A Morning Walk in Edinburgh

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Scotland had always been on the top of my list of places that I wanted to go. When I was in college, trying to decide where to spend a term abroad, I was debating between programs in Switzerland, London, and Scotland. While Switzerland won out, Scotland remained a place that I knew I had to visit. Finally, after seven years of wishing and waiting, I finally went to Scotland this past May.

When planning my trip, I knew I needed to spend a while in Edinburgh. In total, I spent four and a half days there, which was perfect given that Edinburgh really feels like two cities all in one – you have Old Town, the original part of Edinburgh that traces its roots and many of its buildings back to the Medieval era and the 1500s and a UNESCO World Heritage site, and New Town, which is largely composed of Georgian Era buildings that now house posh homes and high street shops. I stayed in both areas during my trip – my first two nights were spent in Old Town in the cutestAirBnB that I’ve ever seen. It was right on the Vennel and at the Grassmarket, making it an excellent starting point for some exploration. 

After some walking around the night I arrived, I work up on my first full day jet-lagged and excited at about 6am. I took the early start as an opportunity to set out for a photo walk without other tourists in the way. 

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1. Grassmarket: Located directly below Edinburgh Castle, the Grassmarket has been a place to gather since the late 1400s, and was primarily used for public executions and the sale of anything that eats grass (cows, sheep, horses, etc.). Now, however, it is a great place to grab a bite to eat, or a drink at any of the many colorful pubs in the area.

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2. Victoria Street: Sooo many places in Edinburgh are said to have served as inspiration for Harry Potter. It’s no wonder that Victoria Street is said to have served as a model for Diagon Alley, as it is truly uneven in every way possible – the road slopes steeply up as it makes a sharp curve and the buildings are all a little wonky in the best way possible. It’s also easy to believe that JK Rowling had walked up and down Victoria Street often, as The Elephant House – a café where she would go to write in order to forego heating her flat in the daytime.

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3. Walk to Edinburgh Castle via Castle Wynd

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If you show up early enough – in this case 7am – the castle isn’t even open yet and no one is around aside from the people showing up for work. A Guard would periodically open these large doors for castle staff.

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You know you’re pretty far north when it’s May 2nd and the daffodils and cherry blossoms are still in full bloom.

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4. Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens – After walking up many stairs to get to Edinburgh Castle, I loved walking back down again on the other side through Princes Street Gardens.

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5. After walking through Princes Street Gardens, make your way past all the high street shops (they weren’t open yet anyhow), and stroll through New Town. Built in the Georgian period after Edinburgh’s elite decided that the original city center was too old, dirty, and dangerous, Old Town became the nicest area in Edinburgh to call home. It’s not surprising that when walking through the neighborhoods here you might feel like you’re in a posh area of London, as the neighborhoods were designed to be similar to those in London.

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Cherry Blossoms in New Town

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6. If you’re also a fan of mews houses, you need to make your way over to Circus lane. I can only dream of living on such and idyllic street one day.

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7. From Circus Lane, make your way along the Water of Leith to Dean Village, which is quite possibly the cutest place I’ve seen.

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8. After all this walking, you’re likely in need of a coffee to refuel for the rest of your day. From Dean Village, walk up the hill back to Queensferry Street and stop into Cairngorm Coffee. I opted to sit outside to enjoy some more fresh air, and cool down a bit after all of Edinburgh’s steep hills and stairs.

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9. Refueled, I walked back to Princes Street and headed to the Scottish National Gallery where, along with art, you can be treated to street performers. I, along with many others of all ages and backgrounds, were transfixed by a bubble blowing leprechaun. I’m not sure if he knew he wasn’t in Ireland…

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10. Walk back up the hill into Old Town and the Royal Mile. From there, I then caught up with a free walking tour that really shined a light on the history of Edinburgh’s Old Town and it’s many Closes and Wynds. I highly recommend finding a similar walking tour, as the guides are super knowledgable and often quite funny. You can also find other travelers to talk to on these types of tours, too, as you’re walking in a group together for a few hours.

If you’d like to follow a similar route, here’s a map to reference. It’s not exact, as it’s always the most fun to meander through where you find most interesting, but it does hit the highlights I mentioned above. Enjoy!