Long overdue, but it’s time to share my second trip of last year with you all – Edinburgh!
It’s taken me longer than I expected to collate this all; I was originally going to make it a short post but I loved this city so much I couldn’t help myself, so strap in…
My best friend and I began a list towards the end of Uni of all the towns in the UK we hadn’t yet been to, and Edinburgh was one of them, so we booked a long weekend away for April 2018.
We found the Residence Inn by Marriott on Expedia and chose it mainly because of its central location, (only a few minutes’ walk from town), and the fact that we could get a twin room with double beds and breakfast included for a very reasonable price.
The room itself seemed huge – we had a sofa and foot rest/coffee table, a large desk and chair and a television on the wall. As all of the rooms at the Residence Inn are also self-catering, we had a kitchen/utility area which was equipped with cutlery and crockery, a fridge, kettle, microwave and dishwasher. Very handy if you want to save some money – conveniently there was also a small Sainsbury’s about ten steps away!
In terms of wardrobe space in the room, there was enough for the two of us but we’d mainly brought jumpers and jeans with us anyway so ended up folding most of our stuff. I didn’t take a picture of the view but we were opposite one of the offices, (the hotel is in Edinburgh’s Quatermile, a mixed redevelopment of the former Royal Infirmary), so be careful if you’re staying mid-week and want to open the curtains in nothing but your underwear!
One of the things we did find strange was that to the left of the living/bedroom area, there was a basin and mirror and after that was there a separate door, which led to the toilet and shower. I think it’s odd to separate the toilet from the sink, especially if one of you gets up during the night and wakes the other up with the running tap! Also, the breakfast area was part of the lobby so there was no privacy between those of us stuffing our faces with food and people checking in and out, which felt weird. Nevertheless, it didn’t ruin our trip, and surprisingly neither did my horrific flu that decided to make an appearance the morning of our flight!
The transfer from Edinburgh Airport to our hotel took around 40-50 minutes. We’d pre-booked our transfers and it was relatively easy to find the Airlink bus shelters with the help of friendly staff.
Our first stop was to Greyfriars Kirkyard, where burials have taken place since the 16th century. The kirkyard’s most famous graves belong to John Gray and his skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby, who, when his owner passed away, was rumoured to have guarded John’s grave for fourteen years until his own death. In other words, Bobby was a very good boy, and has earned posthumous fame because of it. His statue stands just outside the kirkyard and the pub named after him.
The kirkyard is also famous due to some of the names that stuck with J.K. Rowling when she visited, and later featured in Harry Potter! We saw the grave of a William McGonagall and a Mrs Elizabeth Moodie, and it took us some squelching through mud but finally we found He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself:
The graveyard itself is beautiful yet eerie. I wouldn’t like to experience it on a dark and foggy night. It came as no surprise to find out that evening ghost walks are regularly held there.
After this, we passed The Elephant House, a cafe J.K. Rowling visited during the time she was writing Harry Potter. We didn’t go in as we’d already had a snack and it looked like a bit of a tourist trap. We were on our way to Victoria Street, the street that is meant to have inspired Diagon Alley. As you can probably tell already, Edinburgh is an ideal city for Harry Potter fans to visit.
Victoria Street is a small curve of colourful shops and some eateries, leading down to Grassmarket, (originally a medieval marketplace, and a spot for frequent public execution). The bright colours of the shop faces on Victoria Street contrast brilliantly with the traditional stone buildings associated with Edinburgh architecture.
The street wasn’t as narrow as I’d expected, but I could envisage its transformation in J.K. Rowling’s mind to the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley. There is a jokes and novelties shop called Aha Ha Ha just before Grassmarket which can easily be recognised as the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes of Victoria Street, and there are now also two Harry-Potter themed shops on the street, The Boy Wizard and Museum Context (pictured above: the purple shop with the number 40). The former is a more modern space with Harry Potter gifts you can probably buy at any merchandise shop. However, the latter holds the same and much more, from unique gift ideas such as hanging hot air balloon and boat mobiles to other film collectibles and memorabilia. Museum Context also uses its exposed brickwork and staircase to its advantage, making it seem more like an old curiosity shop than a typical tourist attraction. I also liked their Chamber of Secrets-inspired stairway decoration!
Our next stop was Dean Village. We got an Uber from town, wanting to save our feet. The drive took less than 10 minutes, and I couldn’t believe the difference in atmosphere and location within that short time. We were transported from the busy town to this tranquil place, sheltered from any sound save the stream that runs through it. My photos don’t do it justice!
After this, we walked back through town to the hotel to unpack, then went out again for dinner and some cocktails (so I could try to forget how ill I was).
We got up early enough to avoid the huge queues for Edinburgh Castle! This was one of our favourite visits because there was so much to see. Even more enjoyable for me, too, because the castle is high enough as it is, so no scary winding steps to climb!
Before we roamed around ourselves, we decided to wait for a free guided tour. I think this ran every half hour or so. It was very informative – we learned about the castle’s origins and its involvement during Edinburgh’s turbulent history, including the Jacobite rising. The castle has consequently been named one of the most besieged in Great Britain.
After the tour, we visited one of the castle shops as our guide had told us they were serving whisky tasters. We tried out some Bruadar malt whisky liqueur, which was lush! It tasted quite like honey too, so must have been really good for my throat… I bought a little bottle to take home. After warming up, we had a look in the castle’s impressive Great Hall, then ventured to the Royal Palace and the Crown room to see the collection of jewels stored there. I’m like a magpie so I enjoyed looking at all the sparkles.
The castle is also the site of the Scottish National War Memorial, a magnificent and somber building to commemorate the men and women who saved lives and sacrificed theirs during the World Wars and other conflicts. There was no photography allowed inside but here it is from the outside:
Also on the castle grounds is St Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century which makes it the oldest building in Edinburgh. David I, St Margaret’s son, was thought to have built the chapel in her memory. It’s a tiny structure, but worth a look inside. People are allowed to marry there, but I can’t imagine they’d be allowed to invite more than ten people to the ceremony! My pictures of inside the chapel are poorly lit and blurry so you’ll have to see it for yourself.
Turns out Greyfriars Bobby wasn’t the only pet grave we’d see on this trip; the castle houses a small cemetery for soldiers’ dogs, which we could see if we poked our head over the top castle wall:
The castle’s prisons of war and military prison cells were poignant and also a bit spooky; my friend accused me of trying to scare her by the stairs in the military cells, saying she’d felt a hand on her shoulder…!
Before our reluctant departure from the castle, we had a look at Mons Meg (the huge cannon gifted to James II), viewed the panorama of the city and finally gathered in the crowd to hear the famous one o’clock gun.
It started raining in the afternoon so we decided to pay a short visit to the National Museum of Scotland. We were dragging our feet a bit by this point, so didn’t see a great deal but had a walk around the Fashion and Natural World sections, and saw Dolly the sheep along the way!
Clearly we just hadn’t had enough of walking, though, because in between looking for a restaurant to return to for dinner that night, we found ourselves on the way up to Calton Hill. This is another viewpoint with incredible views of the city and Arthur’s seat, along with its own monuments and observatory. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed for construction and it was still tipping it down, so we didn’t stay as long as we’d liked, nor did we get spectacular pictures. I can imagine it being an ideal place for a picnic in the sunshine, though.
The main event for our Saturday evening was The World Famous Frankenstein & Bier Keller. My friend had heard about this beforehand, and initially I thought it would be another tourist trap. How wrong I was! We arrived quite late, I think it was about 11pm, only wanting to have a nose around and a couple of drinks. I immediately regretted my choice of a warm, high-necked dress because there was a party going on in there that I wasn’t prepared for! There were a number of hen and stag parties, and the music was thumping. We were blown away by the decor.
It was clear to see the owners’ effort into making this a unique experience; not just a trip to the bar. We went upstairs at first, and I read a poster on our way up about a ‘monster show’, so I asked the barman when the next one was. He replied it was at 12am, and advised us to stay in the upper bar for it, and so we did.
Spooky, gothic VIBES. It only lasted a few minutes but it was such fun. Don’t look the monster show up online before you visit – just enjoy the thrill!
Anyway, long story short we got a little bit merrier than previously planned, joined the downstairs party and stayed dancing and talking to the DJ until the bar’s 2am close. Whoops.
I would LOVE to return to the Bier Keller at Halloween. I imagine it would be insane. And even if you’re not a party person, you can go during the day or early evening to avoid the noise. It will be great for children, too. Either way, it’s not to be missed!
I at least had the advantage on this beautiful, sunny (!) day of not knowing whether it was my flu or a hangover that was making my head pound. Still, a couple of ibuprofens down and we were on our way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse!
Again, the cab ride only took around 10 minutes. There was hardly any queuing to do so we were soon equipped with our free audio guides. Inside was not quite as gold and glamorous as I was expecting, but then it is still a working royal palace so I guess rooms are maintained to be more functional compared to palaces with displays in every room. I remember there being an enormous amount of tapestries, which is decorative and practical, keeping the rooms warmer in what is usually a cold Northern climate!
The highlight for me was seeing Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers. Looking into the ‘supper room’ it was chilling to know that Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, was violently murdered there. In another chamber there was a box containing a lock of Mary’s hair on display, and I couldn’t believe I was so close to such a crude piece of history.
When we exited the palace we came out by the remains of Holyrood Abbey, which were breathtaking in the crisp, clear sunshine. More beautiful views of Arthur’s Seat and its surrounding hills awaited us as we made our way round the back of the palace.
After lunch, we headed to the The Writer’s Museum. This rather narrow, quirky looking building houses information, records and objects related to three famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. To be honest, I knew next to nothing about Scott and had only read To a mouse by Burns at school so it was interesting to learn about some of the events which shaped their lives and writing. It was also fascinating to read about Stevenson’s experiences at sea, knowledge which would have helped him greatly in the creation of Treasure Island.
We saw an advertisement for a Book Lover’s tour outside the museum which takes place on Sundays at 11:30am. I’d definitely be keen to do that on my next visit!
This was shaping up to be a literary afternoon because we stopped in the National Library. Unfortunately it was near closing time, and you had to own a library card to access the reading rooms, so we were limited in what we could see. However, there was a free Muriel Spark exhibition on, so all was not lost! I studied The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie during one of my university semesters, so it was great to see letters of praise for it from Spark’s friends, critics, and even Vanessa Redgrave, who played Miss Brodie on stage in the 1960s. I found it inspiring to see snippets from Spark’s notebooks; nothing fancy, just lined paper, a blue biro and determination. It’s always comforting to see crossing-out in drafts of famous novels. It’s good to know their authors were only human too: making mistakes and self-criticising.
Our next visit was exciting, magical and alcohol-fuelled… Harry Potter style! We couldn’t resist another themed visit. I can’t remember if it was mine or my friend’s spot on social media before our trip, but we’d discovered that the Pop Up Geeks were offering cocktail making in the form of Perilous Potions. The location was a small bar in the Edinburgh Arches, near Waverley Station. We’d booked because we’d heard how busy it could get, and I’m not surprised seeing as there was only capacity for about five small groups. This only added to the ambiance, though, because we felt like we were in a small potions classroom! Filch’s framed proclamations were hanging on the walls, the sorting hat rested on top of the bar, and there were cauldrons and candles a-plenty.
We were greeted by our witch-turned-barmaid, and given the book to begin our potions journey, property of the ‘half-cut prince’ (ingenious):
Each cocktail was rated by potion-making difficulty level, so you could choose how experimental (and patient) you wanted to be. We went for the easiest first and then made our way up the scale. Nothing blew up or brought us out in warts, so I’m guessing we did pretty well! We were given pieces of parchment with the ingredients and methods on after our orders were taken for each cocktail.
My friend picked a prosecco-based cocktail which took about ten minutes of pipette work to get right! That was entertaining to watch. My favourite cocktail was whisky-based (can you tell I decided to like whisky this weekend?!) and the final effect was a sparkly blue concoction not dissimilar to the glowing surface of Dumbledore’s pensieve.
After our two-hour slot we were feeling pretty tipsy so it was time to get dinner and sober up as our last visit was later that night.
We had tried to book a tour of The Real Mary King’s Close the afternoon before but they were fully booked, so to my dismay we were going to go below ground-level in the dark! I’m a wuss.
The Close is a series of historic streets underneath the city’s Royal Mile, and was named after one of its merchant residents who lived there during the 17th century. Our guide was dressed up and in character as a maid in a merchant’s household during the 16th century. She told us about the types of families that would have lived in the Close and the hardships they would have faced during times of plague and poverty. We also learned what the traditional calling of ‘gardyloo’ meant (hint: see the last three letters of the word!)
The Close had an eerie atmosphere, and the darkness was no good for photos – hence the absence of them here. There was a moment where we all had to sit down in front of a fireplace and listen to a ghost story – I was of course terrified even though I knew a gimmicky jump-scare was coming! There was also a room filled with a pile of children’s toys. We were told that a young girl called Annie haunts this room, and is only appeased when she’s gifted things to play with, so people sometimes bring things to give to her on their visits! Amongst the cuddly toys we did see a Westlife CD, though. Poor Annie.
Ghosts aside, it was fascinating to be able to walk through a different world from the streets above. Most of the original foundations are still in place, which does make some parts of the Close inaccessible, but the parts we walked through felt safe enough, and my claustrophobia was under control!
At the end of the tour was a very steep hill which we were told would have been rife with people selling their market wares, farm animals roaming and children playing. The road was cobbled and possibly the narrowest we’d ever seen! It must have been chaos, but it was admirable to know that even in difficult circumstances, the residents of the Close were able to make it work and that life endured all the same.
Sadly, there ended our trip!
Now that I’ve written about it, I realise we crammed so much into our last day, let alone our trip, but it didn’t even feel rushed! I think part of that was due to the fact that everything was so close by; we didn’t use any transport apart from a couple of cabs! This is what I loved most about Edinburgh. Large cities can sometimes feel too busy and claustrophobic, but in Edinburgh you can escape the liveliness of town in no time at all. The hills dotted about offer a real sense of comfort and tranquility, reminding you that you’re never far from nature.
If it wasn’t so far away from family and friends, and colder and wetter than down here in the South, I would move to Edinburgh in a heartbeat! I will definitely be visiting again. Writing about this trip has made me miss it so much.
Now, I haven’t forgotten the important bits to end on:
Food & Drink – Lunch: On our first day, we ate lunch at Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar on the Mound (up the big hill, opposite the Museum on the Mound). Like the name suggests, their specialty is potato! It was quite a hearty lunch and warmed us up, (helped by the local beer and ciders). I can’t remember what my friend ordered but I had the smoked sausage, cheese and egg rosti fritter stack. Despite violently blowing my nose every ten minutes, my tastebuds hadn’t gone by this point so I can say that my food was tasty!
On our second day we tried Civerinos Slice, a pizza place near our hotel offering ‘pie-sized’ pizzas or huge slices for lunch! I went with the vegan and veggie option and wasn’t disappointed:
On our last day, we went to Hemma, a stroll away from Holyroodhouse. The exterior is all glass and there is seating outside with some AstroTurf to make it look even more inviting in the sunshine. Inside was bright and modern, with chilled-out vibes – I think they had a table football in there, and also an area at the front with book shelves (which is always a winner with me). The food is advertised online as European/Swedish. They have an area available to hire for parties. There there were a couple of large groups when we went so it did take us a while to be served. However, the food was amazing! I had a salad which I’m not sure is still on their menu, sadly… (that’s what I get for posting so late), but here it is:
Mixed leaves, couscous, avocado, halloumi, some spicy-ish green sauce and oranges – I’ve never had oranges in a salad before but it seemed classy so I went for it. I probably needed the vitamin C for my flu, anyway.
Tea, coffee and cakes: Before heading to the Writer’s Museum, we stopped off at Zebra Coffee Company, just round the corner from the mash bar. It’s small inside but we managed to nab two seats on the end of a bench out the back. My friend had a coffee and a brownie and I had a chai tea and a rocky road slice! They were LUSH. The chocolate was so rich but without being sickly, although I don’t know I’d be saying the same if we’d just eaten lunch!
Dinner: On our first night we visited Cafe Andaluz for tapas in the new town, (there’s also one in the old town). I can’t remember what we had but I think it was some sort of chorizo dishes, and fish. We enjoyed it, anyway!
Our second dinner was spent in the Cellar Door, conveniently opposite the Frankenstein Bier Keller. This is a traditional Scottish restaurant. It was slightly more up-market and therefore more expensive, but we enjoyed our food all the same! I had the Scotch venison, which came with butternut squash, potatoes and a red wine jus.
As I said, we needed to sober up after our cocktail making on the last night, so I went for a hearty pie at the restaurant in The Inn on the Mile. My friend went for a haggis topping on her burger, which I tried (because when in Rome, right?) but I’d lost all sense of taste so it really wasn’t worth it. I’ve tried haggis since, though, and it’s a no from me.
I’d love to say my flu ironically disappeared after this trip, but I actually ended up keeping my rattly cough for nearly three and a half months afterwards – which included the next trip I will write about, Zakynthos! That’s Zante to all you lads out there. But it wasn’t that kind of holiday at all…
Thanks for reading!