Dr. Peppers (they can be difficult to find in Europe).
The rooms are same-sex dorms and sleep about 14 people. The rooms are very large and breezy. Huge windows in every room assure you as much light as can shine through the dense clouds that usually cover Scotland. Some of the beds were a tad squeaky, but they were comfy.
The hostel is HUGE. For sure the largest I have ever stayed in. It sleeps about 200 people, so the social rooms are always busy and bustling. There are three different rooms, two loud ones and one "posh" one that is where people usually gather and read.
The one place I ran into problems with that is the kitchen. It was very difficult to find a place to put anything, and their complicated system of seven fridges threw me for a loop. If you don't want to fight the crowds, they do offer a nice breakfast of cereal, breads, and juices for $1.90.
Despite the size, the bathrooms were adequate. They were clean and had lovely, strong, hot showers. Sometimes that can be hard to come by in a hostel.
My one piece of advice is to bring earplugs. The noise from the street can be considerable since it is right off the Royal Mile. That advice goes for any kind of travelling, really. Prices run from 12 to 13.50 pounds, depending on the season. You can book from the website.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 17, 2005
15 Johnson Terrace
+44 0131 225 9666
Royal Mile is located on the opposite end of High Street from the castle (a blessing because now you can walk downhill!) towards Holyrood House. The rooms here are much smaller than Castle Rock, with only eight to a dorm. It still had a nice, friendly feeling of Castle Rock, but it was much more personal. The employees actually knew your name! There is a nice, clean kitchen and a small, bright lounge where you can always find someone to talk to. The bathrooms are clean and small, but there was rarely any waiting.
Some of the bonuses include free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, a fireplace in the lounge, free bed-linen, and a book-ahead service at the other hostels owned by the company (always good, in my experience). Prices are 12 to 13.50 pounds, and you can book ahead at their other hostels or on the website: Scotland's Top Hostels.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 17, 2005
Royal Mile Backpackers
105 High Street
Attraction | "Palace of Holyroodhouse"
The palace is quite different from the castle in that, while they are both royal residences, Holyrood was built as a palace, not a defensive fort. Today, it is the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland, and if she or the royal family is in town, the palace is closed. You will probably know if they are around, but make sure to ask ahead.
Originally it was the site of the Abby of Holyrood (rood is the word for cross), and there was a small guesthouse attached, but during the reign of King James IV, the home was enlarged to be used as a royal palace. James V added many more improvements for his wife Marie in the 1540s. It was further improved by their daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, and you can see her fascinating bedchamber on the tour.
The tour is a free audio tour that you can take at your own pace, which I really enjoyed. A surprisingly large portion of the home is on tour, including the Great Gallery, which houses many pictures of rulers of Scotland, the state chambers, and the ruins of the abbey.
The most famous part of the tour is the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots. She lived here during her short rule of Scotland in the 1560s, and included on the tour is the small room in which her wretched husband held a pregnant Mary at gunpoint and murdered her favorite secretary, Riccio, right in front of her. You can also see the spot where he bled to death. This is almost certainly apocryphal, but it is a neat little story.
My favorite part was actually the ancient abbey, first built in the 1100s. Today, it is ruined (thanks, John Knox), but you can still tell what a beautiful spot it must have been. In it you can see the broken tombs of Marie de Guise's two dead princes and James V's first wife, the young, beautiful Princess Madeline. It is a very peaceful, inspiring place.
The grounds of the palace are also open, and you can get a wonderful view of Arthur's Seat from the back of the palace.
Admission to the palace is £8.50 for adults and £4.50 for those under 17. You can also visit the queen's art gallery for an extra charge.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 18, 2005
Holyrood Palace/Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8DX
+44 (131) 556 5100
Attraction | "Edinburgh Castle - Part I"
It was first used as a royal palace in the 11th century, when King Malcolm and Queen Margaret held court here. During the reign of David I (1124-1153), it was converted into a true royal fortress. The English King Edward I, one of the greatest military leaders of all time, was able to take it by force in 1296, but by the 1340s, it was back in the hands of the Scots, never to be lost again. It last saw action in 1745, when the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie made a half-hearted attempt to take the fortress. Until the 1920s, it was used as the British Army’s main base in Scotland.
The castle is one of the most expensive things I saw, but it is literally the sight in Scotland. The admission price is worth it because there is so much to see. You could easily spend 3 or 4 hours visiting every site on the rock. Frankly, the views of the city are almost worth the admission price alone. You can see for miles, and on a clear day, it is astonishing.
The hilltop is actually a large complex of buildings, with the actual castle only taking up a small portion. The castle is divided into two areas, the lower ward and the upper ward. The lower ward is the first you will come to. The first thing you will see after passing through the Portcullis is the renovated barracks, today a very large gift shop. After you climb a little hill, you will arrive at the main battery. At this battery, you will find the 1 o’clock gun, a WWII artillery piece that fires daily at one, so you know if your watch is right. Look out for this. I almost wet my pants when it went off.
Past the battery, there are a few buildings that are closed to the public. The British Army still uses the castle as an operational base, so those buildings are for their use only. If you continue past those, you will reach the National War Museum of Scotland. Despite the seemingly small size, it is actually quite massive. The museum houses displays of weaponry, uniforms, and miscellany related to Scottish military history. They do a very good job of telling personal stories that really make the artifacts come to life. I very much enjoyed the museum, so don’t miss it. There are also small museums dedicated to specific Scottish regiments that have some wonderful displays of uniforms.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 21, 2005
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2NG
+44 (131) 225 9846
Attraction | "Edinburgh Castle - Part II"
Just outside the chapel, is Mons Meg, the largest cannon I have ever seen. The six-ton gun was given as a gift to James II and was made in present-day Belgium. You could probably fit your whole head in there, but don’t encourage your kids to put their faces near firearms.
The main area is Crown Square, which is the actual royal residence as laid out by the Stewart dynasty. The Royal Palace itself is most impressive and quite enjoyable. Really the entire palace was a highlight. Much of the castle has been painstakingly restored, and you almost feel like you are walking through time in those rooms. One of the most popular sights is the room that holds the Honours of Scotland, or the Crown Jewels. The Honours comprise a crown, scepter, and sword, which were first together to crown the infant Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. The jewels were actually forgotten about from the early 1700s until 1818, when Sir Walter Scott pressured a search of the castle. They were found unceremoniously locked in a chest.
The Royal Apartments were my most memorable part of the castle. Here you can see the rooms lived in by the Kings and Queens, mostly Stewart. The most touching room is the tiny wood-paneled chamber in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI, who would one day unite England and Scotland under one crown
Also in the upper ward, there is the Scottish National War Memorial. The touching memorial is in a large structure, not unlike a cathedral, that is quite touching. The restored great hall is also located here, an impressive room that gives you some sense about what being a King or Queen may have been like.
Admission to the castle is steep, just like the climb (har, har). Adults are ₤9.80 and kids are ₤3.50. But seriously, it is so worth it. Millions of visitors can’t be wrong.
Charleston, South Carolina