Essential Edinburgh- The GTG’s City low down #3
What’s so special about Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is a longstanding centre for education, entertainment, Scottish and generally British aristocracy, and the place English people seem to feel safest tippy-toeing across the border. Edinburgh has seen world shaking advancements in the research of anatomy at the shall we say ‘dedication’ of Burke and Hare (although your GTG feels obliged to point out they were actually from Donegal in the North of Ireland) and seen the formation of the first Scottish parliament in modern times. Still not satisfied? Edinburgh is also the city that gave the world Leith and Irvine Welsh, not to be outdone by the Proclaimers.
Who are the locals?
Edinburgh locals are an eclectic mix of people who are Edinburgh born and raised, alongside people from all over Scotland who have come for work or study, while also playing home to large mid-long term immigrant communities from Spain, Poland, India, Italy and Pakisatan amongst many others. Edinburgh’s student community is the largest presence, whilst transient, these are the people staffing the service industries, frequenting the places of entertainment and experiencing frustration with the crowds during the fringe.
Edinburgh is home to a number of world class events such as:
- Edinburgh Fringe– also described in previous GTG articles, Edinburgh Fringe is one of (if not the) the world’s leading arts festivals.
- Hogmanay– Edinburgh’s new year celebrations which include a large street party.
- Edinburgh Military Tattoo– often overlapping the Fringe, held at Edinburgh castle, the tattoo is a popular annual event featuring pipe bands and spectacular formations.
- International rugby matches– as part of the European 6 nations and other competitions.
- Beltane fire festival– Held on Calton hill, a modern take on a pagan celebration in relation to the northern hemisphere’s winter equinox.
- The foodies festivals– held at the assembly hall (George street).
- The annual fiddle festivals– celebrating traditional Scottish and Celtic music.
- Film festivals -at the ‘film house’ on Lothian road.
Where does it happen?
Edinburgh proudly boasts a variety of unique venues that have their own feel and style of event. These include:
- Studio 24– in the style of a warehouse, with two floors, this venue stages everything from Balkan brass bands to heavy metal
- Bongo club– The bongo club has been home to theme nights such and ‘I love hip hop’ and reggae nights featuring messenger sound system
- Queen’s hall– Home to standout singer-songwriter, Jazz/blues, and traditional music (amongst other) acts.
- The film house– holds a variety of themed film festivals, even a Hogmanay screening of ‘Trainspotting’
- Edinburgh playhouse– welcomes the latest in the world of theatre, often similar to the programs offered at London’s west end.
- HMV Picture house– While usually an old cinema converted into a nightclub, is also the spot for mid to high profile gigs, everything from Hanson (yes the 90’s boy band) to placebo, and more current bands.
- The corn exchange– from roller discos, through darts, to music, you’ll find it all here at the corn exchange.
- The Omnicentre– With a cinema, restaurants and pubs, even a Pizza Hut, the Omni is a great place to break a day of sightseeing or begin a night out.
Favourite watering holes
Edinburgh offeres a large number of pubs, many with a unique theme. Some of the GTG’s personal choices include:
- The Banshee Labyrinth– a grungy pub with live music, oodles of character, an underground cinema and a million nooks and crannies.
- The Standing order– A massive grand old pub, now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain, a great place to watch sporting matches.
- The three sisters– With a lovely beer garden, the three sisters is also a great choice for sporting matches or to begin a night out.
- Frankenstein’s– One for the curious, Frankenstein will appear every 15 minutes following thunder and lightening to spook his audience.
- Jekyll and Hyde– Located a small way down Hannover street, this pub’s main attraction is a secret entrance to the toilets through a wall masquerading as a bookcase.
- The Nor loch– If your looking to make the most of your last moments before leaving town (or for some of us stumble across from work), enjoy a pint at Waverly station’s resident (and cosy) pub of its own
- The Ghilli Dhu– While seemingly based around tourist appeal, this lovely west-end pub is an ideal place for your first Ceilidh, a nice drink and good atmosphere.
- Rose Street– Is a great spot with pubs and restaurants of any kind.
- The Grassmarket– Is also a nice spot and close to much of the Edinburgh night life.
For the empty tummy
With eating in Edinburgh I have a few personal favourites but it’s nice to turn up in an area and pick what takes your fancy too.
- Broughton street-Is perfect for a morning coffee, breakfast or brunch (Artisan roast is the ultimate for coffee).
- It’s 10 to 10 in Delhi– On ‘the bridges’ Is a cheap, central and delicious place for Indian with great atmosphere.
- Steak– experience the ‘board of meat’, and try out a Thu ‘Steak and Shake’ special.
- Hannover street– Is home to some nice Tapas amongst some other goodies.
- Pub meals– Another novelty for those from outside the UK, these are one of the cheapest ways to eat out and you can be pleasantly surprised by the food as well. Expect to pay 4-8 pounds.
- The Grassmarket– yet another plug for this unique zone of fun.
- The Omnicentre– everything from Chinese, to Pizza Hut to pub meals and salad bars.
- Rose street– Has nice Japanese at Oishi, good fish and chips, and many other offerings.
- Newington fish and chip shop– for those bothered to venture this far down the bridges, the reward is well worth it. The perfect pick up for a feast in the nearby meadows, this fish and chip shop even has a coeliac day each week!
Out and about
When In Edinburgh, there are a large bunch of places to get a great view of the city, or see something more specific. Some of these are:
- The meadows– Edinburgh’s large, relatively central green area, is perfect for an afternoon session of Frisbee, an impromptu bbq, a reading session, and generally catching up with friends.
- The Royal mile– Running from Edinburgh castle down to Holyrood palace, the Royal mile will satisfy most visitors craving for a postcard moment, (if not you may have come to the wrong place).
- Calton hill– Right beside the beautiful Balmoral hotel, and a fantastic vantage point to look back over what truly is a spectacular city (end of cliché).
- Edinburgh castle– Atop a rock that has been inhabited for over 1000 years, the castle is Edinburgh’s most well-known site. In the words of a wise tourist, “such a beautiful place, just a shame they built it so close to the railway”…
- Arthur’s seat– This is Edinburgh’s dormant volcano. Allow about 20 minutes for a comfortable ascent to another altitude where a peaceful look down on the city is the reward.
- Scottish Parliament– Located at Holyrood, visitors have the chance to sit in the gallery during a question and answers session, and get a feel for how the whole things works.
- Portobello– The quintessential Victorian seaside, complete with Turkish baths (inside the swim centre), is a nice choice for downtime on a good weather day.
- Edinburgh dungeons– Just beside Waverly station is a novel trip back in time for visitors from outside the UK, with the help of actors who will show you olden-day torture methods and put you on trial for witchcraft so keep your wits about you.
- The National Museum of Scotland– Has recently reopened with a much more interactive approach. This visit will follow Scotland thorough history, as well as other parts of natural history and expanding areas of science.
- The Scottish National Gallery– With a small but lovely collection of French impressionist work, alongside pieces from renowned Scottish masters this gallery Is a pleasure from the building, to the staff and the artworks themselves.
- The Scottish National Portrait Gallery– Also recently reopened, the Scottish portrait gallery is a great who’s who throughout Scottish history
- Holyrood palace– ‘The building at the other end of the royal mile’, also with a beautiful art collection and visiting exhibitions. Oh yeah, the palace is also home to the queen of England when she’s in town.
- The west end– The precinct at the other end of Princes street from Waverly station and Calton hill is a nice and different part of the city to explore.
- The Grassmarket– Former site of the Edinburgh gallows, the grassmarket is a site for eating, drinking and seasonal markets.
With enough time to spare, Edinburgh is ideally situated to make a bunch of significant day trips out of the city. Some places worth visiting are:
- Linlithgow– Home to Linlithgow palace and birthplace of Mary queen of Scots, catch the rare Jousting and medieval occasions if you time your trip accordingly.
- Glasgow– Scotland’s ‘Scottish’ big city, be charmed by the passion and wit of the locals.
- Sterling– Place of the national Wallace monument and breath of fresh air, (just in case you’re wondering, the urge to cry ‘freedom’ is not an original one…).
- Roslyn chapel– Made famous by Dan Brown’s ‘The Davinci code’, this church oozes history and has spectacular carvings.
- A Scottish highlands day tour– Whilst not your most authentic encounter, a cruise through some beautiful scenery none the less, and a condensed trip for those short of time.
For the GLBTIQ traveler
The pink zone begins around GHQ (Gay Headquarters), continuing one direction past the street down Broughton street and in the other direction past the playhouse, Habanas, CC blooms and the Planet. With plenty of choice, this area embodies Edinburgh’s main philosophy of tolerance across the board.
When do I go?
If you want to be part of the high tourist season atmosphere then there is no better time than August. On the other hand if you don’t mind the cold, a nice alternative is over Hogmanay or new year, (the castle looks extra cool in the snow). Other than that any time mid season will give you more choice of where to stay, shorter waits for food, drink or to get into anywhere, and your chances of meeting locals. When arriving at the airport, the Airlink 100 blue bus run by the local Lothian buses is your best bet and should cost around 3.50 one way or 3 return. It will drop you at Waverly station which is Edinburgh’s most central point and a great place to start your trip whatever means of transport you arrive by. The information centre is also situated just above Waverly station on the main thoroughfare Princes street Well I could go on selling the city for ever but I guess I should give you time to book your tickets so until next week.