In an effort to use up my remaining holiday allowance of 2016 and to finally tick off a city I’ve been itching to visit, I booked a last-minute trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. It would be my first solo trip since my month-long adventure back in May!
Though a flight would be cheaper (when you don’t count the cost of airport transfers), I was adamant to take the train. Not only does it basically take me door to door, easing the whole travel process, it’s also a hell of a view. I’d pick a train over a plane any day.
I arrived at my hostel and immediately signed up for the social event of the night, beer pong. For £2 I could make some friends, and worst case, just enjoy some beer.
The hostel is called Castle Rock, because you walk out the door and BAM a beautiful view of the castle atop the hill. From my room’s window, I also had a lovely view of the building that inspired Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s mind. More on Harry Potter later. The hostel isn’t fancy but it does have a cool atmosphere, decorated like an old castle with statues of men in armour and antique wooden decor.
I still had ample time to explore the city before beer pong, so I took off.
The two major streets to explore are the Royal Mile and Princes Street.
The Royal Mile is part of Old Edinburgh. It connects the Castle to the Queen’s residence at the bottom of the hill. It’s the perfect first spot to check out. I’ve never seen any place like it. All you need is bagpipes playing in the background to fully transport you … and yes, you will hear those bagpipes.
Princes Street is the main street of New Edinburgh. This is where all the major shops are. If you go during the Christmas season, you will also get to experience the major Christmas Market. Lots of treats and rides to indulge yourself in.
First Night Out
The beer pong tournament in the hostel was organized so you would be randomly paired, aka forced to meet someone other than who you came with, which is perfect for solo travellers. The games lasted over an hour and as teams were continuously cut from the tournament, more people started mingling.
After beer pong, we headed to a bar that had live music and extremely cheap drinks. We ordered double gin & tonics for under £3 each!! … and to avoid the queue’s, we ordered two doubles at once. I met a guy in particular who I really hit it off with, so after some chatting and dancing, we left for a spontaneous adventure in the city. At 3am, we walked up the hill to the Edinburgh Castle and overlooked the city lit up at night. It was probably one of the most romantic settings you can imagine. We stayed there for a while, as it lightly rained, chatting and holding each other close for warmth. Unfortunately, you won’t hear more about this mystery guy, as he was leaving Edinburgh the next morning.
An Extremely Haunted City
The next day I explored Edinburgh, in its creepy glory, with a friend I made the night before.
Edinburgh Castle: is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Europe is full of castles that all seem the same, so this might not be the most tempting choice for spending £17, but it does have a lot of interesting sections to check out (like a war prison). Plus, there is a spectacular view from the castle walls.
Calton Hill: is another great viewpoint of the city (seen below). We were going to hike up Arthurs Seat, but as the clouds were rolling in, we figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort for a foggy view.
The Real Mary King’s Close: is the creepiest thing I did in Edinburgh. This tour takes you underground to a 17th-century close (a narrow street and the homes along it) that has since been built over. As someone who is claustrophobic and afraid of ghosts, this was uncomfortable for me the whole way through. We were taken into dark rooms which were the homes of families who died of the plague. One room, in particular, was haunted by a little girl. That being said, it was extremely interesting and I’m glad I experienced it (I’m saying this because the ghost never appeared to me).
Free Ghost Walking Tour: I expected this tour to be spookier, but it was really interesting learning about the dark and grimy history of the city, and seeing where some of these true stories took place. Again, it’s free!
Day Trip to the Highlands
When my cousin Ashley visited me in London, she told me about a FREE tour of the Highlands called Hairy Coo Tours. I knew I wasn’t going to get an in-depth look at the Highlands (i.e. go to Loch Ness or the Isle of Skye) during this short visit, so a free taste of the highlands was perfect!
Of course, it’s not exactly free, you’d be a major asshole if you let a driver take you on a guided tour all day and didn’t pay him. He has to make a living! People tip £5 for a free walking tour that just lasts over an hour, so I’d tip more than £10 for this. Still cheaper than most bus tours!
The tour goes to the following places:
- The Forth Bridge (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- The location where the true Braveheart story took place
- A few castles, including one that is featured in Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Monty Python & the Holy Grail!
- The only Lake in Scotland (the rest are called Lochs), Lake of Menteith (a place that once served as refuge to Mary Queen of Scots)
And potentially the most exciting part of the tour…
- Visiting the Hairy Coos!
They were so cute! We got to meet and feed 3 of them. The pictures below are of Fiona. She started to shake her head and I thought she was going to hit me with her horns … turns out she was just scratching her ear!
That night, I participated in a pub quiz that the hostel took us to. It was Christmas themed. You’d think that’d be easy for someone who loves Christmas. Think again.
For my last day, I went on a Harry Potter self-guided tour. Since J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of Harry Potter in Edinburgh, pieces of the story come from inspiration in the city!
The Elephant House: is the cafe where J.K. Rowling famously did a lot of her writing. You can go in and order food and later visit the loo for access to the Ministry of Magic (this only doesn’t sound weird if you know about the MoM). I didn’t eat there because I thought it’d be expensive now that it’s so famous, but I was wrong.
Greyfriars Kirkyard: is one of the most haunted cemeteries that exist. My Hairy Coo tour guide said that people have gone there at night and left feeling sick or covered with bruises … so I visited it in the morning. The graveyard wasn’t very busy and it is quite vast, with isolated areas, so yes it was still creepy in the daylight. There are two gravestones that inspired characters in Harry Potter: 1. Tom Riddle (Voldemort) and 2. Professor McGonagall. See if you can find them!
George Heriots School: is on the other side of Greyfriars Kirkyard to The Elephant House. This school is what drew inspiration for Hogwarts with its’ four towers for the four houses.
After having a lovely brunch at Brunch Edinburgh, which overlooks The Elephant House, I gathered my things and headed for the train to go home to London.
Have you been to Edinburgh? What’s your favourite thing to do in the city?