Last week I wrote all about the big royal sights in Edinburgh, and this time I want to focus on all the other really awesome and unique parts of this amazing city.
I'll start off with my favorite "other" site in town, which is fitting as it serves as a bookend of sorts to Edinburgh Castle. Yes, the looming hill on the opposite side of the Royal Mile, behind Holyrood, is called Arthur's Seat, and you can climb to the very top. I am a big proponent of getting out and doing activities, so I took the time (probably about two hours total, maybe a bit more) to make my way all the way up and back down to/from Holyrood. About 10 minutes walk from the back/side of the palace you'll cross a street and see about three paths - I think I ended up going the harder way up, but it was amazing (I took the middle route then the right fork - Rick Steves advocates for going left, which I think is how I came down). After the first incline you end up on a ridge that already boast amazing views out towards the castle with a solid cliff behind your back. You can stop there (or circle around to head the back way down to the palace), but I chose to continue on around the outer paths to slowly creep my way up this mountain in the middle of a city. It certainly is not an easy hike, and the wind up at the very tippy-top was blowing so hard it was almost scary to be on this bald piece of rock. I made my way down the "back" way, with views out toward the sea, into a lovely flower-filled meadow. I highly, highly recommend taking the time to do this, especially on a lovely day - it is just such a cool feature of this city. Pictures are worth a thousand words, though, so I'll stop and let my photos speak for me! (Click the photo to advance to the next one)
Another really neat part of Edinburgh that you don't see in most other cities are the little alleys that lead down the hill off the Royal Mile, called "Closes". As you may have gathered, Edinburgh Castle is up high on a hill, and the Royal Mile leads straight down one side of that hill towards Holyrood. Up at the high end of the street, near the castle, is not only the oldest part of town, but it also has maintained, for the most part, it's structure. In other words, back in the middle ages, people wanted to have their houses still within the protective city walls, but there wasn't much room so they had to build up, and they didn't leave much room between them. Think: 17th century high rise tenement apartments. This results in teensy alleys that usually feature stairs going all up & down the upper part of the Royal Mile. I learned a ton about them during one of the walking tours I did - "Secrets of the Royal Mile". Very informative tour that really helps you understand what living off a Close would've been like.
One significant structural change in this old part of town, however, was forced when the city wanted to build a new place to house the Royal Exchange, and they wanted it up near the other administrative buildings at the top of the Mile. In order to do so, they just decided to tear down the street-level parts of the buildings on one particular close and build from there, effectively burying a network of apartments/shops/etc under the building. You can now tour these abandoned rooms as part of the "Real Mary King's Close" exhibit which I in part LOVED and in part was terrified by. There are lots of the "haunted" Edinburg tours, but I chose this one because I wanted to see what the buried close looked like (plus it's conveniently located and open longer hours). It is a bit touristy, incredibly dark, and more than a little creepy, but also super cool. Obviously I don't have any photos of the dark ruins, but I do have one shot of another close and one hilarious souvenir shot that I purchased.
The third feature that I think is fairly unique to Edinburgh is its Rich literary legacy. UNESCO even designated the Edinburg as the world's first "City of Literature." It does make sense since it has always been the capital of Scottish society and writers throughout time have been drawn to the city. Robert Burns, of course, is the sentimental favorite, but this city is also extremely proud of Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, Rob Roy) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) as well. Just off the Royal Mile you can pop into the adorable little Writer's Museum, which is housed in a former aristocrat's home on a nicer close. I loved this little place, even though I almost missed its opening times and only had a few minutes to spin through. It's full of knicknacks associated with all three writers, including portraits and some recordings of their works. Just down the hill and across the train tracks (in "New Town", the part of town built in the Georgian era), you reach one of the more recognizable landmarks of Edinburgh - the Scott monument. This is apparently the largest monument to a writer in the world, and is also quite picturesque. I wasn't ever able to catch it on a non-rainy time to go to the top, but the views, I can imagine, would be great (if you can handle all the steps!).
Another great thing to do to really understand the "literary" Edinburgh is to do the Literary Pub Tour, which runs pretty much every day in summer, but less frequently in winter. This is part walking tour, part live-theater show, and part literary lesson. I loved it - hilarious & informative, but you get to drink beer in cool pubs as well! It is for sure another activity I would recommend anyone do in Edinburgh one night. A final small piece of Edinburgh's literary legacy is the fact that JK Rowling spent much of her time writing early drafts of Harry Potter in a little cafe that overlooks the castle (The Elephant House, located just down from the little famous statue of Greyfriar's Bobby). I actually stumbled upon this place without even knowing its monumental place in recent literary history, just to get out of the rain. I was so glad I did, though, not only because the food was tasty, but also because the tributes to Rowling written floor-to-ceiling in the ladies bathroom brought tears to my eyes. Make sure you order something though - this is a working cafe, not a tourist trap! Here are some shots from around town, including some of these literary destinations:
There's still so much more to Edinburgh I didn't get to see - but that's my first pass at the city at least! I'll hopefully be back one day - if the weather was better this would be high on my list of potential cities to live in!