The following is a guest post by Cheryl Keit Ang, an expat, student at the University of Edinburgh and blogger behind Sing, Travel Live.
I’ve been living in Edinburgh for about five months now, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been living in it long enough to have figured out my favourite things about this city. And here I am, five months later, proudly being able to tell you what I think are some of the greatest things this city has to offer – and things you probably shouldn’t skip even if you’ve only got a short time here.
This might come as a bit of a surprise, especially because Edinburgh isn’t a city really known for its food. Nonetheless, some of the options for food here might surprise you. In Delhi, The Elephant House, and Jamie’s Italian are my favourite places to go to for food. True, they aren’t exactly Scottish, but it’s really good all the same.
In Delhi is a gem of a find, especially if you’re on a budget – good, cheap Indian food in a place that looks like a rainbow gone wild.
Just walking into the restaurant is enough to send you into another country – the bright, vivid colours and smell of Indian food makes you temporarily forget that you’re in Scotland. I’m a fan of the chicken masala – full of delicious fragrant spices, but not wasabi/English mustard spicy enough to make your eyes well up. Pair this with passion fruit juice, and that’s pretty much perfect for me!
67 Nicolson Street
Edinburgh EH8 9BZ
Mon-Sun 10:00 – 22:00
Note: no credit cards
The Elephant House
Now I’ll admit, I’m partial to the Elephant House because: A) I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and The Elephant House brands itself as one of the places where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter (this isn’t entirely true, but more on that in another post); and B) I work for them and give out flyers, and I get free food at lunch break so I’ve tried almost everything on their menu.
The people who work here are amazing, ever-friendly and eager to serve. This is really saying something, considering how busy The Elephant House always is – you’ll more often see a line than not, especially when the weather is good or around dinnertime. The queue does move fast, though, so even when it’s very crowded you shouldn’t have to wait too long to find seats.
The seating area in here is cozy, which adds to the atmosphere of this place – which, by the way, is filled with elephants of every shape and size. You’ll see elephant paintings, elephant newspaper cutouts, elephant chairs, elephant ornaments… You name it! I also like that it overlooks Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is the lovely graveyard of Greyfriars Church – also said to be where JK Rowling got inspiration for Harry Potter character names. (Look for the grave of Thomas Riddell – aka Tom Riddle!)
Try the brie apple and mango chutney panini – it’s my favourite sandwich on the menu.
The Elephant House
21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN
0131 220 5355
Mon-Sun 8:00 – 23:00
Now, I love Jamie’s Italian – and not just because of its Jamie Oliver celebrity chef status. I love that it’s got delicious affordable Italian food that actually tastes really good, which is all I could ask for in a restaurant. And look at the interior of the place – you can’t argue with that!
I love the crispy squid at Jamie’s Italian, and it’s definitely something I order every time I go. The garlic mayonnaise sauce complements it perfectly, and every bite tastes like heaven – the squid isn’t over-fried, a perfect golden batter encasing baby squid rings.
The wild rabbit tagliolini isn’t bad, either, and while the selection of desserts is limited, what is available does taste extremely good.
The Assembly Rooms
54 George Street
Edinburgh EH2 2LR
0131 202 5452
Mon-Sun 12:00 – 23:00
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
If you visit in August, be prepared for a world-renowned spectacle that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – hundreds of thousands of people descending on the city for a month-long calendar full to the brim with street performances, theatre shows, concerts, singers, dancers, jugglers, and every other show you could possibly think of.
The world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe brings together arts performances like no other. It’s a brilliant festival and for just one month, the streets become jam-packed as people squeeze past each other to get to theatres and watch street performances. The city is brims with life. The programme every year includes several world-class acts, so if arts is your thing you definitely won’t want to miss this.
The Real Mary King’s Close
This is one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. It takes you deep into the underground, old-town depths of medieval Edinburgh – into the real, historical closes hidden beneath where the Royal Mile is today. Looking at Edinburgh above ground, you would never think that something like this was below it, but it’s surprises like these which keep the intrigue in this old city.
The best part about this tour is how authentic it is – the streets you walk on are the same ones that people walked on 400 years ago, with the same cobblestone and the same walls. It’s not a recreation. There is a very unique authenticity about how undisturbed the Real Mary King’s Close is – because it lies underground, it isn’t exposed to the elements and isn’t damaged.
This isn’t a ghost tour, but walking down these old, dark and dank passages you might feel as though you aren’t alone. These houses were built in storeys so high and so close together on the streets that even by high midday, the first-floor houses would have very little light and still need to be lit by little oil-lamps by the side of the road. Your guide will bring to life the stories of children who lived in these houses, the people who died in these houses, and the Black Plague.
Since Edinburgh was built on top of a volcano, the ground they built on isn’t flat; the pathways are steep, which I suppose must have aided the flow of human waste when it was poured out from the buckets onto the streets (an extremely primitive sewage system). Gardez l’eau, watch out for the water indeed – you would really need to watch out to prevent yourself from stepping in human excrement! It’s little things like these which bring alive the living conditions of 400 years ago.
National Museum of Scotland
It’s free and it’s fabulous. What more need I say? The National Museum brings together tonnes of history – natural history, cultural history, even scientific since the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep are in the National Museum. You could easily spend a whole day getting lost in the endless exhibits, letting yourself be wowed by the number of items on display.
World cultures don’t get left out, either. There are areas dedicated to East Asian art, Egyptian culture, and the National Museum houses the only mummy sarcophagus outside Egypt to be left unopened. CT scanning has revealed what it looks like on the inside, but it’s extremely impressive that such an important artefact was entrusted to Scotland’s care!
Did I mention there’s also a T-rex on display? Alright so it’s only a skeleton cast, but hey. I’m thinking night at the museum!
The Royal Mile
Alright, so I work on the Royal Mile handing out flyers, so I’m just a wee bit partial – but nonetheless, the Royal Mile must rank among my favourite streets out of all the cities I’ve been to. There’s always so much life on the Royal Mile (supposing the weather is good, of course), and because I work there I’ve gotten to know a lot of the storeowners over a period of time.
Apart from it being a great road with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops, the Lawnmarket end of the Royal Mile leads to the doorstep of Edinburgh Castle.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to see the World’s Most Pierced Woman, Elaine Davidson. She currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most pierced woman, with over 9500 piercings (seriously, where does she even have enough skin for that many?!) on her body.
She’s an absolute darling, and she’s absolutely the sweetest person you’ve ever met! With colourful hair (all extensions, she tells me) and so many piercings she could be picked up by a junkyard industrial magnet, she’s impossible to miss. If you talk to her, she’ll be extremely friendly, and she’s always ready for a photo or two.
This street is full of life, with buskers and street vendors often lining the sides. It has, over time, grown to become one of the iconic areas in Edinburgh, and definitely an area you’ll want to visit.
What are some things things to do in Edinburgh that are on your list?
This was a guest post by Cheryl Keit Ang of Sing, Travel Live.
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