One thing remains firmly in my memory from last time I visited Edinburgh and that is the sound of a Scotsman yelling out “EE-din-brUH!” at the start of the castle tour. The Royal Mile was crowded with people and street performers for the Fringe Festival including a Braveheart look-alike. The noise of bagpipes pierced your ears and then around the corner some tasteful music would be playing. It was all happening. We even stayed in a heritage conversion hostel right next to the castle. Good times.
Ok I don’t really hate the bagpipes…that much. In fact I can tolerate them much more than country music (and that’s saying something!). I really loved Edinburgh last time so it was good to be back and with good company. A few friends had flown in from various parts of Europe for my birthday and to reunite the Dream Team from our trip to Peru and Bolivia.
Depending on how you look at it I flew in from the Faroe Islands or from Paris. I was in that airport twice in three days.
There are numerous links to the city centre by bus or tram. The tram claimed to be the fastest, but the quickest and easiest way for me to get to our AirBnB accommodation was to take a public bus for £1.80. The only catch was they only take exact money and don’t give change, but you can exchange a £10 or £20 note at the red machines in the carpark for £1 coins.
I don’t remember accommodation being so hard to come by six years ago, but things booked out very early due to the Fringe. We booked three weeks in advance and ended up in a fairly average AirBnB on the southern side of town near The Meadows. It was ridiculously overpriced at £40 per person per night and we found the living situation was misrepresented. We ended up in a one bathroom flat with eleven people.
Contrastingly, last time we paid £20 each for a twenty bed dorm at Castle Rock Hostel next to the castle, but there was plenty of space because the room was castle-sized and it was easily the best hostel we stayed at anywhere in the UK. I really don’t think us three lads would have been very organised to book in advance, but if holidaying in the UK in August again, I’d definitely try to book further ahead.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is massive in so many ways. Length, number of acts, number of venues and the number of people trying to get in on the action and make a buck.
There is so much happening that we saw no point in trying to read the magazines and choose something. I’d suggest following your nose and just checking out previews if you can.
The first thing we saw was Shitfaced Showtime because it sounded like a hilarious concept. A theatre show where one actor gets smashed before the show and causes trouble, whilst the other actors try to maintain character (and a straight face) and stick to the plot.
At the end of the day it was a bit odd that we were all watching a very flamboyant gay drunkard traipsing around on stage, but it was pretty entertaining and worth a once off £12.50.
Next we tried our luck at free comedy and I have to say that this would be the best way to go. Particularly if the comedians are doing the free gig to promote their real show because then you can try before you buy. We saw some great acts at the Espionage pub on Victoria St and stayed back for one of their shows where Jenny said a very memorable word in front of a very crowded room of people.
That said we did see some absolutely abysmal and awkward acts too. I’d never seen self deprecating humour make a whole crowd squirm so much as pity overtook the urge to laugh and one girl confirmed for me that French girls are not funny! (haw haw :p)
I don’t think I’ll bother taking free tickets to a show again either after seeing an outrageously bad version of Shaft meets Sherlock Holmes. We could have better used the time collecting Pokémon.
Last time I was in Edinburgh we did the Scotch Whisky Experience right next to the castle. It was cheesy, had a silly ride, but they taught us a lot about whisky and it was good value. Most of which I’d forgotten except that I like smokey Scottish isle style whisky.
With the Dream Team we hit up the Balmoral Hotel next to Calton Hill in New Town. It was a very schmick 5-star hotel. After Jenny and Nangel got kicked out for playing better music on the piano than the house harpist, we went to the whisky bar.
It had just opened and it was empty, so we got the full attention of the barman and he told us everything we wanted to know. Funnily, Jenny, Peter and I all prefer different whisky. Sadly, Petey and I could never share a bottle due to my alleged “bad taste”. Lagavulin and Bowmore are now added to my favourites Talisker Dark Storm and Laphroaig. Pretty good value for 20 quid in a 5-star hotel.
I never understand how they built castles so precariously on cliff edges, but I love it. Edinburgh Castle is a great example of this though at £15 it’s pretty expensive to go inside.
During August they have the Military Tattoo with its crazily expansive stadium seating and fireworks over the castle which I think is best viewed from the southern side.
If you can’t get a room with a view, the Elephant House Cafe ain’t a bad spot where you can also try haggis and blood sausage.
The buildings of Edinburgh are built on top of other older buildings, meaning that underneath are some pretty dank and creepy places. Last time we went on a Ghost Tour of the city which was a little creepy (as you’d hope) and explained some of the history of Edinburgh.
I wouldn’t say Edinburgh is the prettiest city to look at even on a sunny day. As much as I like the place, sadly there’s just something about the stone used that makes it all grey and dull.
If you’re up for a good walk, the popular place to see it is Arthur’s Seat, but I think Calton Hill is quicker, easier and better.
Not far from the castle, this was my favourite viewpoint of Edinburgh. A short rewarding walk, nice foreground and you’re much closer to the main icons.
Where to eat
Travelling with a bunch of foodies means eating is high on the agenda.
Purslane a bit north of the main New Town area was a fantastic choice by Jenny. Fine dining £40 per head for the three course but well worth it.
That dinner sparked a series of couple photos between Petey and I. Why is it straight girls love man-love so much? Haha.
Another good meal was at Voodoo Rooms near Calton Hill. Great pies and burgers that hit the spot, a funky wine bar, but unfortunately it was home to the worst comedy acts we saw in town.
Artisan Cheesecakes on Bruntsfield Pl west of The Meadows was an amazing find by Nangel too. The cheesecake with the meringue was absolutely tastebud-blowing. Best shared to avoid sugar overdose though.
Hilariously after all the Pokémon jokes Pete and I were making, Nangel even found us Pokeballs!
On our last night we tried the famed deep-fried Mars bar. A great Scottish tradition and proven cooking method that flies in the face of any sort of healthy eating attitude. Unfortunately the frying was off-point on this occasion and a soggy Mars bar covered in greasy batter was not as delicious as you might think.
We obviously ate more meals than that, including one very expensive Vietnamese lunch just for a £12 poo, but I’ll spare you the details!
Where to get a good coffee fix
After making fun of my coffee snobbery, Petey found Artisan Roast north-west of Calton Hill and it was probably the best joint we tried.
Black Medicine west of The Meadows and Cult Espresso east of The Meadows were also very good.