Edinburgh was one of those cities I dreamed about late at night while not exactly awake but not yet asleep, staring at a black ceiling as my mind wandered for hours. Funny enough, I didn’t know much about it. I just knew I needed to go. And, let me tell you, Edinburgh did not disappoint. Walking through the green and grey city is like taking a step back in time. It’s a place full of wonder, inspiration, great whisky, and Scots.
So, if you’re looking for a destination or just some inspiration, here are some amazing hangs in the enchanting city of Edinburgh.
It’s said to once be the location of King Arthur’s legendary kingdom, Camelot, hence the name. Arthur’s seat was once an active volcano, but you don’t need to worry about spontaneous explosions anymore.
I did a lot of urban backpacking (it’s just easier that way when you don’t have a car), so I wasn’t expecting to do any strenuous hiking. However, I still climbed it in Doc Martens and with a sprained Achilles heel (that I didn’t know was sprained at that time). But, if I can do it, you can do it. Plus, the views from the top are pretty spectacular too. It’s the best place to see the entire city of Edinburgh at once, apart from Edinburgh castle.
Elephant House, better known as the “birthplace” of Harry Potter.
It was always a bit crowded every time I walked by, so I went for breakfast one morning and snagged a place by the window. I pulled out my journal and a pen and wrote for an hour, sipping coffee and dreaming about J.K. Rowling possibly sitting in the same seat I was, creating the fantastic Wizarding World. She often wrote there while drafting the first novel, looking out over the majestic Edinburgh castle. While walking through the wonderfully whimsical city, it’s very easy to see where Rowling got her inspiration from.
Have a Scottish coffee while you’re there . . . or two . . . (hint* they’ve got whisky in them. Yummmm) Careful though because, not going to lie, I was a bit tipsy when I left and it wasn’t even noon.
The history surrounded Greyfriars Bobby is hauntingly beautiful. Sometime around the 1850s, a local man named John Gray died of tuberculosis. He left behind a dog named Bobby, who sat for the rest of his life (around 14 years) guarding his master’s grave. When he passed on, he became the one and only animal buried in a kirk. People passing by still leave sticks at his grave and now this wee Skye Terrier is the most famous dog in Scotland’s history.
Similar to Juliet’s statue in Verona, you can rub his nose for good luck! The Museum of Edinburgh (not the National Museum of Scotland) off of High Street has a case dedicated to the brave little canine, where you can look at his copper food bowl and leather collar.
Greyfriars Kirk is a popular spot on the Harry Potter tour. J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time there, writing and strolling through the tombstones. The graves aren’t just the anonymous dead anymore; some of her characters bare their names, specifically Minerva McGonagall and the infamous Voldemort, a.k.a Tom Riddle. I couldn’t find the exact location of Riddle’s grave on any website, so I had to find it the old fashioned way – by looking at each individually. If you’re curious, there are hundreds buried in Greyfriars Kirk.
I didn’t find the Riddle grave until my second time around. If you enter Greyfriars Kirk through the main entrance, walk around the church, head straight through Flodden Wall, and make an immediate right. It’s, in fact, spelled Riddell, which is why I think I walked past it the first time.
I climbed up the hill to watch the Scottish sunset over the gothic Edinburgh skyline. 10/10 would recommend.
Fun fact: did you know that the whole city of Edinburgh is a smoke control area? This means that smoke can’t be emitted from the chimney of any building. So, you can bet that the sunrises and sunsets are always going to be spectacular. That is, if it’s not foggy. The same can’t be said about the fog.
The National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is one of the best museums in the UK – and it’s totally free!!! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the free museums.
There’s a science section, a few floors on Scottish history (of course), and a exhibit on land and aquatic animals. It’s a very interactive museum, which always unlocks everyone’s inner child. You can power industrial revolution machines at the push of a button, build your own society, and compare genetics with potential mates to see what your theoretical child would look like – yeah, that one was a bit weird and none of my “kids” were even remotely cute. However, I spent more time there than I ever did at the British Museum in London, which was always so crowded.
I was about a week too early for the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebellion exhibit, which made me rethink going home for a bit. In fact, the entire city of Edinburgh made me rethink going home quite a lot.
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile (or High Street) is the most famous street in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Wander through endless shops that sell all the tweed and kilts you can imagine. There’s a few great pubs, the well-known Royal Market market that’s inside an old church, and busking bagpipers. (Busking is not a dirty word, but rather another term for a street performer. But it does sound like a dirty word, doesn’t it?)
I was super excited to possibly take home a few items with my last name on them, as many of my ancestors came from Scotland. Turns out that Stuart is the French spelling of the Scottish Stewart. Go figure.
Venture off the beaten path through the many tight, dreary closes (alleyways) between the stone buildings. Are you brave enough to take a whisky at the Devil’s Advocate? You’ll have to walk through the mysterious Advocates Close to find out . . .
Edinburgh has countless other amazing places to discover. There’s The Scotch Whisky Experience, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Museum of Childhood (that has an entire floor just for creepy dolls – they weren’t advertised as creepy dolls, but that’s what they were), and the Scottish National Gallery, which has a room of Raphael.
There’s even a Scottish writers’ museum with a whole floor dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson (the author of Treasure Island and other stuff). I’m a very big Stevenson fan. It’s in a house that was built in 1622 and even complete with a stone spiral staircase.
I also tried my best at the Surgeon’s Hall Museums, thinking I was strong enough to learn about the history of surgery, pathology, dental equipment (because it does sound really cool) but, after the walls started closing in around the jarred body parts section, I walked out as calmly as I could before I found myself on the floor. I didn’t think I would be squeamish enough to pass out, but thank goodness I didn’t decide to pursue a medical degree.
They also had a heart exhibit I just happened to be in town for . . . with real hearts. Lucky me.
I lasted all of 7 minutes in total and had to go chill back at the hostel for a few hours. Yeah, not the highlight of my Edinburgh adventures.
Don’t forget to try a full Scottish breakfast, featuring haggis (the circle, grayish/green hamburger looking patty pictured below). If you’re not a vegetarian, I’d recommend looking it up after you eat it. However, despite it’s questionable contents, it’s actually pretty good. I’d recommend getting your haggis fix at The Castle Arms on Johnston Terrace.
If already you know haggis isn’t going to be your thing, then try a morning roll.
But, when in Scotland, eat like the Scots do.
If you’re looking to explore the bar scene, Finnegan’s Wake and The Liquid Room are good places to start (and right next to each other, so you don’t have to wander far after one too many pints). If you’re looking to for more of the underground, retro vibe, try The Jazz Bar.
Another fun fact: Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn. I’m serious. Go look it up. Their national animal is a mythical horse . . . or is it so mythical?
Until next time,