Exploring Edinburgh

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 11th, 2009

edinburgh scotlandI’ve always heard good things about Edinburgh, and I have to say that it fully lives up to its reputation. I’m here to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to do it. I really love cities with a medieval feel—cities with cobblestoned streets, Gothic architecture, tiny windy alleys—and Edinburgh has all of that.

The city is just beautiful.

There’s Gothic architecture all over the place, ancient cathedrals, a great garden, small, windy streets, and historic buildings. All of this is surrounding a castle that is perched high on a hill where you can find great views of the old city and the modern area that surrounds it.

Today, I walked around the city. Though I hate to use the word, the city is very charming. In many ways, it feels like Bruges. It’s medieval, well-preserved, peaceful, scenic, and romantic. Besides being a great city for young people (great nightlife), Edinburgh seems like a good place to have a romantic holiday. You come here with your significant other, spend some time in a bed and breakfast, explore the city, and fall in love all over again. Well, I didn’t do any of that, but I did fall in love with the city.

I took the free walking tour around the city, which lasts three hours and walks you around the old city with the guide pointing out the major sites and giving you some history. One of my favorite things about European travel is that in every city around Europe, you’ll find a free walking tour. Sure, the stories they tell are cheesy, but I find that the tours are a great way to orient yourself to a new city. You can learn a bit about the city, get your bearings, and find out the major sites to see. Tomorrow, I’ll head to the Edinburgh Castle and some of the other sites on the tour to better acquaint myself with them.

edinburgh scotland black and white photoOne of the highlights of my day was the visit to the National Museum of Scotland. Rising six floors, the museum covers the history of Scotland from the ice age until now. You’ll be able to learn the land’s geological, political, social, and economic history. I found the museum did a good job of explaining the history. They cover a lot of ground, and the interactive videos and artifacts are really well explained. My only beef with the place was that the museum wasn’t laid out well. They design each floor to deal with a certain period of time, and while the order of the floors is good, it’s poor within each floor. Most are thematically, not chronologically, designed. While this lets you see each aspect of Scottish life in detail, it makes seeing the transition from one age or century to the next a little hard. It takes a bit of work to find out where the floor begins chronologically and where it ends.

For you backpackers out there, I recommend Castle Rock Hostel. It’s pretty cheap, and they run a lot of activities where you can meet other people. There’s a big common room, and the hostel is located right across from the castle, giving you an amazing view. I’ve had a lot of fun here the last few days. The beds are comfortable, and it’s great to have hot water. I know that doesn’t seem like a novelty, but I’ve been traveling Asia, where hot water is a novelty.

Edinburgh has been a great city. I often hate going to hyped-up locations because I usually am disappointed. Not this time. Edinburgh lives up to the hype. I haven’t even left yet, but I already want to come back. I can’t wait to spend the next three days exploring the city more, visiting the castle, Rosslyn chapel, and getting lost in the city’s windy, narrow streets.

Planning a trip to Scotland? Visit my travel guide to Scotland or my page on backpacking Europe.

comments 20 Comments

Oh, we loved Edinburgh too! And since we were there during the Military Tattoo, seeing those perfectionists performance we were totally amazed and in love with this city. Of course, we love most of Scotland…..

I was meaning to wait to congratulate you on your birthday, but here it is, a couple of hours to early:

Congratulations x millions. May you birthday be filled with lots of great beers (or whisky!) in some great pubs and filled with laughter!

Have a top stay!

Cheers!

Glad you are enjoying Edinburgh.

As well as the castle one of my major memories from visiting Edinburgh as a kid was the Scots Monument (had to look the name up). I remember being allowed to make the climb on my own (not sure how old I was, but not that old), Thought it was a really cool structure. Remember it seemed to be really tall (but then again I was only small myself), so maybe it’s not actually that tall.

Hope the rest of your trip goes well and Happy Birthday

Dan

If you’ve got the time I recommend taking a walk up Arthur’s Seat, you’ll get excellent views of the city and surrounds from the top.

NomadicMatt

Sadly, I didn’t make it up there! But the castle had some good views!

Dan

Oh, and for something different, a walk along the Water of Leith through Dean Village. When I lived in Edinburgh I loved taking that route as it made me feel like I was no longer in the city. http://www.waterofleith.org.uk/walkway/

Some great sights mentioned here and especially like Dan’s points about trying something different. It’s always good to get off the beaten track.

We recommend getting onto the Homecoming Scotland website to read about the events that are running in Edinburgh (and throughout Scotland) over the rest of the year. You can find out about some of these on our Edinburgh Holiday.

Never been to Edinburgh, so I really appreciate the honest and positive review!

NomadicMatt

You’re welcome.

Todd

Edinburgh also one of my favorites – they have a great mix of nightlife options and a crazy New Year’s celebration too (Hogmanay). If you like the medieval feel, a daytrip to Stirling Castle might be up your alley. It’s a fairly quick train ride from Edinburgh.

NomadicMatt

The nightlife was really good though it seemed like a city where you really needed to know the good places to get the best out of it.

Kim Roberts

I’m having my birthday there too on September 9th. 9|9|09 and a holiday in UK, I’m from Australia

Haven’t been there yet, thanks for the information. I will check out the Edinburgh Bed and Breakfast since we will be traveling as a couple. Your photos make me want to go there. I love grand old buildings.

Happy Belated birthday Matt

I’m really glad you liked Edinburgh! I’ve lived there the last few years finishing college, and using it as a base to hop around Europe. I love the old town, and medievil architecture & cobbeled streets. Edinburgh is a great night out and I feel a really strong affinity with the city. If you come back head up Arthurs Seat or Calton Hill for stunning views. Also the brass monkey pub just off South Bridge is cool place to be for a night out. :)
It’s not often that I feel sad to leave a place, but I will miss Edinburgh when I depart for my next trip.

Tim

I was there back in 2007 just for the open air art festival, its was great I spend to whole weeks. It must thing I liked was that some museums are free to enter, like the national museum of Scotland.

Pek

Hi Matt,
Do you still remember the name of the budget hostel that cost about $20 to $30. And how far from downtown Edinburgh. Thank you very much.

NomadicMatt

Castle Rock. It’s across from the castle.

Pek

Your video in Brussel make me want to go there. So, how about a good and cheap hostel in Brussel?
Again thank you very much

Maggie

Hi Matt,

Through which company did you take the free walking tour? Or at least, where did you pick up the tour?

Thanks!

I’m in Edinburgh, staying at the hotel on The Royal Mile. Just visited Edinburgh castle, The real Mary King’s Close and The palace of Holywoodhouse. Enjoying the wonderful country.

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