When I first moved to Edinburgh, I was greeted with cold, cloudy, windy weather. I soon realized that the rain and gray skies are constant, but it rarely snows or drops below freezing. I wasn’t going to let the weather put a damper on my time there, and I learned to always carry an umbrella and go about my day.
When it’s not raining, Edinburgh is the perfect city for long walks and hikes. Nearly everything is within walking distance. Although there is a bus system, I never took it because there was never any need. It’s a hilly city, but walking up and down the narrow, steep, winding cobblestone streets lets you really experience the feel of the city. It allows the imagination to visualize walking this picturesque ancient city in past centuries. It’s an incredible feeling.
There seems to be countless parks throughout the city, and they are all surround you with the intense green of nature.
Holyrood Park is home to the famous Arthur’s Seat, one of the hills in this beautiful Park that offers a great climb and a spectacular panoramic view of the city. It’s a magnet for tourists and locals alike for picnics, running, and watching sunrise and sunset. Remember to wear a jacket and shoes with good traction because it can become windy and a wee bit slippery!
The Meadows is a park on the edge of the University of Edinburgh’s campus and is very popular with students for all types of activities, including rugby and football (soccer). Try not to walk travel through it at night alone, it might not be safe.
Princes Street Gardens provides a postcard-worthy view of the Edinburgh Castle and is home to monuments, concerts, and, during the Christmas season, a “Winter Wonderland.” This consists of a Christmas Market, an ice rink, and various amusement park rides. The park is located between the historic Old Town and the shopping district of New Town, adjacent to the National Gallery of Scotland (which is free!), and it is near to the Waverley train and bus stations. You can always find lots of people around there—it’s a great place for an afternoon out with friends.
Calton Hill is another park to go for amazing city views. The hill itself is right in the city centre and unmistakable for its Athenian acropolis seen above the skyline. In fact, it is the uncompleted National Monument of Scotland that gives the sense of Edinburgh’s status as “the Athens of the North.” The Political Martyr’s Monument is located in the Old Calton Burial Ground. The Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson’s Monument, and the Governor’s House of Calton Jail are there for the curious.
Calton Hill is the location of the famous May Day Beltane Fire Festival (Beltane pronounced bol DIN) is a joyous ritualised celebration of the beginning of summer, the turning wheel of Nature’s seasons, and of Europe’s proud pagan spiritual past. It’s an incredible night with its bonfire, fire torches, and awe-inspiring performances. This incredible sight engenders a carefree joy that attracts up to 12,000 people every year. If you’re in Edinburgh, don’t can’t miss it! The Beltane Fire Festival is supported by an army of enthusiastic volunteers and occurs every year on Beltane Eve, starting at 8PM in the evening of April 30th.
There are more booksellers per capita of any other city in the U.K.. If you love books, then you’ll adore this city, especially since many of the second-hand bookstores are on the cheap. The free Edinburgh Writers’ Museum is also fascinating. And then there is Harry Potter’s world and The Elephant House, a gathering spot for adoring students, where I do say, J. K. Rowling wrote her series over a spot of tea, old bean.
Edinburgh has a brigade of cool music shops to visit.
For those interested, Edinburgh has a thriving classical music scene. Try the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with its £5 student tickets. Check out the Edinburgh Festival Theatre if you’re into opera and ballet.
For jazz, go to the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival each July. During the rest of the year, the Jazz Bar on Chambers Street is a blast. It’s inexpensive and has live music, a great bar, an electric atmosphere, and best of all it’s the perfect place to meet students, young locals, and musicians.
Every August, the city hosts the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. People flock to it from all over to enjoy the thousands of student and professional performances that take place in hundreds of different venues around the city.
One of my absolute favorite places in Edinburgh is the Royal Mile, a street that runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official Scottish residence). There are countless pubs, restaurants, stores, and attractions that really demonstrate the culture of the city—bagpipe and kilt makers, souvenir and Scotch whisky shops, William Wallace-impersonators, street performers, and historical sites and monuments can all be found there. It is an incredible street. I loved the energy of the Royal Mile and how there was something new going on every day.
Due to Edinburgh’s prime location, it is an ideal place from which to travel to the rest of the U.K. and Europe. Also, Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Newcastle are accessible by train or bus and are easy day-trips. The international airport offers affordable flights to Ireland and continental Europe through Ryanair and EasyJet. Also take advantage of the cheap airport bus, the AirLink, which has pick-up/drop-off locations throughout the city.
Although it is a stepping stone to the rest of the world, this city is truly beautiful and a remarkable place to experience. It is known as a city of festivals, and it should not be missed. If you have wanderlust, take a week or more and revel in Edinburgh.