Edinburgh is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. If not ten times. As the UK’s second most popular tourist destination after London, as well as the Scottish capital, it is a city that never ceases to draw in visitors. This isn’t very surprising as there is always something new to discover in Edinburgh every time you revisit it. My latest trip to Edinburgh is my second to the city, and will no doubt not be my last as I never seem to get my fill of it.
After an early arrival into Edinburgh Waverley, I began this particular trip by letting my wandering feet take me first to Stockbridge, an affluent suburb on the north side of the city. Past the New Town, Stockbridge is like the Chelsea of Edinburgh, as it is home to a plethora of pretty town-houses, boutiques and charming cafes that all seem to run on a sleepy, relaxed timescale. It’s a great place to start a day in Edinburgh as many of the city’s best cafes can be found along these quaint streets and it is one of the most picturesque but less visited parts of the city.
I loved wandering aimlessly around the beautiful Stockbridge streets, enjoying taking in the quaintness of the photographic backstreets like Circus Lane (top) and the grand rows of Georgian townhouses like those on Royal Circus (bottom). Before long, my stomach began wailing so I went in search of some much needed breakfast. To get my fill, I headed to The Pantry on Circus Place for a warming coffee and a perfectly sized, perfectly delicious No Small Fry breakfast, complete with all the trimmings including some haggis! The food there is delicious and is a popular choice amongst locals, so you’re unlikely to find the cafe not radiating a friendly atmosphere (Read about my review of The Pantry here).
Once filled to the brim with mouth watering foodie goodness, I began my travels again, this time looping round to Grassmarket. As the city’s historic horse and cattle marketplace as well as a previous site for public executions, Grassmarket is a must-see area of Edinburgh for all tourists. Nestled within the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town just behind Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket is well worth exploring as aside from its history it is has a lot of character, being one of the more vibrant parts of the city, well known for its eclectic mix of independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is also a stone’s throw away from The Elephant House, the infamous cafe where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Grassmarket is also a reliable place to find some unusual souvenirs. Its old cobbled streets are filled with independent shops selling all-sorts from designer fashion by some of Scotland’s biggest names to gift shops selling unique presents and antique books.
It was then up to the Royal Mile I went, walking via W Bow/Victoria Street (featured above and below), which has to be one of my favourite streets in the Old Town. The colourful shopfronts and mixture of several centuries of beautiful architecture makes this one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh. The whole street looks so topsey-turvey due to two streets being visible from the bottom of the hill, Victoria Street and Victoria Terrace above. It almost looks as if the two streets are running on top of each other, with the looming buildings almost toppling over you like something out of Diagon Alley. This seems rather fitting of its history, as this area was where Major Thomas Weir used to live, a man known as ‘the Wizard of the West Bow’ who was executed for witchcraft in 1670. After standing empty for over a century because of its reputation for being haunted before being demolished in 1830, some parts of the Weir’s house are believed to still exist within the Quaker Meeting House on the upper terrace. Luckily, I didn’t see anything supernatural as I made my way up the hill and up the small flight of stairs halfway up the street that leads to Upper Bow and the Royal Mile.
Once up on the Royal Mile, I began to explore the whole length of this famous street by beginning at Castle Hill (where I managed to take a very touristy picture of a Scotman playing the bagpipes near the castle – featured below) and slowly making my way down to Canongate. With each step I took I couldn’t stop looking up at the buildings above and around me. The old twisting streets, sharp curves and secret passageways to decorate the Old Town make it one of the most enchanting and impressive parts of Edinburgh. Being situated in the oldest part of the city, the buildings here are like silent testimonies to Edinburgh’s past. Over centuries of fighting and bloodshed with their neighbours, housing was repeatedly built up within the old town walls of the city as opposed to outwards as a way to defend the city against English attacks. This gave the Old Town its historic and impressive architecture that millions come to see every year. I can see why, as with this historic, jaw-dropping architecture twisting and rising above me with every step I took down the Royal Mile, it’s was hard not to keep looking up and appreciate the history around me, despite it hurting my neck!
After exploring the length of the Royal Mile, not the mention sampling plenty of whisky and fudge in the numerous Scottish tourist shops on the way, I was beginning to get peckish for some more substantial food again, so I looped back round to the New Town via the North Bridge.
The New Town is a completely different kettle of fish that the Old Town entirely. Long considered to be a masterpiece of city planning, this grid like area with the regular blocks of buildings is something totally different to the topsy-turvy, cobbled streets and alleys of the Old Town. Many of the roads here still retain a lot of the original neo-classical and Georgian architecture, making it a pretty place to go for an early evening stroll. My favourite street is Rose Street, as it is pedestrianised so you can walk freely down it, admiring the buildings without being having to stop for cars at the same time. A lot of the pubs down Rose Street have been serving the good people of Edinburgh for over 100 years, so having dinner in this part of the city should definitely be on your history tour of Edinburgh!
In true Edinburgh style of being proud of its history all the while not taking itself too seriously, the names of Rose Street’s many pubs is something to see on any trip to Edinburgh. From the more literary namesakes in reference to Walter Scott, such as the the Kenilworth (names after Scott’s novel of the same name) and Abbotsford (named after Scott’s house) to the more crude pubs like Dirty Dicks, Rose Street certainly is not home to a boring backstreet bar. It even has its own drinking game, the Rose Street Challenge, which involves making your way along Rose Street while having a drink in every drinking establishment on the way. Having more bars and pubs along its cobbled paths than any other street in the Scottish capital, giving Rose Street its nickname the ‘Amber Mile’, this challenge is definitely not for the faint hearted.
Having an early evening train to catch, on this one trip I decided against taking up the Rose Street Challenge, opting instead to take my dinner to-go so that I could finish off my day in Edinburgh by walking up to Calton Hill for a final view over the city before it got dark. Calton Hill is the site of many iconic photos of Edinburgh and is well worth the short walk uphill to see what all the fuss is about. I was very lucky as despite the sky being full of clouds for most of the day, I still got a glimpse of the setting sun smiling over Edinburgh when I finally reached the top. It was beautiful to sit up there and hear the city buzz below, as the evening slowly rolled in. I could even see the dramatic rocky background of Arthur’s Seat in fading sunlight, the supposed mythological location of King Arthur’s Camelot.
It was the perfect end to a day very well spent. I could have stayed up there on Calton Hill watching the city below all night but unfortunately my trip to this beautiful city was cut short. I cannot wait for the day when I can return back to Edinburgh and explore it further. I might even take on the Rose Street Challenge!
What did you think of Edinburgh? Let me know by commenting below.
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