My Thoughts on Edinburgh

My Thoughts on Edinburgh

Edinburgh was as good as any place to spend my last New Year’s Eve in the UK; I could’ve spent it anywhere but, considering that it’s relatively close to home, it felt like a pretty good choice. Despite what a lot of Scots, and Englishman for that matter, think of the UK, I still consider Scotland to be a strong part of the kingdom and we’d be a lot less without it. After London, I would argue Edinburgh to be the UK’s second city; its culture is broad, its heritage deep, and its character is very fitting with the part of the world it sits in.

So, what’s so great about Edinburgh that it takes precedence over cultural hotspots such as Manchester and Nottingham? Well… a hell of a lot.

Edinburgh is beautiful.

Princes Street Gardens
The Royal Mile over Princes Street Gardens

I use the word beautiful a lot. Barcelona is beautiful. Paris is beautiful. Reykjavik is…well maybe not, but it is nice. Edinburgh though, with its smog stained architecture, its winding ‘let’s get lost’ backstreets, and its very clear, but very complimentary difference between old and new, hits the spot as far as the beauty of a city can go. Edinburgh, like most cities, is broken up into different areas but, unlike other cities, these areas are very distinct and offer their own thing. Possibly the two most distinguished, and most popular, are the Royal Mile and Princes Street. These are two very different areas within the city; one represents the old, the other the new, yet they’re only a stone’s throw away.

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Top end of the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the backbone of the city; the place that keeps the city going, whereas Princes Street is the typical modern high street filled with shops, restaurants, and galleries. The Royal Mile is, as it says, a mile of whisky bars, pubs, restaurants, and shops of the tweed supplying variety. Like Las Ramblas in Barcelona, you could spend a day pinballing from bottom to top and still find something new on a second visit. If you head to the top of the Royal Mile you’ll reach a dead end in the shape of Edinburgh Castle. The centuries old castle is a focal point of the city and, at the very least, a great part of Scottish national heritage.

Castle 1
View of Castle Rock (and the Castle) from the NW

People don’t come to Edinburgh to go shopping on Princes street (I hope not anyway), and they don’t come to get drunk (that’s what Glasgow is for). Instead they come to absorb a bit of culture and learn about possibly the most interesting area of the UK. Princes street, amongst other things, showcases two of the most famous and luxurious hotels in the UK; the Caledonian and the Balmoral. Walk any further east of the Balmoral and you have Calton Hill; a great vantage point offering views over the North Bridge, Princes Street, and the Castle, as well as the northern area of the city. This is also the home of the national monument; dedicated to Scottish men who fought during the Napoleonic wars.

Overlooking Princes Street
Overlooking Princes Street

Edinburgh is honest.

Like most of Scotland, Edinburgh doesn’t try to bulls**t anyone; what you see is what you get. Of course there’s the odd bar or restaurant that seems a bit above itself, but you find that in any city. Edinburgh is very aware of its history and doesn’t try to hide it but, unlike London, it doesn’t try to shove it down your throat either. If you walk a loop of the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket area you’ll inevitably be charmed by its character and history; the centuries old pubs, ancient churches, and harrowing points lost in history (the Grassmarket being an area used for hangings and lynching) that all add to the near mythical history of the city. Of course, if you’re not into that kind of thing, there are more than enough places to get slowly inebriated.

Victoriaa Street
Where old meets new: Grassmarket to Victoria Street…

Drink leads to my next point: maybe Edinburgh is a little too honest, maybe it’s not honest enough. The city isn’t afraid of charging you £4+ for a pint of beer, or £9+ for a simple meal. This seems expensive, and I suppose it is compared to a lot of other cities but, compared to London (which is overrated), and many other capitals around Europe, it’s actually relatively cheap. I think when you’re in great cities sometimes you have to remember that very fact. For instance, the further up the Royal Mile you go, the more expensive everything is, and the reason? Well, there’s a world famous castle 100m away. Just like having a pint outside the Sagrada Familia, or near the Eiffel Tower, or across from the Rialto bridge, you pay for where you are.

Royal Mile 2
Down the Royal Mile

Edinburgh enjoys itself.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Scots, like most of the UK really, love to enjoy themselves. Whether you’re after a few afternoon pints, a bit of late night music, or a simple tour by bar of the city; Edinburgh has it all. The time of year that you happen to land in the city will dictate what you get to see; there’s the Fringe Festival, the Royal Military Tattoo and, of course, the Hogmanay celebrations to name a few. I happened to be here over the Hogmanay period and the city, unlike others (I’ve made a quick comparison here), genuinely loves to celebrate the New Year.

Castle fireworks

Now, being in the city over the New Year period, I was understandably tempted to a number of drinks, most all of which were alcoholic. Like most other people on NYE, I crossed paths with a substantial number of other revellers involved in one of the many street parties happening around the city.

One of the many street parties...
One of the many street parties…

These celebrations don’t just happen on the night; they carry on over the next few days. Edinburgh, like all great cities, doesn’t really seem to sleep (so to speak). Even on the first day of the year all bars were crowded, restaurants were fully booked, and buildings were glowing with decoration; there really is no slowing this city down. If, like me, you enjoy some decent food and drink, there are 2 main areas to head to that are both close to the centre and relatively cheap: there is the Grassmarket, as previously mentioned above, and there is Rose Street.

Grassmarket
A few of the many bars in the Grassmarket

Rose street is one block behind Princes street and runs parallel to it for almost its entire length. On this street you’ll find many bars (of varying quality); most of which serve some kind of food and, if you find the right one, seem to bend Scottish law at their discretion (take from that what you will). However, though not as crowded as other streets, it can be very difficult to find a seat, especially during the evening; so make sure that if you do find one, you keep it!

Backstreet
Some of the best places are tucked away…

Edinburgh is unforgettable.

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There is no mistaking that Edinburgh is a unique city. Whether you’re interested in its culture, its history, its nightlife, or even its architecture; not one part of it can be found anywhere else. Of course the city is comparable to others, and there are, no doubt, greater cities than the Scottish capital, but given its small size and the way it holds its head high, you’d be hard pushed to find another European city with as much character.

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You could be forgiven, at times, for thinking you were in a city like Prague or Bruges; there’s that very distinctive, yet quiet feel to it; the only break in Edinburgh being the unmistakeable sound of bagpipes playing and beer glasses clashing. Walk around Edinburgh long enough and you’ll find yourself looking up more often than forward; around every corner is a new street and a new atmosphere offering a different experience of the city.

Princes Street 2
Princes Street from Castle Rock

So, as far as cities go, Edinburgh is great. In fact no, scratch that: Edinburgh is amazing. It will be the last city in the UK I’ll have visited before leaving for my adventure in a weeks time, and I couldn’t think of a city more different than which I’m about to head: Mumbai.

I’ve written a few posts on my exploits so far, but India is where the real adventures begin! I hope you will follow me on them…

-Type 1 Traveller

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