I may have only been here for two days, but I’m already in love. Edinburgh definitely left an impression on me and it wasn’t just because I was there during the Fringe Festival- that just added to the city’s appeal. This lovely old city is divided into Old Town and New Town, with Princes St running through the middle (with tons of shops to explore!!)
Edinburgh has been honoured by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site as one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world. Looking around at it’s grand buildings, beautiful green spaces and old cobblestone streets, it’s easy to see why!
After arriving and checking into the Caledonian Backpacker’s Hostel I set out to explore the city and found out pretty quickly that two days, especially during festival time was definitely not going to be enough!
Walking along Princes St, you can see Edinburgh Castle perched high above the rest of the city on a large, rocky base. I found out later that rock is actually a dead volcano- another fact that makes Edinburgh very cool!
Trying to cram as much of the city and it’s history in as possible, while still enjoying as many shows as I could proved to be difficult. To accomplish this, I choose to take a tour of the city. While I usually hate being a “touristy” traveler, I have found that a good tour with someone who knows and loves the city your in is sometimes the best way to find new things and learn interesting facts -like Edinburgh Castle is built on a dead volcano!
As a popular tourist destination, Edinburgh has tons of tour options from bus tours, to walking tours to popular haunted night tours. At my hostel I found a pamphlet from Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours, a company that offers free walking tours in several popular European cities. I took the tour of Berlin with them and had a great time, so figured a free tour was perfect for my budget!
My guide for the three hour tour was a girl from Canada, who had moved here for school, fell in love -both with the city and a lovely Scottish boy-and stayed.
The tour began on Edinburgh’s most famous street- the Royal Mile, which was packed with fringe goers and tourists alike. As Edinburgh’s population triples in size this time of year, maneovering through the throngs of people made the tour even more interesting.
Our first stop along the tour was the Mercat Cross, a central meeting place where people used to go to announce major events and where criminals were nailed by the ear overnight so the townspeople could come and throw food, chamber pots etc at you. From then on, that scar on your ear labeled you as a criminal and life, especially your love life was basically ruined!
Edinburgh is full of beautiful old buildings and a rich history to go with each of them, but for the purpose of this blog, I’m only going to highlight my favourite stops along the tour (minus the Harry Potter ones since there is a whole blog post dedicated to that part of the city!)
Walking along the Royal Mile, past Edinburgh Castle we found ourselves in The Grass Market, which was originally the site of cattle fairs, where cows were fattened and then butchered until around 1670 when it became a transit point for traders to bring their goods. Indoor markets were found here until 1912 and open air markets continue to this day. This area was also the site of former gallows and some of the architecture dates back to the 1500s. These taverns and shops continue to be a popular attraction. Today, this area is filled with independent artisans, merchants and designers and some of the best restuarants and pubs in the city. Including the Whiskey shop, where you can purchase all you whiskey you could ever desire!
Back along the Royal Mile we came to another famous statue – the statue of David Hume’s toe. Now I’m not a Scottish history buff, so other than him being a philosopher I’m not sure of his historical significance -feel free to let me know! This statue is one of two lucky spots in Edinburgh. Apparently rubbing his big toe brings you luck and lot’s of people must be looking for luck while in Edinburgh because his toe has been rubbed so many times that it had to be replaced after the first one was rubbed off!
The other lucky spot is a heart made of tiles in the square, although to catch this one’s luck you need to spit on the heart. If you spit anywhere else you could get a 50 pound fine, but in the heart, it’s encouraged. Apparently, there used to be a toll booth located there where the people of Edinburgh had to pay taxes to England- so essentially by spitting on the heart, you are spitting on the English!
Next to the Writer’s Museum, we found a building that had an old ‘trick’ step left exposed in the wall.
Our guide told us that back in the day this was used to keep burglars away. One step would be cut away and you would know which one it was so you’d avoid it and you’d tell your friends so they could avoid it. However, if someone tried to break into your house in the night, they wouldn’t know where your trick step was, so they would step on it, lose their balance, fall, make a big noise and you could go out and beat them up! Quite the security system and to think we spend a fortune on fancy gadgets!
Another one of my favourite spots is Greyfriar’s graveyard. Here we learned about Greyfriars Bobby- a skye terrier who became known in the 19th-century after reportedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner. The two were unseparable for two years until the night watchman died of tuberculosis. Such an adorable story and the Bobby statue, located outside the graveyard has become a top tourist attraction, along with Bobby’s Bar!
The tour ended at a local pub “The Vat and Fiddle” for a pint and some fish and chips. This was definitely a great way to cram a lot of history and fun into a short amount of time!