hi pauline, I was just wondering if you have any places in edinburgh you find particularly interesting/enjoyable/that you'd recommend to someone visiting there? I'll be there for 4 days with a friend, and we're trying to make the most of our visit. (also I hope you're enjoying the ma and living there, and apologies if this has already been asked!)
Hey love, sorry for my late reply!
First things first, I have to say that I’m still pretty much a tourist in the city, and that I keep to the old part of town anyway, which might make things a bit boring for you. But here are the things I like doing best here:
Walk the Royal Mile up and down over and over again. It’s terribly cliché, but it’s such a lovely street, cobble-stoned, full of overpriced, archetypal scottish products, but resonating with the song of bagpipes, buoyant with street artists, surrounded by old, tilting houses, peppered with fairy lights; at the top, you enter a strange, time-travelesque, gothic slope that will bring you up to the castle, which is absolutely a must see. You can stay within the castle walls for hours on end—magnificent view, multiple museums and chapels, stony benches, a strange step in the Middle-Ages.
Tour the university campus—there, you’ll find Walter Scott’s house, the beautiful Old College buildings, the modern Library and its art collections. In the Student’s Union House, you’ll be able to take a drink and walk through rooms upon rooms of comfortable armchairs, hushed whispers and loud laughters, impressive ballrooms and tiny writing offices. Down the Middle Meadow Walk, you’ll find a large, green park too.
Really, it’s a strangely scaled city: it feels like an out-of-time town, small and twisty and labyrinthine, yet it’s the capital, full of historic sites and cultural spots.
St. Giles Cathedral is exquisite, and solemn, and full of hushed light; of course the National Gallery is lovely if you’re interested in British art, but my favourite is the National Museum, which is a wonderful bric-à-brac of knowledge and playful activities and delightful treasures. There you’ll find fashion designs as well as medieval war weapons, dinosaur skeletons and Art Deco tapestries, the Lewis Chessmen, and even space stones. The National Library is worth a short visit, with its whacky museum and a bunch of beautiful maps and books. Grab a coffee in the charity coffee-shop of the Storytelling Centre, enjoy the view of its lush, secret garden, and its folktales bookstore. Near it, you’ll find my favourite jewellery shop, full of Scottish stones, Highland Gems. I also love to walk in the Greyfriars and the St. Cuthbert cemeteries, which are gothic and yet full of whimsical life stories, ornate benches, strange, twisted trees; and of course, try and go climb Arthur’s Seat—the climb is painful and the view is spectacular, and it’s so strange to see this ragged, wonderful, green, ocre, beautiful hill in the corner of your eye, wherever you are, alien in the center of the city.
The light, here, anyway… The light on Arthur’s Seat, on Calton Hill (another nice climb!), on the Castle; rich and golden and extraordinary.
In Grassmarket, you’ll find Armstrong Vintage store, which I recommend wholeheartedly, especially if you want a Scottish wool cardigan for an affordable price, or even just to take a look at the ancient ecclesiastical and victorian garments hanging from the ceiling. There’s also this wonderful shop with a lot of dinosaur’s bones, fossils and star stones, Mr. Wood’s Fossils. From there and up to Westport, you’ll find Mary’s Milk Bar (great ice-cream), cute antique shops, bookstores, and the Art Library.
Now for my favourite bookstores, I’d recommend you go to Armchair Books (the absolute best, a twisting labyrinth of new and second-hand books, with a great antique section); Southside Books; Waterstones on Prince’s Street, where you’ll find beautiful modern editions and will be able to get some great coffee/tea and nice gluten free (or not) cakes; the OldTown bookshop, where victorian copies neighbour old maps and antique drawings of the old Edinburgh, and which is incidentally located on the lovely Victoria Street; and of course Blackwells, which features a very cool Harry Potter window.
Now for the real Tourist Experience, I do recommend you take one or two of Edinburgh’s walking tours, because they’re wonderful. One of them would be the writer’s museum book-lover tour, which starts at the museum (very small, but super nice, with a lot of Scottish’s writers memorabilia) and takes you around Old Town—to the university where Conan Doyle studied, the hospital where J. M. Barrie invented Wendy, wrecking the myth of J. K. R’s Elephant House (Harry Potter was NOT written there!), etc. The other tours I’d recommend are the ghost tours (usually guides dress up and play morbid jokes on your group, and it’s a very fun way of learning about the actual old Edinburgh) and the underground tours (the underground city being full of morbid legends, spooky closes, twists and turns).
Here you go, it’s mostly stuff you can find online, I’m afraid, but I hope you have fun!