Today’s Rain is Tomorrow’s Whiskey: Edinburgh, Scotland

View from Edinburgh Castle and one of the times I’ve broken my strict “never climb an old volcano” vow.

Sigh, Scotland. Edinburgh has been at the absolute top of my travel list since I first saw Danny Boyle’s (equally both amazing and scarring) Trainspotting. 

Well, but me and Scotland

Edinburgh is a gorgeous city filled with a ton of history, culture, and of course, whiskey. Get ready for a loooooong post filled with Scottish adventures including murder legends (obviously), cocktail villages, and of course #alltheharrypotterthings. Somehow I even managed to find Russian pierogi (but are any of us actually surprised?)

Old Town, Edinburgh

Where are we?

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom. Its name derives from the Brittonic Celtic word “Eidyn” and although the meaning is unknown, scholars believe the term references Castle Rock, the location of Edinburgh’s Castle. Castle Rock was formed over 350 million ago out of volcanic rock. Often compared to Rome, Edinburgh was built on seven hills.

Earliest human inhabitation of the area goes all the way back to 8500 BC. In 1706, the Treaty of the Union combined the Parliaments of Scotland and England to form the Parliament of Great Britain. This was largely opposed by many Scots, which led to numerous riots in Edinburgh. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Edinburgh was occupied by the rebel Jacobite Highland Army until their defeat by the British at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom today.

Or as we all know, the premise to the first season of Outlander.

Known for its distilling, brewing, and printing industries, the city’s Old Town has its trademark smoke-stained buildings and the winding, cobblestone streets feel like you’re stepping out of a Harry Potter novel, which of course makes sense because much of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the series came from the time she spent in the city.

There is so much to see in Edinburgh! We only had a couple of days but you could easily spend a week just wandering and exploring this beautiful, historic city.

The Sites:

Overwhelmed by all the things Edinburgh has to see? SAME. Friendly reminder that you can find all of the sites (including my personalized Harry Potter walking tour) in the Middle World Adventures map.

Trainspotting Dreams Coming True:

First #myheartisexploding moment came immediately after exiting the bus from the airport into the city. Our stop on Princes Street is the location of the infamous “Choose Life” scene at the beginning of Trainspotting, when Renton and Spud are being chased by police officers.

While the storefronts have changed (there’s now a Next department store and a greeting card shop), it was still such a cool nerd moment for me to be standing at that stop.

Lovely Places:

The National Art Gallery of Scotland first opened in 1859.
The beautiful Princes Street Gardens
St. Giles’ Cathedral contains buildings built in 1124.
The Merchants Hall in New Town

True Crime Spots:

I wish we had time for a tour of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum! They have the Burke Death Mask on display. William Burke, half of the infamous Burke & Hare team, murdered 16 people in Edinburgh during the early 1800s. During the time there was a huge demand for bodies by anatomy schools in Edinburgh; Burke & Hare delivered the corpses of their lodgers for cash. After being discovered by police, Hare was granted immunity for confessing the murders. Burke was hanged and his skeleton (and face mask) was put on display where it remains today.
The view from Mary King’s Close. A “close” is an ancient alleyway and Mary’s is one of Edinburgh’s most famous as well as most haunted sites in the city. This passageway (to the left of the picture) is named after Mary King, an affluent merchant who lived here in 1635. After years of disease (including haunting descriptions of the bubonic plague and how it was treated yikes), overcrowding, and poor living conditions, the Close became a site for underground trading. Parts have been demolished, but a portion under the city remains open for tours.
View from Grassmarket: Grassmarket was the site of public executions in Edinburgh. One of the most famous stories is that of Maggie Dickson. The wife of a fisherman who deserted her and left her destitute in 1723 (#boybye), Dickson left the city for Kelso. There, she found work for an Innkeeper and also fell in love with the Innkeeper’s son. After becoming pregnant, Dickson gave birth to a premature baby who passed away a few days later. The baby’s body was found, traced to Dickson, and she was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and the murder of her son. After being found guilty, she was sentenced to death and hanged in the Grassmarket Gallows on September 2nd, 1724. After being pronounced deceased, her body was transported to Musselburgh, where, on the way, she awoke. Since the sentence had been carried out, Dickson could not be tried again, and she lived another forty years with her husband (boy, welcome back, I guess).

Harry Potter Tour:

Nicolson’s Cafe, now Spoon, is where J.K. Rowling wrote many of the chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This plaque is located at the corner of Drummond Street.
The entrance to George Heriot’s School, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Me about to break into Hogwarts (via Kristin Ariel Photography)
Victoria Street is rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a graveyard near Old Town that was established in 1861.
One of the graves, Tom Marvolo Riddle, is said to have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling ( He-Must-Not-Be-Named’s dear old dad)
Searching For Tom Riddle’s Grave: Our Edinburgh Adventure
One of my absolute favorite places in Edinburgh. I could have easily have spent hours here just wandering around. Photo credit to Casci for capturing me #livingthatbackpacklife

Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2018:

It was a (very) happy coincidence to visit Edinburgh during their 2018 Storytelling Festival. While I was hopping-up-and-down-ecstatic at all the nerdy possibilities, my friends were the absolute best and came along on a couple of stops. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we had in the city, I could really only see a couple of exhibitions.

Absolutely breathtaking to see in person!
The National Library of Scotland featured an exhibition of the work of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, born an American slave in 1818 and making his escape to freedom in 1838, is one of the most famous activists of the anti-slavery movement. He arrived in Edinburgh in 1846. The exhibition was amazing.

Edinburgh Castle:

Image by Kristin Ariel Photography
View from the trek up to Edinburgh Castle
Photo by Kristin Ariel Photography

Jack White:

We saw the always amazing Jack White during his Boarding House Reach Tour.
I only cried twice. Okay, three times.

Restaurants & Pubs:

My Favorite Meals in Edinburgh:

The Painted Rooster: We found the Painted Rooster for breakfast and happily, take-home pierogi. I had vegetarian haggis while a friend braved his first haggis tasting. After speaking to the Russian server and owner, Chris and I 100% brought back to-go pierogi, promptly eating them as soon as we were back in Hungary.
Elephant & Bagels: The most adorable cafe located smackdab in the middle of our Harry Potter tour, Elephant & Bagels has a great menu and was absolutely packed when we stopped for lunch. I had my go-to: everything bagel with honey, brie, and walnuts.

Edinburgh Cocktail Week:

Happily, we were in town for the 2018 Edinburgh Cocktail Week and were able to visit the Cocktail Village–a large tent filled with the city’s best bars and their unique cocktails created just for the event.
We loved the Cask Smugglers stand (Kristin Ariel Photography)
Our favorite stand was the Pop Up Geeks! They were fully immersed in the world of Willie Wonka (Kristin Ariel Photography). I was 1000% fan-girling the bartender.
I love this so much.
Best Marketing ever?
❤ this girl! (Kristin Ariel Photography)

Whiskey & Folklore Class

How can you not sign up for a whiskey and folklore class while in Edinburgh? We attended this class and had a blast. Our host discussed the history of whiskey distilling in Scotland as well as the city’s best true crime murder stories (be still my heart). It was an amazing start to our trip. Whiskey tasted: Auchentoshan (Lowlands), Glenlivet (Highlands), Old Pulteney (Wick). and my favorite, Lagavulin (Islay).

The Pop Up Geeks:

The Pop Up Geeks is an absolute must-visit while in Edinburgh. Every few months they choose a different nerdy theme and apply it comprehensively to the entire bar including the menu, the decor, and the marketing. While we were visiting it was everything Lord of the Rings (“There and Back Again”). My friend Kristin was SO EXCITED and not being a LOTR fan myself, I was just thrilled to be there with her. Make sure to reserve your spot.
Photo Credit: Kristin Ariel Photography

Shops:

Located on Victoria Street, John Kay’s Shop is a beautiful combination of new and antique books right in the heart of Edinburgh. I was eyeing a couple of special edition Brontë novels but exercised my limited self-control and purchased postcards instead.
“Smell the Old Books for Yourself!” proclaims Armchair Books, a used bookstore located in West Port near Grassmarket. The “very nearly” organized chaos of this shop made my heart incredibly happy.
Absolutely adored this bookstore.
Happily, Bonkers Gift Shop was located right next to our Air BnB and I was able to pick up on all of my favorite tourist purchases: strange, hand-drawn postcards, obscenely specific greeting cards, and various pet-related gifts. So cute.

Edinburgh absolutely tops the list of my favorite places. I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Darling, I love you more than whiskey.
(Kristin Ariel Photography)

Extra special thank you and love to Kristin Earwood, an insanely talented photographer and wonderful friend. Check out her amazing work here.

Currently:

Reading: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (Sherry Jones)

Watching: Lorena (Amazon)

Listening: Boom! Lawyered (Re.Wire: Season 2)

One thought on “Today’s Rain is Tomorrow’s Whiskey: Edinburgh, Scotland

  1. Barbara Orr says:

    Wow, you really had quite an adventure! I didn’t know about the connection to Harry Potter. Very interesting about the murders.

    Like

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