What city was once home to Mackenzie Poltergeist, Burke & Hare, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, J.K. Rowling, and a dog named Bobby? If you guessed Edinburgh, Scotland, then you are my new best friend!
When we were deciding where to go on our trip, Edinburgh was easily added with no second thoughts. According to my uncle, my cousin and I are direct descendents of Mary, Queen of Scots, so of course I had to go see where Cousin Mary grew up! We arrived back in Edinburgh by train after an overnight stay in St. Andrews where we toured the oldest golf course in the world . After a short trek to our hotel, we set out to see what all this haunting city had to offer. We were instantly blown away by all the architecture. Massive spires stood tall above the buildings and at the top of it all was Edinburgh Castle in all its old-world glory. We would be climbing the hill the following day for a tour.
Sticking to the theme of the trip, we awoke to rain in the morning, slid on our rain jackets, and made the ascent to Edinburgh Castle. Sitting atop the extinct volcano, Castle Rock, the castle was first known as “The Castle of the Maidens.” The edifice that is now Edinburgh Castle was built during the 12th century by David I, son of Saint Mary of Scotland. After many battles, the castle had to be rebuilt in 1356 and again in 1578. Today, part of the castle is a military base and home to the Scottish National War Memorial, and Regimental Museum.
Once we were inside the castle walls, we snuck in with a tour group that was about to start. Our first stop was the Half Moon Battery. Lined with cannons, it allowed soldiers to defend the castle by firing down onto the enemies. It also offers beautiful views of the city and beyond. A short walk away is the One o’clock gun which dates back to 1861. This gun was shot off everyday at 1PM to help the ships in the Firth of Forth set their maritime clocks. The gun is still fired everyday at 1PM to keep the tradition alive. Huddled under our umbrellas, we stopped outside St. Margaret’s Chapel, constructed in 1130 by David I and dedicated to his mother Queen Margaret. The Great Hall was the final stop on our short tour. Standing at the heart of the castle, it was completed in 1511 by James IV. After our tour, we waited in line to see the Stone of Destiny and the Crown Jewels (no photos allowed). We also walked through the old prison used as far back as 1758, and the National War Museum.
FUN FACT: The Stone of Destiny has been used for many centuries to crown English Monarchs and is still used today.
After touring the castle, we spent the remainder of the day exploring the Royal Mile, a mile-long street in the heart of Old Town with 2 royal buildings located at each end – Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is one of the most touristy streets in Old Town and vastly overpriced, but definitely worth a stroll down. Where else can you see nudists riding bicycles? I have video. I’ll spare you the embarrassment.
Day two in Edinburgh was a leisurely one. Walking back to Old Town, we made a b-line for Greyfriars Kirkyard. Yep, we went to see a cemetery, but not just any cemetery; Tom Riddle is buried here! Ever wonder how J.K. Rowling came up with Tom Riddle’s name? She went strolling through this cemetery, found a headstone with a name she liked, and the rest is history!
FUN FACT: J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel @ the Elephant House in Edinburgh, right down the street from Greyfriars Kirkyard.
So, back to the cemetery – it’s old – really old. Mary, Queen of Scots (good ol’ Cousin Mary) granted the former convent garden surrounding Greyfriars Kirk to be used as a burial ground in 1562. The most famous resident of the kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who sat watch at his owner’s grave for 14 years. What a loyal pup! Bobby’s owner died of teberculosus in 1858 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Bobby became quite known over the years and a monument was put up outside the cemetery after his death in 1872.
After wandering around Greyfriars Kirkyard for a few hours, we walked back down the Royal Mile to explore Holyrood Park and climb Arthur’s Seat. The park sits on 640 acres adjacent to Holyrood Palace. The highest point is Arthur’s Seat at 251 meters (823 feet). It is also an extinct volcano. We had a few hours to kill before our haunted walking tour, so we thought we would get some cardio in. We opted to take the more direct route and get to the top without fighting the hoards of people. The “path” we chose was nonexistent and very steep. By the time we got to the top, I was certain I would keel over at any second. Brady looked like he had just ran a 1/2 marathon because of all the sweat. With that said, the view was killer and offered us panoramic views of Edinburgh and beyond. It was here that Edinburgh stole my heart.
Our last stop of the day was a haunted walking tour through Old Town. It was hard to pass up considering Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in all of Europe! Our two-hour guided tour took us to Canongate Kirkyard, Old Calton Burial Ground, and Calton Hill to learn all about witch trials, pagan rituals, Burke & Hare, and many other eerie legends. My only complaint with the tour is that it wasn’t at night, but when it stays light out until 11PM in the summer months, there isn’t much one can do about it.
Our final day in Edinburgh, we got to tour Cousin Mary’s (Mary, Queen of Scots) old home and place of death, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Standing mighty at the other end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse dominates its surroundings. On our tour, we got to explore 14 State Apartments, the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, and the royal gardens. Because this is still a working palace, no photography is allowed inside. We still came back with some amazing photos of the palace gardens and abbey.
FUN FACT: The Palace of Holyroodhouse is Her Majesty The Queen’s official residence in Scotland.
To end our day, we went out to enjoy drinks and catch the sunset from Calton Hill. On top of the hill stands several monuments, one of which models the Acropolis of Athens, known as the National Monument, built in 1822. There is, however, a slight difference between the National Monument and the real Acropolis; only 1/4 of the National Monument was finished because the funds ran dry. While the monuments are neat to look at, the real beauty of Calton Hill is the panoramic views it offers. The colorful cliffs of Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park are just a few of the recognizable figures that can be seen from atop the hill. With overcast skies, we were unable to see a full sunset, but the one we watched was still pretty spectacular and a great way to end our stay in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is hands down the most fascinating city I’ve ever visited. With all its history, astounding architecture, and things to do, it’s no wonder muggles and witches alike flock here from around the world.
Check It Out!
Travelodge Central Queen Street; double from £87/nt
Things to see/do
Edinburgh Castle; tickets from £16.50
Edinburgh Haunted Walking Tour; tickets from £13.50
Palace of Holyroodhouse; tickets from £12
Arthur’s Seat; Free
Calton Hill; free
Scott Monument; tickets from £5
Royal Yacht Britannia; tickets from £15
St. Giles’ Cathedral; free to enter, photo pass £2
Map It Out