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I will not lie. It took me a few days to get used to saying "Edinbur-ah" without feeling silly. However, no matter how you choose to say it, or what accent you say it in, the city will accept you with a warm embrace. Edinburgh is a compact city with small streets and towering buildings, built of heavy stone and adorned with huge statues and memorials. Cobblestone streets lead you up to small alleyways and curvy pathways packed with knick-knack stores and coffee shops.

Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city and made for an amazing first stop in my travels across the country. The city is overlooked by the majestic Edinburgh Castle, which sits upon a mountain smack in the middle of the city. Despite the small, toothless old lady who cursed me on the street my first morning there, people were super friendly and would gladly carry on a conversation with you. Oh, and be ready because it wasn't an hour into my time in the city that the sound of bagpipes filled the air from a busker in a kilt.

Arthur’s Seat

I woke up early on my first morning there in order to get all that I could in during my stay. I started the day with a hike up to Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park. A visitor must— this hike up the mountain to the east of the city gives you grand views of the steeple tops of Edinburgh, the ocean's coast in the distance, and the castle across the way. Be sure to wear your hiking shoes, and take some water for the trip. Once upon the mountain, the luscious green grass and rocky terrain will make you feel less like you're in a city and more like you're exploring the highlands.

Palace of Holyroodhouse and Carlton Hill

I mapped out my day, and actually, it was easy to make one big circle to fit all of the key spots of interest. No need for public transit or a car here, as everything is fairly close and within walking distance (as I said, it's a small city). After the hike, there was visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the northernmost part of the park, and then off to Carlton Hill, a hill filled with large, grand monuments. 

Howie’s and Scott’s Monument

I stopped for lunch at Howie's afterward, right there on Princes Street, for traditional Scottish food in a relaxed yet classy dining room. Next, there is Edinburgh New Town to the west, with shops and malls and Edinburgh's Hard Rock Cafe. Also in this area, you'll find Scott's monument, a huge gothic-style monument dedicated to the writer Sir Walter Scott.

Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle was next on the list. It's grand and royal and a huge tourist attraction. Long lines and an entrance fee and you can see inside and make it onto the royal grounds. Just in front of the castle is the start of the Royal Mile, with lots of visitor-oriented shops with plenty of kilts and whiskey, plaid scarves, and souvenirs.

Saint Giles' Cathedral and the Elephant House

Saint Giles' Cathedral is next, which is beautiful, both inside and out. Make sure you purchase a "photo-taking ticket" or risk getting caught by security for any images taken inside. When you're finished there, take a turn down Bank Street to see the famed Elephant House, a small coffee shop with a backroom view of the castle. Sit and sip, and take in the atmosphere that JK Rowling breathed as she birthed Harry Potter at those very same cafe tables.

MUMS Great Comfort Food and The Jazz Bar

After enough coffee, you can go down and check out Edinburgh University and grab dinner at MUMS Great Comfort food. Try Shepherd's Pie or Haggis with some scotch. As the name states, it is comfort food served in a very small, homey restaurant with a great retro music playlist. It is sure to fill you up! I ended my day at The Jazz Bar on Chambers Street, where a solo performance of “Scottish Blues” had me questioning the decision, but a later set of collaborative Jazz reminded me why I chose to visit, to begin with. You could just sit in the basement club around your little table, scotch in hand, and enjoy the music of the night.

The National Museum of Scotland

A few other places to check out during a trip to this historic city would be the National Museum of Scotland, a very large and very beautiful museum that is free of charge and harbors a lot of interesting items and inventions native to Scotland, as well as exhibits from around the world. Some key exhibits include the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep and an eerie Millennium Clock tower that sounds on the hour as small figures move about the base on a system of pulleys and clockwork, commemorating the human suffering of the 20th century.

Cockburn Street and Greenmantle Bar

Also, take a walk down Cockburn Street, near the Edinburgh Waverley, and you will feel like you just transported to the cobblestoned street of Diagon Alley. It's easy to see how the inspiration for the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts came to be as you explore one of the cities where it all began. Then, Get a beer at Greenmantle Bar, a traditional local pub, or walk around and explore all of the crevices and secret doors that the city is hiding for you to find.

The city immediately felt like home. I don't know if it was the kind eyes of the people, the classic feel of the warm buildings and welcoming storefronts, or the dozens of other red beards I crossed on the street. Either way, it is a city worth exploring and a stop you should be sure to make if you find yourself in that part of the world.


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