Five the Hard Way: Edinburgh

by Keith Savage · 11 comments


A View from Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is a city that treats the visitor right. It’s beauty and enchantment is readily apparent; its monuments and palaces drift among the clouds, and they could easily lead you on a gorgeous quest around the city.

Yes, good times in Edinburgh are not buried (though there is a lot to see underground). But the Scots hate waste of all kinds and so do I. Why have a 90% awesome trip when you can max it out? I’ve learned some hard lessons on my trips to Edinburgh, and they’ve crystallized over this most recent three-week jaunt.

Scrawl these lessons on a sheet of paper and stuff it in your back pocket. Just don’t forget!

Plan for Rain

It will rain, just in case you were wondering. It rains a lot in Edinburgh. The sun shines a lot, too, but forget that for now. As you’re packing for your trip and as you wake up each morning in Edinburgh, tell yourself that it will rain. It’s the surest path to happiness. If it rains, you were right. If it doesn’t – hooray! Trust me, your dry, expectation-free self will thank me later.

First off, skip the umbrella. Edinburgh is just too damn windy for that to be practical. I can’t count how many I’ve seen blown inside out, and some don’t even fit through the Old Town wynds and closes. Instead, invest in waterproof outerwear with a built-in hood (preferably one you can cinch tight). I wear an amazing North Face liner and shell with a detachable hood that has kept me warm and dry through Edinburgh’s wicked March weather.

Next, put together a simple good weather/bad weather itinerary each day. This will drastically cut back the number of “ruined” days because you’ll always have a plan that’ll work with the weather. But don’t toss out the unused option right away – Edinburgh’s weather is variable and volatile…

Capitalize on the Weather

If it’s sunny, don’t go to the museum. Don’t go into the underground vaults. Those are perfect bad weather activities and you’ll have plenty of time for that. When the sun is out so should you be. Be flexible.

Cut your current activity short, tear up the plan, and do something in town that glows with good weather. Go to Calton Hill, visit Edinburgh Castle, or hike up Arthur’s Seat. Act like it might be the only good weather you’ll see on your whole trip, because it might be. I had a day of visiting pubs all scripted out, and as I walked toward town beneath the glimmering sun and blue steel sky, I saw Arthur’s Seat. I knew it might be my best chance to see the city in such good conditions. Needless to say, I scrapped my plan and conquered the mighty hill.

The same holds true for poor weather. Don’t force yourself to climb Calton Hill in pelting rain and gale-force winds. Go to the pub!

Look Small

There are so many fantastic, big views in this city that you could spend all your time snapping Epic landscape shots. While you’ll definitely want to take in these vast views (it would be difficult to avoid) you’ll also want to spend time looking at the incredible details gracing every surface. Architectural flourishes decorate New Town and it seems like every building and close in the Old Town has some weather-beaten date, name, or skull on it.

There’s a lot of ambient artistry that’s easy to miss when there’s an enormous castle looming over you. Look in the shadows of things. I was transfixed along the Shore of Leith by the reflections of buildings in the water, and then I noticed this narrow, wavy band of metal set into the cobbles of the path beneath my feet. It was a replica of the entire length of the water of Leith, from Balerno to Leith!

Turn Around

In an ideal world we’d have eyes in the back of our heads so that we–well…actually that would really freak me out. Since we only have one pair of eyes, turn around once in awhile. In a city with such views, looking ahead only gives you half the picture. Sometimes the most striking visual is behind you, staring at the back of your head. 

Walking down Hanover/Dundas Street provides amazing views toward the Firth of Forth. I was greeted with an equally impressive view when I spun around and looked back south toward New Town to see the spire of The Hub church on the Royal Mile.

Ask for a Taste

It would be a travesty if you came to Edinburgh and ordered a Budweiser. It’s bad enough doing that in the States, but here? Unforgivable. Don’t be intimidated by the glittering rows of ale founts with their cryptic names and foreign logos. Ask for a taste!

It’s worth locking away your bashfulness and exploring the range of strange and wonderful ales on offer. Bartenders have little glasses just for this common request (or are those for babies?). What’s more is that each pub has its own unique array beers and ales. In fact – don’t tell anyone – sometimes I just go in for a “tasting” session.

You could try giving this a shot with whisky as well, but don’t count on most bartenders falling for that one.

I hope these tips serve you well! Have you got tips for maximizing the enjoyment of Edinburgh?


GrayNo Gravatar March 30, 2011 at 12:21 PM

Good tips, Keith, especially the one about the weather. Being flexible is the best way to go to maximize your experience in the face of unpredictable weather.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 30, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Absolutely, it was a hard but timely lesson for me to learn.

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EricaNo Gravatar March 24, 2011 at 5:03 AM

As a girl with crappy metabolism, I’m semi happy that I’m not there. I will admit, I would be down for a tasting session a few times a week.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 24, 2011 at 8:34 AM

Scotland is a dangerous place even for people with high metabolisms. Scottish breakfast anyone?

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StephanieNo Gravatar March 23, 2011 at 7:47 PM

Nice pics

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Wandering Trader's TravelsNo Gravatar March 22, 2011 at 10:39 AM

Very smart tips Keith! Especially the ones about planning your daily trips – separating “bad weather destinations” from “good weather destinations”. And you got great photos too! People planning to go to Edinburgh MUST read this. They’re pretty practical.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 22, 2011 at 8:46 PM

I agree – feel free to share this 🙂

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Bluegreen KirkNo Gravatar March 22, 2011 at 10:16 AM

Thanks for the tips….i can agree that you have to be prepared for the rain. And you cant go there looking for a Budweiser that’s just a waste. Edinburgh sounds like a wonderful place.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 22, 2011 at 8:42 PM

More than just a wonderful place, I contend that it’s one of the best cities of Europe.

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KenNo Gravatar March 21, 2011 at 1:46 PM

To maximize your enjoyment of Edinburgh, see it with people you love if you can. It’s the sauce that takes the dish to another level.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 22, 2011 at 8:41 PM

That’s a fantastic tip and I can vouch for its effectiveness.

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