Scotland has been on my bucket list for years, and after finding out I would be relocating to London for a quick sec, I was overjoyed to imagine what it would be like to finally visit. As with my trip to Cardiff, I wasn't sure what to expect. Everyone I know who had visited before me seemed to come away enamored with Scottish culture, but I was never able to get a good sense of the place until visiting myself.
Edinburgh is a patchwork quilt of old and new: the buildings, the stores and the people are all a mixture of different times throughout the past few decades (or in some cases, centuries).
Around each corner you'll find castles and bastions surrounded by contemporary retail outlets and 19th century homes. It creates a fantastical atmosphere that I haven't yet found anywhere else. Through both sun and rain, Edinburgh shines.
As a university town, the city also presents an eclectic mix of people of all ages and from all over the world (fun fact, Scottish universities are free for Scots, though others have to pay tuition).
Some of the highlights of my trip were:
1. Sitting in on first minister's questions in Scottish Parliament. This is definitely the political nerd in me, but this was one of the most interesting things I've witnessed in a long time. It was incredibly cool to see Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, in action. The sessions are free and open to the public.
2. Edinburgh Castle: though it doesn't quite live up to those I visited in Romania earlier this year, it certainly blew Cardiff Castle out of the water. With sweeping views of Edinburgh and the surrounding mountainous landscape, the castle sits upon a hill near the center of the city. It is visible from almost any point in the city and spreads a sense of regality throughout the cobblestone streets.
3. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is perhaps the attraction I was most excited to visit while in Scotland as it was home to Mary, Queen of Scots (!!!!) after her return to Scotland in the 16th century. I woke up early on my last day in Scotland and arrived at Holyroodhouse just as it opened. It was fascinating to learn more about the history and to see such an important piece of Queen Mary's life in person. She has been one of my favorite historical figures for years and you can learn more about her by watching the series Reign.
4. After touring Holyroodhouse, I made the trek up Calton Hill, one of a view famous lookout points over the city. Edinburgh is located fairly close to the sea, and Calton provides visitors a spectacular view of both that and the inland city. From here I could also see Arthur's Seat, a more substantial high point that some of my friends hiked that morning at sunrise.
5. The Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first book in the legendary Harry Potter series, was located just a few minutes walk from our hotel. Myself and a few other Harry Potter fans spent a wonderful evening here, watching the sunset over Edinburgh Castle with some traditional Scottish meat pies. All of the tables in the cafe are actually desks, and visitors have been leaving notes in the drawers since before Harry Potter was published. The writer in me loved this, so naturally I had to leave a note of my own.
In sum, my time in Edinburgh was lovely. There is a consensus amongst my friends that it is a simply comfortable city, and most of us, myself included, have said more than once that we could see ourselves living there. And I'd bet good money that some of us will.