In the summer of 2019 our family had the chance to spent almost three months in Ireland, more specifically in Dublin. But in this travel diary, I will tell you about a quick organised and spontaneous trip to Edinburgh, a city that I wanted to see for a long time and got my heart forever. I can admit that this is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been. The atmosphere, the buildings, the splendor and the grandeur even manged to to soften the feeling of the disastrous weather that greeted us, no matter that it was the end of August. Maybe it is normal for this location but 12 degrees in the summer was a little too much for me 🙂
We traveled Friday evening from Dublin to Edinburgh with Ryanair. The flight was about an hour but just before landing there was an impressive turbulence that literally put my heart in my feet for seconds. I’ve been flying a lot but never had such an intense experience…
We booked two nights in a separate room with en-suite bathroom in a house not close to the center, but with direct public transport to it and the airport. Actually, the whole house was for rent and all the tenants could you a kitchen. Here it is, I recommend it.
But first thing’s first…
After we landed on time we had to find our bus, it was quite late so we had to hurry. There are a few lines connecting the airport and the city, you can buy tickets on the bus with contactless cards, just like in London. We found ours easy and after an hour through sleepy Edinburgh we reached our stay. We checked in easy – there was a self check-in box, really useful and easy.
In the morning we were greeted by this view:
As you can see it was raining, but after all summer in Ireland we couldn’t be scared easily. After quick breakfast we hoped on the bus and rode to our first from a looong list of attractions – Princess Street Gardens. Princes Street Gardens is one of the most important urban parks situated in the heart of Edinburgh. The gardens are over 37 acres (150.000 m²) and are divided into two parts by The Mound, an artificial hill that connects Edinburgh’s New Town and Old Town and where the Scottish National Gallery is located.
Princes Street Gardens was created by draining Edinburgh’s largest loch, the Nor Loch. It was first a marshland on the north side of Edinburgh had initially been used as a natural Medieval defense along with Edinburgh Castle. With the north and west parts of the town protected, Edinburgh only needed a fortification on the east and south side of the city.
From the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century, it is believed that the Nor Loch was where “witch ducking” would take place (this was a way of discovering if a suspect was guilty of witchcraft), an ideal place to make dead bodies disappear, where water waste was thrown out and some historians believe that despite this many citizens would even go to the Loch for fresh water.
Princes Street Gardens were designed first in the 1770s but were inaugurated in 1820 when the lake was completely drained.
From here you can get great views to Edinburgh Castle and they are home to some monuments that have to be mentioned. The sum shone behind the clouds and the views were beautiful.
There is a playground in the gardens, travelers with kids will be happy for it.
The Ross Fountain is sculpted by artist Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann, and has been made from cast-iron, a shining example of 19th century sculpture. If you take a closer look at the base of the fountain, there are mermaids, walrus and lion heads and cherrubs. At the top are featured four female figures representing science, arts, poetry and industry.
In 1862, a local gun maker Mr Daniel Ross saw the fountain in London at the Great Exhibition and described it as “obtaining universal admiration”. As a gift to Edinburgh city, in September 1869 Daniel Ross bought the sculpture and had the 122 pieces shipped to Leith where they would later be sent to Princes Street Gardens to be assembled. Sadly before the fountain was completed and officially opened in 1872, David Ross died one year before, missing the opportunity to see the masterpiece displayed in the gardens.
Set amongst a grove of silver birch trees in West Princes Street Gardens, this small modest stone is a memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson one of Scotland’s best known and best loved writers.
Famous all over the world for his literary classics such as Kidnapped, Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson’s memorial is dwarfed by the colossal Scott Monument situated in East Princes Street Gardens. Stevenson stated in his letters that he didn’t want a statue of himself and so this modest stone is appropriate to a modest man.
A statue in the heart of Edinburgh honors a bear that served in the Polish military during World War II. A statue in the heart of Edinburgh honors a bear that served in the Polish military during World War II. Wojtek’s unlikely journey to Scotland began in Iran in 1943, when a group of Polish soldiers adopted an orphaned brown bear cub. The soldiers were members of the Polish 2nd Corps, a military unit consisting of Polish political prisoners released from Soviet gulags by Stalin after the Nazi invasion of the USSR. As they left their places of internment and moved west to join the fight against the Axis, the bear cub they adopted quickly became a popular and important boost to morale. Going into active combat, however, presented a problem, as soldiers were forbidden from bringing pets into theaters of operation (and by this point the bear had, by all accounts, thoroughly imprinted on the soldiers who had raised him). Thus, the bear was enlisted into the 22nd Artillery Transport Company of the 2nd Corps, and accordingly given an official number, the rank of private, and the name Wojtek—a common Polish name meaning “joyful warrior.”
Private Wojtek served for the remainder of the war, most notably during the Battle of Monte Cassino, in which he helped to move crates of ammunition—with two hands, while standing upright, because he thought he was people. The Battle of Monte Cassino opened the road to Rome for the Allies. Wojtek was so popular among his fellow soldiers that a graphic of a bear carrying an artillery shell became the official emblem of the 22nd Company.
After the war ended, Wojtek’s company was transferred to southeastern Scotland. Having experienced Soviet repression first-hand, most of the soldiers refused to return to Poland after the Iron Curtain fell, and chose instead to remain in Scotland in exile. Once the 22nd Company was demobilized in 1947, Wojtek was moved to the Edinburgh Zoo. His old Polish brothers-in-arms visited him regularly, as did the scores of new admirers he gained during the remainder of his life. He died in 1963, at the age of 22.
The Royal Scots Greys Monument, which stands in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, was erected in 1906 after the Boer War. Plaques to commemorate the regiment during the Great War were added later. Scotland’s only cavalry regiment, the Royal Scots Greys were descended from the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons. The regiment saw active service in many major conflicts fought by the British Army, from the Jacobite risings to the Napoleonic Wars. But World War I marked the beginning of the end for cavalry regiments which were phased out after the introduction of mechanised warfare.
The last but not the least monuments in the gardens is the Floral clock. The clock is not only an immaculately tended floral display in the shape of a clock, it also tells the correct time. Commissioned in 1903, it was the first of its kind in the world. Clock hands, numbers and the surrounding display comprise of growing, photosynthesising life. In 1973, an electric motor was installed to keep the clock hands moving. Before then the clock’s mechanism had to be wound daily.
With tens of thousands of small, colourful plants, the clock takes two gardeners five weeks to plant, and is trimmed, weeded and watered by one gardener for the rest of the season. The clock flowers from July until October.
As you can see the gardens are quite large and with many things to see. We spent a lot time here, but it was almost lunch and had to find something. The gardens are divided by the Royal Scottish Academy of Arts and the Scottish National Gallery.
The Scottish National Gallery is one of Scotland’s top free visitor attractions. It houses Scotland’s national collection of fine art from the early Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century.
After them is the most majestic monument in Edinburgh. Inaugurated in 1846, Scott Monument is a Gothic monument built in honour of the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.
The tower, on Princes Street, is blackish in colour giving it an eerie beauty. The spire is decorated with 64 figures representing various characters from the writer’s novels. Contrasting with the blackened construction, is the white marble statue of Sir Walter Scott that shines when the rays of sun hit it.
If you want to climb to the top of the tower you’ll have to go up 287 steps, which are divided into four levels where you can stop for a while and explore if you wish. As you ascend further up the spiral staircase, it becomes more and more difficult since the walls get narrower and the stairs become unsteady.
Although the climb can seem endless and a little agonizing, the effort will have been worthwhile once you reach the summit. Here you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views of Edinburgh. The tower is open every day from 10 AM to 7 PM and it costs 8 pounds.
Right next to the monument was some kind of beer festival where we found some food and decided to rest for a while. Despite the cold, the wind and the damp weather we had a great time. The was live music and our son was more than happy 🙂
After the quick rest it was time for the rest of the plan. We passed the Balmoral – one of the best hotels in Edinburgh.
As you can see in the photos the sun and the clouds were constantly changing.
Next of our list was an important and impressive graveyard. For some people graveyards are unfriendly and unpleasant place, but I was always interested and curious about them and to compare them in different countries. For instance, they are really different in Ireland, Scotland and England…
There were some interesting sites on the way…
Here’s the entrance:
Established on the northeast side of the city center in 1718, the Calton gives a spooky authentic feeling of being trapped in a Hammer film setting, expecting the devilish Black Donald at any moment of this delightful promenade. The graves and mausoleum of this Scottish “Pere Lachaise” cemetery vie with each other for the title of most quirky and elegant.
Several notable people of Edinburgh’s history rest here, including philosopher David Hume, publisher William Blackwood and clergyman Dr. Robert Candlish; beyond that, several sober-looking monuments mark the resting place of martyrs past.
Skulls and macabre symbolism are elegantly carved in each of the stones, and silent alleys invite visitors to wander. The sepulchral beauty of the Calton Cemetery offers a fascinating journey through the last memorial of forgotten strangers.
The cemetery is also home to the only monument to the American Civil War outside the U.S. A statue of Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed slave was dedicated on August 21, 1893. This was also the first statue of a U.S. president outside the U.S. borders and remains the only one of Lincoln within Scotland.
At the southeastern corner lie the sole remains of the notorious Calton Jail. The imposing castle-like turret is all that is left of this stately prison that Jules Verne referred to as looking like a small medieval village.
Really close to the cemetery is the beginning of the stairs that will take to the top of Calton Hill famous for its attractions and amazing views.
The Dugalt Stuart Memorial is quite impressive, the view from it even more 🙂
On the top of the hill you can find a Portuguese gun, an old observatory, a cafe and a few monuments.
The Old Observatory is an impressive 18th century building atop Calton Hill, designed and once inhabited by New Town architect James Craig. It is one of the best surviving examples of Craig’s architecture.
Although originally built as a family house, the building was used by astronomers for a short period of time as the Old Observatory until William Playfair built the City Observatory building nearby in 1818. Nowadays it is rented for private parties and can not be visited.
The Playfair Monument was built for John Playfair, a Scottish scientist and mathematician, and a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.
The Nelson Monument looks like an upturned telescope, designed by the architect Robert Burn, and was built between 1807 and 1815. In 1853, a large time ball was introduced, which is lowered as the one o’clock gun is fired from Edinburgh castle each day.
£6 entry to climb the tower, but the museum on the ground floor is free.
For me, the most impressive one is the Scottish National Monument. Although construction began in 1822 it was never finished. It is supposed to be an imitation of the Parthenon and is dedicated to all the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the Napoleon wars.
We finished our tour of Calton Hill on its other side where we greeted again by gorgeous views – Hollyrood Palace and the Arthur’s Seat Hill. It’s best seen from a small monument commemorating the choice of the Scots to tear their connections with England and to have their own parliament.
We weren’t sure if we want to visit the palace but wanted to see at least from the outside and to take a stroll on the most important street in the city – the Royal Mile.
There is a steep walk from Calton Hill and a few beautiful sites on the way – the Old parliament and Burns Memorial.
After many steps and beautiful views we reached the palace, but I will tell you more about in my next travel diary, after all we decided to visit it. Here’s a photo just to see how beautiful it is:
Right in front of the palace is the New parliament building which has raised more than few eyebrows and caused a few scandals with either locals or tourists. I’ll leave you decide for yourself 😉
As I said here’s the beginning of the Royal Mile, a street connecting the palace with the castle and full of cafes, museums, interesting sites and shops. I can’t write about all of them, the diary is already too long, so I will show some photos and tell a few words about the interesting ones. We didn’t visit the museum, just had not time, but will surely do next time.
This is a quaint, mid-16th-century house with accents dating as far back as 1470. Despite its titular reference, historians aren’t certain whether John Knox—leader of the Scottish Reformation, founder of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and therefore, a formidable opponent of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots—ever lived at John Knox House.
In the 1840s, the building attached to John Knox House suddenly split away, allegedly revealing its residents eating breakfast at their table. The site’s faulty foundation nearly led to its destruction, but due to the building’s association with Knox, it was ultimately saved. An excavation of the house unearthed “time-capsules” commemorating the building’s preservation.
The house was renovated and opened as a museum in the mid-19th century. The museum still operates today, and offers a fascinating glimpse of what life was like in Edinburgh some 400 years ago.
After a while surrounded by beauty and endless shops selling all kinds of checks, kilts and every kind of traditional wear there is, we reached a quite curious site ( I love places with interesting history and are unknown to most of the tourists).
Situated on the Royal Mile, World’s End Close appears to be a typical alleyway in a part of the city that was once a fish market.
World’s End Close had marked the city limit as it was once located inside a gatehouse called the Netherbow Port, which served as a passageway between the Royal Mile and the Canongate region of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Illustrated as an imposing fortification adorned with the heads of executed prisoners, the Netherbow Port required travelers to pay a fee to both enter and leave the gates. Therefore, those who were unable to afford the toll were confined to Edinburgh for their entire lives.
When looking down at the cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile, you may come across occasional brass bricks. These bricks indicate where buildings once stood. Here at The World’s End, you can see where the Netherbow Port was located.
I have always dreamt of buying a kilt, but the prices were just too much. Maybe I would never wear it ( I know it is for men, but I really like it), but still…
During and shortly after the Scottish Reformation, the cathedral was reformed on numerous occasions to suit the Protestant style of worship. Currently, the temple shows evidence of various periods. The most important restoration took place after the English set the church on fire in 1385. Years later the temple was redesigned in a Gothic style.
Although St Giles’ Cathedral is the Church of Scotland’s principal place of worship, it is not technically a cathedral as it does not have a bishop.
The ceiling’s textures and shades of colour are captivating and give the cathedral a charming appearance. It also testifies to the multiple reformations throughout the centuries. The most noteworthy part of the church is its magnificent stained-glass windows which flood the cathedral in a pleasant light. These were put in place during the nineteenth century.
Right next to the cathedral you can find the most famous Mercat cross on the Royal Mile, a large, octagonal stone structure, topped with a unicorn, the national animal of Scotland. The original cross was wooden and further down the Mile, its old position now marked out in cobblestones.
While admiring the craftsmanship of the cross, you can also imagine some of its other functions. Public announcements are still made from the platform of the cross, for example, when a new monarch ascends to the throne, including Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. In the past, you would also have seen public punishments and executions carried out at the cross!
On its other side is another strange site – Heart of Midlothian. A few centuries ago here was home to the United Kingdom’s most heinous prison, the Old Tolbooth. All that remains now is the Heart of Midlothian, which marked the point of no return, the entrance to the prison.
The Old Tolbooth was known throughout Great Britain as a vile place to end up. Though it began as a debtors prison, it soon imprisoned all kinds of thieves and murderers, as well as petty criminals. Some of these were women and small children. The Tolbooth was notorious for its instruments of torture—thumbscrews and pillories were common punishments. Executions were all public, performed on a platform above the town square. The most infamous criminals would have their heads impaled on spikes facing High Street as a warning to other would-be lawbreakers.
Its conditions were bad enough that in 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots ordered it torn down and rebuilt. The new building was modish and its new features included, among other things, a heart at its doorway. This didn’t indicate any kinder practices though, and the torture and executions at the New Tolbooth continued until it was demolished in 1817.
The only thing left of the Old Tolbooth is the Heart of Midlothian. It is traditional for Edinburgers to spit on it as they walk past, though no one can definitively say why. Some say it’s a practice left over from when passersby would spit at the prison in solidarity with those inside. Others say it was the prisoners themselves who spat on the heart as they were released through the prison doors.
Now I see that the diary got really long and I have so much more to tell you. So, this it the end for now and I’m starting to prepare the next part. There are so many lovely sites that I want to show you but don’t want to bore you.
Stay tuned and don’t stop travelling!