A Walk Through Edinburgh

After our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile for our next adventure – a walking tour of Edinburgh.

We always like doing a walking tour when we are in a new city. We feel it gives us a good chance to get our bearings and get familiar with the city. We also get an idea of what attractions or locations we want to explore more of and visit on our own. And which ones we are ok with just seeing on the outside and taking a photograph. Doing a walking tour also allows us to chat with the guide and maybe get some tips on sightseeing, restaurants, pubs and the local area.

We went with SANDEMANs New Europe tours and took their “Free Tour of Edinburgh.” This company operates tours in many European cities – we did a tour with them in Dublin and I’ve also done their tours in London and Paris. Their tours are “free” in the sense that you don’t pay upfront. Instead, at the end, you pay what you think the tour was worth. SANDEMANs also runs several other tours in Edinburgh, like their Edinburgh Castle Tours and Pub Crawls. Check out their website for more details and the meeting times of the various tours.

The Free Tour of Edinburgh meets right on the Royal Mile/High Street – at the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the red umbrella and the crowd gathering around.

Walking Tour Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – it’s not a strenuous walk by any means, but you are walking for around 2.5 hours! Since we explored Edinburgh Castle earlier this morning, we already had our walking shoes on. So we wandered down to the Starbucks and the red umbrella for the 2pm walking tour!

Once the groups and languages (there were also tours in Spanish) were sorted out, we headed out with our group and our guide – Greg. He was, as he described himself, “the quintessential Scottish stereotype – a big, bearded, bellowing flame-haired highlander with a love of tales and a flare for the dramatic.” He definitely had a flare for the dramatic and told us many tales of Edinburgh and Scotland in an animated and engaging manner, which kept us interested, amused and entertained for the entire 2.5 hr walking tour.

We won’t say too much because you really should visit Edinburgh for yourself! 😏 But we will share some of our favourite photographs and let them tell the story – like an Edinburgh Photo Walk. We will also say that we particularly loved the architecture of Edinburgh – so full of character and history!

Here is St. Giles’ Cathedral. We didn’t have the chance to go inside on this trip, but we enjoyed admiring the outside of the beautiful cathedral – especially the intricate details on the windows and the archways.

Reminded me of the phrase – “Playing Devil’s Advocate”

Lady Stair’s Close and The Scottish Writers’ Museum – another attraction that we only saw from the outside this time around. We might have to add it to the list for our next visit to Edinburgh!

The Hub, in the background, on the Royal Mile.

We took a lane that branched off the Royal Mile and ended up here – overlooking Victoria Street.

I love this view of Victoria street and of the city from way up here! All these tall and narrow buildings have so much character… Imagine everything that these bricks have seen!

After the little detour to see Victoria Street, we ended up walking past our hostel and gazing up at Edinburgh Castle again. Earlier today, we looked down from the castle. Now, we were looking up at the Castle, which sits on top of a GREAT rock, which you can absolutely see in this photograph here!

George Heriot’s School – a private (independent) school which is said to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts! (More on Edinburgh and the Harry Potter connection later!)

After walking through Grassmarket and hearing some stories about public executions and hangings (google the story of Maggie Dickson), we headed to the Grassmarket Café (part of the Grassmarket Community Project) for a break and some treats!

After the much needed break, we headed towards our last destination – the area around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the most famous residents of Greyfriars Kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, who was so loyal to his master John Gray – that after Gray’s death, Bobby spent the rest of his life (14 years!) standing guard at his former master’s grave. Not even the wind, rain or multiple evictions from the cemetery could keep Bobby away from his master.  His story of loyalty and devotion is one that inspired a lot of people, leading to the creation of a statue, monument, books, movies and even a pub.

The monument and statue of Bobby on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge.

There’s even a pub named after Greyfriars Bobby.

Entering Greyfriars cemetery and kirk (church)…

Although Bobby couldn’t not be buried inside the cemetery with his master John Gray, he is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirk. A very inspirational inscription – “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” is engraved onto the gravestone in memory of Greyfriars Bobby.

We were told that people sometimes leave sticks and toys for Greyfriars Bobby to play with!

Greg gave us a brief tour of the cemetery and we heard some stories about the individuals who rest here.

After walking through Greyfriars Kirk, we headed towards the National Museum of Scotland, where our tour ended and we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Greg. We really enjoyed getting to know Edinburgh with Greg. He was very animated, entertaining, knowledgeable and definitely passionate about Scotland! And it just got us more excited about exploring Edinburgh and Scotland in the upcoming days!

After the walking tour, we actually backtracked to Greyfriars… Because there was one thing that we didn’t see up close when we were at the cemetery earlier.

We are Harry Potter fans and we know that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh while writing some of the books there – the George Heriot’s school being the inspiration for Hogwarts, for example. It seems that some of the characters’ names also have an Edinburgh connection – Tom Riddell and Professor McGonagall in particular. Here is the grave of a Thomas Riddell, who is said to have inspired the name for Tom Riddell. And nearby is the grave of a William McGonagall, whose name is said to be the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall.

After that Harry Potter connection, came another! We came upon the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the series. Flocks of Potterheads flood this cafe daily to say that they’ve been to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling created the magical world of Harry Potter. (Potterheads have apparently been writing so many messages in the loo that toilet seats have been broken from people standing on them to write on the walls/windows and the staff have given up trying to paint over the graffiti!) We didn’t go in – it was super packed and busy inside, we just didn’t feel like jostling with the crowd!

The Elephant House – where J.K. Rowling spent time writing her Harry Potter series!

The advertising outside the cafe…

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Our first day in Edinburgh wasn’t over just yet! Our next stop: The Real Mary King’s Close!

A “close” as we learned, is an alleyway that leads off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close, situated underground beneath the Royal Exchange/City Chambers, is particularly shrouded in myths and legends – stories of ghosts, spirits, murderers and plague victims who were locked away to die. Ioana wanted to check this out. I was a little hesitant and wary – being a HUGE scaredy cat with a wild imagination and definitely NOT a fan of horror films! But I figured if this tour is suitable for children as young as 5 years old, I could handle this!

We bought our tickets online and arrived at the Real Mary King’s Close at our scheduled time. We were taken on a tour of Mary King’s Close by a costumed character guide. Our guide was Mary King’s daughter – Jonet Nimmo, who led us around the area that she grew up in. We won’t spoil the tour for you but we enjoyed learning about the history of this close and a bit of Edinburgh history. We also got the chance to see how people lived back in the days – complete with laundry hanging out the windows of tall, “underground” buildings. There were a couple of scary stories, but it was bearable and I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards!

After the tour, we walked through the on-site restaurant – The Royal Exchange Coffee House. Unfortunately they were closed by that time but the menu of local and fresh food was so tempting that we decided to come back another time to try it out!

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We packed a lot into one day of sightseeing – with Edinburgh Castle in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon and the Real Mary King’s Close in the early evening. We were pretty exhausted after all of this – plus we had only gotten a couple hours of interrupted sleep at Dublin Airport the night before! So we grabbed a quick dinner at a pub and headed back to our hostel to catch up on sleep!

Day 2 is up next with more adventures and exploring in Edinburgh – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

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Exploring Edinburgh Castle

Having taken an early morning flight from Dublin, we arrived into Edinburgh tired but excited! After dropping our bags off at Castle Rock Hostel, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights, we grabbed a map from Reception and headed off to explore the great city of Edinburgh.

Our first stop? Edinburgh Castle!

We could see this historic fortress and world famous attraction from our hostel and it was only a short walk (plus some stairs, of course!) to get up there!

The view from our Hostel’s front door!

Once we climbed up the stairs, we came upon the Esplanade – the sprawling parade ground that hosts a variety of concerts and events. The most prominent being the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which just started a couple of days ago on August 5! (Anyone going to the Tattoo this year?? It’s on our bucket list for our next visit! If you have any tips for taking in the Tattoo, drop us a comment below!)

The Esplanade and Edinburgh Castle

Before getting to the Castle, you have to pass through the Gatehouse. Standing guard at the Gatehouse are statues of 2 famous Scottish men – Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Both had immeasurable effects on Scotland, its history and its course.

Once you pass the Gatehouse, on your right is the ticket office. Here, if you haven’t already, you can purchase your entry ticket, as well as audio guides.

Tips for Your Visit: We purchased our tickets ahead of time. This way, we wouldn’t have to wait in a queue and, instead, could go straight through to the Portcullis Gate. Tickets can be purchased online here and for no extra cost or processing fee – which is really nice! One adult ticket costs £16.50 and when purchased online includes fast track entry, which can be helpful during peak season – like now in August, with Edinburgh’s many festivals and special events drawing large crowds of visitors. One drawback to purchasing your ticket online is that you must select a date when purchasing your ticket. So if you’re not sure when you want to visit Edinburgh Castle, you might have to purchase your ticket on the day of your visit.

Edinburgh Castle also hosts special events throughout the year, such as interactive and fun activities for the whole family! These are often included in the price of admission. For more details, check out “What’s On” and plan your trip accordingly!

With our printed tickets in hand, we sailed right through to the Portcullis Gate where our tickets were scanned and we strolled into the castle!

Just inside the Portcullis Gate… Can you spot the Portcullis?!

We had planned on taking a guided tour of the castle to get our bearings. But, when we got in, we had just missed the start of one. So we decided to wander around a bit on our own, check out the views of Edinburgh from way up here and return for the next tour.

The view from Argyle Battery

Heading up to the Upper Ward of the castle…

The view from the Upper Ward…

It is pretty cool that Edinburgh castle is built literally on top of a “Great Rock”! And you still can see parts of the rock in various places around the castle grounds.

Heading back down for the guided tour!

We had a lovely guide for our brief tour of the castle and its buildings. He told us many interesting stories about Scottish history, the Castle’s history and its buildings. We won’t repeat the tales he told us – it’s better when you are standing there and facing this fortress in awe. It’s also 100x better when told with a Scottish accent 😉 But in all seriousness, taking the guided tour definitely helped us to understand what we would be seeing later on, as we explored the castle and its buildings on our own.

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Our tour ended in Crown Square. Since we were already there, we decided to check out the Crown Jewels of Scotland – also known as the Honours of Scotland. These are housed in the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace

There was a very interesting exhibition on the Honours of Scotland and at the end, you come face to face with the Crown Jewels themselves – including the crown, sceptre and the sword. These are considered the oldest Royal Regalia in the UK! Since you are not allowed to take photographs inside, you’ll just have to believe us when we say – there was a lot of gold, silver, pearls, diamonds, amethysts, other precious stones and velvet! The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, has had quite an eventful past and it is also on display here.

No photographs allowed inside, so all you get is this sign!

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Besides the Crown Jewels, we also visited the Royal Apartments to learn all about the building’s history, the kings and queens who have lived here and some of their stories.

Inside the Royal Apartments…

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Next, we visited the Scottish National War Memorial. It allowed for some quiet reflection, contemplation and some time to pay my respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace.

The Scottish National War Memorial

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Heading out of Crown Square, we came upon the Half Moon Battery and the Forewall Battery.

Peeking out from here gives you a really unique and cool view of the city! This is one of my favourite photographs from today!

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While we were exploring the Battery, we heard some shouting and went to see what was going on!

A very animated actor, dressed in period costume, was teaching visitors how to use pikes and demonstrating war cries! We think this must have been a Special Event hosted by the Castle – perhaps the Renaissance Schiltron? We learned some interesting information from the actor’s instructions on this fighting technique.

First, you had to learn how to hold the pike…

Then you had to make a scary war face and yell a war cry to accompany it.

Then on top of all that, there was an attacking formation to remember… while holding your pike properly, making your war face and yelling your war cry!

The “Commander” even had a drum, to accompany the charge!

This would definitely be a fearsome sight to behold! It looked like a really fun and interactive activity and history lesson, with people of all ages participating – jabbing their pikes, scrunching up their faces, sticking out their tongues and yelling at the top of their lungs!

And no, we didn’t participate this time… Maybe next time! 😉

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After that entertaining display, we headed towards St. Margaret’s Chapel.

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building of Edinburgh Castle. It is actually said to be the oldest building in all of Edinburgh, built in 1130 by King David I to honour of his mother – Queen Margaret, and later known as Saint Margaret.

This chapel is still in use today for baptisms and weddings.

Stained glass of Queen Margaret and later St. Margaret.

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We planned our Edinburgh Castle visit so that we would still be at the Castle for 1pm.

Why? So we could watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This tradition goes way back to 1861, when the One O’Clock Gun would be fired (at 13:00 or 1pm) to allow ships to set and synchronize the maritime clocks on board.

The One O’Clock Gun is located on the Mills Mount Battery. It was quiet and uncrowded earlier in the morning…

But by 1pm, a sizable crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle!

Getting the gun ready…

Checking the time…

Gotta make sure it’s right on the dot!

And BOOM! Even though I was expecting the gun to go off, it still made me jump – hence the blurry photograph! This was a cool piece of tradition and history and we were glad to have experienced it. If you’re at Edinburgh Castle around 12:55pm, head to the Mills Mount Battery to watch this spectacle!

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Tips for Your Visit: Besides checking out the many exhibitions and attractions at Edinburgh Castle, don’t forget to look out from the castle at the views of Edinburgh from way up here! Since the castle stands on top of Castle Rock, there are sweeping views of the city from here – like this panorama looking North towards Princes Street and out at the Firth of Forth.

What can you spot in this next photograph? The Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens, The Scottish National Gallery…

And this one? I can spot… The Balmoral, Calton Hill, Waverley Station, The Dugald Stewart Monument, The National Monument of Scotland, The Nelson Monument…

If you look out from the South side of the castle, a different view awaits you! We even spotted our hostel from here, with Arthur’s Seat in the background.

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Tips for Your Visit: We spent a couple hours here and we still hadn’t explored all of the castle and its grounds. So if you have a couple of must-see’s for Edinburgh Castle, mark them down, along with their locations. This way you can plan your visit route and make sure to see all of these, before spending some time leisurely wandering and exploring the castle grounds. The Castle’s website also has some itineraries that you can follow, depending on how long you have for your visit and your interests. Hopefully the tips and suggestions on the website, along with our adventures exploring Edinburgh Castle, will help you out when planning a trip to this iconic fortress!

Review: We enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, learning a lot about Scottish history, Scottish kings and queens, its strife and conflicts but also its amazing culture and glories. The Castle is an amazing fortress and its architecture is exquisite – whether you are viewing it from the inside or admiring it from outside its walls. A really nice bonus? The breathtaking views of Edinburgh from the castle! We are definitely planning to come back to enjoy the Military Tattoo and all of its grandeur out on the Esplanade!

After grabbing a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, we headed out of the castle and walked down the busy Royal Mile.

Now, it was onto our next adventure – a (Free!) walking tour of Edinburgh to get our bearings in this city! Stay tuned for more!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Goodbye Dublin, Hello Edinburgh!

After an amazing time exploring Ireland on our All Ireland Rocker tour, we arrived back into Dublin in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our guide Gillian and our group mates.

Our next destination was Edinburgh. But we didn’t head for Edinburgh right away. We were advised not to book a connection out of Dublin too close to our estimated arrival time – just in case there were delays in getting back to Dublin. So we booked our flights through to Edinburgh for early the next morning at 6am.

Now we had a decision to make… book a hostel, sleep a couple of hours, wake everyone else in the room up at 4am and take the earliest bus to the airport to make our flight. Or… our other option was to hang around in Dublin that night, catch the last bus to the airport and stay the night at the airport. In the end, we decided to (save a couple bucks on accommodations and) spend the night at the airport.

Luckily for us, a couple of our group mates and new friends were staying in Dublin for a couple more days, so we decided to have one last dinner and night out in Dublin together!

While waiting for our friends to check into their hostels, Ioana and I wandered around Dublin for a little while, taking in the sights one last time before we left. It was also an opportunity to grab some last-minute souvenirs!

We all met up and headed to O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen for dinner – a HUGE dinner, might I add!

Hard to see but O’Neill’s is the red building in the middle there! Right behind what I think is a construction zone sign… (which to me looks more like a hockey player, so the sign must mean “Hockey Game that way” =P)

We tried to have dinner here before we left for our Shamrocker tour, but it was totally packed that night and we couldn’t find a table. So we were glad we got to try O’Neill’s before we left Dublin. It was a little bit confusing figuring out how things worked at this pub, but in the end, we figured it out.

This pub is almost like a ‘cafeteria’ – you queue up, order your main and then your chosen sides are scooped onto your plate.  Some mains, such as carvery items, are already prepared and waiting for you under the hot lamps, while others items, like the Fish and Chips or sandwiches, are made to order. You grab your tray and pay for your food. Prices here are very reasonable, especially considering the portions you get! Definitely a good choice, if you are hungry after a day of walking and sightseeing!

Then came the task of finding a table, while balancing your heavy tray of food and your pint of Guinness, if you made a pit stop at the bar! We were lucky and scored a table on the second level by the bar. After a quick ‘Slainte’, we dug into our plates of food. I had the fish special that night, but my favourite thing on the plate had to be the sweet potato side dish! Ioana had something from the carvery – which might have been either the ham or the Irish Collar of Bacon. As hard as we tried, I don’t think any of us finished the entire meal that night!

After a filling dinner, we chatted and relived our tour and adventures over a couple of pints and enjoyed some Irish music and an Irish dancing performance! We even attempted to create the Claddagh ring design, which once we sobered up, we realized we had copied the design wrong! But all in all, we had a great time and it was an awesome last night in Dublin!

We tried!

After a round of goodbyes (and a see-you-soon to one of our friends who would be joining us on our Haggis Adventures tour!), Ioana and I wandered back to Temple Bar, enjoying the joviality one more time. We took the last bus out of Dublin and headed for the airport.

In hindsight, we probably should have gotten to the airport earlier. By the time we got there after midnight, much of the prime sleeping real estate (benches or couches) was already taken. We managed to snag two comfy armchairs but there really was nowhere to stretch out comfortably and – nowhere to charge our dying phones. (So far, my favourite airport for staying the night is still Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport – lots of seating, lots of comfy couches and electrical outlets!) We got a couple hours of (interrupted) sleep and then it was time to gather our things, check in and go through security.

We had what we assumed to be an uneventful flight to Edinburgh. We say this because neither of us remember any part of the flight since we fell asleep immediately after buckling our seatbelts!

After landing and picking up our luggage, we got our tickets for the Airlink service (airport to city centre express buses) and were on our way to Edinburgh’s city centre! We got off at Waverley Station and hiked our way up a WEE bit of a hill/mound to our hostel. Since we were there VERY early in the morning, our rooms weren’t ready yet. So we stowed our luggage in their luggage room and headed out to explore.

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We stayed at Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, although it would be broken down into 3 separate stays! It had a great location – just below Edinburgh Castle, just off the Royal Mile and just above Grassmarket! Close enough to everything, yet not teeming with people.

This was the view just outside the front door of the hostel – can’t beat that!!!

And here’s a view of Castle Rock Hostel from Edinburgh Castle. You can even catch a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat in the background!

The hostel had a mix of some really cool and interesting decor – from grand windows and curtains, richly decorated furniture to comfy couches, funky paintings, armour pieces… The hostel had a large self-catering kitchen, a couple of common rooms and even a “Groove Lounge” for guests to play music and jam together!

The rooms that we stayed in were clean and roomy, with plenty of space to store our backpack and luggage. The plus? Each bed had its own reading light and 2 outlets for charging our electronics =P! After this trip, we have found this to be pretty essential in any hostel room – so you don’t get 6 people all trying to charge their electronics out of 2 outlets!

Another bonus? One of the rooms we stayed in even had a view of the Edinburgh Castle! I sat up on my top bunk in the morning and this was what I saw out the window! Pretty awesome view to wake up to, if you ask me!

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Both Ioana and I had such high expectations for Edinburgh (and Scotland for that matter!) and we were scared of setting ourselves up for disappointment. But this city definitely did not disappoint! We loved the architecture, the buildings, the history, the stories, the views – we could go on and on!

Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle – stay tuned to our next post for more on our visit to this historic castle!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!