I had this feeling before I went that I would love Scotland. Perhaps it’s because I so loved Ireland when I visited last year, and I figured Scotland would appeal to me in similar ways. Possibly I figured that Scottish people – and Scottish accents – would be delightful. Or maybe I just had a hunch that this place would be exactly my type of place. Whatever the case, as I headed to Edinburgh, my expectations were high.
And Edinburgh? It met them. Over the course of my brief weekend in the city, it would easily become one of a handful of places this semester that I would file under the category “places with which I totally fell in love.” I loved it so much that I already cannot wait to return, not just to explore more of Edinburgh but also to visit the rest of Scotland, which I suspect will be similarly fantastic. Someday…
While in Edinburgh, I stayed in the Old Town, opting for a hotel just off the famed Royal Mile. I figured – rightly so – that a lot of my sightseeing would focus on this area, and it was nice to be so conveniently located. The Royal Mile stretches out between Edinburgh Castle on one end and Holyrood Palace on the other. In between? Churches, historical sites, Parliament, and a healthy dose of tourists.
On my first day in Edinburgh, I knew my number one order of business had to be exploring the Royal Mile, so I set off to do just that after breakfast. I began at the bottom, with a visit to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Because I had a lot I wanted to see in a short amount of time, I arrived at Holyrood as soon as its doors opened. This turned out to be a very good decision, as I was able to visit the Palace before any other tourists made their way inside. It was so enjoyable to admire everything in peace, free from jostling crowds.
The Palace’s interior was nice but relatively forgettable; however, I still found Holyrood impressive. Rather than being wowed by specific treasures or rooms, what overwhelmed me was the history of the place. For example, Holyrood is home to the 16th-century apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots. Since I’ve recently started learning more about Mary – inspired, I will admit, by the terribly cheesy CW show Reign – I was excited to walk among rooms that had been a part of her past. Maybe it is the former history major and current history nerd in me talking, but any time I visit a place where people I’ve read and learned about lived hundreds of years ago, I cannot get over how cool it is to walk in their footsteps and imagine how they lived.
Yep, I’m definitely a history nerd.
Adjacent to the Palace, I found the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, whose origins date back to 1128 (though the Abbey has been in ruins since the 18th century). Though I’m sure they were impressive when fully intact, I found the ruins to be hauntingly beautiful in their own right.
After a brief stop at Holyrood’s gift shop, I continued up the Royal Mile, coming upon the next big landmark: the Scottish Parliament building. What I found interesting about the building was how modern and un-Parliamentary it looked, particularly when compared to some of the stately, traditional government buildings that can be found in Europe. My friend Wikipedia tells me that public reaction to Parliament’s modern architecture has been mixed, but I have to say I found the design striking, albeit very…different.
While the modern design flourishes were interesting, my favorite feature of Parliament had to be the wall of quotations lining the Royal Mile side of the building. I snapped a ton of pictures, but here are a few favorites:
I continued up the Royal Mile, passing lots of little cafes, restaurants, and shops. I would have liked to dedicate more time to poking around in them, but that will have to be saved for a subsequent visit. I did, however, manage to find time to score some cashmere tartan scarves. Priorities.
After shopping, I also stopped by St. Giles’ Cathedral for a bit. While the interior was beautiful, my favorite part of the visit was hearing the choir sing. Unbeknownst to me, I had timed my visit perfectly, as the choir happened to be performing at exactly that time. It was awesome to sit inside the magnificent cathedral, relax for a bit, and hear some lovely music.
Finally, I made my way to the end of the Royal Mile, walking up Castle Hill to Edinburgh Castle. From the castle’s perch, there are incredible views of the surrounding city.
Less incredible – to me at least – was the castle itself. There has been a castle on the hill since the 12th century, so there’s certainly lots of history to be discovered here, but I found it difficult to connect with that history given the mobs of tourists, many of them kids on what appeared to be extreme sugar highs. Still, I poked around Castle Hill for a while, making sure to see all the major attractions, including the crown jewels.
One part of the Edinburgh Castle complex that I did enjoy was the Scottish National War Memorial. I found this tribute really moving, particularly the memorial to the Unknown Soldier. In fact, the inscription on the tomb was so powerful that I even paused to jot it down in my notebook: “Others also there are who perished unknown, their sacrifice is not forgotten and their names, though lost to us, are written in the books of God.”
After touring the Castle, I set off for my food tour of Edinburgh. On tour, we would cross over the Royal Mile again, just as I would many more times during my time in the city. It’s truly an iconic street and, even teeming with tourists, well worth a visit.