A January 2005 trip
to Edinburgh by Red Mezz
Quote: Time and again, I have been seduced across the sea to the Majesty of Edinburgh, and finally it has drawn me in and made me a resident. I have so much to tell about this amazing city--I hope it will help any who wish to enjoy it as well.
The clouds hang low and a bluish grey tint seems to hover over the city. The sandstone shows the black of years, and the buildings hover together in a way that no modern city can understand. The rain starts to speckle down as the wind picks up and quickly disperses any idea of using an umbrella. The air is cold (even though it might be possible June...possibly August...) and for the briefest of moments you wonder why on earth you decided to spend your travelling time this year in a place renowned for being cold and wet year round. But then the clouds are blown past, and Edinburgh castle comes into view. Princes Street opens up in all its splendor, the Scott Monument, truly monumental, towers over everything in an almost paternal way.
The staggered ancient buildings stoically and beautifully dotting the hill across the bridges and hiding the deeply antique Royal Mile. The clouds part for a moment letting a pale wash of sunshine light over the scene, and the green that speckles the view is the most brilliant colour you've ever beheld. The rugged rocky incline leading up to the imposing power and grace of Edinburgh castle are hard to pull your eyes away from, and all at once you wonder how on earth you wound up in a place so perfectly preserved, so unbelievably old. So greatly real. This is a magical place you've arrived in, and it's only the first street.
Even after living in Edinburgh for almost 4 years, and visiting several times before this, it still astounds me. Not pleases me, not impresses me. Astounds me. It's not easy for a place to amaze every day, day in and day out for years, but Edinburgh always has. I've always said I could never live in a city, and I don't feel that I ever have. Edinburgh exists on its own, outside the normal realm of things, and though does offer an array of modern conveniences, hides them beautifully in its unique and dramatic architecture. It has an absolute sense of itself, and it’s a glorious place to visit. I constantly try to encourage people to come and stay with me, just for the thrill of running them around the places I get to walk and see, and shop every day. The very age of every stone is hard to grasp, and wonderful to behold.
I could advise on when to come and visit, though it would be utterly pointless. Every Edinburgh season has it's high and low points. Springs are wet and cold, but the blooming daffodils in Princes Street Gardens and alongside the castle are beautiful. Summers are wet and muggy, and often cold, but you do get wonderfully sunny days and when a cold place gets warm for a small time a year the exhilaration can be felt in the air and the citizens become very happy people indeed. Winter and fall roll together, but even in bad weather Edinburgh can be enjoyed (some say at its best) because of how suitable the weather is to the dark and medieval scenery, as well as how wonderfully full of comfortable warm coffee shops the city is to sit in and get warm before venturing out for more sight seeing.
I can't stress enough that packing for Edinburgh can make or break a trip. Don't assume that because it's high summer you won't need a sweater, or that because it's late fall you won't get warm walking up and down steepish hills. Bring a variety of clothes, the best bet is to bring things that can be shed in layers (and easily put back on) and stowed in a bag, good walking shoes, and nothing you'd worry about getting wet. I highly suggest you stop into the Costa Coffee Shop upstairs on the westerly end of Princes Street. Not only do they have excellent coffee and great seating, but one of the best views of the city (and Castle) to be had. The pubs are numerous beyond mention, and if it's your first time to the city and true Scottish pub crawl is in order. It's hard to get a proper feel if you take them one at a time! Do lots of walking, and lots of seeing...the main enjoyment in a city like this is simply viewing and experiencing it. So many times, even now, I stop in wonder when I catch sight of the castle, or Princes Street from the Bridges, or the amazing Walter Scott Monument. Or Arthur’s Seat in the distance, which is something a first timer must do. It's quite a hike, but the view of the city is at its absolute best here. It's impossible not to see it in its full 12th century glory.
Public transportation in Edinburgh is good, but not necessary. It's one of the easiest cities I've ever been to for getting around. Even with out maps it's easy to know that if you are heading up then you’re on your way to Princes Street or the Royal Mile. If down, then your moving away from them. The amount of wondrous little streets and closes and strange intricate buildings and stairways and museums is best found by simply setting out and exploring.
The buses are cheap and fantastic, though, if you want to go that route. City buses are very reliable, very cheap, and not hard to get the hang of at all. And the tour buses are fantastic. They all leave a few feet from where the airport bus arrives just at the entrance to Princes Street Gardens (a wonderful place to stop for a snack or to rest weary feet on a sunny day) and many of them you can get on and off as much as you like. They are open topped (great in good weather) and with generally very enthusiastic guides.
The bus from the airport to the city centre is fabulous--it runs every 15 minutes and is incredibly easy to use on both ends. It's the only bus into the city from the airport (£5 return) and drops you off dead centre at a bus stop just off Princes Street (I highly recommend using it if for no other reason than the great upper deck view coming into the city.) and going back is equally easy to catch and direct to the airport. About a 45 minute drive each way.
And last but not least there are an abundance of taxi cabs in the city, which are a nightmare to drivers, but usually good for passengers. The prices are generally reasonable (about a fiver gets you around most centrally located places in the city) and all of my experience with them has been good and friendly. And it's not everywhere in the world you get to ride in old style British cabs.
I would recommend driving in the city least, as even those of us used to it find it horrible and avoid it if at all possible. In the past few years, the traffic situation in Edinburgh has gotten to really dire levels, and is complicated and close at the best of times.
The atmosphere is excellent, with live music every night and a generally full house. There aren't many tables to sit, so you get a lot of folk standing/half dancing on the floor, but it's good fun and the cover bands are, for the most part, really good. The seating they do have is interesting, with a bit of privacy. The bar staff isn't the fastest in Edinburgh, but they pour a beautiful pint. I would recommend this as a pub not to be missed.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 18, 2005
9b Victoria St.
Attraction | "Royal Botanic Gardens"
When the Royal Botanic Gardens were recommended to me as a place I needed to see in Edinburgh, I kind of dismissed it. In a stunning and ancient city of stone, I figured I could see some flowers and trees anywhere. But like most everything else in this city, The Botanic Gardens has a little something extra, and something to please pretty much everyone.
I've been to many parks around the world, both in and out of major cities, and to date the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens stands out amongst the rest. There could not be a more pleasant or relaxed vibe, and when the sun peaks out from behind the clouds the people of Edinburgh stop what they are doing, and wander to the Botanics to enjoy it. And yet, there is never a sense of it being over crowded, or unpleasantly busy. There are many paths to wander and whether you want simply to sit on a bench enjoying the really beautiful layout of the place to read a book, or to examine all the incredibly rare and well kept flowers, you are certain to enjoy it.
There are plants and trees from all over the world, and I am hard pressed to think of a better kept Garden anywhere. And maybe best of all, the Botanics in Edinburgh has a relaxed feel that you don't often find in Gardens of this caliber. There are paths, but everyone is free and happy to wander barefoot off them into the grass as well. Everywhere are people sunbathing in their own little bit of grass they've claimed, or reading and enjoying the sounds of the abundant birds in the park, often sharing bits of their lunch with the very friendly squirrels.
Down by the west entrance there is an excellent gift shop that sells not only trinkets to take home, but also lots of local products and even plants and some interesting herbal things. It's well worth stopping in, and on the way out, get an ice cream to wander through the park with.
The Botanics is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon if you're visiting Edinburgh and are exhausted from all of the walking up and down hills that make up most of the city. It's a very pleasant change from the city hustle, as well as all the age and stone that make the city so interesting.
This is a great place for yourself, with friends, or with kids. An excellent sight to see.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 18, 2005
Royal Botanic Garden
20A Inverleith Row
Edinburgh, Scotland EH3 5LR
+44 131 552 7171
It could hardly be easier to get to, as you can see it from most points in the centre of town, and, in fact, many roads lead to the castle. Simply follow the Royal Mile up, enjoying the scenery as you go, and you will find yourself walking right into the embrace of Edinburgh Castle.
The views are breathtaking, and it’s very easy to forget just what century you are living in. All of Edinburgh is a glorious mix of the very old and the new, but looking out from the castle seems to sum up the whole vibe beautifully.
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2NG
+44 (131) 225 9846
Attraction | "The Witchery Tours"
As any new visitor to Edinburgh will soon discover, there are a variety of so-called 'ghost tours' to be had on the Royal Mile. It's something you have probably heard about from someone who's been--or that you saw in a brochure for the city, and as I've been on three very separate tours in the past few years, I thought I should review the various ones.
It's very difficult to tell them apart simply by reading the signs, as all of them claim to be scary and haunting.
Of the three I have gone on, none of them were bad. If you go into them in the right spirit of things, they are very entertaining... and incredibly informative in the history you might not otherwise hear of the city.
This tour specifically was one I really enjoyed. It was, actually, the first. It begins at the top of the Royal Mile at about sunset with a tour guide that is dressed for the occasion in top hat and cape. There are two 'Witchery Tours' and I took the Ghost and Gore Tour. The tour guide was amusing and did a very good job of leading the tour--kept it light as well as going into some fantastical facts about specific places around old town that he takes you to.
All in all, it's a very enjoyable walk, though I must warn you that this one does include a few of the 'jump out and scare you' tactics...though for the most part, they were mildly done and were in keeping with the mood of the tour (coming from someone who hates that sort of thing...)
None of the three tours I took was 'scary', even the one claiming to be one of the scariest tours in Scotland. But they are suitably spooky, and as I said, very interesting. And though they do cost some money, you don't feel as if it were wasted. It's particularly fun for a group of people.
This tour lasted about 1 1/2 hours and starts at 7 and 7:30pm in the summer months.
The price was £7.50 for adults and £5 for children.
This is a tour that should be booked in advance, particularly if going with a group. (Some tickets can be bought right at the time of the tour.)
It's nice to get a look at the darker side of this city--and this is a very good way to do it. (Pop into the Jekyll and Hyde pub on Hanover Street afterwards for a pint to finish off the evening in style!)
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 21, 2005
84 West Bow
+44 (0) 131 225 6745
Attraction | "The Fudge Kitchen"
For someone who usually travels on a budget, I don't get to do much shopping, or if I do, then it generally doesn't involve buying anything I could then recommend to other travellers. But The Fudge Kitchen is a slightly different story, and an experience as well as a shop. It's something that I always make a point of showing around to friends who come to visit Edinburgh.
Aside from the fact that this tiny little shop simply sells the best fudge in the world (and I'm not some one who generally delights in fudge, but the stuff that they sell is in a whole other realm), but it's a nice place to stop into while sightseeing down the Royal Mile.
While it is a great place to walk and absolutely full of atmosphere and picture-taking opportunities, and the shops that are on the street almost always look the part, there isn't much to be bought on the Royal Mile. Once you pick out a few souvenir trinkets in one shop, you've seen what most have to offer, with the exception of Golden, just across from the Fudge Kitchen, which sells some stunning jewelery, stones, and gems, and though beautiful, nothing very practical. Most shops sell the same things as all of the Scotland Shops in Edinburgh.
The Fudge Kitchen, however, is something a little different. First of all, it is on your way either up or down the Royal Mile, so it's worth popping in for a look even if you don't feel inclined to buy a chunk of fudge. The smell will hit you many steps away and draw you in, so follow your nose down the Royal Mile until you reach it.
Once inside, they always have a selection of free sample fudge that they pleasantly offer you to try. I highly recommend that you do. They make some very interesting types, some with chocolate, some with caramel, some with mint. All of them are beautiful. But best of all, they make the fudge right there for you to see. Across the counter on a big slab they lay it out and prepare it while you watch. If they're out of some you want, just wait a while and they will probably make some more. The fudge is priced by weight, but a general good-sized chunk goes for between £3 and£4,and is truly worth every penny. It's an interesting little bit of Edinburgh that not everyone knows about, and I highly recommend that if you find yourself on the Royal Mile, you pop in for a sample.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 29, 2006
30 High Street, Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland EH11TB
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 25, 2006
Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh, Scotland EH2 2EJ
+44 131 529 4068
This far too often over looked activity in Edinburgh is one of the most easily viewed, and often seen with out the visitor even knowing what it is that they are looking at.
There are very few specifics I tell friends and people coming across that they need to see in Edinburgh, outside of simply sight seeing the city itself, but in my top 3 (right along side the castle and going up in the Scott Monument) is always Arthur's Seat.
Located just out of the city centre over the Salisbury Crags, this isn't just a tourist attraction, or a 'thing to do because it's a thing to do' spot. This is one of the best places in Edinburgh to pass an afternoon (or night, or very early morning.) First of all is the extremely surprising change of scenery just mere moments outside of the city centre. Walking down hill from the Royal Mile, just past Holyrood Park you come to the edge of the crags. It's a very easy down hill walk to reach them, and right at the bottom of the mile, the scenery changes almost instantly. Within just a few minutes of leisurely walking you’re surrounded by steep, dramatic Scottish hills, and if you follow the side walk around them you come to some ancient ruins overlooking a large swan filled pond. (Talk about a photo opp.) And this is great for any one, and pretty much any level of active, activity you want to pursue. You can stroll around the sidewalks near the crags with no climbing at all and view the pond, ruins, and crags all extremely pleasant and photographable.
Or wander up in to the crags a ways; have your photo taken in front of Arthur's Seat at the ruins and get a bit of a look at the city and surrounding country side. But, far and away the best way to experience this area is to come up at either dawn or dusk (I recommend dusk as getting up top for dawn means climbing a rather steepish hill in near dark in the very, very cold morning at about 3am. But, if that is your thing you won't be alone. Students and travellers alike love to meet the morning in celebration at the top of Arthur's seat, and it is a magnificent way to start the day. But equally good (and not quite so cold or dangerous) is to climb along the crags at dusk, and allowing half an hour to get to the top before sunset. The climbing does get a little bit steep, but only right at the end and if you are even reasonably good shape it shouldn't prove too troublesome.
It is an awesome view of the city, the best one you could hope for, and the act of seeing it so close from such a remote-type place is a very unique experience. Catch a dry evening with a proper sunset and you can't ask for more.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 29, 2006
Edinburgh, Scotland EH16
Inverness, United Kingdom