Lili's Travel Diary #10: Edinburgh, Scotland


Last weekend I decided to head to Edinburgh. I had met a friend at my summer internship at OUP who transferred from the University of Edinburgh to NYU, and she offered to put me in touch with some friends who would not only house me but also be my tour guide for the weekend. It was an offer I couldn't refuse for the weekend heading into my birthday where I had no definite plans, so I took advantage of it. I had been to Edinburgh once before when I was 12 as part of a student ambassador trip with People to People, but I do not have many memories of my time there and was incredibly homesick as well, so I didn't get to appreciate it the way I wanted to.

I left my Thursday class a half hour early (which is totally fine by me because I have never had a lecturer that is so rude to her students before) and headed to King's Cross. I'll admit, I definitely had my HP moments while sitting on my train, waiting for it to head out of the station while I looked at the pillars lining the rows of trains, but at 4PM on the dot we took off and I enjoyed beautiful views such as this one before it got dark.

My guide and soon to be friend, Ben, met me at the train station at 8:30 and took me to a vegetarian restaurant called Henderson's. If in the area, I recommend checking it out. It's quaint, somewhat affordable, and they have a live band that plays smooth jazz. After having a small bite for a delayed dinner, he showed me around Edinburgh at night and let me take it all in, not arriving back at his place until around 1AM. Once I got there, I learned that one of his roommates actually gave up her room to me. Her boyfriend lives with them too, so she just spent the weekend in his room and gave me a full king size bed! I died and went to sleep heaven after the vinyl monstrosity that I've been sleeping on the past couple weeks.

Day One

National Museum of Scotland
We woke up at 8:30AM the next morning, had a quick breakfast, and were off. First stop was the National Museum of Scotland. Ben had a Friday class, so I ended up spending about 3 hours in here alone and I just lost myself to the history of this country. It's a full 7 stories of history, and I only managed 5 because it is so vast and so interesting. And, let me tell you, this museum is absolutely gorgeous. I never wanted to leave just because it was so pretty.

Arthur's Seat from a land view
After the museum, we set out for Arthur's Seat. This was one of the things I was most excited for despite my bum knee. I wanted to conquer this behemoth and feel like I was on top of the world. The origins of the name "Arthur's Seat" are actually uncertain, which I find totally interesting because my mind immediately goes to King Arthur.

Ben was kind enough to take us the easy trail which was longer than most, but still fun. It had some absolutely breathtaking views that were wonderful to look at while I gasped for air. I never felt so out of shape until we climbed this large hill. But, man, are these views oh so worth every struggling step up there. It had rained the day before, so it was incredibly muddy and the steep top was worrisome to traverse, but we made it. And when we got to the top as I stood there and just looked around, I felt so at peace. These views, the beauty of this city, took my breath away.

In this picture I am a sweat mess, but I have a beautiful view in the background, my new bright blue sneakers that I absolutely adore are on my feet, and if you look closely you can even see a few snowflakes (many of which are prominent in the left part of this picture). That's right, as I whipped out my phone to have Ben take a picture of me after accomplishing this feat, it began to snow right as he snapped the photo. It stopped a few minutes later, which was crazy, and we began to head back down. I don't know what the meaning of this was, but the universe was definitely trying to tell us something.

Some views from the top of Arthur's Seat. Their skies are so blue! <3
After traversing Arthur's Seat, we headed back to Ben's place to relax because we were in desperate need of water (if you do this, seriously bring a water bottle!) and we were simultaneously freezing and cold. It's easy to take your jacket off on the way up because it's such a hot and humid climb, but the second you get to the summit you begin to freeze. It was intense. 

We had a little time left before it got dark, so I wanted to do something else. I asked Ben and his roommates, Chris, Lynne, and Nick for suggestions because Edinburgh is very much a city that sleeps at night. They suggested climbing Blackford Hill to see the sunset. This climb was nowhere near as bad as Arthur's Seat, but doing it within an hour after finishing Arthur's Seat killed me a little bit. The views were gorgeous and there were many dogs running about, and I'd recommend heading up there to picnic or people watch because it is so awesome to enjoy.

We headed back to Ben's place where I had my first ever home-made bagel (yum!!!) and tried vegetarian haggis. I am doing my best to try some delicacies of all places I visit as long as they are vegetarian, so it was shocking to me to learn that vegetarian haggis exists. I enjoyed it, but most of my non-vegetarian friends refer to it as lentil mush. Make of that what you will. I also tried Iron Bru which is kind of like a soda, but not. It's a fizzy drink that is Scottish only that is served in slightly horrifying neon colors. Drinkable but not OMG worthy.

Ben invited his friend Stuart over for the night and we all proceeded to watch this really terrible American movie from Tommy Wiseau called The Room. Oh my gosh, I was dying it was so bad, and it was made even funnier by knowing it has a cult following. Very interesting indeed. I went to bed around 3:30AM and prepared for another 8:30AM day.

Day Two

Day two was the day of Edinburgh Castle! I was so excited! I had been to the castle once before, but didn't remember much of it. One thing I would highly recommend is indulging in the audio guide. I did the castle alone because Ben had done it before and didn't want to spend the 16.50 pounds to do it again, which totally makes sense. I decided to get a guide to learn more about the castle in general and go more in depth about the topics that really interested me since most informational plaques could only be found in one of the several museums inside.

I ended up spending a solid 4 hours in Edinburgh Castle. It was gorgeous, full of history, and of great interest to me. It is one of those places that I could seriously get lost in, though I recognize that not everyone could spend as much time in there as I did.

It actually started properly snowing while I was in there and I saw all my fellow tourists take refuge inside the museums in the castle. I had an umbrella, so for a few moments I stood outside as the snow came down and admired the views because I had my little part of the castle to myself for a solid ten minutes. In the immediate moment it sucked because my fingers were frozen due to how cold it was, but it was such an awesome experience that I won't ever forget.

Snow, y u no leave me alone?!

Part of the reason I spent such a long time in the castle was also because I had very specific plans at 3PM: The Harry Potter tour! I decided to use the free tour offered by The Potter Trail because I didn't think it would be supremely intense and, also, I didn't want to pay for a tour that Ben could have given me himself. He chose to do an official tour just in case there was something he didn't know, but he said there was really only one stop he had no clue about. So, all in all, I am happy I went on this tour and I highly recommend any fellow Potterheads take it if they can fit it into their schedule. It is only about an hour in length, and half of my tour was made up of people who I ran into in the castle. Seems we all had the same idea!

Our tour guide kicking us off in Greyfriars Cemetary
One thing I will say about the tour is that it is a bit childish to appeal to all the tourists and the many kids I am sure take it. The tour guide wears a cape, he gives us all wands (painted chopsticks) in house colors that I absolutely adored (Ben and I grabbed Ravenclaw), he does HP trivia where he rewards house points throughout the tour, and he makes us use fake spells that take time to flow through the air to turn traffic lights red so that we can cross the road. I am not complaining though because a free tour is a free tour.
We started off in Greyfriars Cemetery which actually had several stops of interest. He began by taking us to a grave with a very familiar last name on it, which inspired one of my all-time favorite characters from the series because Professor McGonagall is life.

He then proceeded to point out the school that JK Rowling's kids went to called George Heriot's. This is a school that helped struggling single-parent families put children through school. It is regarded by many as the real life Hogwarts because you are randomly sorted (no sorting hat :( ) into houses with the same house colors as HP. There truly is nothing better than drawing inspiration from real life! 

The best part of the cemetery was definitely Tom Riddle's grave, though it is ridiculously muddy in
that area and one person on my tour actually ruined a pair of trousers over there from a near fall. The name is spelled differently and no, it is not the actual movie grave (like what my friends from home thought it would be) so it may seem underwhelming to some, but it is undoubtedly the most famous part of this cemetery.

Some other stops on the tour worth mentioning but not going into extreme detail because this post is already long enough:
Anyone remember the scene where Dudley and Harry get attacked by dementors?
Spoon Bistro used to be Nicolson's Cafe where JK Rowling wrote since her brother-in-law owned it.

Victoria Lane is the real life Diagon Alley
Balmoral Hotel where JK Rowling finished the last HP book
After the HP tour I briefly toured St Giles Cathedral (no pictures allowed without paying) and took a walk up to Calton Hill. A very easy hill compared to the other two monsters I climbed on this journey, there is an unfinished Parthenon replica at the top because Edinburgh is considered to be the Athens of the West. They ran out of money to build this replica in the 1800s and it has stood there unfinished since.

For dinner, I grabbed a pound (a dollar) pie from The Piemaker at Jess's recommendation. Macaroni and cheese pies are a Scottish only delight, so I knew I had to try one. I fell in love with it so much that I bought two from the tour to smuggle back to England with me...which are now in my stomach thank you very much. If you ever go to Scotland, I'd highly recommend trying a macaroni and cheese pie because seriously, nothing could be bad about it! That night we all went out to a pub because it was my last night in Edinburgh and we had grown close, so we wanted to say our proper goodbyes.

Day Three

Day three was the most relaxed of the days because exhaustion was really setting in for me. I decided to treat myself to a more expensive meal (and by that I mean I only spent 8.45 pounds because Edinburgh is so much cheaper than London!) and head to The Elephant House. This is a cafe that JK Rowling is known to have written many times in. In the back she had views of both Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot's School, so the inspiration was real. On top of being a major tourist attraction, the cafe has decent food and is full of elephants inside, so it's a nice place to go in its own right.

Because it is such a sought after tourist attraction, I ordered a large amount of food so we could spend a solid hour in a half in there. Carrot cake, toast and beans, and a hot chocolate really hit the spot since I knew I wouldn't be eating until my return to London at 11:30PM about 10 hours later. I was super satisfied with everything I ordered and don't think you can go wrong with ordering any of it.

But, the best part about the Elephant House isn't the food. It's the bathroom. Yes, I know, it sounds crazy...but trust me when I say this. The HP fandom graffiti will give you life.

"Words, in my humble opinion, are the most inexhaustible source of magic."
I, for one, only had a pen on me, so I neatly wrote my name onto the wall because it was so hard to get the ink to come out. But hey, I know my name is there and that's all that really matters. Upon
leaving the cafe, I took a picture with Greyfriars Bobby, their famous dog, whose nose must be rubbed by every tourist for good luck. I spent the rest of the day in museums to enjoy the city before hopping on a 5.5 hour train home that got me back to my residence hall just after midnight. If you are curious about finances or the history of money, I'd recommend checking out the Museum on the Mound. You can spend a solid hour and a half in there. I finished off the day in The Scottish National Gallery where I stayed until closing at five before heading to the train station to catch my 6:30PM train. I am one of those people that is guilty of being able to waste full days in museums.

All in all, this was a magical journey full of history, adventures, beauty, and indulging my inner fandom. I seirously cannot get over that Elephant House bathroom to this day, guys. I highly recommend heading to Edinburgh for a weekend if you ever have the chance, and I would extend the trip into the Scottish Highlands if given the chance because they are beautiful too. Loch Ness, however, is something I do remember from what little time I spent in Scotland at age 12.

Until next time...


Have you ever been to Scotland or are planning to go soon? What did you think of my trip? Did you enjoy any of my tips and tricks? I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you share in my European adventures with me! <3

1 comment:

  1. Your trip to Edinburgh looks like it was a lot of fun! I definitely plan on visiting one day, and I hope I enjoy it as much as you did :)