First impressions of Edinburgh were pretty solid. The historic core of the city is exceptionally compact, it’s like wandering through the past. Old brick buildings sit along the city blocks, some stones faded and worn, others tinted red. Businesses and pubs sit below street level, candles flickering in windows, music wafting out the door each time it opens. Doors painted bold colors, adorned with gold fixtures, are as charming as you imagine. Edinburgh truly is a magical and dreamy place.
It’s easy, in a city with this layout, to get stuck in the center, only experiencing it as it’s presented to you. Exploring Edinburgh’s outside layers, its nooks and crannies, is almost obligatory. There are the main sights that are strikingly grand – the Castle, Royal Mile, Old Town – but the little details draw you in, make you fall in love. Here are the unique things I loved about Edinburgh.
8 Unique Reasons to Visit Edinburgh
If you recall from my post about the unique reasons to visit Budapest, you know the street lamps were my obsession. Well, here in Edinburgh, the chimneys steal the show. Maybe it’s because they are different to me; something I haven’t experienced before. Or perhaps they really are that charming.
The chimneys sit high on the roofs, drawing your eye up. Some are displayed in grand ways, a solid wall of bricks supporting them. Others simply stick up at random, not following any sort of pattern, not matching its neighbors. Some are taller, some more narrow, some have been tattered by the rain and sport a darker color. They add cheery character to a city that can, at times, feel dark.
I know I’m not the only one that falls victims to doors. There are people that collect photos of them, that cherish their look and charm. And I know I’m not alone in thinking the UK has some of the most quaint doors. Edinburgh joins the ranks, especially during the wintertime when thick, bold entrances are softened with a giant wreath, wrapped in red ribbon or adorned with dried fruits. Some stand alone, proud in their individuality while others are presented in sets of two’s or three’s, each one with its own shade of color.
But look closer. What gets me with doors are the subtle details that you don’t really notice at first. In Budapest, it was the old wooden mailboxes lining the sides, most graffitied or worn by the weather. In Prague, it was the doorknobs, each seeming to posses a completely unique, delicate design. And here in Edinburgh, it’s the doorbells. Some of the doors still feature the old knobs one would pull to ring the bells. The flat in which we stayed had them, and my heart would skip a beat each time I heard the chimes.
Meandering through the old town will have you in awe; tall, dark, bricked buildings lining the street, brightly painted shops below. But once you steal a glimpse of those green, green hills, you’ll understand Edinburgh’s true appeal.
Cities usually feature some green spaces and parks, but a capital city with its own set of crags, bogs, and rocky summits? A game changer. The trek to Arthur’s Seat is certainly something you shouldn’t miss. It’s a little steep, a little muddy, a little windy… but you can take a million breaks to ogle the scenery. Plus, the view at the top is worth it. And walking through the valley, you feel forever away from any city lights, lost in blustery nature.
And Holyrood Park isn’t the only green space in the city. Edinburgh is filled with nature that takes you away from its bustle and into a clear headspace. Check out The Meadows for forest vibes, Calton Hill for a less intimidating climb, or the Blackford Hill Nature Reserve for a bit of everything.
Maybe this is controversial, but, personally, I adore the rain in Edinburgh, and really any stereotypically damp city. I grew up outside of Seattle, after all. The secret is, it doesn’t always rain. You see the sun and the summers are amazing. But when it does choose to rain, walking along the cobblestones, umbrellas up, is a truly special feeling, one that almost transports you back in time.
And some of the best parts of the city are due to the rain: the green, the different shades of damp brick, the cozy pubs. If you love the idea of a UK pub, you must give credit to its rainy, windy, chilly climate. Why else would patrons opt to hunker down for hours, wrapped in wooden cubbies and stained glass, sipping on a dark stout?
Strolling along little streets outside the city center is somehow a perfect mix of modern and historic. Old brick in shades of red and gray dominate the streets. Doors give a pop of color. Greenery grazes the street, some crawling up the sides of the buildings. A baby blue bench sits sweetly on a corner. A car is coming – you can tell by its distinct sound as it rattles along the cobblestones.
These little neighborhood facades never really get old. The buildings tall with white-framed windows and rounded corners. They seem to go on for miles, some dramatically curved up streets and around neighborhood parks.
Edinburgh is the city of secret passageways, all the little closes branching off from the main drags of the Old Town. Some are more enticing than others, steps leading to unknown destinations, little communities tucked into the brick, markets, shops, and much more to be discovered.
My travel motto, which started in Budapest, is to always go in, always look up. I’ve discovered so many quirky and beautiful sights this way. Every city, Edinburgh especially, is like a giant treasure trove, waiting for you to poke your head in and look around. Don’t ignore those steps leading to seemingly nowhere, or that alleyway between the shops. You never know what you might find.
Get out of the city center and explore the little neighborhoods, like Dean Village, a quaint community situated along the creek with several picturesque twists and turns. The buildings are both old and new, so although some scenes couldn’t be more adorable, others were a slight eyesore. But nothing could really beat the rooftops.
Other places like Belford Mews and Circus Lane are more charming. With curvy roof molding shaped like bells and repurposed homes along a crescent shaped street, it’s no wonder these areas are their own little photo shoots. Modernized doors still holding on to charming past and old cobblestones leading you into a turn. A church comes into sight and you lose your breath.
Not every city gets noted for its kindness. Different cultures breed different attitudes. And the Scottish blow past any reputation of snobbiness. In fact, they couldn’t be further from that. Everywhere we went, people greeted us warmly, kindly, and as if we were part of their family. At a teensy-tiny coffeeshop (my favorite way to explore a city while traveling: check out my coffee recommendations for Budapest), I gave up my seat for a large family, opting to take my java to-go. The barista called me honey, sweetheart, and thanked me a million times.
Dan joked that they say the nicest things while using the same normal tone: “That’s brilliant” or “That’s perfect” sounds like the American equivalent of “Okay”. They just have more pleasant vocabulary in their everyday language, and it’s refreshing.
So there you have it! Add all this cute uniqueness to the – long – list of established must-see’s and must-do’s and you’re in for the perfect city escape. Which reason makes you most excited to visit Edinburgh?