The Athens of the North

When I first went to Edinburgh, I was not expecting much. When one thinks of Scotland, they tend to get visions of daunting highlands and William Wallace screaming about freedom. But while, the country’s capital does have sweeping landscapes and a few kilt- clad Mel Gibson wannabes, there is so much more to it than that.

A five-hour train ride from London, Edinburgh makes for a fabulous getaway. Unlike Paris or Madrid, this UK hub is a completely doable, non-stressful weekend trip. You can fit in all the major hotspots, without being rushed or feeling like you’re missing things. The four “must sees” are Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and The Royal Mile.

Holyrood Palace, the former home of Mary Queen of Scots and current Scottish residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, is rich with history. For a small fee, you can take a wonderful headset tour of the palace interior and its grounds. It takes through a serious of impressively furnished rooms and gives you an in depth overview of palace’s intriguing past. The room where Queen Mary’s advisor and supposed lover, David Rizzo was murdered, is particularly interesting. The site also features the beautiful ruins of the 12th century Holyroot Abbey.

Holyrood Palace

Unlike Holyrood, which was remodeled in the 17th century, Edinburgh Castle has a much more antiquated feel. The 12th century fortress sits atop a volcanic hill and dominates the city skyline. Its medieval architecture and striking placement make it Scotland’s most popular paid tourist destination. Inside, visitors can observe the stately portcullis, the Royal Palace, military garrisons, the National War Museum of Scotland, and St Margret’s Chapel (the oldest part of the building dating back to the 1100’s). Both sides of the castle also offer scenic look out points.

Edinburgh Castle

However, one has not fully experienced Edinburgh, until they have observed it from Arthur’s Seat. Named for the legendary king, Arthur’s Seat is the top peak of cluster of large hills. It is situated in the heart of Edinburgh and has breathtaking views of the city and the sea. On nice day, or even just a tolerable day, a hike up the green, mossy paths of Arthur’s Seat is an amazing excursion.

View from Arthur's Seat

Perhaps the most iconic Scottish landmark in Edinburgh is not a landmark at all, but a stretch of streets. The Royal Mile, connecting Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle, is arguably the most tourist-orientated part of the city. The area drives home the bagpipes and kilts image in a way that is anything but subtle. One would be hard-pressed to find a shop on the mile that does not carry tartans, haggis, or whiskey. That being said, it touristy feel is kind of fabulous. It is a reminder of what a fiercely prideful people the Scots are how much they enjoy displaying their culture. The Royal Mile also features some of Edinburgh’s most impressive classical architecture and best loved pubs and clubs.

The Royal Mile

If you have extra time the city also houses various museums and galleries including The City Art Centre, The Writers Museum, and the Edinburgh Museum. It is also home to a posh shopping district located primarily on Princess Street. The Grassmarket club scene is popular with university students and is perfect for a fun night out.

Once dubbed the “Athens of the North”, Edinburgh is worthy of the title. It is a lively city, brimming with culture and exceptionally friendly people. There is something there for everyone, whether they’re a history-buff, art fanatic, outdoor adventurer, or just a party lover. With its contradictory bustling pace and cobblestones roads, Edinburgh is a wonderful enigma. It is a cosmopolitan metropolis with the charm of a little town, a UK jewel that is not to be missed.

By: Joanie Jockel

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