Ten things to do in Edinburgh

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 8:06 pm
A shortened version of this list first appeared in Gulf News‘s Friday magazine about a year ago.

  1. Climb the Scott Monument. Yes, it’s a 287-step slog to the top, but the payoff is a great view of Edinburgh, from the Castle in the middle difference, to the roofs of Princes Street, to a great view all the way down to Leith docks and the Firth of Forth beyond.
  2. Eat fish and chips. With salt and sauce. That’s sauce, not vinegar. In Scotland the fish is haddock, rather than the inferior and over-fished cod you find in chippies south of the border, and the sauce is brown sauce watered down with vinegar. It’s a uniquely Edinburgh condiment and is delicious. If you’re brave enough, you can round off your lunch with a deep-fried Mars bar, a peculiarly Scottish speciality.
  3. Climb Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh seems to have been designed by MC Escher; no matter how much you go up, you’re always below where you started. But Arthur’s seat is an exception. The extinct volcano lies in the middle of the city, and as well as offering great views, makes you feel like you’re already in the Highlands. Even when you’re only ten minutes from the pub.
  4. Explore the Festival. The Edinburgh festival takes over the city every August. Loosely billed as a “performing arts festival,” the event and its much more prolific sibling, the Fringe, have given rise to television festivals, film festivals and more. All the shows you could imagine take place in every available venue. Do you want to see Paradise Lost recited in full in a church hall? Fine. Fancy Top Gun performed by mime? Step this way. An up-and-coming deaf comedian? Take your seat. Just remember the rule of five: For every five shows you see, three will be average, one will be abysmal, and one will blow your socks off.
  5. Visit Edinburgh Castle. The city’s impressive centrepiece towers over the city, and hosts a couple of museums, a royal chapel, and the One O’Clock Gun, a canon that for the past 150 years has been fired every day (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day) at… well, take a guess. The locals joke with tourists that it’s a shame they built the castle so close to the train station.
  6. Go underground. If you want to see more of old, old Edinburgh, look underneath what lies there now. You can take a guided tour through the vaulted arches of South Bridge, which was long-ago bricked up, preserving the store-rooms, shops and, surprisingly, oyster bars of a distant age. Or visit Mary King’s Close, off the Royal Mile, where tenement houses were built over after being ravaged by the plague in the 17th century.
  7. Write a book. Edinburgh has a long and auspicious literary heritage, and if you’re looking for inspiration it’s the place to be. Check out the Elephant House coffee shop on George IV Bridge, where JK Rowling worked on her Harry Potter novels; have a drink at the Oxford Bar on Young Street, a favourite haunt of both crime writer Ian Rankin and his fictional detective, John Rebus; or take a peek over the railings into the private Queen Street Gardens, where a young Robert Louis Stevenson would look across the pond, and think, “That looks like a Treasure Island.”
  8. Dance at a ceilidh. Don your glad rags and head to a traditional Scottish country dancing night. And don’t worry if you don’t know the moves; most ceilidhs have callers who will talk you through the dances.
  9. Shop at Armstrong’s. If you’re in the mood for dressing up, take yourself along to W. Armstrong and Sons in the Grassmarket, where you can try on and buy vintage clothes from 1920s suits, dresses and hats, through World War Two flying jackets, to 1970s flares. Armstrong’s also has a branch in Clerk Street.
  10. Walk along the Water of Leith. This river rises in the Pentland hills and trails down through Edinburgh to the port of Leith, where it spills into the Firth of Forth. A 12-mile walkway runs between Balerno and Leith, but there are plenty of points to join or leave the river along the way, including the picturesque Dean Village, where old grain mills sit in a gorge mere minutes’ walk from the city centre. As you walk, look out for pretty St Bernard’s Well, once famed for its healing waters; and six life-size bronze statues created by Anthony Gormley and placed between the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the sea. They are fun, creepy and beautiful all at once.

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