Christmas 2015 was my first one in the UK, the first one where I had the freedom to decide where I wanted to go. Motivated by the fact that I was in the UK for a limited time, coupled with the fact that the rest of my family was going to India for a family wedding, I really wanted to go travel somewhere.
Having heard much about Scotland and in particular Edinburgh, my cousin and I decided to visit Edinburgh for a short trip of about 4 days.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is the city closest to the border with England. An extremely old city, Edinburgh is full of history and beautiful architecture. Famous for many reasons, which include being known as the city where the fabled King Arthur and his formidable knights ruled, it is also the city where J.K. Rowling lived when writing the Harry Potter novels. Many of my friends had visited Edinburgh and recommended me to go and visit it at least once before I left Europe.
I decided to start my journey in the northern city of Manchester, where my cousin studies and where there is a direct train to Edinburgh. In many ways the city of Manchester is what you typically expect in a big city – the lights, the hustle and bustle and traffic, but it also had some beautiful architecture and to my delight lots of Malaysian restaurants, where I ate to my hearts content!
So, with a full belly and a cheerful spirit, we departed for Edinburgh after 24 hours in Manchester. Our journey did not start well, in that we were late in arriving at the station and the ticket dispensing machine was not working. Thankfully, the train itself was delayed and waited at the station for quite a while, allowing us to board comfortably. Traveling within the UK by train can be really comfortable and if booked in advance, very affordable. Both of us paid around £50 each for a return trip to Edinburgh, which considering the distance and timing of our booking, was well worth it. Alternatively, Edinburgh also has an international airport that you can fly directly to, should you choose it.
We arrived in Edinburgh around 9pm and made our way straight to our hostel to drop our bags and go exploring. For the duration of our trip we stayed at the Kickass Hostel in the Grassmarket area (Note that there are two branches of the same hostel one opposite ends of the street). The Kickass hostels are one of the best in Edinburgh due to its fantastic location, service, affordable prices and not to mention the inhouse bar. Not advertising for the hostel in any way, but I do recommend staying there should you ever decide to visit Edinburgh as its worth it.
So, we walked around the Grassmarket area and later met up with an old friend of my cousins who is studying in Edinburgh. He took us exploring around random parts of Edinburgh where we managed to also catch a glimpse of Edinburgh University – one of the top universities in the UK. We ended our night walking around the town of Leith, which is a town adjacent to Edinburgh. The highlight of our night was to come across this fantastic bakery probably catered for drunk people, not only because it was the only shop open at midnight on a very deserted street but also because the people in line seemed so intoxicated they could barely stand. We were lucky we came across the bakery because Scottish pastries are truly delicious and a definite must try!
We woke up to a gloomy, dark day with the heavens threatening to release their fury, only to learn from the receptionist that this was apparently normal in Scotland and that it would not actually rain.
Cheered by the prospect, we started our day with a free walking tour of Edinburgh organized by the hostel. The hour long tour was incredibly informative, helpful and covered the main areas of Edinburgh. One of the highlights of the tour was to visit Calton Hill which not only included some amazing views of Edinburgh but also was where the Scottish Coliseum is located. Our guide told us not to be surprised that the Coliseum remains unfinished, even after so many years and that it is probably because Scottish people could not be bothered…Another highlight of the tour was the Greyfriars Kirkyard, an extremely old cemetery, famous for a number of reasons, one of them being the site for where J.K. Rowling got many of the names for her characters in the Harry Potter book series. Famous character names she got from the cemetery include Sirius Black and Tom Riddle – whose gravesite remains an object of fascination amongst the public who use it for a number of reasons including as a place to have sex on as well as a site to conduct seances. Creepy!
Following the tour, we roamed around a little along Princess Street, the main street in Edinburgh, which was also where the annual Christmas market was located.
Following lunch, we met up with some people we had become acquainted with from the tour, these really cool guys from Japan and Guatemala and together we trekked all the way up to Arthurs seat, which sits on top of an ancient volcano, 251 metres above sea level. For anyone that visits Edinburgh, Arthurs seat is a must visit, simply because it is probably the highest point in the city and visitors are privy to some breathtaking views of Edinburgh.
After spending an hour on top we clambered down and made our way to dinner with our new found friends. We then returned to the hostel to grab some drinks at the bar, where we again met some interesting people – these two British guys and an American girl. Thats the beauty of staying in a hostel, it really is a wonderful place to meet new people with whom you can share some incredible memories. If you are a shy person, like me, just start with saying hello, turns out the other person also wants to get to know you, but is equally as shy.
Anyway, after spending a few hours at the hostel we decided to explore the Scottish nightlife. We were lucky in that one of the main areas for bars and nightclubs was only 10 minutes away in the Grassmarket area. Alcohol in Scotland is relatively affordable, with beer only costing on average around £3 for a pint.
What stood out for me from that night was that Scottish people were incredibly friendly, helpful and surprisingly “polite” drunks in that they exercised a lot of self-control, were respectful of others on the dance floor and were unbelievably engaging and open with strangers, for me this was a stark contrast to the kind of drunks you see in England and it made the night that much more enjoyable.
We started our day with a proper Scottish breakfast at this little hidden cafe on the road just behind Princess Street, called Snax Cafe – its a small sign but do look out for it as it offers delicious food at ridiculously cheap prices. What is wonderful about such places is that the quality of the food is such that it attracts people of all socioeconomic class and age, which is interesting to see for a person like me who studies people and behaviour.
So, with a full stomach, we went exploring! We started with a tour of The Cathedral Church of St Mary in Edinburgh, one of the oldest churches around. Although there are tours available, we decided to walk around ourselves. The church itself is beautiful, like any other church. What makes it stand out are the pictures, plaques and stained glass windows around the church – they are testament to the old age and vivid history of the church and give a detailed account of Edinburgh through the ages.
Following the visit to the church, we simply strolled around the surrounding area, admiring the architecture and the various shops selling everything from whiskey to swords. The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Old town are fantastic areas to simply walk around, admire architecture, watch interesting live street performers and go shopping. The vibe there is interesting and relaxed and you are bound to enjoy yourself.
Next, we decided to visit Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Edinburgh, which is right next to Edinburgh Castle. Now, we would not have usually done this had this place not been recommended to us by one of my friends as it seemed a little childish. For a price of £12.50 for students (with ID) it is more than worth it, however. We spent a happy 2 hours fascinated with the attractions, pictures and exhibits. It was also heartening to see that we weren’t the only young people there making this place a definite must visit, no matter what age you are. For more information do visit the website at: http://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/
As the evening drew to a close we decided to visit Edinburgh’s most striking landmark, the Edinburgh castle. Unfortunately, we were too late to enter, but we spend some time taking pictures and admiring the breathtaking views of the city. People interested in going into the castle can do so at a price of £16.50 for adults 16-59 and £9.90 for children between the ages of 5-15 (children under 5 go free and adults over 60 get a reduced rate). From what we heard from fellow travellers, the castle is majestic from the inside and full of stories that make for a grand time.
For more information on the castle, visit the website:http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/
Before our night ended, we decided to go on the famous City of the Dead tour of Edinburgh which is a definite highlight for anyone interested in the supernatural. The tour, which starts near the Cathedral Church of St Mary in Edinburgh, costs around £10 for adults and £8.00 for students. (Tour timings can be found on the boards near the church or online at http://www.cityofthedeadtours.com/city-of-the-dead-haunted-graveyard/).
While there are many companies offering such tours, it is recommended you go for the official one. The tour officially begins underground, which was where many of the city’s working class and poor used to live. It then progresses to a few underground spaces that are notorious for being haunted by a poltergeist. The place was incredibly creepy, quiet and gave me the chills. The tour then progressed out to the Greyfriars Kirkyard which housed the Covenanters Prison – the place where a thousand men were imprisoned without any shelter and with minimal food for opposing the English kings claim as head of the Scottish church. The graveyard is also famous for the Black Mausloeum – the lair of the famous Mackenzie Poltergeist. Overall, the tour was very well done – it was highly informative and interesting and the ominous atmosphere of the underground and the graveyard by night, just add to the experience. A definite must try.
We woke up bright and early in order to get in a little sight-seeing done before our train back to Manchester that evening.
So we decided to see what we had not seen the last few days, starting with the Scottish Parliament – an impressive building. While it was closed due it being a weekend, I definitely recommend readers to visit it if possible.
Following this we walked to different parts of the city, coming across Edinburgh University – a most impressive collection of buildings scattered around the city as well as the central library, which is located right next to St. Giles Cathedral, in turn housed inside the graveyard. We ended our trip drinking coffee at the Elephant House cafe where J.K Rowling once used as a place to write her books as her home did not have electricity.
It was with a heavy heart I boarded my train to Manchester. In the space of a few short days, I fell in love with Edinburgh, it is my favourite city in the UK for a variety of reasons, including the people, food, history and architecture. I hope to one day return to Edinburgh, not as a tourist but as a local. I hope the reader finds Edinburgh as magical as I did and thoroughly enjoys themselves, because the city makes it easy to do so.
Till next time!
P.S. If anyone needs any help with regards to Edinburgh, please feel free to contact me and Ill be glad to be of assistance.