I’ll fast forward through the delayed trains, waiting in freezing cold, and barely making my flight to Scotland to arriving. You can take the tram straight from the airport for 6 pounds or the bus for 4.7. There is also a train so basically Scotland has you covered to get to Waverly Station which is right in the heart of Edinburgh between old and new town.
Old town sits upon a dead volcano with the Edinburgh Castle at the top. You watch it from below and it feels ominous with the cloudy skies normal for Scotland regardless of season. All the older buildings look gothic and smoke covered which I later learned is because of sandstone. The “reek” as it was called or general soot and smell from the city has soaked into the buildings over the years leaving this effect.
Besides being a cool city Edinburgh is also the birthplace of Harry Potter. With 4 days ahead of me to explore the northern part of Great Britain I tried to not let the wintery forecast affect my mood. As my tour guides kept reminding me, hey you decided to come to Scotland in December.
Hitlist of the top must dos
- Royal Mile
Not an actual mile but the strip from Edinburgh Castle down to the palace the queens used to stay in. Full of historically important locations and alley ways that lead to back stair cases that connect the city called closes. My hostel, a converted court and prison, was located right here. Honestly the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in.
Hostel: CoDE Pod Hostel
- Edinburgh Castle
An epic castle that sits atop this dead volcano. Its history is elaborate and incredible. I paid extra for a guided tour, which is shocking for me I know. But hearing a cute curly head Scot tell you about these fighting Kings from the 1500s will warm the cold chill right out of you. Otherwise you’ll walk around wildly confused and end up skipping everything to find whisky.
Tour: Sandeman’s Castle tour
- Free Walking Tour
This are always the very first thing I do in any country. You meet incredible historians who tell the story of their city in detail and mostly help you get your bearings. Plus they can always recommend good restaurants and bars.
- Free Harry Potter Walking Tour
From Victoria Street, which is the inspiration for Diagon Alley, to Elephant House, where she wrote books 2-4, to Greyfriars Kirk, the inspiration for Voldemort’s rising and many character’s names, this tour shows you it all. Go and let your house flag fly.
- Free Highlands Tour
Now you could go to Scotland spend three days doing a highlands tour. It is very far north so this tour barely touches what they have to offer. It does give you a good taste of the Lochs and castles and history of the area. I found a free tour that included: Three Bridges, Doune Castle (from Monty Pyton and Game of Thrones), Wallace Monument, Callendar, Loch Katrine and Loch Menteith. The guide like most is a historian who will gladly break down all the specifics and how Braveheart got everything wrong.
Tour: The Hairy Coo
The town to the north of Edinburgh is Leith. It has a rich history of revolting from Edinburgh which seems to be a general dna trait for all Scots. It is about 2 miles from Edinburgh and is an easy walk. This area feels more culturally new with record stores and different ethnicity restaurants. It is also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia which used to escort the royal family around.
- Prince St Gardens
These gardens house the Christmas markets in December. With rides and bars and plenty of little stalls to eat at it was my favorite happy hour destination. European Christmas markets just do it right when you can explore shops with a chocolate waffle in one hand and mulled wine in the other.
I ended my trip doing some freelance work at the Elephant House, where JK sat 20+ years earlier writing Harry Potter. It feels surreal to be in the place that she sat bringing all these characters to life that have affected me so much. I am forever grateful. Always.