Edinburgh city guide

I came for the haggis and the accent, but I stayed for the sights!”. Edinburgh is a must-see for every enthusiast of unusual and creepy landmarks and medieval architecture. There is no other city on earth so filled with magic, mystery and good old-fashioned unease. That’s because this land is where the Arthurian legends and Shakespeare’s muses originate from. Scotland changed and you won’t be seeing any fairies around, unless…you plan to roam the streets of Edinburgh late into the night. The Scottish capital is known as one of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world. In fact, it’s home to a staggering number of over 4000 historical buildings!

None of them is more legendary than the mythical throne of King Arthur! Not quite the real thing, but close enough. Arthur’s Seat is a large peak in Edinburgh where, as people say, Camelot used to stand. It’s also an extinct volcano. The climb is easy and a panoramic view of the surrounding area is to-die-for. You’re probably thinking: “Why would they build a castle on top of a volcano, if there’s a perfectly fine castle in the middle of Edinburgh?”. I’m just pulling your leg, everyone knows there’s about 600 years difference between the timelines.

Skyline of Edinburgh by night including Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle overlooking the city with its countless medieval towers and buildings

That doesn’t mean the Castlehill is not worth checking out. Quite the opposite. It’s possibly one of the most unique castles in Europe. It looks like a Scottish cottage that outgrew itself. Jokes aside, it is a historical site that represents the not-so-pleasant past of its people. Learn more about it several museums established on castle grounds. Personally, I would recommend paying a visit to the Witches Well. A tiny fountain commemorating all the women burnt on Castlehill during witch trials. That grim event is engrained in Edinburgh’s spirit and you’ll see many sites “inspired” by it. The Witchery, for example, is a magnificent eatery overlooking one of the squares with the pyres. Decorated with over the top style and accessories. Its also serving great food. That is to say: if you got the stomach for it.

Walk down the hill from Edinburgh Castle and you’ll be on the Royal Mile. The Mile is almost exactly one mile long and it’s the most touristy street in the city. You’ll see most of the Old Town with its nooks and crannies and overcrowded pubs. Try the more industrialized districts if you’d rather party like the boys from Trainspotting. One of the pubs featured prominently in this cinematographic masterpiece, and one of my all-time favourites, is the Volunteer Arms, locally know as ‘the Volly’. If you have seen the movie you will certainly remember the scene where “it all goes wrong big time”. The Volunteer Arms is the bar where mad-man Begbie attacks a man at the bar after losing a game of pool. Or visit Bennets Bar and Café Royal if you’re in the market for proper historic pubs. The Castlehill and the Old Town are especially packed during many festivals that take place in Edinburgh. None of them more famous than the Fringe Festival. It’s a big deal, so big that the ticket sales are second only to the Olympics and the World Cup. Anyone can perform, Fringe includes all kinds of art, from street art, to galleries, theatre and stand up comedy.

Edinburgh's Royal Mile and the St. Giles' Cathedral

At The Mile, Edinburgh's main street, you can find the St Giles' Cathedral, one of Scotland's most important medieval parish church buildings

Hand around the Old Town for a while longer and you’ll come across the St Giles’. The St Giles' Cathedral is one of Edinburgh’s most important landmarks. It was founded in the early 13th century and is closely connected to Scottish Reformation. It’s very simple on the inside, but with crucial details. You’ll have to go on a hunt to see. Various symbols and historic references are hidden within, waiting to be found. The Thistle Chapel is the most enchanting part of the Cathedral. The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is actually ancient, as in the oldest (active) knight order in the UK. They like to hang out in that chapel.

Once you’re done exploring the Mile, you’ll find yourself at the Holyrood Palace. No, Holyrood Palace is not a typo – “rood” means cross in old English. It’s the main residence of British royalty when they’re in Scotland. The palace is alright, if a little tame. The Abbey Ruins next to it are the cool part. Kings and the highest Scottish officially prayed in that chapel since the 12th century. They’re not called ruins for no reason. They’ve been like that for the past 250 years. People have tried repairing them over the years, but they just gave up at some point. And I think it’s for the best, not everything needs to be whole to be beautiful.

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