We spent the last three nights of our six-night holiday in Edinburgh, which is simply a lovely city. It feels sort of like a less overwhelming version of London. It has similar architecture and sense of history about it, a lot of the same chain stores and eateries, and double-decker buses, but it’s all on a smaller scale.
We stayed in the fantastic boutique hotel 21212, which is just four rooms in this gorgeous old row home that now boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant by Chef/Owner Paul Kitching.
August is festival time in Edinburgh, with the main draw being the Fringe Festival, billed as “the world’s largest arts festival.” In 1947, several theatre troupes who couldn’t get into the Edinburgh International Festival decided to stage their performances anyway, on the outskirts of it, and thus the “fringe” was born.
Now the Fringe Festival is even bigger than the original festival, hosting thousands of acts—theatre, comedy, music, cabaret, and more. Every room in the city that could be a venue for a performance becomes one: pubs, school classrooms, churches, a parked bus, you name it.
The vibe was electric. We were there for just the final two days of the three-week festival, so everything was wrapping up, but there was still such a great vibe as we walked through crowds of festival-goers, street performers, and people handing out fliers and postcards advertising their acts. The performances last just under an hour, so you pick and choose what you’d like to see when, and if something wasn’t great, no big deal, it was only 55 minutes and cost maybe £10.
We booked tickets for one act ahead of our trip, to ensure we wouldn’t arrive and find that the only thing left that wasn’t sold out that day was a 9 a.m. modern dance performance or something. So our first evening we saw Al Porter, a young Irish comedian we found hilarious. Making it all the funnier was the fact that his parents were in the audience that night, listening to their son telling lewd jokes.
Before the show, we had a little time to kill, so we headed to a cemetery (ba-dum-tssss). Greyfriars is easily the spookiest graveyard I’ve ever been to.
Apparently J.K. Rowling used to wander through here while she was writing the Harry Potter books in Edinburgh. There’s even a gravestone of one Thomas Riddle (OK, it’s spelled Riddell, but still). There’s definitely enough creepy atmosphere for inspiration!
The less creepy story about this cemetery is its most famous resident, Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who lived there for 14 years after his master was buried there. He’s now buried alongside his master. You just can’t beat canine loyalty.
But, I mean, so creepy, right?
And after the show, we went to l’Escargot Bleu for a delicious French dinner in Scotland.
The next day, we started out by walking the Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
We looked at Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle but didn’t pay the admission for either.
We stopped in the church where the queen worships when she’s in Edinburgh.
And mostly we just admired the sights as we walked along.
The Royal Mile is mostly lined with shops selling souvenirs, but the charm of its closes (narrow alleys) can still be seen along the way, if you can block out the bagpipe soundtrack blaring from the shops hawking tartan kilts, cashmere scarves, Scotch whisky, and shortbread to Chinese tourists. (A lot of the shops now have signs in Chinese characters, and have employed Mandarin-speaking salespeople.)
We went on the hourlong Real Mary King’s Close tour, which was recommended to us by an Edinburgh native we met at our hotel in Oban. In the 17th century, an entire section of houses and streets was sealed off as buildings were built over top of them, and now you can tour the preserved (but crumbling) old part, and hear stories about how people lived back then (hint: the sanitation situation was dire). It reminded us a bit of the Seattle Underground tour, kind of part history, part ghost tour.
After that, we had lunch at Ting Thai Caravan, which was the best Thai food I’ve ever had. In Scotland, of all places (all right, I’ve never actually been to Thailand).
Then we went to a Fringe play we’d bought tickets to that morning, after being handed a postcard for it:
It wasn’t great, but again, it was only an hour, and we could drink a beer during it, so hey, no big deal.
The show we went to a bit later was much funnier:
An improv murder mystery! Our performance’s set-up based on audience suggestions involved a zoo, Julie Andrews, and a German-speaking flamingo. It was very entertaining.
After that, we had our second fantastic dinner in Edinburgh at the Gardener’s Cottage.
On our last full day, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. We took the hourlong highlights of the collection tour, which was a good introduction to the museum, and offered some important points of Scotland’s history.
You can also go out onto the museum’s roof for good views over the city.
We went back to Ting Thai Caravan for lunch again, at my request, because I liked it that much. That afternoon, M went to a Scotch whisky shop for a tasting class, and I went to the Balmoral Hotel, where J.K. Rowling lived while she wrote the final Harry Potter book. I took my laptop to the bar and ordered an overpriced (but tasty) drink, simply because I wanted to be able to say I did some writing in the same place she did.
Then we met up on Calton Hill to watch the sun set over the city.
For our final dinner, we ate at the restaurant in our hotel, 21212.
On our last morning, M went for a hilly run up to Arthur’s Seat, and we did some shopping around the Royal Mile and Victoria Street (the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Potter fans!)
And that was our trip! Whew! It only took me a month and a half to blog about it all. Things have been busy lately, with visitors from the States, E starting primary school, and sleep training R. I’m either too busy or too tired to get much time to sit down with my computer these days. And when I do, it’s mostly to do admin and plan more trips!