In keeping with my New Year’s resolution to go exploring (one of the few that I’ve managed to obey), and sticking firmly to my list of places to visit in 2014, I spent three days in Edinburgh, Scotland last week. When I say it’s one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, I do not exaggerate. For anyone considering making the trip, here follows a short and cheerful review.
We stayed in Brodies Hostel on the Royal Mile. I picked this particular hostel more so for the location than anything else, however the pictures looked pretty good and it had decent reviews. Beyond being sufficient for our needs in that it was a place to stay, the hostel itself wasn’t great. Brodies has two buildings; our room was located in the second building, which appeared to be much older and dreary-looking than the main building. To avail of the WiFi you had to pay extra, and there was no towel hire – something that I genuinely believed was available in every hostel. The location also proved to be as much of a curse as it was a blessing, because the Royal Mile is LOUD. So unless you’re a heavy sleeper and not at all fussy, I wouldn’t recommend Brodies to future travellers.
Edinburgh Castle was the first stop on our three-day adventure. Situated on a hill, at the top of the Royal Mile, the views from the Castle are spectacular. Unfortunately, you have to pay through the nose for the privilege of actually going inside. An adult ticket to enter the grounds will set you back a hefty £16.
In defence of the price, there is a huge amount to see once you actually get inside, including the National War Museum, the War Memorial, the Regimental Museum, and the Royal Palace Crown Jewels. Even if history isn’t particularly your thing, these are still fascinating attractions, if only for the beautiful badges of honour and soldiers’ uniforms.
Helpful tip: Try to avoid visiting the Castle on a windy day. I was in danger of blowing off the side in several instances.
Doomed, Dead, and Buried
I can attribute one of the highlights of the three days to Mercat Tours for their ghost tour around the ‘haunted’ Blair Street underground vaults and Canongate Graveyard. I’m pretty sure these tours are held throughout the day, but what fun is a haunted tour in the cruel light of day? Plus, most of Edinburgh’s other attractions close at 5.00pm, so if you’re still hungry for some touring in the evening, this is ideal.
For anyone who thinks that ghost tours are a bit naff, don’t be put off. This particular tour is actually a lot more like a history walk, with a bit of spook thrown in for good measure. It’s well worth forking out the £14.
Our tour guide’s name was Ruth, and she was amazing. She made the hour and 45 minute tour fly by, mostly because she told her host of stories from haunted, historical Edinburgh with a flair of hilarity and spook in equal measures, which few others would be able to achieve.
Has anyone ever gone to Edinburgh and not gone to the Camera Obscura? I’m pretty sure they haven’t, not if Facebook photos are anything to judge by. If you want to escape from the culture slightly, and go somewhere for the craic, then this is the place to do it. It’s loads of fun, ideal for when it starts to rain unmercifully and you need to go somewhere indoors, and, makes for some great photos. This one where I’m posing like a twat, may not be one of them however.
City sightseeing tour
My jury is still out on whether the ‘hop on – hop off’ city sightseeing tour of Edinburgh is worth it or not. For our trip, we purchased 48 hour tickets, at £20 each. These allowed us unlimited travel on all of the bus routes around Edinburgh. While the tour helped us to get our bearings on the first day, which also happened to be a sunny day, I think a 24 hour ticket would have more than sufficed.
Hop on – hop off tours are ideal for big cities such as New York or London, which are difficult to navigate, however Edinburgh is quite small as capital cities go, and once you’re staying in the city centre, most of the attractions are within walking distance. While the tour guides are great, not all the buses have live tour guides all the time, some only provide a recorded audio guide, which you need to have headphones to listen to, and frankly, is much less authentic.
The Elephant House
This is a must for anyone who loves the Harry Potter books and JK Rowling. This is the cafe where Joanne Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter books. If you do make the visit here, you’ll soon see what inspired her. The Elephant House looks out onto Edinburgh Castle, which, could pretty much be Hogwarts itself.
Plus the food is really really good, even if they had run out of ham and paninis when we went there.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
I love a good palace. Versailles? Loved it. Balmoral? Beautiful. Holyroodhouse? Meh, wouldn’t be my ideal getaway location if I were Liz. It’s nice, but it’s grandeur is somewhat lacklustre, when compared to some of the other palaces and castle that the royal family brag in their property portfolio.
Having said that, I am so completely fascinated by the story of Mary, Queen of Scots that I really enjoyed the visit to Hollyroodhouse and the audio tour which had so much detail about the royal rogue.
Much like the castle, it’s pricey to stick your head in the door, at £11.30 per visitor. It’s even more expensive if you want to visit the Queen’s Gallery on top of that, with the combined ticket being £16. However the price does include the audio tour, which is very informative. Another perk is that you can get your ticket stamped on the way out, which will allow you to come back to the Palace for free as much as you like for the next 365 days. Although, if you don’t live in the UK, that’s probably of little use to you and your £11.30 lighter wallet.
Those left behind…
As with every trip, it’s hard to fit in everything, so there are definitely a couple of things I missed while there that I’ll just have to make a return visit to see. A couple of examples are:
The Writers Museum – Edinburgh is home to many a famous writer, including novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Treasure Island.
The Potter Trail – This ones for the Harry Potter fans. I had fully planned on going on this trail, but unfortunately the evening I had intended doing it, it was lashing rain. Hardened Harry Potter fan that I am, even I see no pleasure in a walking tour in the rain, so I ended up giving it a miss.
I did not expect Edinburgh to be as beautiful as it is, but likewise, I did not expect it to be as expensive as it is either. I live in Dublin, so I thought I was fairly prepared for an expensive capital city, but your money definitely doesn’t go as far in Edinburgh. This isn’t just the case for visiting attractions like the Castle and Holyroodhouse; just eating three meals a day can be extremely costly, even if you try looking for cheaper spots.
Another final thing to note, is that you can’t find a convenience shop or supermarket for love nor money in Edinburgh. I’m serious, the first night, we went looking for a shop to buy Percy Pigs (I really, really wanted Percy Pigs) and we walked for an hour before we eventually came across a Tesco. AN HOUR. And we were staying in the CENTRE of the city. To add insult to injury, they didn’t even have Percy Pigs. I had to get Haribo Milkshakes and they just aren’t the same.
Thus, business idea: move to Edinburgh, open up a chain of Spars or what have you, and make a killing!