Edinburgh is the perfect city for a day trip/long layover…especially during the month of August, when the city celebrates its nearly month-long creative arts and entertainment based Fringe Festival.
Even if you’re not visiting for the Fringe benefits (see what I did there?), it’s manageable, transit is well planned and there’s a lot to see and do in a small area. For being a smaller capital city, Edinburgh’s history is just so rich and jam packed with notable figures and events. Just don’t be like me and not realize that they use British pounds instead of Euros. Doh.
The Edinburgh airport is quite a ways from the city center, but is connected by an efficient and clean tram system. You buy your one way (£6) or return ticket (£8.50) from the kiosk and off you go. Once the tram snakes its way through the outer boroughs, you’ll start to see the urban core of Edinburgh and many of its ancient castles– exit the tram at St. Andrew’s Place, a green space in the middle of the city.
This is the perfect place to exit as it is a mere steps away from Dishoom. If you’ve spent any time in the UK, I’m sure someone has recommended Dishoom to you. Some friendly Londoners I met in Venice told me it was a must try, and I figured this outpost would be a lot less crowded — I was right. The bacon naan breakfast sandwich was crispy, fatty, unique. And their house chai? Perfect for a blustery Scotland morning.
Belly full and warmed up, I was ready to take on the day. I headed towards Holyrood Palace, or the Queen’s residence during the infrequent times she is in Scotland (and not at Balmoral) over the summer. Alas, no Duke of Edinburgh sightings.
Holyrood is also known as the former residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. If y’all want some Drama (that’s right, capital D), read about her life. There’s jealousy, murder of her cousin-husband, affairs, plotting to kill her Queen-cousin, beheading, etc. I mean, they made a CW show about her, need I say more?
Holyrood sits across from Scottish Parliament and both mark the end of the Royal Mile. This mile is the main area of the Old Town, stretching towards Edinburgh castle. Starting at Holyrood Abbey, you’ll cross into Canongate and then make it to High Street. There are tons of tourist shops along this road, a part of which is closed off to cars.
Don’t forget to look down or you’ll miss the Heart of Midlothian, which makes the site of a former prison. Sir Walter Scott, of Rob Roy and Ivanhoe fame, coined the term, and don’t be startled if you see people spitting on the mosaic. That’s just them spitting on the site of former executions. European history is wild.
Speaking of literary accomplishments, Edinburgh has a great history of producing some of the most famous writers (this is a theme throughout Europe). We’re talking Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Boyle, Irvine Welsh, Alexander McCall Smith. And if you really want to get quidditch, pull a J.K. Rowling and start your great novel in an Edinburgh coffee shop like she did.
I don’t know which coffee shop in which she started the world of Harry Potter (it’s controversial), but La Barantine Victoria is a cute French cafe serving all sorts of buttery pastries and is the perfect place for a rest.
It’s perched on Victoria Street, a multi-hued Instagram wonderland of storefronts and restaurants.
It sits just below Castle Rock. Like the one in Game of Thrones, but potentially bloodier.
If you only have time for one thing in Edinburgh, make it Edinburgh Castle. The area this fortress sits on has been inhabited since the 2nd century. That’s right, 2 A.D. If these walls could talk.
At 1 PM everyday, crowds gather to hear the firing of the gun, historically used to help ships keep time. It’s fast, loud and startling even though you know its coming.
The grounds of the castle feature St. Margaret’s Chapel, which is the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating to the 1200s. There’s also the Scottish War Museum, Royal Palace and of course, the Crown Jewels. Run the jewels, or run to them, I mean.
You can also peek a view of Arthur’s Seat, the highest of the hills in Edinburgh, very popular and apparently easy to climb. Too windy on the day I visited, but it reminded me of moody moors from Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre (I know wrong part of UK).
Before you leave Scotland, there’s absolutely one thing you have to try: haggis. Now, I’m a bit gutless (get it?) when it comes to exotic foods, but since it’s banned from being imported into the US, you have to eat it here. It’s a mixture of sheep heart, liver and lungs encased in its stomach. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?
I tried a version made into a stuffing on a roasted pig sandwich at Oink. You can’t miss this place, it’s neon pink and teeming with people. It’s also cheap, quick and pretty satisfying. And yeah, you can definitely distinguish the haggis taste. It’s interesting?
Before you leave, make sure to cross the Water of Leith and peruse the shops on Princes Street, the main drag of the new town. The Scott monument (they love their Sir Walter Scott here, hence the term, Great Scott!) looms over the street, its gothic architecture very easily recognizable. Stroll along the river into the Edinburgh gardens before catching the tram back to the airport.
Souvenirs: shortbreads, tartans, scotch
Notable people: Sir Walter Scott, Shirley Manson, Sir Sean Connery
Listen to: Garbage, the Proclaimers, Jethro Tull