Why I went here? I have always wanted to go to Scotland. It is a land of enchantment with castles and lochs; quilts and bagpipes. Verses of literature are aplenty here with writers finding the charm of the city irresistible.
Best time to visit? The best time to visit is most definitely in the summer when the days are longer and the temperatures are comfortable. Be aware though that it gets rather windy up there so always dress in layers. August is festival month so if you are planning to visit around the time of the Edinburgh Fringe, book early because the city literally is jam packed with visitors from around the globe.
Best way to get there? Most convenient by air is to fly into Edinburgh airport. It lies about ten miles west of the city but is well connected to the center via public transport. Some people however travel by rail and arrive at either Waverly or Haymarket stations. Waverly is the main station so if you are coming from London, this is likely where you will disembark.
What to see/do? Edinburgh has everything that travelers love about Scotland. It has history, scenery, architecture, and culture. My first thought on my first venture towards the center was how beautiful the city is. Edinburgh Castle, perched up on an extinct volcano, casts a protective shadow over the city. The Princess Street Gardens divides it into the old and the new, and Holyrood Park, a vast green patch that houses Arthur’s Seat, is in itself, a miniature version of the Highlands. Anyone who visits Edinburgh has to at least go to these three places. The castle is located on top of the Royal Mile, Old Town’s main thoroughfare, and has been guarding the city of Edinburgh since the 10th century. The views here are fantastic and anyone who is a fan of military history will find plenty to enthrall themselves with. Princess Street Gardens is the stretch of gardens that sit adjacent to the commercial district of the city. A couple of museums are located within and it also houses several memorials including that of Sir Walter Scott. The park is a popular area for free outdoor activities during summertime. Further to the east is Holyrood Park. Located adjacent to the Palace of Holyrood, the sovereign’s official residence in Scotland, it used to be a royal hunting ground before it was turned into a public park. It has plenty of hiking trails suited for beginners and experienced hikers alike and the views of the city from the top are spectacular.
Food and drinks: A trip to Scotland is incomplete without sampling haggis. This delicacy is definitely not for the faint of heart (no pun intended), however, if you manage to overcome your fears and actually try it, you might be pleased. You can practically order it from any pub or restaurant in the city; therefore finding where to sample it will not be a challenge. Pho Vietnam House is a small and simplistic place that happened to be near the place I was staying and since a meatless meal is hard to find within the United Kingdom, I ordered their fish dish. It was delicious. The fish was fresh and lightly seasoned, yet these same simplistic seasoning provided plenty of flavor. Finally, a Scottish visit without a drop of whisky is an incomplete Scottish vacation. Just as it is essential to taste haggis, it is just as necessary to sample different types of Scottish whisky. The Scots are proud of their brews, as they should be.
Where to sleep? Brooks Hotel is tucked away in the western part of the city near the Haymarket train station. It recently changed ownership and just finished renovating. The prices are reasonable when booked early enough. They range from 49 pounds to 139 pounds depending on the size of the room. The location is convenient and only requires ten to fifteen minutes by bus to most of the touristic areas in the city. The rooms are small, but clean and comfortable. The hotel also offers rates including breakfast, but otherwise a la carte for around $12. It was well worth it. The food was fresh (yogurts and muffins made daily in house) and their made to order options were of gourmet quality.
Day trips: If you have an extra day, visit St. Andrews, home to the one of the oldest golf courses in the world and the oldest university in Scotland. St. Andrews is a relatively small town, but with a rich history and beautiful scenery. And just like most ancient cities in the kingdom, have a castle and a cathedral that are worth seeing. However, if you have several days, make a trip up the Highlands to experience the grandeur that is Scotland. The Highlands is the collective area far north and northwest of Edinburgh. Its main city is Inverness. Though I personally have not been, it is likely that this area will satisfy the images of literature and movies.
Why I would go back? There is no doubt in my mind that I will return to Scotland someday. Edinburgh charmed me from the moment I stepped out of the train station and its grasp has not left me since. Being a bit of a writer myself, I can now fully understand why so many great names in literature found inspiration here. In addition to the natural beauty of Edinburgh, its residents are also somewhat of a draw. They are some of the friendliest, most accommodating, people I have encountered in Europe. Lastly, Edinburgh provides an entry point for exploring the rest of Scotland. The Highlands and the rest of Fife remains on my bucket list of places to visit in my lifetime.