Most people would not choose to visit Scotland in the middle of January but I’m not most people ?. Me and my friend caught a great deal on a budget airline from NY to Edinburgh. Even with them nickel and diming us for everything (do your research!), we made it across the Atlantic for less than $150 each (woohoo!). Honestly speaking, as that January date closely approached I was worried I would freeze into an ice pop in Scotland ?.
We landed about 7am on a Saturday morning. I felt the cold immediately but the air was crisp and refreshing. Our friends live in a lovely and very accessible neighborhood near Leith Walk. From Leith Walk it was easy to find our way to historical sites as well as stumble upon hidden gems.
Our first stop was to Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s first public parks. Entering from Leith Walk we were afforded panoramic views of what is known as the New Town of Edinburgh. On a clear day you can see all the way along the Firth of Forth, Rail Bridges and North Berwick Law, which was once a volcano.
Walking a bit further up the hill, the unfinished National Monument caught me by surprise. It has long been referred to as “the Athens of the North”. Building began in 1826 to commemorate the fallen of the Napoleonic Wars but left unfinished in 1829 when money ran out.
From the top of the hill, you’re able to see Edinburgh’s Old Town and more historical sites come into view such as Waverley Railway Station. It was named after the Waverley Novels by Sir Walter Scott, a famed Edinburgh-native Novelist, Poet, and Historian. It is believed to be the only railway station named after a work of fiction.
I recommend Calton Hill because you can explore the monuments built to commemorate Scotland’s leaders, take in beautiful views of the city and historical landmarks. It’s a photographer’s paradise, kids and adults alike will enjoy this public park plus we all love free outdoor activities.
The Royal Mile
Taking a walk along the Royal Mile we took in the beauty of European architecture, stepped into Closes (or, alleyways) that transported us to a different time and learned quirky historical facts.
One interesting story dates back to November 1861, when a 250 year old tenement that stood on the Royal Mile collasped. Thirty-five residents were found dead and as the story goes, the rescuers were ready to give up until they heard the voice of a boy calling up, “heave awa lads I’m no’ deid yet.” The town sculpted the image of the young survivor, Joseph Mciver, along with his famous words over the renamed Paisley Close.
At the end of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle sits atop Castle Rock. Edinburgh Castle is rich in history as this fortress dates back to the 12th century. During the late 13th century, Edward I of England attempted to seize the then vacant Scottish throne, for many years after, the Scots and English battled for the castle. Starting from 1757, Edinburgh Castle was used to hold military prisoners, however, after a massive prision break in 1814, the castle became a national monument.
National Museum of Scotland
This museum is a great place for the whole family and admission is free. It shows off the inventions, fashions, and history of Scotland as well as displays of nature and cultures around the world. I learned a lot about Scotland’s contributions to the world. Did you know that Scottish scientist Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin? Or that John Boyd Dunlop was a veterinary surgeon that invented inflatable tires and transformed cycle racing?
The fashion and style section caught my eye with displays of pieces through many time periods.
Our friends took us to Jeremiahs Taproom for pub quiz one evening. Pub quiz is a beloved tradition throughout the UK. It’s a great way to have fun with friends and get to know people better. The way it was played at Jeremiah’s, there were 5 categories such as geography, music and movies. Each category was a round of 10 questions that the team had to work together to answer. No cell phones were allowed, as one of our friends cheekily advised us, “there is honour in British pop quiz!” We were a group of seven and it was hilarious to find out which guy in the group knew all about Disney movies ?. We all had a great time singing along to the clips of music playing when we had to guess title or artist. The prize for top place was covering your bar tab. We didn’t place first but 6th out of 17 groups made me happy! The pubs throughout town post which day of the week they host pub quiz and its recommended to call ahead to reserve a spot for your group.
Big City, Small Town Charm
This was my first time in Scotland and although I only visited Edinburgh, I really enjoyed it. We were in town 6 days and by day 4 it was evident that Edinburgh was an easygoing city. Most people we met along the way were very friendly and helpful. The neighborhoods were quaint and the city was very walkable although it was mostly uphill ?. Everything we needed seemed to be readily available. Fortunately for us there was no real snow or rain during our stay but I’m looking forward to returning when it’s a tad warmer and nature is in bloom. Keep an eye out for my next Edinburgh post where I describe those hidden finds.