They say that a person loves either London or Edinburgh, but not both.

Compared to the size and congestion of London, Edinburgh feels like a smaller, more mellow, though equally interesting step-sister to the north with a stronger accent.

With all the attractions of a bigger city including art, history, architecture and a wide range of cuisines, our few days in Edinburgh were the perfect introduction to the culture of Scotland without prices that made my eyes bulge or crowds that made me want to scream. Clearly a win-win.

My knowledge of Scotland was pretty limited upon arriving, basically consisting of a deep love for the movie Braveheart, and a vague awareness of haggis and bagpipes.

For that reason I decided to take advantage of the amazing Sandemans New Europe tours, a company that provides free walking tours of most major European cities. (Check them out, they’re awesome – guides are usually young college students who only work for tips so energy levels and engagement are high. Our amazing guide, Dave, is pictured below.)

Besides specific buildings that I’ll mention shortly, with each symbolizing a different chapter of the long and varied history of the city, what I found most interesting about Edinburgh was how the city actually grew over the last several centuries. After the 1500s, as the population grew exponentially, because the actual township was contained within the strong city walls, people had only one choice, which was to build up. Some of the buildings in Edinburgh in the 1600s were built up to fourteen stories high, the tallest within Europe at the time! Only in the last century were many of the original streetlevel alleys built over, so you can take underground tours revealing up to three stories of history, literally buried beneath present day buildings and streets.

St. Giles Cathedral (pictured below) was super interesting to visit – although I’ve been through a run of cathedrals and churches since arriving in the UK, St. Giles stands out for its unusual shape. While most cathedrals are built to resemble the shape of a cross, St. Giles is built to resemble the shape of a royal crown.

 

Edinburgh Castle (pictured below) is the gem of the city, perched high upon castle rock overlooking the city.

It’s said that to hold Edinburgh Castle is to hold the country, and here especially it was fascinating to hear the different perspectives of many of the same histories I’d just heard in London. Edward I, for example, (or the character ‘Longshanks’ in Braveheart) is generally touted as a great and mighty king throughout the sites of England, but is described as the worst kind of villain at Scottish sites (and rightfully so, as he was set on destroying Scottish power and taking the country as his own in 1296).

Compared to most castles, Edinburgh Castle has a drastically different aesthetic because it was used primarily as a fortress, rather than a royal residence, so most of the main castle stories focused on historic sieges and the horrific centuries-old dungeon.

The Scottish royals were so uncomfortable in the unpolished castle and disliked the harsh weather conditions there so much that they actually built a separate, more decadent royal residence further down the hill in 1501. Holyrood Palace still stands today and is the official royal residence in Scotland of the current Queen Elizabeth II.

It was here I found my most favorite place in Edinburgh, Holyrood Abbey.

The abbey was built in 1128 as a monastery and was said to contain part of the ‘holy rood’ or holy relic original cross.

After an anti-catholic mob attacked the monastery in 1688, the Abbey slowly fell to ruins with the roof eventually collapsing in the 18th century.

Lastly, as mentioned earlier, Edinburgh offers a wide variety of cuisine from Mexican to Japanese and Italian. It was the British meat pie though that won my heart – tasty steak, savory vegetables and crispy crust, what’s not to love?

Our few days in Edinburgh were well spent and I’d go back in a heartbeat. We were there for three nights but could’ve easily stayed longer. Considering the hospitable people, range of things to do and rich history ALL available without the chaos that accompanies a population of 8 million people, I can decidedly say I’m in Camp Edinburgh.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie