When I think of how best to describe Edinburgh, it is hard not to simply say “grey”. From my experiences of this city, the first thing you really notice is the absence of colours: the walls are grey, they sky is grey, the wintry, haunting fog is grey, the sea is definitely grey, and most of the people aren’t too far off grey either. But this plethora of greys, while undeniable, doesn’t paint the true picture of this noble, cultured, buzzing city of castles, hills, churches, pubs and history. The grey mist is swirled in mystery, the grey castle glows with pride, and the people obstinately sprout orange hair beneath their grey wooly hats. You quickly come to realise that Edinburgh isn’t grey, it’s a whole palette of wondrous colours and intrigue. And once you finally spy a break in the clouds, every stone in the city shines with excitement.
Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities. From the castle which lords over the city atop an extinct volcano, to the wilderness of Holyrood Park left unexpectedly untouched in the middle of the city, to the New Town in all its ordered rigidity, it is a city which can offer most things to most people. There are some world-famous attractions in Edinburgh, one of which is the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. The two festivals, which coincide in August, are stupendously popular these days, and it would be quite some achievement to find a place to stay in the city during August. It is the biggest arts and cultural event in the world, and every venue in the city has some form of music, comedy, theatre or dance performance. During the festival weeks, the city is deluged with culture, and the place is awash with people from all over the world. Should you have the funds and the opportunity, it is definitely a great event.
Edinburgh Castle is physically the most imposing attraction the city has to offer, as it rises high above the city and can be seen for miles. The views from the top, over the city and across to the sea and the distant mountains, are really worth the effort expended in getting up there. The castle itself is packed with museums of varying quality, and, though quite pricey, it is something that should be visited. I found its mix of views, history and bold architecture to be quite an intoxicating mix. The castle is also the site for the Edinburgh Tattoo, a kind of military music and flag-waving event that takes place during the Edinburgh Festival. Expect lots of kilts, drums and bagpipes.
This leads me to my inevitable section of complaint, a small moment where I can tuck away my natural positivity and general sunny outlook on life to reflect upon those things that annoy me ever so slightly. Previous editions have been about appalling airports or Alan’s toddler tantrums and general annoyingness, but Edinburgh, and sadly all of Scotland, has something even worse: bagpipes. I hate bagpipes, the impossibly loud sound of a cat being deflated by the engine of a steam train, a sound that doesn’t vibrate through the air to your ear, but pierces through the screaming atoms of the atmosphere to crash into your terrified ears and crawl up inexorably to your brain, which in turn desperately wishes to cease all functions if it means ending that horrible noise. In Edinburgh, especially when there are many tourists, the sound oozes around the city like a plague from the Old Testament, seeking innocent victims as they walk unsuspectingly around. The sound is worse than a baby crying, Matt singing or a nail scratching down a blackboard. So, if you have any kind of refined taste (as I’m sure you do, dearest reader) then beware the bagpipe lurking on every corner, especially on the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile, while we are on the topic, is the road leading from the castle at the top of the hill down to Holyrood Palace at the bottom. On this stretch there are many shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as street performances, a wool mill, a cathedral, and the impressively ugly Scottish Parliament building, which must have been designed by a very angry child who just scribbled aggressive lines randomly on a piece of paper. It is here you can find a chip shop that sells deep-fried mars bars (delicious), and, if you fancy something quite quaint, baked potato shops, both of which I would recommend because they are not something you find everywhere. The palace at the bottom is grand and brimming with history: it was built in the 16th century, was the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots, and has a ruined 12th century abbey in the grounds to wander around.
Beside the palace is something wholly unexpected in the middle of a city: a large expanse of wilderness left almost untouched that forms Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. The park boasts rugged cliffs, dramatic hills, romantic ruins and mini lochs, and showcases the raw, aggressive beauty of the Scottish countryside, just a short walk from the Old Town. There are several pathways that can be explored for a refreshing walk, although as the weather is quite often rubbish in Edinburgh the paths can be slippery and muddy, and the blustery winds add some drama as you get higher. To escape the confines of the city for a while, and to get a taste of Scottish countryside it’s certainly worth exploring. The beautiful, wild landscape locked so unexpectedly in the middle of a city, with views of the buildings, sea and country stretching in all directions from the top makes it one of the real highlights (except for the mud, which I hate, bit it’s a small price to pay). There’s also an ice cream van bravely positioned at the bottom regardless of the weather to offer refreshments, which I think goes some way to show how ice cream really isn’t just for summer.
Just walking the streets and taking in the iconic architecture is a good pastime, and the different areas of the city feel quite distinct. The Old Town is grand and brimming with history, while the New Town is ordered and regal, and has a range of pubs and restaurants to enjoy. There are several museums and art galleries around the centre, so there are great options to sooth your cultural yearnings. A climb to the top of Carlton Hill will reward you with several monuments to see, and some good views too.
Scottish cuisine also offers some interest. Aside from typically British food like fish and chips (with especially fresh fish as the fishing boats are based in Scotland), there are endless pies, pastries, the previously-mentioned deep-fried mars bars (did I mention they are delicious?) and of course haggis. Despite being made from parts of a sheep I would prefer not to think about too much, haggis is a strange, oddly spicy parcel of deliciousness which is particularly nice if you don’t think about what’s in it. While I am far from the bravest person where food is concerned, I liked it from the first moment, and even went to sample a deep-fried variety, which is one of the most stereotypically Scottish things one can do. While Scottish food is generally quite heavy, it does serve to keep you warm, for which you will invariably be grateful for in a country that doesn’t warm up. I concede, though, that I live in Madrid so everything is cold to me, but it really is cold all year, honestly.
Pursuing the culinary theme a little more, Scotland is also the home of all the greatest whiskies, so I’m reliably informed. Having never warmed to the drink, I can’t vouch for the truth of this, but as whiskey is stacked high in every shop it must have something about it that’s good. I tried some, but apparently I’m too young and too unsophisticated to appreciate any real differences, except in price.
Edinburgh then has the feel of a friendly, cultural place that also knows how to enjoy itself. It’s a city crammed with things to see, tastes to be suspicious of and then enjoy immensely, and wildernesses to roam. I would definitely recommend it, especially as part of a longer journey around Scotland (on which Matt will soon elaborate in a future post). If you don’t mind the weather it is a place that can be visited any time of the year, and who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and see those grey clouds rolling away and the riot of colours Edinburgh has to offer will sparkle in the Scottish sunshine while you feast on its many pleasures.
Budgie rating: 4.8 / 5