What can you say about Edinburgh? It’s a magical city… and why not – it’s the “home” of Harry Potter (more on that below). Edinburgh is a city of contrasts. You have the refined elegance of the Georgian New Town and the medieval streets of the Old Town.
Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Again, even the landscape is contrasting, with a series of rocky hills overlooking a windswept sea. The town is entwined with the landscape – Buildings, monuments, and castles are perched atop crags and cliffs. The Old Town has a jumble of medieval tenements, the turreted skyline of the Royal Mile, falling off below Castle Rock. The New Town, sometimes called the Athens of the North, is a neat grid of neoclassical respectability, all columns and capitals, porticoes and pediments… It’s no surprise that this city inspired the story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
We spent a great deal of time in the Old Town walking up and down the Royal Mile – from the Edinburgh Castle to the grand Palace of Holyroodhouse. There’s the magnificent vaulted ceiling and ornate tombs of St Giles’ Cathedral and priceless artifacts in the National Museum of Scotland. In August, the streets of the Old Town come alive with the sights and sounds of the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival.
The weekend we were in Edinburgh was the finals of the Scottish Cup, to be played in Glasgow. The two teams playing were Hibernian and the Heart of Midlothian, better known as the Hibs and Hearts. The Hibs are the Edinburgh team so enthusiasm was high in the city. Our hotel was packed the night before and on the day of the game we headed to the World’s End pub to watch the game. Unfortunately, the Hibs were outmatched and beat soundly 5-1. The raucous drinking evolved into drinks of solace. But that evening, national pride rebounded as Chelsea won the Champions League in a Shoot-Out.
The Edinburgh Castle
Certainly one of the biggest draws is the Edinburgh Castle… and it’s worth the visit. Let us get you tickets in advance (I didn’t and waited 30 minutes in line!). Occupation of the castle grounds is said to date from 900 BC, the late Bronze Age. When the Romans occupied Scotland in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the castle grounds were a thriving settlement. Then the grounds were called the place Din Eidyn, or ‘the stronghold of Eidyn’. In 638 AD the Angles invaded and since then the rock has been known by its English name – Edinburgh.
St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, was built here on the castle grounds in the 12th century. As Edinburgh became Scotland’s chief royal castle, more and more buildings were built on the grounds. David’s Tower, built for David II, Robert the Bruce’s son, was built in the 1370s. The monumental great hall of James IV was opened in 1511. In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in the royal palace within the castle. The tiny bed-closet still survives… and you can walk into it. Yes, it’s smaller than my wife’s former walk-in closet!
Since the Jacobite siege of 1745, the castle has served as an active army base, but has become a major visitor attraction, the home of the Scottish National War Memorial and two proud Scottish regiments (the Royal Scots and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards), and as host of the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo. In 1995 the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were inscribed as a World Heritage Site, and the castle remains its most important building.
We were fortunate to be at the castle for the One O’Clock Gun… Why 1 PM and not 12 noon? The legend is so that the thrifty Scots could save 11 shots of the cannon! Below are some photos of the loading and firing of the gun, and some pictures taken on and near the castle grounds.
Give yourself at least a couple of hours to “see” the Castle. We easily could have spent more time and certainly we will do a “return visit.”
The Elephant House
On our way out of town, early Sunday morning, we decided to find The Elephant House. This cafe’ opened in 1995 and has established itself as one of the better tea and coffee houses in Edinburgh. What made this cafe’ one of the most famous in Scotland is …. it’s the location where J.K. Rowling sat writing … Harry Potter. Yes, you too can sit at the tables Ms. Rowling wrote her early novels, looking out the window at the Edinburgh Castle. Below the castle there’s a cemetery. It’s easy to understand where she gained inspiration: A castle, a cemetery, and some gloomy winter weather.
Ian Rankin, author of the bestselling Rebus novels, and Alexander McCall-Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and other series of novels, have also frequented The Elephant House, as well as many others throughout the years. we enjoyed our coffees and it was quite busy for a Sunday morning.
We would be happy to coordinate your Edinburgh visit; please Contact Ron Phillips Travel and we would be pleased to assist you in planning your trip to Scotland!
We truly enjoyed our stay in Edinburgh. On the Royal Mile we came across a family walking to a wedding reception (see above). It WAS a city of contrasts, yet we were also struck by the level of enthusiasm and passion of the Scots; Whether it was in a pub cheering on their team, teens line-dancing in front of the National Galleries, the friendly faces in our hotel, or their obvious pride in the history of their homeland, the Scots welcomed us at every opportunity. It’s a place we look forward to returning – and so will you!For many more pictures of Edinburgh, head to this Edinburgh Pinterest board.
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