I visited so many bookstores!
Happy New Year’s! So I took my first solo-trip (right before turning twenty-one) to Edinburgh to celebrate new years/Hogmanay (the scottish new years) last year. Actually, the timing was more of a need to get myself out of my family situation, which thankfully has gotten better over the past year. So this trip was created to be alone, experience things, but mostly take a breath after a stressful time, without losing too much money as a college student. I even had people who wanted to come with, but there’s a lot of reasons I’m happy I decided from the start to go on my own. I would love to visit Edinburgh again someday with friends as well, though.
So here’s this short guide to going on a solo-trip to Edinburgh (for book lovers) –
The Real Mary King’s Close! GO! I have already recommended this to all the people I met on the trip. It’s one of the only chances to walk underneath Edinburgh, to visit the old streets that the “new” old city is built upon. It’s from the 17th century, not far underneath the real streets and the guides were awesome. Be warned that you’ll never see the narrow streets the same again when you know how many people died there during the plague, and how the streets were the only plumbing they had. WHAT; I didn’t know before now that City of Ghosts by V. E. Schwab was set in Mary King’s Close? Not that I’ve read it, but that’s interesting.
I stayed at Castle Rock Hostel and really liked it. The whole hostel is castle-themed, but the amount of space and themed rooms inside was amazing, especially as I went in with low expectations. I would have gone for a only-women’s room instead of a mixed room, as a girl travelling solo, but it was sold out. You get a lot for what you pay for and if you have any questions I’m happy to answer them, but I would say the overwhelmingly positive reviews online are correct.
I was trying to get to as many bookstores as possible, made a bit more tricky since it was holiday season and a few of the smaller ones were closed. For example, I wish I could’ve visited Lighthouse – Edinburgh’s radical bookshop. Armchair Books was truly stunning, and worth the trip. Right next to it was Peter Bell Books, which also was closed, but looked to be the same style. Most of the books I bought were from Edinburgh Books and Waterstones on Prince’s street.
Loundon’s has gluten free afternoon tea or breakfast-kind of food! In the Grassmarket area there also were great gluten-free pizza at Mamma’s American Pizza (note; I do not have celiac and can’t vouch for that). I’m happy I found it after wandering the streets, truly desperate to find gluten free dinner close to where I lived. Next time I’ll have to visit PekoeTea as well, I got a taste of their tea from Loundon’s by surprise, although I already knew of them and that they were closed during holiday time. Also I didn’t know what Nando’s was before someone introduced it to me the last day. I really wished I had known that easy-to-eat chicken before. In general, it was really hard to find food I could eat, especially as I was in the older part of the city, where it was a bit of a walk to check if one place or another had gluten-free options. I was limited because on a budget, but I think in general as well. For example, one night I was in an unfamiliar part of town and ended up eating a small piece of steak with pomegranate seeds, because there literally was nothing else on the menu of the five restaurants in that specific area. I would have done a bit more research prior, if I were to do it again.
Other Great Attractions
Holyrood’s castle and St. Arthur’s seat; Holyrood castle was more interesting to me than Edinburgh Castle! It’s something about how it’s still transformed from tourist area to the queen’s actual residence when she is in Edinburgh, and the tour through the upkept and grand palace was so well made. It has a cute garden, and you can go straight out to the Holyrood ruins, with even more history. From there you see the St. Arthur’s seat. I have some experience hiking and was wearing good shoes. Still, the internet might say this is an easy hike (about 1 to 1.5 hours), but beware of the weather. As a norwegian, I considered this, but it wasn’t that bad when we started the hike. And at no point was it raining enough that it was dangerous, but I could see a lot of people struggling because of the mud turning slippery. It was truly the wind taking a hold of you the further up we went that tired me out. It was not an easy hike in those conditions, and there were people I went on the hike with that struggled. Just take into consideration on any type of walk uphill that it’s never too late to turn around. Still, I would absolutely not miss it!
National Gallery; I really liked the modern art part of it. It was a peaceful time walking around. And then I walked past Vanessa Hudgens and was incredibly shocked even though I remained calm. Can’t promise she’ll be there for your trip as well.
The Worse Parts
The actual visit to Edinburgh Castle was a bit of a let-down. It’s most majestic looking up at it, especially as it was the view from my hostel everytime I stepped out. It was particularly exciting visiting on the (early) morning before new year’s eve, as soldiers walked aroud taking care of the huge amounts of fireworks they were going to shoot off. I knew more than most about Edinburgh Castle going into it, and there were little new information. It was cool to see the dungeons. More interesting that it’s still an active military place, but that also meant that the truly interesting parts – the many floors underneath the actual buildings – were off-limits.
So much walking up stairs. And tiny, old alleyways, which really gave the place its atmosphere. (I might have listened to The Magnus Archives first podcast episode right after this trip, and definitely recognized that dark alleyway). Which was my fault for booking a hostel, no matter how lovely, that was so close to Edinburgh Castle. If you can afford it uber was a great thing, which I only as a norwegian used once with other people, because I didn’t spend time figuring it out. The walking also felt a bit more unsafe during the darkness of night because I was alone during the holidays, I think that if I was to be there in a less busy time of the year I would’ve been out more. Honestly I kept to myself because I wanted to, that was a part of the reason for this vacation; I needed time alone. There was plenty of opportunities in the hostel of going out with a group or stay in and be social, even if you were alone.
The first night was truly the only night I regretted the decision to go alone for very much personal reasons, because I got a terrible migraine, which is a semi-uncommon thing for me. I literally could not move, or sit up from my bed before wanting to puke, even with taken all medicines with me as a precaution. Goddamn, I can still feel the anxiety in my chest as I realized it would be one of my worst migraines.
Actual New Year’s Eve
I loved it so much and it will be a cherished memory forever. It was my first time in such a large crowd of people as the whole city of tourists and (at least some) locals joined together in this large street party. I saw mixed opinions on the actual street party that you have to buy a ticket for (we got it free through the hostel), but while I get every local doesn’t want to spend hours on hours outside with long toilet queues, it was absolutely worth it. There were concerts/shows spread out over multiple stages, so the people would spread out as well. There was a parade through the old town, with mythical creatures and lots of show. Then the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle was spectacular and afterwards everyone actually danced in the streets. I was lucky to meet a group of friends at the hostel that I spent the night with, and met a few very nice, very drunk locals as well. I surprised myself with staying pretty sober – which is not my natural state at a party, I promise you. But I just wanted to experience it all fully and remember it, which is why I only have a few photos with the group taken by nice, random strangers and a couple videos of the energy of the night.
A Year Later
This year, 2020, I’m back celebrating New Year’s in my tiny village of 620 people, which I would’ve found hilariously amusing, hadn’t it been for COVID-19 being most of the reason.
Even as someone who’s very introverted I hope it won’t be too long until it’s safe to again get to share the energy of concerts, of massive gatherings and of people doing nice things out of happiness and creating moments together.