A Less-Crowded, Cheaper Alternative Destination to London
And it’s not that far away from London, either.
My trip to Edinburgh didn’t start well. Only two hours before departing via bus from London, I realized I booked the wrong bus.
I booked the bus leaving the following night. It was an overnight bus, so it was already getting late. Quickly, I asked if I could reserve another night in the hostel; No vacancy.
I called to see if I could get a refund so that I could book the bus leaving in a few hours. It turns out, I was able to swap tickets and avoid inconvenience.
Lesson learned: Never be afraid to ask questions.
After a long, sleepless night on the bus, I reached Scotland. It’s about a seven-hour bus ride from London.
Pro Tip: By booking two overnight buses (to & fro), I saved time and money; especially welcomed when both are running low. Whenever I have a chance to travel overnight, I usually do it for these simple reasons.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
My hostel was easy to find; even at five o’clock in the morning after a sleepless night. Castle Rock Hostel was awesome! It’s in plain sight of Edinburgh Castle — one of Scotland’s main attractions.
Be warned: Scots will get grumpy if you pronounce their country’s capital wrong. “It’s not Edin-BURG, it’s Edin-BURRUH. All you Americans pronounce it wrong!” the hostel receptionist scalded me.
Of course, she was being sarcastic. And, who could blame me, I was still new to worldly travel.
Sightseeing in Edinburgh
Everything in Edinburgh is within walking distance, as far as attractions go. I saw things like the Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, King Arthur’s Seat, and Calton Hill before dusk.
I have a personal rule to spend a few hours exploring a city upon arrival. On my own, without a map. Without asking what Google thinks I should do.
It allows me to take in the culture while also learning the layout of the city. This helps me for the rest of my stay.
I ended up on the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is where everything happens. It’s a succession of roads that connects two royal residences; the castle and the palace of Holyrood House.
Also along the way, you can find governmental buildings, cathedrals, cafes, pubs, etc.
There is also a plethora of tourist information and tours to find there, too. I would recommend starting your journey there.
After moseying around for a bit; taking pictures and listening to street performers whistle on their bagpipes (man, those things are annoying), I took the short hike up Calton Hill.
There were families and students picnicking. Tour groups. And local photographers.
Calton Hill offers a perfect panoramic view of the city. Plus, it isn’t too far away. Unlike King Arther’s Seat which was a long haul.
When I asked the hostel receptionist what to do, she advised I “go to the beach not too far East”. A beach in Scotland? It piqued my interest and I decided to check it out.
Well, it turns out “not too far away” was actually five miles away- which I guess in retrospect isn’t too far. But it was quite the hike for not having any sleep or a general idea of how far away it would be.
It was well worth the unanticipated walk. Portabello Beach is as nice as any beach you would find in California.
No one was in the water because it was far too cold (I was sitting in the sand with jeans and three jackets on). But there were still plenty of people out on the beach on the rare sunny day in Edinburgh.
I spent some time skipping rocks into the North Sea before the sheer amount of wind drove me back to Old Town.
That night, though it was a Sunday and the Old Town was dead, I went out for a few drinks with mates from the hostel.
Malone’s Irish Bar and Bar Salsa — Both were fine bars to spend an evening. They were quite expensive but as part of the pub tour at Castle Rock Hostel, it will be less.
Though, it felt a little strange to spend the night in an Irish and Brazillian bar while in Scotland.
I went to the Pentlands, which is about 45-minute from the city center via public bus.
There are a few trails in the rolling Pentlands hills. But not the kind of trails I was used to.
It wasn’t strenuous, it wasn’t mountainous, there were no rocks, no trees; I don’t know how to explain it. Still enjoyable none-the-less.
The hike offered vistas with excellent views of a valley of green, rolling Scottish hills. Even a distant view of Edinburgh.
However, it was so windy I could hardly bear it. It was the strongest, coldest wind I had ever experienced and that is no exaggeration. I could feel frostbite in my fingers. Down the hill, it was warmer, so I didn’t spend much time taking in the views.
On my last day in Scotland, I enjoyed strolling through town, taking my time with everything I did.
I finally went across the street to snag a few pictures of Edinburgh Castle. It is impressive, but after a month of backpacking, I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was. I wouldn’t recommend buying a ticket to go inside, but that’s up to you.
Ghost Tour of Edinburgh
There are free walking tours in Edinburgh, like many European capitals. I don’t, however, recommend them in Edinburgh.
On my final night, I went on the Ghost Tour of Edinburgh and it was a total gimmick. Luckily, this tour runs on tips so it didn’t burn a hole too big in my pocket.
More attractions, bars, restaurants in Edinburgh. . .
- Hollyrood Palace — home of the British monarch in Scotland
- Arthur’s Seat — hike to panoramic views of the city
- Royals Botanic Gardens Edinburgh — typical botanical garden, but if you’re into it. . .
- Princes Street — the best shopping in Edinburgh
- Scottish Whiskey Experience — when in Scotland. . .
- Oink — best bang for your buck in Edinburgh (hog roast)
- Wannaburger — burgers start at as little as $4
- Thompson’s Bar — get a real pub feel and
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