I went to Scotland to perform with the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra in the Aberdeen International Youth Festival back in 2006. The experience was incredible, but when I list the countries I’ve been to, I often forget to count Scotland. We spent most our time in rehearsals and performances with very little time actually seeing the country. Something I’ll never forget, however, was attending the Military Tattoo show in the Edinburgh castle.
I arrived in Edinburgh by Megabus from London at about 6am. I walked over to the hostel (St Christopher’s, roughly 13-15 pounds per night) and took a nap in the “Chill Out” room since I couldn’t check in yet. At 10:30 I stumbled upon a group leaving for a free walking tour (tips based pay), so I decided to join them. The tour was great! Really informative and entertaining. It was a nice way to experience the city. Our guide was great. “Nonetheless” was DEFINITELY his favorite word.
My favorite part of the tour was in Greyfriars kirkyard where we heard the charming story of loyal little Greyfriars Bobby, the dog, and saw where JK Rowling found many of the names she used in Harry Potter, as well as the original Hogwarts school. I appreciated that our guide gave us a little background on the real people attached to those names we now all recognize.
I also enjoyed the Grass Market area where executions took place. That may make me sound grim, but again, fascinating stories. There is so much culture in Edinburgh, from the background of each pub, to the writers who drafted their tales.
After the tour, I walked along the Royal Mile. The Riding of the Marches is a special event each year and I just happened to be there for it. It’s kind of like a parade, but sporadic throughout the afternoon, so I didn’t stick around for much. I enjoyed some bagpipers and then got startled off by men in uniform shooting off blanks.
At breakfast someone gave me their green bus ticket (kind of like the hop on, hop off bus) that was valid until 4pm. After the walking tour, I just rode the bus around to see where it went, rest my feet, and possibly hear more information. At 15 pounds, I wouldn’t have purchased it myself since the city is so manageable by foot.
At 6pm on Sundays, there is a free concert in St Giles cathedral. I decided to swing by there and listen to a string quartet performing their own compositions, as well as arrangements of traditional tunes from around the UK and Ireland. Take advantage of the opportunity to hear music in these beautiful venues whenever you can.
The next day, I went for a hike to Arthur’s Seat. Really, it’s not a difficult hike, but it did reveal how out of shape I currently am… and how clumsy… I slipped twice.
It was great to have some time in nature. Be prepared with proper walking shoes and a windbreaker. You’ll appreciate something to cover your ears as well. I couldn’t believe how powerful the wind was at the top. With nothing up there to block the wind, my ears were hurting a little.
There are a couple different routes you can take. When you get to the path, veer left for the main path. If you go right, you’ll get to a top, but you’ll be looking across to Arthur’s Seat rather than standing on it, which means you’ll have to hike down and then up again. Save yourself the trouble.
Following my hike, I did a little window shopping on The Royal Mile and then stopped into Whisky, a pub across from the Radisson Blu, for some haggis. IT WAS SO GOOD!!
Following lunch, I strolled through the Prince’s Street Gardens which separates Old and New Edinburgh. Up by the National Gallery, there was a small band (drummer, guitarist, and bagpiper), so I sat and watched them perform for awhile before continuing my hunt for the perfect castle picture… Which I don’t believe I ever really captured, but here goes:
Originally I had planned on doing only two days in Edinburgh and using the third day to go to Glasgow or Loch Lomond or something of that sort. Since I didn’t book it ahead of time, I ended up staying put. I don’t think more than two days in Edinburgh is necessary if you are organized. There are lots of free museums, but if you’re not into that, I think filling three days may be a bit tricky.
I started the day with the National Gallery. Simple and small. Next, I went for a walk up to Calton Hill where I admired the view of Arthur’s Seat, the national monument, and counted chimneys in tidy rows.
After a late lunch at a pub on Rose Street, I relaxed in the gardens with some cake before making my way to the bus station for my return to London.
I can’t wait to come back and experience more of Scotland. The landscape is beautiful, the people are friendly, and I can’t possibly eat enough Haggis.