Grace Young/Old Gold & Black
Grace Young/Old Gold & Black

Past meets present in Edinburgh

There are few cities that make the compromise between being a historic old capital versus an energized modern city work as well as Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Scottish royal city is a scenic, four-hour train ride from London, and is absolutely worth a weekend trip. 

Here are just a few of the many things to do while in “Embra,” as some locals call it.

Where to stay: If you’re traveling by yourself or with some friends, I’d highly recommend The Baxter Hostel. It’s well-priced, clean, surprisingly comfortable and caters to wandering students. They also provide free breakfast and wifi, along with an open kitchen if you’re feeling like trying to make your own haggis — which I do not recommend trying.

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Regardless of where you stay, there are some sights in Edinburgh that are essential to the Edinburgh experience. The most obvious, of course, is Edinburgh Castle.

Located at the top of the Royal Mile — also called High Street — Edinburgh Castle commands a spectacular view of the entire city and has some great exhibits on the history of the city. Unfortunately, they don’t offer student prices on tickets, so visiting the castle will cost you around £16.50. But as I said, it is well worth it.

Once you finish touring the castle, wander down the Royal Mile, which today is filled with pubs, tourist shops where you can buy anything and everything “Scotland” and the odd museum closer to the castle, but further down, it becomes a bit more modern and less touristy.

At the other end of the Royal Mile is the fairly modern Holyrood Palace. Again, a must-see, especially for fans of the British monarchy. The palace houses various exhibits on more recent Scottish history, especially as it relates to the royals.

If you’re anything like me—by which I mean incredibly lazy, even in such a wonderful city — the hop-on, hop-off bus tours will be your best friends once you’ve finished tackling the Royal Mile. Different routes take different amounts of time, but in general, a full tour of the Old Town and the New Town take around two hours.

However, the whole point of these tours is that you can get on and off at any point with a valid ticket, and they also provide pretty decent audio guides.

I mention this mainly because Edinburgh has so many sights to see, and these tours will make things much easier for any tourist. Scotland is, surprisingly, an up-and-coming fashion center, and nowhere in its capital is this more evident than on Princes Street in the New Town.

If you’re tired of looking at a bunch of old stuff and tourist shops, take a stroll, starting at the Sir Walter Scott memorial, which guards Waverley Bridge and Waverley Station, and ending whenever you feel like stopping since there are many good restaurants and pubs along this bustling road.

For a great view of Edinburgh Castle at night, stand next to the statue of Thomas Guthrie as you walk towards the Caledonian Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

There are two restaurants that absolutely cannot be missed while you’re in Edinburgh: The Elephant House, a tea and coffee shop famous for being “the birthplace of Harry Potter,” and The Last Drop, a historic — albeit dark — pub in the Grassmarket below Edinburgh Castle.

Both serve wonderful food amidst unique atmospheres that are quintessentially Scottish.

Edinburgh is filled with a lot of little side streets, closes, nooks and crannies, making it great for people who love to explore and get lost, but it has something to offer for everyone.

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