November 26th, 2109
- Royal Mile: St. Giles Cathedral, Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat
- The Real Mary King’s Close
- Food & Drink:
- Edinburgh Christmas Market
I arrived in Edinburgh late on the 25th and legitimately spent a solid 20 minutes walking in circles trying to find my hostel. The thing is, Edinburgh is a very confusing place, especially for the directionally challenged like myself. It’s tiered and filled with closes and staircases, which all contribute to its haunting beauty. But this also means that there are tons of small alleyways that don’t look like you should be walking through, when in fact, you should be, unless you want to spend hours on end trekking up and down hills.
Staying in Castle Rock Hostel is highly recommended – it’s right by the Edinburgh Castle (hence, the name), perched on a hillside and full of colorful medieval décor. There are several common areas, including a large kitchen, a main lounge, a music lounge, a computer room, and a quiet lounge. Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea are available 24/7 and the hostel even hosts nightly activities and tours for its residents. This is also where I met several amazing friends on this trip!
Starting off the morning bright and early, I had breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder, which is a surprisingly great option for vegans and vegetarians. I ordered a full veggie breakfast, which fueled me through a large portion of the day, and the restaurant filled up quickly – expect to share tables with others! It was here where I met Praveen, a fellow traveler from the States who was staying in Castle Rock and we made plans to meet up later in the day.
It was misty and slightly gloomy out, and I was warned against climbing up to Arthur’s Seat that day, but I figured that it probably wouldn’t clear up within the two days I’d be there. So, with a full stomach, I walked the Royal Mile, passing by (but unfortunately, not entering) several famous landmarks including St. Giles Cathedral and Holyrood Palace. I did make the trek up to Arthur’s Seat, which wouldn’t have been too bad had it not been for the fresh mud. There was no view for me, but I’m told on a clear day, one can see the entire city from the top. But hey, fog is beautiful too right? And be warned – coming down is definitely worse. I resorted to almost crawling on several occasions to avoid sliding all the way down the hill.
I joke about the fog, but it has an incredible mystical quality to it. It forces you to take every step deliberately and slowly consider where it is you’re headed and why. And a chilly morning hike isn’t too bad with a good playlist and interesting podcast or two.
At this point, I decide to tour the Real Mary King’s Close, which is also along the Royal Mile. I’m not one to typically pay for a tour, but this one was worth it and quite interesting. It affords an experience where one is literally transported underground and back a few centuries to where people lived and loved and suffered and died. Though at times a bit silly, the tour is incredibly educational, and is another opportunity to step into the shoes of humans from the past.
Then, my mud-caked Timberlands and I headed to Princes Street to meet Praveen, where we strolled through the Edinburgh Christmas market. PSA: this Christmas market is pretty incredible. (It fully embraces the holiday spirit and surpasses expectations – more on this later). We have dinner at Mother India’s Café (a great price for a hearty meal) and then meander back to the hostel for the spooky tour (free!)
Despite the fact that it began pouring halfway through the tour, it was well worth it. Our guide, Aussie David was an incredibly compelling storyteller (and apparently never feels cold), and I began to understand, just slightly, Edinburgh as a place and its spirit. It is, indeed, a strange and spooky place – every corner holds a story of an execution, perhaps a martyr, or a legend of a “fairy” who would haunt the locals. While some of them seem outlandish to us today, listening them while walking through cemetery or even standing inside a mausoleum brings a new layer of intensity. And it’s a reminder that while fairies may not be real, many of these stories are based on seeds of truth and have been passed on for centuries.
To close off the night, several new friends from the tour (Praveen, Alessandro, Antonia, and Ely) and I grabbed a few gin and tonics at the Heads & Tales Gin Bar – a highly recommended spot by my good friend Justin Iannacone. Great vibes, affordable and creative drinks, and amazing company. Have you ever shared secrets with strangers? And then by the end of the night, we were no longer strangers (and I am now lifelong fan of Edinburgh Seaside Gin).