I came to Scotland ready to fall in love, and, my, did I ever!
My first visit to Edinburgh was in mid-August – perfect for the tourist season. The overcrowded hustle and hurried excitement is easily transferred between visitors. With events and performances every night, there was never any time to be bored.
The Royal Military Tattoo, Fringe Festival, International Festival, Writers Festival were all in full swing in the month of August.
The second time I visited was as a day trip from my student flat in Dundee. The mid-September season was changing to yellow leaves and grey skies. It seems Edinburgh is beautiful in all weather and all seasons.
Coming from Australia, the first thing that strikes you in Edinburgh is the magnificence of the architecture. It seems fictional, as if stepping from a novel into the presence of magic.
Actually, I've found that a common experience in Scotland.
My first days in Edinburgh consisted mostly of recovering from jet lag, then sight-seeing and taking in what the many festivals had to offer.
Edinburgh Castle watches me; overseeing the city from its high central pedestal. In the crowded streets, cobblestones rise and fall from the centuries of use, and some bowing into the earth. Cars sound a rhythm, pacing the stones and their spaces; the pitch varying as they slow for dips and dodge pedestrians.
The little cobbled streets and lanes rise to the central road leading into the castle know as The Royal Mile. Vibrant summer flowers pots hanging from doors and shop fronts, with pinks and greens complimenting the old-style fonts detailing the year of establishment. Herds of tourists’ step from one tweed souvenir shop to another; their language drowned out by the sound of bagpipe street performers, and hypnotising rhythm of traffic on cobbles.
In the evening, The Royal Mile was buzzing with performers hoping to coax an audience to their performances. Loud street previews were performed. Full acts of fire-throwing showed courage and unique music sets all contributed to an infectious atmosphere. Walking the Mile in twilight signalled me as fair game as a possible audience member. After refusing flyers for several paces, the dodging seemed more work than it was worth. With every step came flyers, events titles and pitches directed to me; the infectious energy of the performers matching the review stars so highly noted on the handout. The low bubbling dusk only fuelled the hum of excitement as curtain calls drew near.
I ended the day will a full hand of flyers, knowing the performance I had pre-booked with the international festival would be well worth it. Joshua Bell plays Bruch with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, at the stunning Usher Hall.
The Grassmarket is probably the best place to go restaurant (or bar) hoping. And maybe the best way to find the Grassmarket is by following Victoria Street from The Royal Mile.
Victoria Street twists down the hill, lined with quaint and colourful shops featuring designer tweed and specular bowties. The buildings in this part of the Old Town are full of character and a joy to behold.
At the Grassmarket there are rows of out-door seating spilling out from the many restaurants, and sometimes stalls with local makers and international foods. The other side of the square hides the Instagram famous, Vennel, where stairs lead down into the Grassmarket and you can see the Castle guarding the city.
During my last visit I ate in Edinburgh’s oldest pub est. 1516, and although I wasn't expecting much, there is a reason it has been around for so long. Delicious!
Best Views of the City
Edinburgh Caste is worth spending at least half and day exploring inside the castle walls. There are many lookout points over the castle wall, mostly over the New Town and across the Firth of Forth.
The Castle has many museums, displays and re-enactments from different eras, detailing the dense history of Royal, suffering and remembrance. Enter into the museums knowing history is written by the victors, and although it is in Scotland, doesn’t mean the history displays a Scottish opinion.
It is worth waiting in line to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny: both have a very turbulent history.
If you have the nerve, the Scott’s Monument is well worth the £5 entry fee. Firstly, a warning. If you suffer from claustrophobia and a fear of heights, Scott’s Monument is not for you. To get the most out the climb, the trick is waiting for a group all going the one direction, up, and calling out that no one is coming down, as overtaking on the tight circular stair case is rather too friendly for comfort.
Four separate staircases allow increasing brilliant views and breaks from the dark and seemly endless steps up. The staircases grow deliberately narrower, the last with little windows blowing cool air onto your ankles and creating a sensation of swaying.
Squeezing into the fresh air, we shuffled around the crown of the moment. Too narrow to pass anyone we had to hope the swaying we felt was just in our heads and wait until the other 3 people in front of us wanted to head back down as well.
As the crow flies, the Arthurs seat trail is not far. However, up-hill, it feels like a long way.
I now know that the feeling of never-ending steep up hill walks is a regular occurrence in Scotland. The Munros and Bens are always deceiving, just a little further to go and it all seems to be up hill.
The view from Arthurs Seat not only displays the entire of Edinburgh and out over the river, also the surrounding directions, out in the suburbs and sprawling paddocks.
And perhaps the best time of year to visit Arthurs seat is August/September, due to the free self-picked picnic of wild black berries.
A good little view point and reminder of Scotland’s dense history is Saint Anthony’s Chapel ruins. The date of the ruins not exactly known, it is thought to be from the 1300’s.
Calton Hill is another city vantage point and a very popular place to take photos of Edinburgh. The permanent display of monuments that is set out across the hill top seems to me to be without much reference to each other, and could, perhaps, be viewed as an outdoor art installation.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
I can really recommend the Tattoo as a fantastic show. I’ve been to and performed at the Calgary Stampede marketed as the “greatest show on earth”, but I believe the Royal Edinburgh MilitaryTattoo is a serious contester for the title.
I bought a package ticket including The Cannonball restaurant before show dinner. The Cannonball comes with my recommendation too: dinner was a Italian and Scottish mix which conquered my food allergies. There was a lot of wine, a live fiddle performance by 3 of the cast of the Tattoo and a friendly owner who genuinely enjoyed greeting and meeting his customers from all over the world.
The Tattoo is an absolute must if you are visiting Edinburgh- in fact I would recommend visiting to see the Tattoo.
Have the perfect lunch in Princes Street Gardens, with a view of the Castle.
Whether you have lunch in a restaurant or a picnic in Princes Street Gardens, the view is drop dead gorgeous.
The last of the summer roses bloom as the autumn leaves change, all in sight of the towering castle.
After my 2 visits and total 6 days in Edinburgh there is still so much to explore!
On my next visit: Dean Village, Holyrood Palace.