Edinburgh – the city in the North of the UK. With 493,000 inhabitants it is the second largest city in Scotland (number 7 in the UK, apparently). The city is famous for bagpipes & kilts, the castle, the sheep Dolly (the world’s first cloned mammal) and being the birthplace of Harry Potter (the books’, not the boy’). And it seemed to be a very popular travel destination in 2017. A few years ago, during the time when I was living and studying in the UK, a few friends and I decided to take a trip up North to take a closer look at the city ourselves.
Edinburgh is located in the Northeast of the UK, but actually more or less in the South of Scotland, and lies on the Southern shores of the Firth of Forth. The Old and New Town of Edinburgh are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) has a rich history, and you’ll be able to find numerous books and papers on this topic. The city’s history began thousands of years ago (around 8,500 BC), and – as it was the case with so many other bigger cities – during the Middle Ages, a hill fort was established and became a royal residence for the Kings of Scotland. Since the 15th century, Edinburgh has been known as the capital of Scotland and used to be the biggest city in the area until it was outgrown by Glasgow at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1707 Scotland was united with the English Crown and from that on it had the same sovereign, flag, and parliament as England. At the end of the 20th century, a referendum lead to the creation of a Scottish Parliament with its seat in Edinburgh.
The sights & stories
I’ve mentioned this before in other city trips, but a great way of getting to know a city and its history and stories is by taking part in a (free) walking tour. This might also be a good way of getting to know other people, and the local tour guide will give you great tips on what to do and where to eat. So we joined a free walking tour and lucky us, the weather was quite alright even though it was January and thus mid-winter. Only a bit rainy at times, but not too cold, and the sun was out from time to time.
We spent some time on the Royal Mile, which is the main street of the Old Town, saw the typical tourist spots like the City Chambers & Royal Exchange, St Giles Cathedral, the Scotts Monument, and so on. The most memorable points & stories of our walking tour were definitely Greyfriars Kirkyard and Elephant House (and a story about the Stone of Destiny).
As mentioned before, the city is the birthplace of Harry Potter as it is the hometown of J.K.Rowling. There is one café, the Elephant House, where the author spent many hours there to write the first book of the magnificent story of the boy who lived. In this café, one has an excellent view over a cemetery and other great buildings, and if you visit the graveyard you’ll be able to spot many names that were used in the books, such as McGonagall, (Mad-Eye) Moodie, Riddle etc. According to our guide, other buildings of the town were also a great inspiration for her, the nearby school with its four towers is one example which she apparently used as a basis for the school of wizardry and witchcraft.
Despite all the fame the cafe receives, it does not sell any kind of merchandise and there is no Harry Potter theme in there (or at least there wasn’t any back then when I was visiting). So it’s rather a normal café with just many elephants in there (which is not so ‘normal’ I guess). The only probably not regular thing for a café in there was that every table had a drawer in which you’d find pencils and pieces of paper so you could start your own novel there. Many people had left notes, poems, or short stories in those drawers and we joined them with our own piece of paper.
The graveyard near the café, Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Rowling got her name inspiration, is also associated with the tale of Greyfriars Bobby. He was a very special Skye Terrier, very loyal to his master as he stood guard over his grave for 13 years in the 19th century. Now, the little dog has his own headstone at the entrance of the cemetery, which marks the actual burial place, and a statue of the dog stands opposite of the graveyard’s gate plus a pub with his name. Cool, huh? The dog statue has a golden snout, and rubbing it brings luck apparently. It so happened that on the day that we were visiting the graveyard, it was the dying day of the dog, and a school group, bagpipe players, the mayor of Edinburgh, and other people were there to celebrate the whole thing.
A visit to the Edinburgh Castle is a definite must if you ever visit this city. The castle thrones over the city, and from up there one has a great view over the city and the nearby sea.
The bottom line
We stayed a total of three nights and four days in the city, and we took a very cheap bus from Sheffield to Edinburgh. Despite it being a rather exhausting trip (6 hours one way) I’d recommend checking the busses and coaches in the UK if you ever wanna travel there and can’t catch a direct flight to the city. We stayed in a cheap hostel in the centre of the city right next to the Royal Mile. The hostel was nothing special, but it wasn’t bad either. We were really lucky with our room, and as we were spending most of the time outdoors exploring the city anyways, our accommodation didn’t really matter to us (plus, we were all students so we didn’t want to spend too much on it).
The capital of Scotland is very very beautiful and I immediately fell in love with it. The mix of the gloominess of the winter season and the architecture of the city was what I liked best. I just loved the dark facades of some buildings and the feeling there in general. I definitely want to come back to Scotland to see more of the surroundings, especially the highlands, and I want to revisit Edinburgh. There are a few places in town that I would not go to a second time or activities that I wouldn’t do again (like going inside the castle… a bit too boring for my taste). But back then when I was an undergrad student, my way of travelling and exploring a city was so different to the way I’m travelling now, so I guess I’d be seeing the city from another point of view :D