As summer 2018 approached, with my 21st birthday just over three months away, a new focus point for me now that my exams had concluded was deciding what to do for it. For most, someone’s 21st was an opportunity for the parish’s younger generation to get together in the local and spend the night trying to make sure you won’t remember it in the morning.
Not being the type to want to blackout on my birthday, I decided that I wanted to approach celebrating this milestone a little differently. I worked over the summer, and somewhere around mid-late July I decided that what most people would spend hiring out a venue and a DJ, I would put towards a trip to somewhere I had never been before.
I chose Edinburgh, as I had heard a lot about it in recent times, from several friends I know going on trips there themselves. It was also cheap and easy to travel to!
Although my birthday was in September, my boyfriend and I went to Edinburgh from 12-14th October as flights from Dublin Airport were just €50 return with Ryanair. We arrived in Edinburgh around 8am Friday morning after a mere 45-minute flight, spent around 25 minutes on the tram out to our hotel in Haymarket (aptly named The Haymarket Hotel) to drop off our luggage before we began exploring. Our hotel cost £186 for both of us for the two nights, working out at £93 each.
We spent most of Friday morning scouting what Edinburgh had to offer in terms of sights, food and shopping. Edinburgh Castle served as the perfect backdrop to the trip, as it towered over the city and was never out of sight as you walked through the streets. We found the statue of the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby, Edinburgh’s favourite dog, who remained by his owner John Gray’s grave for fourteen years (from 1858-1872) after Gray passed away when Bobby was just two.
In terms of things to do in Edinburgh, the first and possibly quirkiest thing we did over the whole weekend was, for £10, spend an hour in Edinburgh Chihuahua Café, surrounded by eight of the smallest, fluffiest little dogs I’ve ever seen in my life. Friday evening consisted of a visit to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a museum gallery full of weird and wonderful optical illusions. Thanks to a discount we obtained with Booking.com for booking our hotel with them, entry was only £12.60, well worth it for the hours of amazement and amusement it brought.
Saturday brought the tour of Edinburgh Castle, which needs little to no introduction. Run by the tour company Sandeman’s, at around £25 with the Booking.com discount, it’s a steal when one could easily spend a whole day strolling through the three museums and countless other buildings on the castle grounds. From the oldest building in Edinburgh to the Great Hall, where the Black Dinner occurred (a banquet under King James II of Scotland where half the guests were murdered, serving as inspiration to George R. R. Martin for the Red Wedding), Edinburgh Castle is brimming with stories of monarchs, rebellions, sieges and even hauntings.
Speaking of hauntings, we followed our trip to Edinburgh Castle with The Dark Side Walking Tour, also run by Sandeman’s. For £10 per person we were brought all over the city of Edinburgh, from the Old Town, into the New Town and all the way up Carlton’s Hill, where we saw the famous yet familiar view known as the Edinburgh Postcard, for obvious reasons. On this tour, we were told stories of, well, the darker side of Edinburgh. With stories of crime, murder and mystery, this tour is certainly for those who want to look at Edinburgh through a completely different, albeit much grimmer, lens.
When it comes to places to eat and drink, we had Pizza Hut on Friday and Frankie & Benny’s on Saturday for dinner, revisiting the latter Sunday morning for breakfast. Both affordable places, obviously most people use weekends away as an opportunity to eat somewhere new and Pizza Hut kind of defeats that purpose, but my boyfriend had never been, and who can say no to unlimited pizza, salad and drink for £7.95 at their buffet?
Frankie and Benny’s worked out at around £40 each for a three course meal Saturday evening, and breakfast the following morning for me (pancakes and toast with hot chocolate) only came to about £5. We finished our Saturday night with a couple of drinks in a pub called The Albanach, just across the road from Frankie & Benny’s. It had a lovely atmosphere with really friendly staff, and also serves as a restaurant, so was the perfect spot to chill out and round off an exciting day.
Sunday was spent visiting and shopping in spots we merely scouted out on Friday afternoon, and so was a pretty relaxed day. The highlight of Sunday for me was a breath-taking and serene visit to St. Gile’s Cathedral (admission free) in the city, with its beautiful stained glass windows, dead silence, and an organ as tall as the ceiling. It was the perfect place to take a seat and have a peaceful, personal moment to oneself.
There was much more highly popular activities to do in Edinburgh that we just did not get around to due to weather or logistical reasons, such as doing Arthur’s Seat or visiting The Real Mary King’s Close or Deep Sea World, Scotland’s national aquarium. If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, the above are all wonderful attractions I would highly recommend; they’re definitely on my to-do list for my next visit to Edinburgh, as I can assure you, there will be a next time. Apart from the Dark Side Walking Tour, and the Chihuahua Café (who don’t allow entry to anyone under the age of 5), everything we did over that weekend suited all ages, so there’s something for everyone there.
An affordable city that’s not too spread out and easy to get around, a city break in Edinburgh is something that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.