Edinburgh is one of my favorite places in the world. Divided in half by Waverly Station and an expansive park, it’s one of the few cities in the world where you can see a clear divide between two different points in history. To the north: one of the most impressive displays of Georgian architecture in Europe. To the south: a 15th century city spanning from the commanding presence of Edinburgh Castle down the Royal Mile to the luxurious palace of Holyrood. There’s enough in this city to keep the average history buff entertained for weeks on end, but for today, keep reading for the abridged version of my time in Scotland’s capital.
As I rose from the bowels of Waverly Station up into the dreary Scottish mist, I couldn’t help but smile. I was in my happy place, and I don’t think anything could have spoiled my mood. The air was brisk and the swish of car tires through rain puddles was a welcome accompaniment to the sight of Old Town looming overhead. After four and a half hours on train, following a one hour tube ride and a seven hour transatlantic flight, I was ready to stretch my legs, or fall face first into my bed. If I’m being honest, the odds were fifty-fifty. After a few minutes with my face lifted to the sky to feel the drizzle on my cheeks, I made my way to the hotel where I could freshen up and drop off my bags before going out to explore.
Prior to my trip, I made a list of locations I wanted to see in the city. Let me tell you, Instagram is a travel bug’s best friend. There are many great accounts I follow such as scotlander_love, ig_scotland, hiddenscotland, and many more. These accounts were the backbone of my Edinburgh exploration on Day One. I ventured down to the Grass Market area on the opposite side of the Royal Mile from my lodgings. Translation: A HIKE. My cousin, who also recently visited Edinburgh, described the city as a drunken game of chutes and ladders. Apropos, I’ll admit. Like many old cities, the streets are nothing close to a grid system, winding around like a tornado slide. And stairs? Yeah…. Lots of those. Among my list of places to see were The Vennel (a gorgeous viewpoint of Edinburgh Castle) and Armchair Books (a shop that specializes in the resale of Victorian era novels). I also visited a kilt maker and a few souvenir shops along the way.
A few things that I didn’t get to see due to time constraints were Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and Holyrood Palace. However, I did get to see a few Outlander filming locations, the most noticeable of which being Bakehouse Close, i.e. A. Malcolm’s Printshop. This was purely by accident. I was on a double-decker bus tour around the city, which I highly recommend for first-time visitors. It gives you the highlights of everything so you can go back and visit at your own leisure. While most tours touch on the highlights, each bus company has a few unique bits of trivia to share with their riders.
It’s also a cheaper way to get around the city than Ubering or taking a taxi. The tickets are around ten pounds Stirling and are good for a full twenty-four hours. There is some really cool architecture down by the Canongate, including an old graveyard, a cool church, and an old mansion. So, as I was snapping pictures left, right, and center. I looked around and thought, “You know, I think they filmed some season three stuff around here…” So, to the Google-mobile I went, and sure enough. A. Malcolm’s printshop was ACROSS. THE. ROAD.
If you are going to stay in the city, but don’t want to stay in a hostel, I recommend booking a room in one of the many locally owned properties.
They have a charm that big chain hotels don’t have. I absolutely loved Old Waverly. It wasn’t big and fancy. It didn’t have chandeliers in the lobby or a jacuzzi in the bathroom, but it had clean sheets, plenty of outlets to charge my various electronics, and a comfy bed. At the time, their restaurant downstairs was closed, which was unfortunate since most nights I was getting back to the city when most restaurants were either full or closed. However, the bar was open and had a spectacular view overlooking Old Town, so on my first night in the city, I curled up in one of the numerous wing backed chairs with a whisky and my copy of The Fiery Cross to enjoy the sights before heading off to bed.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t get near as much time in Edinburgh as I would have liked. However, I do have a few pieces of advice if you plan to visit in the next few months. With COVID still hanging on like a bad head cold, there are quite a few things that each traveler should note prior to making the trip to Scotland. First, the UK requires all travelers to take a PCR test on Day Two of your visit if you have been vaccinated, or on Day Two and Day Eight if you have not been vaccinated. I highly recommend purchasing At Home Kits prior to your visit. You can simply pack these in your carry-on and drop them in the mail. I had trouble finding a Priority Royal Mail box, so to save you some time, there is one in Waverly Station down near the train platforms.
Also, and this is perhaps the most important one, make sure you have reservations for any restaurants you wish to dine at. They only book tables ahead of time, and once they’re gone, they’re gone, regardless of a cancellation. Quite honestly, it’s a pain in the backside. I didn’t know this going into the trip, and ended up eating KFC in my hotel room on Night Two. Exciting, I know *heehee*. I think it’s also worth noting that this is why I purchase resealable snacks and a spare soda in the airport before I leave the United States. You never know when you’ll need your emergency stash.
This was just the tip of the iceberg for my trip to Scotland, and I can’t wait to tell you more, so make sure you stay tuned and subscribe to The Sassenach Files Blog for any future entries! Also, if you’re interested in my daily debriefs, I posted Facebook Lives in my Facebook Group: TSF Obsassenachs every night during my adventure.