Hello, and welcome to the Awed Lawyer’s second post! This time around, I’ll describe how I solo-traveled from London to Edinburgh for my birthday weekend in June 2018 and packed my schedule full of authentic Scottish experiences. Here’s how to make the most of 2 days in Edinburgh.
ARRIVAL AND ACCOMMODATION
I always book my trains and accommodation for at least one month in advance to get the best deals. I booked my round-trip train journey through Loco2 and spent GBP 118. Using Booking.com, I reserved a bed in a female dormitory at Kick Ass Hostel (2 West Port, Old Town) for GBP 33.
The train pulled into Edinburgh Waverly station at 12 pm, and the first thing I noticed in Edinburgh was the greenery and uneven terrain, interspersed with buildings and other structures emitting a distinctly historical and cultural vibe. And was that a giant ferris wheel on the horizon? I was also surprised at the number of stairs one needed to climb to get around the city! Good thing I traveled only with a small backpack and didn’t have to lug suitcases around.
The hostel was walking distance from the train station. On the way there, I caught my first glimpse of the Royal Mile with the Edinburgh Castle towering over one end and was greeted by a man playing the bagpipes in traditional attire, complete with a kilt. What a welcome to the city!
HAVE LUNCH AT GRASSMARKET
My hostel was situated at one end of Grassmarket, which is a historical market in the Old Town area, dotted with pubs and small shops selling everything from cheese and bread to paintings and earrings. I grabbed a delicious traditional lunch consisting of haggis and a pint of tap beer at the Beehive Inn and opted to sit outdoors and enjoy the bright sunny weather.
TAKE THE EDINBURGH BUS TOUR
In my experience, the best introduction to a city is through a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I also use these buses as regular transport to get around the city during my time there, since the tickets are valid for at least one day.
I opted for the green Edinburgh Bus Tour which cost GBP 14 (student ticket) for 24 hours and featured live tourist guides, who were well-versed with the historical and modern significance of all tourist sites and were entertaining as well! The tour began at the Waverly Bridge and stopped at the following places:
- Regent Road (Calton Hill, City Observatory, Burns Monument and views of Old Town and Arthur’s Seat)
- Holyrood (Palace of Holyroodhouse, Queen’s Gallery, Scottish Parliament, Arthur’s Seat)
- Dynamic Earth (Holyrood Park)
- Canongate (Museum of Edinburgh, Royal Mile, Canongate Kirk, The People’s Story)
- John Knox House (Museum of Childhood, World’s End, Royal Mile, Scottish Storytelling Centre)
- Chambers Street (Greyfriars Bobby, National Museum of Scotland)
- Grassmarket (Historic Pubs, Victoria Street, the former site of public executions)
- Johnston Terrace (Views of Edinburgh Castle and Farmers Market)
- Lawnmarket (Edinburgh Castle, Gladstone’s Land, Camera Obscure and The Scotch Whisky Experience)
- The Mound (Scottish National Gallery, Princes Street Gardens)
- Charlotte Square (George Street, Georgian House)
- Hanover Street (Shopping, Lothian Travelshop)
- Market Street (Waverly Railway Station, The Edinburgh Dungeon)
Phew, this took a while to type, there are loads of sites to see! The full bus tour lasts just over an hour.
HIKE UP ARTHUR’S SEAT
I hopped off at the Holyrood stop of my bus tour and decided to hike up Arthur’s seat. I’d also wanted to explore the Queen of England’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, but she was inhabiting it for the summer and it was closed to the public at the time. So I contented myself by snapping pictures of the beautiful castle through the gates
The Arthur’s seat hike is long and steep in places, but absolutely worth it. The weather was sunny but windy, making it perfect for a hike. The views along the hike and from the top are absolutely beautiful – what better way to spend your 22nd birthday than to admire a beautiful city from atop a 235 million-year-old extinct volcano, right? After the hike, I decided to reward myself for my labours with a vanilla ice cream cone from the many carts at the foot of the hill.
TAKE A RIDE ON THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL WHEEL
From 30 June – 2 September 2018, East Princes Street hosted the giant red-and-white Edinburgh Festival Ferris Wheel every day from 10am-10pm, the same one that I had spotted earlier in the day. I hopped off at the last bus station on Waverly Bridge and made my way to the wheel. Beware, the wheel is fast and goes quite high. But once again, the views from the top made it completely worth it! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
SHOP ON PRINCES STREET
After I got off the wheel, I decided to spend some time exploring the summer sales in the numerous shops along Princes Street. Be sure to visit these shops for some great deals on clothes and accessories!
DO A PUB CRAWL
At night, I made my way to a pub on Grassmarket for my Edinburgh pub crawl. For a GBP 7 ticket, you get to experience 7 bars between 8pm-1.30am, and also get 5 shots, 1 cocktail, and 1 Jager-bomb at no extra cost. You can book the crawl in advance on their website, or can show up at the starting point, pay and join.
Even though I was initially apprehensive about doing a pub crawl without anyone familiar to keep me company, I soon made friends with some people in our 60-strong group, and the organizers were very sweet and enthusiastic as well. We hit many famous pubs and bars – Opium, Pilgrim, Globe, Stramash and Dropkick Murphys – Stramash was my favorite!
EXPLORE THE EDINBURGH CASTLE
I awoke early the next morning, caught the first hop-on-hop-off bus from Grassmarket to Lawnmarket and made my way towards the Edinburgh Castle. I purchased a ticket for GBP 18.50, grabbed a site map and excitedly proceeded towards the many, many labeled sites within the castle. I enjoyed the view from the One O’clock Gun, the military museums, the Great Hall and of course, the Scottish crown jewels the best. Spend at least 2-3 hours in the castle to make the most of your visit! Be sure to reach early to avoid the milling crowds.
After my visit to the castle, I decided to walk down the length of the colorful and bustling Royal Mile, making my way to Greyfriars Bobby.
TAKE A HARRY POTTER WALKING TOUR!
The Potter Trail is an amazing (free) walking tour that takes tourists around iconic spots in Edinburgh that inspired JK Rowling’s world-famous series. The tour starts at 2 pm every day, at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and lasts roughly 1.5 hours. Don’t forget to touch the statue’s nose for good luck!
The guides are always in character, well-versed with all the spots and their significance, and very enthusiastic and engaging. Liv made the tour very special, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. We were all handed wands to make the experience as immersive as possible.
The tour started at the Greyfriar’s graveyard that inspired so many names for the series (including ‘Riddle’) and formed the basis for the graveyard scene in the fourth book. I also learned that the George Harriet School inspired the design for Hogwarts, that the Edinburgh Castle was completely transformed into Hogwarts before the release of the sixth book and that JKR did a lot of her writing at the Nicolson Café and at the Elephant Café with a view of the castle! So, of course, I had to head there for lunch.
HAVE LUNCH AT THE ELEPHANT CAFÉ
After the walking tour, I was lucky enough to find a window-side table at the Elephant Café, the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’, with a magnificent view of the Edinburgh Castle. I ordered a savory pie with potatoes and whisky sauce. As odd as it sounds, the bathroom at this restaurant is a must visit – the walls (and even the mirror and the floor, for that matter) are filled with quotations, scribbled by those who have dined at the café as part of their Harry Potter journey!
DRINK BUTTERBEER IN DIAGON ALLEY
After lunch, I headed down to Victoria Street, which had inspired the design for Diagon Alley in the books and movies. There is a sweet red-and-gold themed Harry Potter shop called The Boy Wizard – buying and drinking butterbeer from there felt like the perfect homage to my favorite childhood series!
ENJOY AN AMAZING VIEW FROM THE MOUND
I then headed down to Princes Street and sat on The Mound close to the Ferris Wheel, drinking my butterbeer and enjoying views of the glistening Scottish landscape. From my vantage point, I had a clear view of the Walter Scott monument and the majestic Balmoral hotel. I could also see the Princes Street gardens packed with Sunday picnic-ers celebrating the weather, crowds milling in and out of the shops on the main road, and children playing with a clown blowing huge soap bubbles near the Scottish Gallery.
VISIT THE NATIONAL GALLERY
Even though I’m not a connoisseur of art by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoy visiting art galleries. So I decided to end my trip by visiting the Scottish National Gallery for a couple of hours, where I enjoyed the ‘Italian Renaissance 1500-1600’, ‘Southern Baroque 1580-1680’ and ‘A Century of Scottish Art 1810-1920’ displays.
I quickly walked over to my hostel after my visit to the gallery to pick my backpack up and made my way over to the Waverly Station for my 5.30 pm train back to London, all the while making plans to return to Scotland and experience more of its unique beauty and culture in the future.
- All opinions are the author’s own. You can hit her up with your travel tales on her blog.
- All information in this piece is updated as of June 2018. The author assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of this information afterward.
- Both the writing and pictures in this post are the intellectual property of the author. Please do not use them without permission.