When I got back to the hostel in London from my overnight trip to Cambridge, about two hours prior to my bus leaving for Edinburgh, I took a look at my bus ticket only to find out that I had booked the wrong bus. I booked the one leaving the next night but didn’t have a hostel to stay in tonight because it was an overnight bus I had booked. Quickly, I asked if I could reserve another night in the hostel; No vacancy. I checked online for another accommodation option, but finding spur-of-the-moment accommodation in London is nearly impossible. Either I spend another night sleeping on the streets – this time on the busy streets of London with all of my luggage or I buy a new bus ticket.
Before doing either of those, I decided to call and see if I could get a refund on my ticket I already purchased. It turns out, I was able to swap tickets and thankfully leave for Edinburgh Saturday night. Disaster evaded. Never be afraid to ask questions.
First Impressions. . .
After a long, sleepless night on the bus, I reached Scotland. It’s about a seven-hour bus ride from London. I intentionally booked two overnight buses going to Edinburgh and returning to London. It saves time and money when both are in a squeeze. It is a great money saving technique that I greatly encourage you to look into.
My hostel was easy to find; even at five o’clock in the morning after a sleepless night. Castle Rock Hostel was awesome! It’s literally in plain sight and one of the closest buildings to the Edinburgh Castle- one of Scotland’s main attractions. I quickly found out, however, that the Scots will get grumpy if you pronounce their country’s capital wrong. “It’s not Edin-BURG, it’s Edin-BURRUH, all the Americans pronounce it wrong!” my hostel receptionist scalded me.
The first thing I did was take a stroll down the Royal Mile. My rule is to spend a few hours exploring a city on your own when you first arrive rather than checking out what Google thinks you should do first. It allows you to take in culture while also learning the blueprints of the city which will help you for the rest of your stay.
Everything in Edinburgh is conveniently in walking distance as far as attractions go. I saw things like the Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, King Arthur’s Seat, and Calton Hill. After moseying around for a bit; taking pictures and listening to street performers whistle on their bagpipes (man, I think they’re just annoying), I took the short hike (stroll) up Calton Hill.
There were college students picnicking, families playing, and tour groups all alike taking in the views. Calton Hill offers a perfect panoramic view of the city that isn’t too far away and makes you feel like you are still within the city- unlike King Arthur’s Seat which I found to be too far away.
Like I’ve found to be true with many European cities, the city was half-way shut down because it was Sunday. This is a ritual that is not entirely true in America.
Edinburgh gave me the feel of a “mini-me” London. It still had the beautiful cathedrals and parliament buildings, black taxi cabs, double-decker buses, and British accents, however, the streets were not overrun by tourists at all. I couldn’t believe it, honestly, and was expecting Edinburgh to be a lot busier.
I also wasn’t ready for the increasing amount of Americans I had encountered in the U.K. When I think back on it, I don’t know why I wasn’t prepared for this. Americans tend to be a little timid to venture away to a land of a language that is not their own. It’s what they are known for a bit. So it makes sense that I encounter the most Americans in England.
My hostel receptionist had told me earlier when asking her advised itinerary that I could “go to the beach not too far East”. Without knowing exactly what that meant, it piqued my interest. A beach in Scotland? I decided to check it out.
Well, it turns out “not too far away” was actually five miles away- which I guess in retrospect isn’t too far. But it was quite the hike for not having any sleep or a general idea of how far away it would be.
It was well worth the unanticipated walk. Portabello Beach was nice. Just as nice as any beach you would find in California. No one was in the water because it was far too cold (I was sitting in the sand with jeans and three jackets on), but there were still plenty of people out on the beach on this rare sunny day in Edinburgh.
It occurred to me that I had no clue what body of water I was skipping rocks into. Was it the ocean, a sea, what was it? It turns out it was the North Sea, however, it inspired me to be more geographically knowledgeable about places before I visit.
Afterward, I did some people watching and started falling asleep on the ledge I was sitting on. Holy cow, I needed to catch up on sleep and I couldn’t check into my hostel for another three hours. The warm sand I’m sitting only a couple of feet away from started to look really nice. So I took advantage. I napped in the sand for what turned out to be three hours and woke up feeling as refreshed as ever. I walked the promenade and headed back to city center.
Scottish Pub Crawl Experience
After cooking some dinner at the hostel, I went back to clean myself up for the night when I met a Sean. Sean was a really cool guy from Chicago who I am still in touch with. He was the type of guy that genuinely just wanted to make friends and be happy. You could tell from his demeanor. He (and his friends) were one of my (if not the only) pleasant American encounters I had on my whole time abroad.
He introduced me to his group of friends. They were in Scotland on a weekend holiday from Ireland where they were studying. I met Ryan (France), Jenna (South Carolina), Delanie (California), and Tessa (South Carolina). They were all so nice, especially for inviting me and letting me tag along for their last night in Scotland. They had been on a pub crawl the night before so they knew of a couple of really cool bars- an Irish and Brazilian bar, while in Scotland! Malone’s Irish Bar and Bar Salsa – both quite expensive but a part of the pub tour leaving from Castle Rock Hostel will be quite cheap.
So maybe it wasn’t much of a Scottish Pub Crawl – but oh well!
Goodbye to new friends
I said goodbye to my new friends in the morning, even though they wanted to spend their last hours in Scotland with me at Edinburgh Castle. However, I had other plans and had to refuse. Sure, comfy beds, clean bathrooms, good wifi connections; they’re all important factors in a good hostel, but what really makes a hostel stay great is the experience I have with the other stayers while I’m there. It was a pleasure meeting these nice people.
I noticed that I was always way too busy during the past month and a half to ever get bored, but there were definitely points when the travel-lusting would momentarily wear off. It was experiences like these with these people that would light a fire under my travel bug again.
I went to the Pentlands, which is about a 45-minute bus ride from city center. I knew there were a few hikes to do in the rolling Pentlands Hills, but it was the most different hiking I had ever experienced. It wasn’t strenuous, it wasn’t mountainous, there were no rocks, no trees; I don’t know how to explain it. Still enjoyable none-the-less.
The top offered an excellent view of a valley of green. The rolling Scottish hills and a distant view of Edinburgh were peaceful. But it was almost terrifyingly windy; I could hardly bare it. It was the strongest, coldest wind I had ever experienced and that was no exaggeration. I could feel frostbite coming on my fingers, honestly. I rushed back down to the warmer area at the bottom of the hike pretty quickly.
On my last day in Scotland, I enjoyed myself by slowly strolling through town, taking my time at everything I did. I finally went across the street to snag a few pictures of Edinburgh Castle. I did some café exploring (although none really piqued my interest), and finally, I went on a free Ghost Tour of Edinburgh around sunset. P.S. – I don’t recommend the Ghost Tour. It was very phony.
Scotland treated me well. I made some friends in a great hostel, I was able to experience both the outdoors and the city life, and I feel like I really gained a perspective on Scottish culture.
More Attractions, Bars, Restaurants in Edinburgh. . .
– Hollyrood Palace – home of British monarch in Scotland
– Arthur’s Seat – hike to panoramic views of the city
– Royals Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
– Princes Street – shopping
– Scottish Whiskey Experience – when in Scotland. . .
– Oink – best bang for your buck in Edinburgh (hog roast)
– Wannaburger – burgers start at as little as $4
– Thompson’s Bar – get a real Scottish pub’s feel
I will certainly be back to Edinburgh for a cheaper, slower, and longer taste of the United Kingdom than what you can get from London.