All I heard about Edinburgh prior to visiting was that it was a great city. Some friends had studied abroad there, others had visited, and all of the feedback was positive. I have to say that after spending three days in the city, I wholeheartedly concur!
We stayed at The Carlton, which was just off of the Royal Mile and a perfect location for where we spent most of our time. We were total tourists, and we loved it! Day 1 was spent exclusively dedicated to Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. For those of you wondering about this ‘Royal Mile,’ it stretches from Edinburgh Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace at the opposite end – roughly one mile away from each other. (Holyrood Palace is one of the official residences of the Queen, but there were events taking place during our visit, and it was closed to the public.)
The history at Edinburgh Castle blew my mind a bit. For starters, there has been a royal castle on this site since at least the 12th century! So many monarchs lived and died here, and we heard about so many battles throughout the centuries. My mom kept saying that it seemed like such a difficult time to live. I agree! Between the lack of modern conveniences and the fact that someone was constantly being killed or overthrown or betrayed, I’m surprised more of the rulers didn’t have mental breakdowns!
We also got to experience true Scottish weather during our time at the castle – a combination of rain then hail then sunshine then more rain came and went in a period of 5-10 minutes. It was wild! This must be normal, because nearly all of our taxi drivers made the joke about “if you don’t like the weather in Edinburgh, wait 10 minutes, and it will change.” [Insert obligatory chuckle.]
One of the most incredible things for me was seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels (also known as the Honours of Scotland). The Crown, Scepter, and Sword of State are the oldest Crown Jewels in the British Isles. The Scepter was presented to James IV by the Pope in 1494, and the Crown was first worn in 1540! When the Kingdom of Great Britain was founded in 1707, there was no longer a symbolic purpose for the Crown Jewels. As a result, they were locked up in a chest in Edinburgh Castle until 1818! It was then that a group, including Sir Walter Scott, started looking for the Crown Jewels, which they found in the castle – 107 years later! In 1819, they were put on public display – where they’ve been ever since. Well, except for when they were hidden during WWII for fear they would be lost or stolen. At that time, they were hidden from 1941-1953. How wild to think that they’ve survived all this time!
In addition to the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny (or the Coronation Stone) is also on display at the Castle. Kings of Scotland were crowned on this Stone for centuries. But, in 1296, Edward I took the Stone from Scone and built it into his throne in Westminster Abbey. This chair was the one on which most English (and then British) sovereigns have been crowned. The Stone was finally returned to Scotland in 1996.
As if the Castle wasn’t home to enough history, we also visited the Real Mary King’s Close. If you are ever in Edinburgh, I highly recommend this experience! In the 1600’s, there were many tiny alleyways (or closes) that stretched down from either side of the main street (the Royal Mile of today). They were SO narrow and quite steep (which was important, because most waste was thrown into the close and needed to be able to flow down). On either side of the close were tenements stacked as many as seven stories high. Many people only had dirt floors in their homes and multiple bouts of the plague spread quickly through these areas due to poor sanitation and the close proximity of so many people. When the Royal Exchange was built in the mid-1700’s, they partially demolished the close and built on top of the bottom 2-3 stories. A visit to the Real Mary King’s Close allowed us to go beneath the modern city and gave a glimpse back in time to what life might have been like several hundred years ago. It was really, really fascinating!
[Here’s a peak down a different close – just to give you an idea of how narrow they are!]
[The Royal Mile was full of shops, St. Giles Cathedral, a bagpipe player, and Holyrood Palace at the opposite end!]
I purposely didn’t make us a dinner reservation, since I wanted us to have some flexibility in our day, but around 6:00pm, we were starving. We decided to try our hand at getting a table at The Witchery by the Castle. The hostesses first response was “no, we’re full,” but when I probed further she decided she could give us a table, if we could be finished by 8:00pm. What I really wanted to say was, “we’re Americans; two hours for dinner does not equate to eating in a hurry.” I’m so glad she accommodated us, because the setting was so beautiful, and our meal was delicious!
(For those of you a bit freaked out by the restaurant name, it’s called The Witchery, because of the large number of people who were burned at the stake for witchcraft on Castlehill in the 15th and 16th centuries.)
Our first day in Edinburgh ended with something very exciting and a bit more modern…a movie!! Even more exciting was the fact that I paid as much for our TWO movie tickets as I do for ONE movie ticket in Switzerland! We saw The Age of Adaline, which I really enjoyed! It was great to end such a delightfully historic day with a bit of normalcy with my mama.