One of the reasons I love my annual trip to Edinburgh so much is that once you’re done with wandering the New and Old Town streets (although I’m not sure you can ever be ‘done’ with that!), it’s a brilliant base should you want to venture slightly further afield and sample the Scottish seaside. On previous holidays I’ve taken day trips to Burntisland (which includes a train journey across the iconic Forth Bridge), South Queensferry (a pretty little town located almost underneath the bridge and location of The Hawes Inn for fans of Stevenson’s Kidnapped), Cramond and Portobello (for amazing chips and ice cream). This year, I decided to visit North Berwick, a seaside town 40 minutes north-east of Edinburgh.
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I’m a bit of a bookworm with a particular love of Scottish literature so whilst a day trip to North Berwick is worth it simply for its prettiness alone (and the Italian ice cream from Gelateria Alandas on Quality Street), for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson, it’s also the place where he spent his childhood holidays and provided inspiration for Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Catriona (for those with sea legs there are even daily boat trips out to the Bass Rock where the hero of the novel is imprisoned).
For those after a retail fix the main street of the town is packed with charity shops, independent retailers and quirky boutiques and plenty of tea shops to provide refreshment. The town is also home to the Scottish Seabird Centre which has a cafe giving fantastic views across to the Bass Rock (and is somewhere lovely and warm to thaw out should the weather for your trip combine glorious sunshine with the coldest, windiest wind imaginable as mine did!).
In celebration of World Book Day, I thought I’d bring you a guide to one of my favourite literary cities (in fact one of my favourite cities full stop), Edinburgh! Aside from being obsessed with all things fashion, I’m also a massive bookworm and both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are in English Literature (hence why I’m always paranoid about spelling and grammar mistakes in my blog posts!).
As my mother’s Glaswegian, a lot of my childhood summer holidays were spent north of the border but visits to Edinburgh tended to be daytrips across to the festival which whilst memorable, never gave a proper chance to explore the city. In the last few years however, largely thanks to deciding to write my MA dissertation on the city and some of its writers, I’ve managed to rectify that and I’m now so in love with the city that I could see myself happily relocating there.
Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature (as well as its Old and New Towns being UNESCO World Heritage sites) and nods to Scottish writers permeate every inch of the city (there’s even a dedicated Writers’ Museum). Exploring the Old Town with its maze of narrow wynds and closes feels like stepping back in time and helps to bring to life the city written about by Hogg, Scott and Stevenson. The New Town also has its share of literary landmarks from Stevenson’s childhood home on Heriot Row to the more modern pilgrimage site (and fantastic place for a pint) of The Oxford Bar, watering hole of choice for Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus.
Aside from its literary heritage, the city is also bursting at the seams with museums and art galleries to while away any rainy afternoons with my top recommendations being the National Museum of Scotland and the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh’s castle is also a fantastic place to get to grips with both the city and country’s history and for a better understanding of its present (and future), a tour of the Parliament is a must.
One of my favourite ways to spend a day in the Edinburgh is to simply wander around and enjoy the city’s green spaces and amazing scenery. Calton Hill gives spectacular views across both the city and Firth of Forth whilst there can be few things better than looking across the city on a clear day from the top of Arthur’s Seat (it’s honestly not as much of a climb as you might think!). For those who prefer something a bit less strenuous, Princess Street Gardens in the city centre and the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith are both lovely places to relax and get lost in a good book whilst The Water of Leith walk weaves through some of the smaller villages which make up the northwest of the city.
If you fancy journeying a bit further afield, South Queensferry (the setting for a lot of Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped and a spectacular views of the Forth Rail Bridge), North Berwick and Edinburgh’s seaside, Portobello, are only short train and bus journeys away.
Whilst I do try to be as cultured as possible, its impossible to visit Edinburgh without indulging in a bit of retail therapy! The area around Princess Street and George Street is the go to destination for high street shops whilst for something a bit more quirky, Cockburn Street and the area around The Grassmarket in the Old Town are packed with quirky independents. For charity shop lovers, Queensferry Street and Stockbridge are the places to head for some bargain treasure and vintage hunting.
If you’ve tired yourself out from all the walking/ museum visiting/ shopping, thankfully Edinburgh is jam packed with some great places to eat and drink. Aside from the aforementioned Oxford Bar, The Stockbridge Tap in, surprisingly, Stockbridge, has a great range of ales whilst the hard to find but utterly amazing Bramble Bar on Queen Street serves some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. For foodies, Howies (Victoria Street and Waterloo Place) offers seasonal Scottish dishes at prices that won’t break the bank whilst Mother India’s Cafe on Infirmary Street bring a tapas twist to Indian cuisine.
This post only scratches the surface of why the city is so fantastic and each trip always brings a new discovery which makes my heart grow even fonder. For lovers of literature and history, parts of the city are like stepping back in time and it’s impossible to not be affected by the deep regard that the city holds for its cultural heritage and those it inspired. Rather than resting on its laurels however, Edinburgh continues to move forward, promoting both new ideas and the diverse range of writers and historical figures connected to it. It’s a city I love and I hope if you ever visit, you will too!
*Holly’s Edinburgh Reading List Recommendations*
For those of you wanting a place to start when it comes to Edinburgh’s literature, I’d suggest the following books…
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg
‘Justified Sinner’ explores the duality of both Edinburgh and the Scottish psyche and whilst Hogg may not be the best known of Scottish writers, his influence can clearly be seen in the work of Stevenson and Rankin.
Waverley – Walter Scott
With a train station and monument named in his honour, no Edinburgh reading list would be complete without the man who also helped turn Edinburgh into the tartaned tourist destination it remains today.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Although this novel is set in London, many have argued that this is merely a thin disguise for Edinburgh and certainly to me, the cramped mix of streets and populace combined again with the strong themes of personal and geographical duality seem more in keeping with Scotland’s capital.
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
You’ve probably all seen the film but the original novel is well worth a read (once you get used to its use of thick dialect) and shows life in the city lived by its underclass.
Set In Darkness – Ian Rankin
Although this is the 11th novel in Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series (and I would urge you to read them all), its focus on the imminent return of the Scottish parliament and the discovery of a corpse bricked up in a fire place at Queensbury House highlights the importance of Scotland’s past in shaping its future and the anxieties of a country not only on the cusp of a new Millennium but also on a new political dawn.