Edinburgh: Hogwarts, Haggis and History

We regrettably only spent 4 days in Edinburgh however it was enough to qualify the beautiful city as one of our favourite, one that we could see ourselves living in for a while at least.

The birthplace of Harry Potter

There are so many factors that influence one’s experience and perception of a place: the people, the weather, the beauty, the food, the history… However, for Edinburgh, there is a pretty major factor which may influence you and certainly influenced us: Harry Potter. Not that we went to Edinburgh for that purpose, but more on the other amazing aspects later.

As most of you may know, J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in her adopted hometown of Edinburgh and got inspired by the city to create her magical universe. Being a die-hard fan of the book series is quite irrelevant – even if you’ve just enjoyed reading the books like us, it is remarkable to see what might have been the seed of inspiration to such irrefutable genius and creativity. We saw the famous café from where Rowling supposedly wrote parts of the book on napkins – The Elephant House. We were told however that this was a gross exaggeration and that she did spend a lot of time in the café but she barely wrote anything in there. On the bright side, business has been very good for the owner ever since that story came out.

The location we found the most exciting and that had the strongest link to the book was the Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery, both scary-looking and beautiful at the same time. The graveyard is full of gruesome yet exciting stories but let’s focus on Harry Potter for a minute. As you arrive towards the back of the cemetery, you will see a beautiful view of the Castle of Edinburgh and the George Heriot’s School. J.K used to sit on a bench and dream up her story overlooking the castle and school and that’s apparently how Hogwarts came into existence.  The school of wizardry is described to look like a Scottish castle and has students divided in 4 houses, just like the 17th century-built George Heriot’s School. Near that magical bench, are a couple of gravestones with very familiar names such as Tom Riddle and William McGonagall.

Facts aside the whole city looks like it could have come straight out of the books, or rather the other way around which makes it a pretty magical place.

What are the best things to do in Edinburgh?

  • Walk around the city! Edinburgh is a relatively small city, and if you like walking and hiking, like we do, you’ll find that you will barely need to use public transport. In our perspective, the main reason for the city’s beauty is that it looks very old, in the best possible way. Having lived for almost 15 years in Paris, I know what a city with well conserved historical buildings and monuments looks like. However, Edinburgh is of another calibre as the architecture hasn’t really evolved over time but has kept the original Gothic and Middle-Age style. It might be slightly scary looking for some, but it transports you right back to what life in the 15th century might have been like. We absolutely loved it! Some of the main areas we enjoyed exploring were

 

  • The climb to Arthur’s Seat isn’t too difficult and the magnificent views of Edinburgh beneath are well worth it. The walk isn’t too steep and the path is pretty straight forward, however it was the abrupt changing weather that made it tough for us to reach the top. It is quite a common occurrence to experience the 4 seasons in one day in Scotland, which makes it not ideal for hikes and outdoorsy activities. But bring it on Scotland, we aren’t afraid of your mood swings! We started out with beautiful sunny weather which made the cold winter more bearable. Half way up, the wind started blowing pretty hard but there were still no clouds on the horizon. We reached the last stop before the summit and were able to take pictures of Edinburgh. Out of nowhere came the rain. Just a drizzle at first and monsoon-like with heavy winds a few minutes later. I didn’t climb to the top for fear of slipping on the rocks and breaking the camera but Chinmay braved the ferocious storm. His conclusion: “nothing much to see up there, it’s just filled with grey clouds”. On our descent the mischievous sun came back, pretty happy with the prank it pulled on us, and we had a nice walk back. Our advice: be prepared for any type of weather and bring appropriate clothes (which we didn’t). You’ll have a great time climbing Arthur’s Seat!

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  • Go to a comedy club! I love Scottish humour and grew up seeing Billy Connelly’s shows (not too sure it’s a good thing haha). We wanted to have a fun night out so we found The Stand Comedy Club, which was pretty cheap and gave us an evening to remember. It was such a cosy atmosphere and the comedians and the M.C were absolutely hilarious. We could not stop laughing, and thought this smallish club was by far the best comedy club we had been to. I still don’t understand how the Scottish comedians we saw that night aren’t super stars, they were much funnier than most famous stand-up comedians out there.

 

  • Calton Hill is easy to get to and has a panoramic view of the city – close enough that you can distinguish the landmarks and appreciate the beauty of it all. The hill is also included in the UNESCO’s world heritage as it has impressive monuments such as the National Monument of Scotland, the City Observatory House and Nelson’s Monument. I’d suggest going there at sunrise or sunset for the best panoramic pictures (and provided that the sun is out, it is The UK after all).

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  • We were very pleasantly surprised to find vegetarian options just about anywhere we went. We even tried vegetarian Haggis, which turned out to be delicious. Every pub or gourmet pub in Edinburgh has mouth-watering menus with at least one vegetarian option in each section of the menu. We tried to stick to pubs to have a real Scottish experience and it turned out perfectly. In the middle of winter, all one can ask for is a hearty mash, a warm filling Haggis and a gigantic burger with chips or onion rings. We did try our luck with a vegan restaurant which, as usual, was grossly over priced and not tasty at all. I’m not sure why we keep trying because in our experience, vegan meals are just best made at home. Any recommendations? Have we missed the good ones?

 

  • A walking tour isn’t really an appealing way to visit a city, at least not to us. Edinburgh however, is THE place to do one. Firstly, the city is so small that in 3 hours the tour is over and you’ve basically covered most of it. Secondly, Edinburgh is filled with exciting and gruesome stories that makes the tour thoroughly enjoyable. From medical students buying corpses on the black market which were dug out of Greyfriars Kirkyard, to an “unlawfully” pregnant woman surviving public hangings (Maggie Dickson’s pub located in the old town was named after her) and the story behind the phrase “shit-faced drunk”, you will have your fair share of stories that explain the most important spots in Edinburgh. It’s quick, you pay the guide however much you think the tour was worth, and it’s the perfect way to go around the city.

 

Final thoughts on Edinburgh… 

It’s a very lively old city that manages to cheer you up in the middle of winter and despite its dark gothic architecture Edinburgh has an undeniable charm about it. The people are always ready to help, it’s cheaper than other capitals cities (to name a few: London, London and London) and I think we would’ve had the time of our lives studying at university there.

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