Each year, as our Christmas present to each other, Luke and I escape to a European city for a long weekend in December. This year, as you might have guessed from the title of this blog post, we went to… Edinburgh! I was leaning towards to Prague, but when Luke pointed out that we could travel to Edinburgh by train and I could pack as many liquids as I like, I was sold on the Scottish capital.
We arrived late on Friday, and left on Monday, which meant we had two full days to explore the city. It’s safe to say, we managed to squeeze a lot in!
Edinburgh, much like me, was well and truly ready for Christmas. The Christmas markets were in full swing, there were beautifully-decorated trees around every corner, and the city was adorned in twinkly lights. It probably helped that the temperatures were sub-zero, too.
Here’s what we got up to…
We walked up Calton Hill
Calton Hill is a hill (okay, Captain Obvious) in central Edinburgh. At the top you’ll find an assortment of historic monuments, including the unfinished National Monument – which looks similar to the Parthenon in Athens – and the City Observatory. It’s also a great place to go for views of the city. It’s only a short walk to the top, so definitely worth checking it out if you’re able, next time you’re in the area.
We explored the Old Town
The Old Town is arguably one of the prettiest areas in Edinburgh. It boasts cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, stunning architecture, and a host of sweet little independent boutiques, as well as bars, restaurants and pubs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and as soon as you enter it, you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. Make this a non-negotiable when you’re looking at what to do in Edinburgh – you won’t regret it!
We admired the Christmas Tree at Jenners
Jenners is a department store in the heart of the city. It’s a 19th century building with a special Christmas tradition of it’s own. In the middle of the store, stands a 40-foot Christmas tree, adored with lights. You can’t help but wonder how on Earth they got such a sizeable tree into an old building with narrow doors and staircases, so I did some research. It turns out they close off the road to traffic, take apart a side door, and then a team of strong men (sometimes members of the local rugby team!), carry it through to the main atrium. The tree is tied up with ropes, and hoisted into an upright position by people in hard hats who abseil down from the ceiling, and then decorate it with lights while suspended mid-air. I know, talk about dramatic.
We marvelled at the light show at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens
I booked one thing in advance of our festive trip, and that was Christmas at the Botanics. What a gorgeous way to spend an evening. We spent about an hour and a half wandering through the magical winter wonderland. There were loads of different light ‘exhibitions’, and you could pick up spiced cider and hot chocolate along the route. Tickets were £17 each, and well worth it. You can find out more about that, here.
We watched Home Alone at an outdoor screening
Aside from the fact that it was about -37 degrees celcius and someone forgot to pack her thermals and therefore lost feeling in her legs because her circulation is shockingly poor, watching Home Alone in a pub courtyard was a very enjoyable experience. The Three Sisters are showing Christmas movies every Sunday throughout December, and I’d recommend you get yourself to one if you’re in Edinburgh. They’re free of charge, and seats are given on a first-come, first-served basis. Do dress for the weather. Don’t just rock up in thin jeans and a bobble hat and assume you’ll be hunky dorey like some people do.
We sought out the wooden animal sculptures
According to Atlas Obscura, exactly where these wooden animal sculptures came from is something of a mystery. The badger and the owl were mentioned in a tweet in 2017, and in 2019, more of them appeared seemingly overnight. In London Road Gardens, you can find the badger, the owl and squirrels. You can see others badgers and owls in Seven Acre Park and Regent Road Park. The sculptures are beautifully made, and the parks are lovely to walk through to. We went when the sun was setting, and it was utterly dreamy.
We gazed at the ceiling in Royal Bank of Scotland
Yes, yes you did read that right. Dundas House is currently home to the bank with the most beautiful ceiling. Seriously, if I did my banking here, I’d stop complaining about how much of a faff it is to pay in a cheque. The building was designed in Neoclassical style in 1774, and features this stunning star-studded ceiling designed by John Dick Peddie. I want to replicate it in my little terraced house.
We walked the Royal Mile
No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a walk along the Royal Mile. It’s built on a volcano which is pretty cool, and it’s found in the heart of the Old Town. It features a number of things to see and do, including the Palace of Holywoodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland), Camera Obscura (we didn’t have time to go to this but it’s on the list for next time!), and Edinburgh Castle. It’s an absolute must if you’re at all interested in history, but even if you’re not, still check it out for the gorgeous buildings, quaint passageways leading off it, shops, restaurants and pubs.
That’s about all we had time for on our Christmas break this year, but I know we barely scratched the surface of what this wonderful city has to offer. It’s also got a first-class vegan scene, and there wasn’t nearly enough time to sample all the food… another reason to make a return visit.