Words || Laura Bax
Favourite City and why?
Edinburgh! Yes, it’s a bit touristy but it’s also incredibly beautiful and the people are kind and friendly. Plus, all the main sights and things to do are along or near the Royal Mile, so you can walk everywhere – no need to figure out local bus routes or spend extra money on cabs or public transport.
Five items that were an absolute must-have on your trip:
- Good waterproof shoes. Scottish weather is unpredictable at the best of times, and I was there in winter. My Doc Martens were a lifesaver– cobblestones, rain, sleet, snow and mud are not fun to navigate in heels or dodgy shoes (but it was fun to watch people try)
- Trainline app – Similar to our tripview but also nothing like it. Outside of London there’s not really anything like Opal cards – this app lets you view and buy tickets for rail trips all over the UK.
- Snacks – pretty much every grocery/convenience store sells pre-packaged fruit, salads, and sandwiches but I always carry a muesli bar on me because I have a tendency to forget to eat and then suddenly turn into the Incredible Hulk. Seriously, you don’t want to deal with me when I’m hangry.
- A really good face moisturiser – windburn is very real and very uncomfortable. Despite my best efforts, I still resembled a tomato for much of my trip.
- Scarf and gloves. A lot of sights are on top of hills and the wind can be vicious. Even if you have like 10 layers on and resemble the Michelin Man, an exposed neck and hands will basically render those layers useless and make you feel even colder.
Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled in Scotland?
The Writer’s Museum – even if you don’t like the three Scottish writers it focuses on it is situated in a cool old building, tucked away in a cute little square just off the Royal Mile.
I also really enjoyed Elephant Café and Greyfriar’s Kirk. The Elephant Café was where J.K. Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books, and it has a huge window with views of Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriar’s Kirk. Not exactly the road less travelled, as evidenced by the graffiti’d Harry Potter quotes that paints the walls of the bathrooms (seriously, you can barely tell what colour the walls are supposed to be) but still a nice spot for breakfast. Greyfriar’s Kirk is just behind the café- it’s an old church and the resting place of Bobby (aka Scotland’s answer to Red Dog) and has a gorgeous graveyard. A little weird, I know, but the Victorians really loved death and extravagant, creepy-as-hell gravestones. Wandering around the graveyard you get gorgeous views and more Harry Potter pilgrimage points – Tom Riddell’s gravestone is here, the name which inspired Tom Riddle, as are other headstones featuring more names Rowling pinched, such as ‘McGonagall’. The graveyard borders on a school, the building of which has four towers – again, something Rowling drew inspiration from. The morning I wandered in, I was almost the only one there. It was both a strangely tranquil and an unnerving experience, hearing children playing on the other side of a high stone wall while wandering around crumbling gravestones, many of which had daffodils and snowdrops beginning to pop up.
Weirdest thing to happen you on the trip?
Not exactly a weird experience but weird weather. My final day in Edinburgh, it was forecast to snow – but not until early evening, at which point I was going to be on a train to Glasgow. My Airbnb host Zuzana took me out to lunch and as we were walking, the sky grew steadily darker. As we were eating, surprise surprise, it started snowing! Proper snow too, not a few weak flakes that might actually be rain. It was really coming down and was starting to form little patches everywhere, but by the time we finished lunch, the sun was shining and the sky was completely clear and blue. About an hour later, the sky was dark and it was snowing heavily again. Like I said earlier, Scottish weather can be unpredictable but this was insane!
What was the budget like?
I’m really lucky in that my Dad has a 4 month contract to work over in the UK, so I was actually here (with free accommodation in Manchester and Proper Adults paying for my food) for 8 weeks. Because my family was with me for most of my trip, I didn’t have to budget too much. However, I spent 5 days in Scotland by myself and paid for all of that. I used Airbnb for the first time so 3 nights in Edinburgh only cost me $150 AUD and I was only a 2 minute walk from the Royal Mile (aka the main tourist drag). I’d never used Airbnb before so I was pretty nervous, but my room was fantastic and my host, Zuzana, was not only lovely and welcoming but helped me plan what to do and gave me lots of tips on what to see at various museums.
Food isn’t horrifically expensive, but entrance fees to lots of attractions are – Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle are about £15 each, or around $25 Australian dollars. Many places don’t have student discounts, but those that do are okay with Australian student id.
HOWEVER: Museums in the UK are not only excellent but totally free. The National Museum of Scotland is made of 2 joined buildings – one is an old Victorian style building with a glass roof, contain all sorts of scientific and natural history, and the other, newer building features 7 floors of Scottish history. Even if museums aren’t your thing, the 7th floor of the new building is a terrace with gorgeous views of the entire city.
Scott’s monument will also give you fantastic views (and possibly a heart attack and severe claustrophobia). It’s only a few pounds entry – but with 287 steps up a narrow sandstone spiral staircase, it’s not for everyone.
Bottom line – not the cheapest city in the world but it is possible to see and do plenty of things on a budget.
#Foodbucketlist: Best eats?
Vegetarian Haggis! I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time so the real stuff (sheep’s heart, liver, lungs + spices and oats all encased in a sheep’s stomach) was never gonna happen. I expected Edinburgh to be not very veggie-friendly but was happily surprised to find the opposite! Tonnes of vegetarian cafes and restaurants, including Henderson’s, which has been open since the 60’s.
Holyrood 9A is a fantastic pub located, shockingly, at 9A Holyrood Road. It serves a whole range of burgers – including 4 types of veggie burger, one of which is a vegetarian haggis burger! It’s a proper Scottish pub with local beers and ciders, and has a friendly, warm atmosphere and excellent service.
Would also recommend trying Thistly Cross Cider – the company does a few flavours but I really enjoyed their ‘whisky cask’ cider – an apple cider finished in old whiskey casks, giving the drink a hint of smoke and whisky-ness.
For a faster bite to eat, The Baked Potato is also just off the Royal Mile and serves baked potatoes with a range of toppings.
What advice would you give to other people travelling?
I’d pass on some classic motherly words of wisdom – always pack more socks and undies than you think you need.
Also, this piece of advice seems like common sense but it’s shocking to see how few people abide by it: politeness, patience and basic human decency are vital, especially with restaurant staff and sales assistants – more often than not these are the people that will give you the best tips on what to do and where to eat.
My travel mantra is…
I don’t really have a mantra, but when I’m travelling I tend to live by the age-old wisdom of #YOLO. (Within reason, of course). Just try things. Don’t fret too much about how it will all turn out, and try not to think too much about the things you didn’t get to do.