This year I’ll make my fifth trip to the Fringe Festival and my seventh trip to the city – Edinburgh, I’m unashamedly under your spell. It’s not just the Fringe that draws me in (I’ve been here in rainy October and still found plenty to do), as there’s always something new or unseen to discover. It’s constantly changing, with a buzzing art scene and some really tempting vintage shops, not to mention the art exhibitions, in particular the Printmakers’ Studios in the Old Town.
I was reminded of how addicted I am to this place when MSN’s Travel Editor tweeted today, asking for tips on what to see or do in Edinburgh, which made me go into wannabe tour guide mode, hence the reason for this post. Aside from the more distinctly average tourist experiences here (nearly wetting yourself the first time you hear the cannon go off; trying to avoid Military Tattoo fanatics; hearing far too many references to Greyfriars Bobby; getting lost in Jenner’s; hanging out in Princes Street Gardens; buying chewy rock from the mall; checking to see if there’s a tartan for your surname), there are lots of weirder sights that you should be taking in.
Find Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote and be inspired.
It’s engraved on a paving stone not far from the Assembly Hall, right by the Writers’ Museum. Edinburgh is something of a literary hub and bookworms will feel right at home here, amongst Stevenson, Robert Burns and Ian Rankin. The Writers’ Museum itself is about the size of a postage stamp, so you can get round it in about ten minutes, but you should also check out the National Library of Scotland, which has some really cool exhibitions – I saw one in 2012 that was about Scottish cinema, whilst 2011 took a worldwide look at banned books and their impact on society.
Explore an abandoned school building – watching out for falling debris.
Dodging bits of ceiling tile and piles of chairs in the stair wells, I wandered around this old, neglected school, which was used as the venue for the 400 Women exhibition by Tamsyn Challenger. As the exhibition was about women who had been attacked and made to disappear, it seemed quite fitting to be viewing it in a derelict building, which was falling apart in front of my eyes.
Catch a glimpse of cold Edinburgh cells underground.
This was what I found when I popped downstairs at the Underbelly in Cowgate, to see Joe Stilgoe in 2011: a nice peek at Edinburgh without the gloss (but with a lovely fake skeleton). I don’t quite know if this is a bit of a wine cellar, a cell or just a boring old crumbly room (the internet hasn’t enlightened me and I can’t work out how much of my interpretation is wishful thinking), but it looks quite cool and it’s free to visit, unlike the tourist trap that is Mary King’s Close.
Check out the Royal Mile during Festival Season.
Yep, I’m not going to ignore it: you can’t get away from the lure of the Fringe, the Book Festival, the TV Festival… you name it, there’s probably a week dedicated to it here. Head to the Royal Mile at any time in August and you’re guaranteed to be leafleted to high hell, but you can also catch some brilliant mime artists, comedians, actors and buskers giving you a hint of their talent (or lack thereof).
Look up – you never know what you might find.
This photo was taken outside the Zoo Roxy, which is used as a theatre and dance venue during the Fringe, but it’s also a great example of the city’s architecture. You’re never far away from a bit of Gothic stonework or a blue plaque, so don’t forget to look up when you’re wandering around the streets. In the case of the Harvey Nichols window displays just off Princes Street, don’t forget to look in if you like high fashion and you appreciate a great bit of visual merchandising.
On some occasions, don’t look down, or you might get vertigo… but still, try and climb the Scott Monument.
I wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re scared of heights, claustrophobic or you’re prone to dizziness (the staircases are ridiculously narrow with few places to pass anyone else or take a breath, and the hand rails are intermittent). I’d also skip it if you’ve just eaten. However, if you’re up to the challenge, the Scott Monument will reward you with some stunning views of the city and beyond. There are three stages, but no lift, and you don’t have to go all the way to the top unless you want to, but it’s only about £3 to enter and you get this free leaflet which doubles up as a certificate (whoop).
Visit a branch of Armstrong’s Vintage
There are three branches of Armstrong’s in Edinburgh, as well as a concession in Miss Selfridge, making it the biggest vintage business in the city. My favourite shop is the one on Teviot Street, where the manager talked me through their stock and also gave me directions to other branches, as well as telling me where to find rival stores, which I thought was really sweet. What’s more, the prices here are really refreshing if you’re used to inflated London figures. I picked up shorts for £4 and a jacket for £6 but could have bought a lot more.
Of course, this is not a complete list, and I am always on the lookout for more offbeat things to do in Edinburgh, so watch this space for a second installment after my 2013 trip… oh, and I didn’t mention the anatomical sights of the city, as I’ll be dedicating a whole post to them. If you like your skeletons and skulls then you’re in for a treat.