Exploring Edinburgh Day Two

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

The problem with this city is, as with most big cities, there are far too many things to see. Or at least for me. I wanted to go to the palace, and the writer’s museum, and climb Calton Hill, and the national museum, go overlook all of Edinburgh on Arthur’s Seat, and do a walking tour, and explore all over, and see some mystery and do a ghost tour, and see things that inspired J.K. Rowling, and the statue of Sherlock Holmes.

Sad to say, that is far too much for one day. Though it doesn’t mean I didn’t try to squeeze as much of that into 24 hours as I possibly could.

I woke up at eight to get an early start. Bought breakfast at my hostel before heading out. I’d decided I wanted to start my morning with a hike up Calton Hill to admire the views of the city.

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It was a beautiful day thank heavens. Although much colder than I’d expected. I forgot how far north Scotland is, making it pretty chilly even in spring.

Regardless I snapped a few photos before taking off. I’d booked myself on the ten o’clock Sandeman’s tour around Edinburgh.

It was my favorite free walking tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve done five Sandeman’s tours now on top of other free tours in Porto, Lisbon, Rome, Budapest, and Vienna. So I feel I have a fairly good sense of what a good walking tour should look like.

My guide was absolutely amazing. She was super funny and really knew her stuff. She made sure to make each part of the tour engaging and informative while also answering questions with spectacular detailed answers. All in all I was quite happy.

We walked along the Royal Mile and down towards the castle. We headed down to check out the grass market and then some of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration in the fancy boarding school with four houses nearby a cafe where she worked, and even saw the grave of William Wallace (not the real one but it was funny that our guide pointed it out).

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And then over to see Greyfriar Bobby, Edinburgh’s… nay Scotland’s most famous statue.


I’ll share the story just because I loved it. There was a watchman who adopted a terrier to come with him on his routes, and he named the dog Bobby. Unfortunately the watchman died two years after adopting the dog and was buried in the Greyfriar cemetery. Bobby refused to leave his grave. The townspeople were so moved by Bobby’s loyalty and devotion that they asked for Bobby to be made the town’s dog so that he wouldn’t be considered a stray and therefore wouldn’t be killed. He was, and when he died 14 years later they buried him in the same cemetery as his owner. Now people leave sticks for him at his grave and go to take photos of his statue and pub.

If you are in Edinburgh, be sure to not touch his nose. It’s apparently causing irreparable damage to the statue, so be nice. You can however go touch Hume’s toe…because apparently that gives you good luck (oh the irony).

After the tour finished I had a short time before I was supposed to be off to my next engagement. So since the National Museum of Scotland was free, I decided to head in there until I needed to leave.

So I wandered a bit. It’s a huge museum. Be sure to check it out if you’re in Edinburgh. Basically it’s just a huge conglomeration of different things. Natural history, science, Scottish history, and some special exhibits you might have to pay for. However, for free, this museum could easily provide two hours of entertainment. I only had about 45 minutes sadly, so I tried to see some of the highlights like the t-rex and Dolly the sheep (yes the real Dolly).

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After I was done browsing the museum I grabbed coffee and snacks for lunch and then snapped a very quick photo of Bobby before heading to the bus. I had schedule a 3 o’clock tour at a strange place called Gilmerton Cove.


I’d seen good reviews on tripadvisor, so I decided to book a tour, since you have to book in advance.

Basically, since it’s not like a super popular destination let me explain. Basically these are all little hand-carved tunnels and chambers. A man in the 18th century claimed to have carved them himself. However, given their size and complexity, scientists doubt he could have done it in five years, and even more perplexing is the fact that they appear to be much older than such a time period.


Down in these tunnels are what seem like tabletops or altar tops carved in the stone, with seating on either side. There is a shallow basin carved into one, something that seems like it could have held liquid… baptismal font, cauldron, sacrificial bowl? No one is sure. There is also what appears to be a fire place, but there is no smoke left behind from fires, same with what appears to be a forge. There is also a well, but it is not dug deep enough to reach water.

All of this is quite strange and mysterious. On top of that there’s a three mason symbol carved into one of the tables, and what appears to maybe be a cat alongside other strange carvings.

The best part is simply that on one knows what this is, what it was made for, or who made it. So it’s all left up to your imagination in some ways. The guide leads you around, lets you take photos, and explains the various theories and the history of the caverns. They’re quite different from anything I’ve ever seen, and it sent my creative mind turning wondering what stories these chambers could possibly hold.

If you’re in Edinburgh for a few days looking for some good things to do, I’d recommend this. It was a lot of fun.

I rushed back to my hostel after for a quick break, before taking off to find dinner. I stopped at Angels with Bagpipes which had a nice “lunch” menu still being offered at 5:30. I had the soup of the day, which I cannot remember what it was. And the slow cooked beef with cabbage and potatoes. Both were really delicious. And all washed down with some cider, one of my favorite alcoholic drinks (because it tastes more like juice and less like alcohol…hence why the whiskey experience wasn’t my thing).

I headed off to catch Sandeman’s Dark Side tour. I love this company so much, and honestly Edinburgh does kind of lend itself to a tour about darker things, be they ghosts or murders or fairies.

Our tourguide led us around the city as the sunset, focusing on graveyards and other spooky places where he described to us some of the more spooky parts of Edinburgh’s history. He was incredibly entertaining, and it was fun to do, especially since it was at a time when I wouldn’t be able to really do much else besides eat.

After the tour I rushed off to the Real Mary King’s Close for my tour.

So closes are very normal in Edinburgh. They’re basically little alleyways, usually ones that slope down the Royal Mile to the bottom. They generally are named after important people or tell you something about what went on in that area of the city at the time it was built. AKA Fishmarket Close, etc.

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However, Mary King’s Close was covered over when they decided to build a large federal building in the area alongside three other closes. They didn’t demolish it, they basically just built on top of it. Resulting in a little “subterranean” collection of houses and rooms attached to an alleyway.

With a guide who is dressed in period appropriate costume, you’re led through various parts of the old close and shown the parts of the city now covered over and preserved for all time. It’s a bit more theatrical than I might have cared for, but all in all it’s quite a cool experience and you get to see what life was like back in the old days of Edinburgh. Sadly no photos are allowed inside since it is underneath a federal building, but you can check out their website here which shows a bit of what it looks like.

So yes, quite the full day. It was back to the hostel for me so I could get ready for my next day and my planned return journey to England.


Off to Auld Reekie- Adventures in Edinburgh

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

The next day I woke up early and had breakfast at my hostel before setting out by train to Edinburgh. I took a train from Liverpool over to Wigan and then from there all the way to Edinburgh.

As it was holiday season, the train to Edinburgh was quite full. There was even a full bachelorette party going on in one of the cars, complete with champagne. It was quite amusing to watch.

Regardless I arrived in Edinburgh realizing that it was going to be a bit crazy what with Easter and all.

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I walked from the train station right to my hostel. It was quite close which was handy.

I stayed at Royal Mile Backpackers, which I think has been one of my favorite hostels of the trip. It’s right on the Royal Mile, a very central and important street that houses many of the tourist attractions in Edinburgh. On top of that, it’s clean and spacious. The beds all have their own chargers and reading lights and were very comfortable. Sadly no free breakfast, but you can buy one for two pounds, which isn’t bad all things considered.


The Gotham Room!

I left my luggage and headed off to explore.

I started by going up to the castle. The weather seemed okay, so I decided it might be a good time to do the castle and after I could see some of the other things. However, I was feeling a bit peckish, so I grabbed an ice cream outside the castle before heading off to go inside.

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It’s a bit pricey going in, but it’s a huge area and there’s lots to see. There are basically a collection of different museums there that you can go into. As it was Easter weekend it was quite crowded, so I had a hard time really seeing much of the museums, but it was still fun to walk around and explore.

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If I’d had more time I think I would have enjoyed either doing a guided tour or getting an audio guide. But feeling a bit rushed I decided it would be just as well to walk around myself.

After finishing up at the castle I headed down just a short distance to the Scotch Whiskey Experience.

I’m not much of a whiskey drinker… well in fact I had never tried whiskey before in my life. But I’m not one to pass up on a unique opportunity to learn something new about a particular region. If you read about my Spain trip you’ll remember I did a sherry bodega there too. Alcohol makes up part of the local culture and cuisine, and I like learning more about it if I can.

So whiskey it was!

Again quite crowded so I had to wait more than an hour to get in. However, once inside I had to admit it was a pretty fun experience. You do a short ride in a barrel…well not a real barrel, to learn more about the process of making whiskey. Then you go see a film about the different Scotland regions, complete with a sniff card so you can get a sense of the different flavors. And then you get to go try a glass of whichever region appeals to you most and learn more about blending whiskies.

If you pay more you get to sample more after, but for the poor people like me it’s just one, setting it on the colored circle of what region you want to try. The one was fine, because the shot of whiskey I had was… well let’s just say I don’t think whiskey is my stuff. Too strong for my tastes, although I at least do I have a little better sense of the drink itself and how to taste it.

The tour finished in the largest collection of Scotch Whiskey in the world, which was indeed quite impressive to see.

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I headed to the Real Mary King’s Close after I finished my tour. I’d seen good reviews on tripadvisor, so I thought I’d give it a try. However the Easter weekend problems continued. Turns out the tours were fully booked for the day, so I made a reservation for the next day hoping I could squeeze it in with everything else I wanted to do.

I walked around a bit after that, but most things were closed so there weren’t too many options of other places to go into.

So lastly was dinner. I asked at the desk about good options and the guy there mostly gave me like chips restaurants and such, so not necessarily what I was looking for, because after a full day with no food I needed something more balanced. So I headed off down the mile (well technically not a mile… since measurements have changed) looking for somewhere to eat.

Settled in a little place just off the mile called Villagers. It was a cute little pub that had decent reviews and lower prices. Portions were a bit small, but the staff was friendly and the food was quite good. So all in all I was quite pleased.

Then it was back to the hostel for the night. All in all quite a good day in Edinburgh!