Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

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Nelson Monument

When we arrived in Edinburg, my husband and I took a cab from the train station to our hotel near the University area. We quickly dumped our luggage in the room, changed shoes and headed out the double glass lobby doors to explore the beautiful city on the shores of the Firth of Forth. There was no plan really, I remember printing out a list of must see’s and figured we’d stumble on something amazing soon enough – the city is, after all, gorgeous with a wealth of historical and natural wonders. We wandered down along the lively Royal Mile then took a detour through an old atmospheric cemetery built on a hill. It was when we reached a clearing at the top that a recent travel review appeared vividly alive directly in front of me,“This small, steep hill scattered with architectural oddities and follies were once supposed to make Edinburgh the Athens of the North,” and I knew exactly where we were: Calton Hill. Oddities work for me, because I prefer the quirky side of history and this was no exception, a jumble of monuments that looked as though they’d been dropped from the sky above, landed hard and created a backdrop to the astonishing views of the area. From here we climbed Nelson’s Monument to the top viewing balcony, and despite gusty winds we enjoyed the scenic 360 of Princess street, the New Town, Leith, Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat.

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National Monument of Scotland, a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic wars. Never finished, nonetheless lovely, and a popular place to simply hang out and enjoy the views.
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New Town, built between 1767 ~ 1800, is known for its neoclassical and Georgian architecture, and is considered a masterpiece of city planning. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Inspired by a Greek temple of the Four Winds, the Old City Observatory, designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818.
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The official residence of the British Monarch of Scotland, once home to the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots.
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel

Takeaways from our visit to Edinburgh:

  1. Three days including travel to and from London was barely enough time to scratch the surface of this fabulous UNESCO World Heritage city.  Four or five days would have been reasonable for us, and I’d love to push-off to the Scottish Highlands from here when we return someday.
  2. Edinburgh Castle is a must see, and I highly recommend the free tour. Our guide was lively, kept our interest and educated our group with important history in all of 30 minutes. Don’t miss the charming St. Margaret’s’ Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
  3. We focused most of our time in Old Town. On our last evening we wandered over to New Town for a delicious dinner in the welcoming Olive Branch Bistro, when we sadly realized we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore this lovely half of the city, including the waterfront area of Leith and Dean Village.
  4. In my last post, Climbing Arthur’s Seat, I wrote about Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. If you visit someday, don’t forget to pack your hiking shoes and climb to the top of this beautiful dormant volcano.
  5. My blogging friend, Restless Jo, posted a wonderful piece on Holyrood Palace, Clandestine Cloak and Dagger in Holyrood Palace last September. After reading her post last week, I deeply regretted not making the time to tour this site.
  6. We enjoyed wandering off to the little side streets of the Royal Mile in Old Town to get a feel for the city’s medieval history. My favorite street was Victoria Street, a charming curved road lined with restaurants and colorful shops; and below that the Grass Market, a historic marketplace lined with pubs and interesting architecture…all with a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle from above.
  7. The country’s most popular attraction: the National Museum of Scotland, it’s free and worth at least an hour or so if museums are your passion.
  8. Always do your research, and make a plan so you can use your time wisely…but for me the most important thing about travel is to remember to relax a little when you’re out and about, and to take advantage of the city’s sights, sounds, and especially the views.

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Hiking Arthur’s Seat

Hiking Arthur’s Seat

With a Fitbit strapped firmly to my wrist my husband and I tracked our second day in Edinburgh via steps, 23,000 total – 9,000 of which marked our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back down again with a few detours along the way. The crown jewel of Holyrood Park in the form of an ancient volcano marks the highest point of the mountain at 251 M above sea level, giving incredible views of the city below and of the richly patterned countryside. I read that it was the most popular attraction in Edinburgh, and of course now I know why.  It’s a fun and moderate hike for both visitors and locals, and is completely void of typical tourist trappings. Here you get a true taste of the entire country, a microcosm of Scotland’s scenery, as the landscape within the former volcano includes crags, moorland, marshes, glens, lochs and fields. I fell in love with the wildflowers dotting the paths up and down the mountain and the tall bright green grasses swaying in the breeze. Even the soil was beautiful with its rich hues of reds and plums. My favorite part of the climb was the obvious destination, Arthur’s Seat, where there was a festival-like atmosphere of people from all over the world celebrating their mountain challenge and reach to the pinnacle. Strangers became friends here, lots of photo ops and smiles and an informal bond that forms when sharing a great moment. After all, we did just finish climbing a dormant volcano together!

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Tips for Climbing Arthur’s Seat:

  1. Depending on your fitness level you can make the climb to the top in 30 to 45 minutes, but allow extra time for exploring. We were in the park for almost 3 hours.
  2.  Bring your camera! (I always bring a plastic bag as a quick cover in case of unexpected rain.)
  3. Take along a bottle of water.  *One commenter noted that he “Ate bread and cheese with a good friend on top of this majestic wonder.”  I do like that sound of that!
  4. Wear comfortable shoes. Hiking boots aren’t necessary, a good pair of running shoes or trainers are fine.
  5. Within the park you can also visit St. Anthony’s Chapel – a 15th century medieval chapel, Salisbury Crags – a series of 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline as well as Duddingston Loch – a fresh water loch rich in bird life.
  6. The trails are marked and easy to follow, however, you can pick up a map from the Park Information Centre.
  7. Work up an appetite? Try something healthy at the charming Hula’s Juice Bar at the bottom of Victoria Street in Old Town.

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