The hotly anticipated final installment in my Scotland trilogy is finally here! Except, since I am the worst, this trilogy has now expanded to a series and my Edinburgh recap is now a two-fer. My original post was getting insanely long, so I decided to write two separate posts about my adventures in the Scottish capital! Anyway, a massive thank you to my loyal followers/readers for sticking around for these posts, I know it’s taken much too long!
Haven’t read my other Scotland posts? Navigate here:
Last I left you, I had just reached my Airbnb in Newtongrange – about 20-30 minutes from Edinburgh. After settling down from dinner and cleaning up, I decided to plan out what I would do for the next day out in the city. The weather forecast was not looking fantastic for the next few days, with the lowest chance of rain the following morning. So I decided I would take my hike up to Arthur’s Seat (learn more here) the next day, explore Old Town, and try to visit as many Harry Potter destinations as I could fit in. I was so pooped out I fell right asleep as soon as I hit the lights and plopped onto my bed excited for the next day.
DAY 1: RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY
As I woke up and started preparing to leave to catch the bus to the outskirts of Holyrood Park (learn more here), I parted the curtains in my room and glanced out at the window. There was plenty of sunshine, but on the opposite side of the sky were ominously dark clouds slowly drifting into what I assumed was Edinburgh. I had thought of postponing my hike to the afternoon as a way to wind down and maybe to catch the sunset, but my plans were flipped as I decided to get to Arthur’s Seat before any severe weather started up. As the bus got closer and closer to my stop, the skies got darker and grayer, and my stomach was in knots. I didn’t have the best sneakers (trainers, for you Brits) as the grip had started to wear off on the bottom, so my only concern was slipping if it did indeed start to rain.
Lucky for me, as soon as I got off the bus, and stepped on the “Ziggy Zaggy Path” (that is the actual name of the path – though if you don’t want such a steep trek, take Piper’s Walk for a slower incline and walk around from the back side) up to the hill that Arthur’s Seat is on, it began to drizzle. But as we all know by now, a drizzle in Scotland most likely leads to full on down pour – and that was exactly what happened, my fear finally coming into fruition. What should’ve taken maybe at most 30-40 minutes to summit quickly turned into at least an hour of careful foot and hand placement along the rocks to ensure I wouldn’t slip and fall off the crag – as the Brits say, the conditions were particularly slippy. Note, that I had a backpack and a super warm jacket on, so not only was I sweating from carrying things (it wasn’t really heavy at all) but I was also doubly soaked from the rain. Eventually, after several leaps of faith (literally – I leaped onto several rocks for traction…) I made it to Arthur’s Seat. The rain clouds had started to shift from the wind, so as I summited I was greeted by sunshine – however, you could still see the remaining clouds heading towards the crags ever so slowly. I knew I didn’t have too long before the next set of showers were going to hit, so I decided to snap as many pictures as I could and enjoy the view while it lasted. Tragically, I was too much of a wimp to ask anyone to take a picture of me – but in my defense, I looked like a total mess from the rain… (Fun fact: from one side of Arthur’s Seat, you can see Edinburgh and the Royal Mile. The opposite side has stunning views of Craigmillar and Portobello, both of which are by the sea.)
Heading back down was a whole other feat. The rain came crashing down as soon as I decided to start my descent. For me, it is much less frightening to climb up on slippery surfaces than to go down them – especially if the trail you are on is so steep. Though I got down a lot quicker than I did going up, I was terrified of slipping down the rocks and mud. I actually stopped to let the rain die down a bit before continuing down the steepest portion of the trail just to save myself a little agony. I tossed my camera into my backpack and got out my gloves and handy hand warmers before my hands started to freeze up from the cold and rain. As I turned back around to get one last glimpse of Arthur’s Seat, the rain had miraculously began to clear up, and lo and behold – the most vibrant rainbow I’d ever seen appeared. Honestly, that was one of the coolest highlights of my Scotland trip, it was so beautiful to see, and was frankly a great reward for braving the unpredictable weather.
OTHER DAY 1 DESTINATIONS:
The Elephant House
As I made it to the bottom, my stomach growled for food. I was starving and was ready to start exploring the actual city. So after about a 20 minute walk into the city center, I decided I might as well eat at my first Harry Potter destination – the Elephant House. For all you HP fans, you all will know that this is the cafe where J.K. Rowling frequented while writing the Harry Potter books. I knew I would most likely encounter a long queue, few places to sit comfortably and eat, and potentially overpriced food… but you know what, YOLO. I actually didn’t end up spending too much as I settled for their homemade soup of the day and a pot of darjeeling tea. After about an hour or so (regrettably, I forgot to check out their infamous bathroom), I was finally warmed up and slightly drier than how I started the day and decided to continue on through the city.
Old Town, New Town, & St. Giles’ Cathedral
I had initially intended to stop by Greyfriars Kirk right after lunch, but in typical Radhika fashion I walked in the opposite direction (the cemetery is just a few paces away from the Elephant House) into the main part of Old Town. Interestingly, Edinburgh is known for its two distinct sides, Old Town and New Town. The “separating line” is essentially Princes Street/Waverley Station. As with most British naming conventions, the names for each side of town are intuitive and not particularly ingenious. Old Town simply refers to the oldest part of Edinburgh (aka: buildings from the medieval and Reformation eras). New Town (along with the West End), is the more
commercialized side of Edinburgh, and as it’s name suggests the part of Edinburgh that was planned and constructed from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s. (Fun fact: New Town is often referred to as a “masterpiece of city planning” – good for you, Edinburgh! Want to learn more? Read about Old Town & New Town). As I swerved through a good portion of both Old and New Town (technically I was lost, but it allowed me to get a pretty good grip of where the major destinations I wanted to go to were), I finally made my way back to High Street (aka the Royal Mile). After watching several buskers (finally some real Scottish bagpiping!), I decided to cross the street to visit St. Giles’ Cathedral for some peace and quiet.
Lucky for me, I entered just a few minutes before the final rooftop tour was set to leave. It costs £5-6 (I don’t remember exactly, but I think I was able to chop off a pound because I was a student) for the tour, but it includes the photography permit required if you want to take photos, which was definitely worth it as I was only one of two people on the rooftop tour (so it was a lot more personalized and easy to talk to our guide) and I got to spend as long as I wanted inside to look at the beautiful stained glass and architecture. (Side note: if you aren’t interested in taking pictures, entrance is free! Otherwise you’ll have to pay £2 for the photography permit.) During my tour, I learned that the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian, and completely separate from the Church of England, so it is not under the direction of the Queen. St. Giles also happens to be Edinburgh’s patron saint – so don’t confuse him with Scotland’s patron saint, St. Andrew! It is interesting, as you can trace back a lot of British/Scottish religious history through this cathedral, as many sections (including the stained glass) were all added or enhanced throughout various religious transition periods. (Learn more here and here). The rooftop tour, actually takes you up to one of the nicer views of Edinburgh and the Royal Mile. At this point, the sun was completely out and accompanied by an occasional strong breeze, so the views were amazing and weather was perfect. We spent a few minutes just enjoying the view and chatting with our tour guide who had just graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in History – so he was able to tell us a good lot of historical events that occurred in Edinburgh, especially regarding the Scottish adoption of Presbyterianism.
As we made our way back inside the cathedral, we were free to stick around and explore for as long as we liked, and that is exactly what I did. Surprisingly, there was an impromptu piano performance which took place at the center of the cathedral, so I sat in the pews for a while to enjoy and soak in the atmosphere. Needless to say, the interior of St. Giles’ was absolutely stunning. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so take a look.
The Tron Kirk & Royal Mile Market
After finding inner peace at St. Giles’, I walked a bit further along the Royal Mile and stumbled across the Tron Kirk. The Tron Kirk used to be an old church in Edinburgh, but has since been maintained and used as the home to the Royal Mile Market. The crafts market features independent vendors from Scotland with lots of eclectic trinkets and goodies (though a bit pricey for a student on a budget). The interior still has the feel of a church, but the vibe of a super hipster place. There is also a cafe-bar that serves refreshments. It’s well worth a quick stop to glance around if you’ve got the time to spare. (Learn more here.)
Exploring the Closes of Edinburgh
A unique feature of Edinburgh is the small, and often steep, alleyways that lead you out of the main roads of Old Town. While I was wandering around, lost as I was, I headed through several of these alleyways – or closes, as the Scots call them. Closes were traditionally private property and named after an important person living in the buildings nearby. (Learn more here and look at a list of the closes in Edinburgh here.) Some memorable one’s that I went through were Advocate’s Close (there was a small Victorian pub called the “Devil’s Advocate” here; also, arguably one of the best closes for a view of New Town – lots of steep stairs though!), the Old Fishmarket Close, and the Mary King’s Close (apparently this one is haunted… perhaps why I kept returning to this one, maybe a ghost was directing me back). I definitely recommend exploring these if your legs can manage the steep stairs that often accompany these closes – it’s a great way to get lost between the buildings surrounding you and a perfect solution for avoiding tourists along the main streets.
Edinburgh Castle & the End of Day 1
To close out the day, I decided to at least finish half of the Royal Mile by heading to the east most end. Located here is Edinburgh Castle, a fortress atop Castlehill Road and overlooking both the Old and New sides of Edinburgh. It has been an important site for royal residents (was a royal household until around the 1630s) and has been through several battles, most notably the ones involved in the Scottish War of Independence. (Learn more about the castle here.) Because it was well past the last entry time, I was not able to go inside the castle, although I hear there is quite a lot of interesting things within the fortress walls such as St. Margaret’s Chapel which is thought to be the oldest building in Edinburgh. (Prices are also not too terrible given the vast amount of time and artifacts you can see. For students it is about £13 and around £20 for adults). There are also lots of cool nearby attractions to explore near Edinburgh Castle such as Camera Obscura and the Hub (which used to be a general assembly hall for the Church of Scotland – now it is converted into a cafe/office/festival space) if time permits. Otherwise, spend time exploring the castle grounds, taking pictures, and enjoying the views. (Side note: there is a really nice shop for souvenirs just before the expanse of space leading to the castle entrance. They’ve got nearly everything you may be looking for and it is slightly cheaper than places farther down the Royal Mile. I got 5 or 6 postcards for a pound!) As the evening was drawing near, I headed back down the Royal Mile for dinner. I was thinking of going to a pub, but wasn’t sure which one to go to. So I settled for a nice Indian restaurant (Shamoli) that I had passed by earlier, and had a nice big plate of biriyani before heading back to my Airbnb.
After dinner, most things had closed early on the Royal Mile on account of it being the Easter weekend (something which I completely forgot about when planning my trip to Scotland… To keep it short, it was an absolute disaster trying to find a place to stay. I was super lucky to have gotten a room from my Airbnb host Fiona). After waiting for about 20 minutes for my bus back to Newtongrange and after almost missing my stop (I didn’t hit the “stop request” button), I finally made it back to Fiona’s home. I was greeted by Fiona’s sister Dot and dog, as well as Fiona’s dog, Skye! I was so surprised and delighted (I love dogs) so it was definitely a pleasant welcome. After entering, Fiona formally introduced me to her sister (she actually was just awarded an MBE and was invited to one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace later in the year!) and friend who were enjoying a nice evening together. I was offered a glass of wine, but politely declined (tbh, I was probably enjoying the company of the dogs too much to be bothered with a glass – they were so darn friendly and excited to see me as well!). We chatted for a while and got good tips from all three ladies on where to go the next day. After a bit of banter, I thanked them all decided to call it a night and head to bed early for a fresh start in the morning.