The run up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year in my line of work, and so in between working long hours, and the general preparation for and social activities in the run up to Christmas, my blog has been sorely neglected throughout December.
It has been an exhausting month, but Jim & I did get away for our final trip of the year with a weekend in Edinburgh to see The Lion King.
My Mum grew up in a village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and so it is a city that I have visited many times over the years. This time, we would be staying in Edinburgh and I wanted to treat it as if I had never been before – my exact words were I wanted to be a tourist in Edinburgh, and so that is exactly what I did.
With the exception of Hogmanay, Edinburgh is not overrun with tourists during December, and so it is a perfect month to visit without the usual crowds. We were treated to some typical Scottish weather for December, and we were absolutely blasted by the wind for the whole weekend, and soaked by rain for part of it. I tend to find that the weather doesn’t bother me as much when I go away as it does when I am at home – I am in Edinburgh for one weekend and I am not going to let the weather get in the way of me doing what I want to do.
And we did a lot.
Edinburgh knows how to do Christmas.
On our first evening, we went to the huge German Christmas Market in Prince’s Street Gardens. It is incredibly festive, with little wooden huts, numerous mulled wine/cider/hot toddy sellers and plenty of Christmas music. I was not Christmas shopping – I deliberately made sure that I had all of my Christmas shopping done before I went away so that Edinburgh could not turn into a Christmas shopping trip.
The German Christmas market is the biggest, but is by no means the only Christmas market in Edinburgh. We also briefly wandered around the smaller Scottish Christmas Market in St Andrew’s square, which had a nice outdoor bar selling local Scottish beers.
This is the park surrounding the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace. It is also home to one of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks – an extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat.
On a nicer weekend, we probably would have walked up Arthur’s Seat, but it would have been a very brave, or very foolish person attempting the walk in the high winds. Instead, we walked along the Queen’s Drive, past the base of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags ending up at Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament building and the base of the Royal Mile.
It was the first time that I had ever seen the Scottish Parliament building and I remember that there was a lot of controversy at the time it was constructed over cost, design and delays.
I have to say, in my view it is one of the ugliest Parliament buildings that I have ever seen, and it doesn’t fit in with the landscape at all. That is just my view – I am sure there are other people who will love that kind of architecture, but it is certainly not for me.
Jim & I aren’t really into paying entry fees – we can usually only stomach paying entry for one attraction over the course of a weekend away and so we didn’t venture into Holyrood palace. We contented ourselves with poking our cameras through the bars of the gates and moving on.
The Royal Mile
This is the heart of tourist Edinburgh and during peak the peak tourist season, parts of The Royal Mile are absolutely rammed. The Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, and is a series of linked streets which form a thoroughfare approximately one Scots mile in length. The Scots mile equates to about 1.12 miles.
I have been to The Royal Mile more times than I can count, but this was the first time that I walked the full length of the mile, starting at Holyrood Palace and ending at Edinburgh Castle. The bottom end of the Mile was totally different to the top end by the Castle. It was much, much less touristy.
It has some lovely old architecture, and the little passages off either side of the Mile which I love – there is something really intriguing about old covered passageways – they always capture my interest as I am certain that they have many stories and secrets to tell.
As you get further up The Royal Mile, the tourist shops increase, the number of touts increase and the number of tourists increase. It was not so bad in December, but during the festival it is hard to move. We ended up at Edinburgh castle, built on top of another extinct volcano.
The views of the city from here are sublime. We didn’t go into the Castle, but snapped pictures of the view for as long as we could stand the wind, before heading indoors for a warm drink.
The Elephant House
When I started planning the trip to Edinburgh, a visit to The Elephant House was top of the list of things I wanted to do. I absolutely love the Harry Potter series – they are probably the most often read books on my shelves, and so I couldn’t visit Edinburgh without visiting the place where it all began.
J.K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter in The Elephant House. This is obviously a huge selling point for the cafe, but it doesn’t overdo it at all – there are some leaflets explaining the Harry Potter link, some photos of J. K. Rowling writing there, and toilets where every inch is covered with Harry Potter graffiti, but at its heart, it is just a really nice cafe. Given the Harry Potter link, they could serve pretty much any rubbish they wanted to and people would still come, but what they do serve is really well made and really good quality. I would definitely return in the future, but not just because of Harry Potter.
National Museum of Scotland
A short walk from The Elephant House is the National Museum of Scotland. This is a really good museum, with five levels of exhibits and a stunning roof terrace. It was too big for us to see it all in the time that we had available, but we spent a few hours wandering around the exhibits and spaces which were most interesting to us.
We learned a lot about Scottish history that we didn’t previously know, but it is not just about the history of Scotland – there are exhibits on natural history, industry, science and technology, world cultures and many more.
One of the most revelatory things for me was the part of the Scottish history exhibition dealing with the Act of Union in 1707. The Scottish and English crowns had been united since the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, however the two Parliaments were not united for more than a century after this. The Union took place because of the practical difficulty of having one monarch for two separate Parliaments, and so it was decided that both the English and Scottish Parliaments would be dissolved and one British Parliament would be formed. It was supposed to be an equal partnership, but London and the south of England very much became the seat of power and so it is not surprising that just over 300 years later, the people of Scotland will be able to vote to decide whether to leave this Union. It is a really exciting time to be Scottish and to be given the chance to decide their country’s future. I hope that the people of Scotland vote to stay in the Union, but either way these are historic times that we are living through at the moment.
History and politics aside, even for people with no interest whatsoever in Museums, I would recommend a visit to the National Museum of Scotland for the roof terrace alone.
The Museum is free to visit, and on the seventh floor, there is an open roof terrace giving panoramic views of the city, and a particularly good view of the Castle.
I am a big dog lover, and so I love a good dog story. Just around the corner from the National Museum of Scotland is the monument to Greyfriar’s Bobby, who is possibly the most faithful dog of them all.
Following his Master’s death, Bobby spent 14 years sitting on his Master’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. The statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby was built to commemorate his loyalty and faithfulness over the years, never forgetting the Master that he loved. The statue is outside Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, and is quite small so easily missed – we walked right past it when looking for it.
Jenners is Edinburgh’s equivalent of Harrods – an old, grand, expensive department store. But one thing that I love about Jenner’s is their tree at Christmas time – it is a huge floor to ceiling affair which is right in the heart of the store, reaching up from the ground floor through the gallery. I love Christmas, and I couldn’t resist going in for a picture of the tree.
Just around the corner on George Street, The Dome (which houses a couple of bars and a cafe) has some of the nicest Christmas lights in the city.
I would have loved to go in and check out the interior lights, but there was a queue to get in and we were running late at that point. I will have to save this one for next Christmas.
I have only ever been to Edinburgh Zoo once before, and I was only about 7 at the time, so I found when visiting it again that it was much smaller than I remembered. It is really easy to get to – there is a bus stop right outside the main entrance. In peak times, you need to book a viewing time to see the Pandas in advance, but visiting in December there were plenty of available slots and we were pretty much able to go straight through.
I tend to have mixed feelings about visiting zoos when travelling. I find that I don’t mind going to big zoos with a really strong conservation message, but smaller zoos where animals are collected to be nothing more than a visitor attraction and are kept in cramped and unsuitable conditions really break my heart. Edinburgh Zoo falls into the former category – the ethos of the Zoo is all about studying behaviour and conservation. The facilities for the animals are excellent and 10% of cost of every ticket goes directly to conservation.
It was freezing cold and very windy again when we visited the Zoo, so a lot of the animals were quite understandably hiding within their enclosures. This did mean that we got to see the Lions really close up, and their size is just astonishing.
My highlight of the day were the curious Penguins, who walked right up to the glass to see us, and one cheeky penguin was trying to poke his beak under the glass to get at my handbag.
The Lion King
The purpose of the trip to Edinburgh was to see The Lion King at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It was spectacular. I had not read anything about it before we went, and so it opened in such an unexpected and beautiful way. The costumes, the lighting and the sets were outstanding, and the additional music and songs added to the original really complimented it so well and were not out of place at all. If you can, go to see this – it is one of my highlight’s of the whole year.
Jim & I only went away to Edinburgh for one weekend, but we did so much in that weekend it felt like we had a proper holiday. I have family nearby and so it would have been easy to stay with them, but I’m really glad that we stayed in Edinburgh itself. I feel that I have a much better understanding of the geography of the city. After many previous visits to Edinburgh, it is easy for some of the novelty and excitement about visiting to wear off, but after our brilliant weekend away, I definitely feel like I have rediscovered Edinburgh.