Interesting things to do, see, or MeFi folks to meet up with in Edinburgh
July 28, 2010 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions for things to do in or around Edinburgh, Scotland or any interesting MeFi folks up for a meetup this week or weekend?

My GF is in town for another week or so with a somewhat mundane study trip and looking for opportunities or adventures to make the trip a little more interesting. She's an archivist and loves things old, odd and curious.
posted by specialk420 to Travel & Transportation around Edinburgh, Scotland (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Calton Hill and a climb up Arthur's Seat are both worthwhile. Also, I highly recommend an outing to Stirling Castle--the tours are excellent, and it is a beautiful castle.

Something I never got a chance to do, but I did hear good things about them are the tours of the underground vaults (sections of the city that were in use in the 18th and 19th centuries).
posted by tyris33 at 6:51 PM on July 28, 2010

Under "curious", the Edinburgh Fringe starts the 6th if she's still in town. It's one of the greatest and most diverse performing arts festivals in the world.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:29 PM on July 28, 2010

Edinburgh's Writer's Museum might be too elementary for an archivist, but I liked it. It's tiny, wouldn't take more than a couple of hours, and it's right in the tourist-y section of town.

I second the walking tours of the city. The haunted ones were a little silly, but if you're in the mood, they can be fun. It's a fascinating story.
posted by gladly at 8:14 PM on July 28, 2010

(disclosure: I'm a historian, love ye olde thinges, and just got back from my first trip to Edinburgh we i loved)

If she hasn't been to Mary King's Close, take her. It's terribly touristy, but not even cheesy ghost stories can ruin the wonder of a buried early modern city. The historical tour they also offer isn't as good as the London Walks tours, but my friend who grew up there learned lots, and it was sufficiently historical for me.

The Castle is similarly touristy, and awesome. The audio guide is totally worth it -- especially for the rooms where James VI/I was born, as there is no other curation there. They are great for history buffs, but easy to miss because they are tucked away next to the exit from the crown jewels.

Also, the Castle tearoom has some of the finest scones I have ever eaten, and I make great scones.

Other places I loved: the Chocolate Soup shop, just off the Royal Mile, the National Museum (good Viking/Scandinavian display when I was there, featuring the Lewis chessmen), the valley between the two hills in Holyrood Park (below Arthur's seat -- it's so quiet you think you are suddenly in wilderness).
posted by jb at 9:44 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh -- if she is interested, I have a jpeg of a 1649 map of the city I can email to her. It's actually lots of fun walking around working out what's still there or not. (It's the same one as they have on the wall at Mary King's close -- it has a legend labelling where the fishmarket, etc, were.). Memail me -- it can be printed on 2 A4 sheets.

There is also a seventeenth century house open to the public -- I missed it :( but if she likes old houses that would be good. I'm definitely going the next time I'm there.
posted by jb at 9:52 PM on July 28, 2010

I never made it to the Surgeon's Hall Museum when I was in Edinburgh, but it was recommended to me by several different people. It seems like it might fall into the intersection of old, odd and curious.
posted by ootandaboot at 10:16 PM on July 28, 2010

I've done the walking tours and Mary King's Close, and both are cheesy but great - i really enjoyed them.

It might be worth going to the National Museum of Scotland to see the mysterious wooden dolls discovered in Arthur's seat - some people think they are linked to Burke and Hare, the famous "resurrection men" from Edinburgh.
posted by ukdanae at 12:46 AM on July 29, 2010

Rosslyn Chapel. It's magical even without all the Da Vinci Code crap. If you're into Da Vinci code crap, well that's a bonus.

Unless you are specifically interested in Scottish history there is not much to be gained from Stirling castle that can't be experienced at Edinburgh castle.
posted by fire&wings at 12:47 AM on July 29, 2010

Surgeon's Hall museum is excellent. The old graveyards of the city are worth a look if you're interested in that sort of thing.

I'd definitely take jb up on the offer of the map - I've walked with a friend who showed me the surviving bits of the town walls, and we accidentally came upon the old College of Surgeons building - discoveries like that are fantastic.

I think that house that jb is talking about is Gladstone's Land, handily right on the Royal Mile.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:25 AM on July 29, 2010

The National Library of Scotland may be of interest to an archivist. It's on George IV Bridge, just off the Royal Mile. The current exhibitions list is here. There are also a few museums and galleries within Edinburgh University, as detailed on their website. Most of them are open to the public.
A trip to Glasgow takes less than an hour by train, and is worth the time. You can take a 90min city bus tour from outside the train station which will give you a good overview of the city and plenty of ideas for a longer visit.
posted by Jakey at 3:02 AM on July 29, 2010

ok - great links. thanks to you guys so much... especially "murder dolls" and the surgeons museum. I wish I was there but will have to wait until the next trip. If anyone wants to meet an interesting archivist, and positively great person perhaps I can hook you guys up. JB -ill be in touch on the map, that sounds hella cool too. I love ask.metafilter - such a great community.
posted by specialk420 at 6:41 AM on July 29, 2010

I'd second all the suggestions here.

If she goes to the Museum of Scotland, she should make sure she goes to the basement (the oldest, prehistoric stuff, and some Andy Goldsworthy installations to set them off) and especially to the roof terrace--fabulous views, memorable even in a city where any number of vantage points offer fabulous views.

The Botanic Gardens, to the north of the city centre, are great. Gorgeous on a sunny day, of course, at this time of year--but perhaps even better if there is cloud and rain, because there'll be fewer people around and the colours of the flowers will be richer and more vivid. Combining this with a walk along the Water of Leith would work beautifully--you get a great 'back view' of the New Town if you walk the section between the Botanics and the Museum of Modern Art (also worth stopping at). The part where the river passes under the Dean Bridge is one of my favourite places anywhere.

That walk would go through the Dean Village, which is a great, secluded village right next to the city centre (!). Another village lost in the middle of Edinburgh, a bit further from the centre but still well inside the city, is Duddingston, which has a medieval church, a loch, and the oldest pub in Edinburgh. It's tucked away on the south side of Holyrood Park, so a good place to aim for after a walk over Arthur's Seat. There are buses back into town, too--the number 42, if I remember rightly.

A couple more things in the Old Town, which is where most of the other suggestions have been concentrated: if it's open, Parliament Hall, inside the old Parliament House behind St Giles on the Royal Mile, just for a look at the amazing ceiling--the hall is nearly 200 years older than the neoclassical façade shown in the picture at that link; Victoria Street; and the mad old bookshops at the west end of the Grassmarket, where it turns into the West Port. These are all close to each other; note that the bookshops are located on the edge of the 'Pubic Triangle' of streets where many of Edinburgh's lap-dancing bars are found, which makes it a slightly seedy place to visit. (Presumably the strip joints drive the rents down to a level that even second-hand book dealers can afford.) The Blue Blazer is a decent--and, ahem, respectable--pub down that way, though, if she needs to recover her spirits/sit and nurse a pint while perusing the books she's just bought.

Oh--worth taking the trip out to South Queensferry to see the bridges too. Or even get a return ticket to North Queensferry, which would involve crossing the Forth Rail Bridge, and then walk back across the road bridge: there's a wide bike/pedestrian path, completely separate from the traffic and completely safe except when the wind is strong, in which case someone from the bridge authority will, believe it or not, ferry her across in a van--at least, that's what happened to a friend of mine and his bike on a windy day. This is the way to get the best view of the rail bridge (and, incidentally, the best way to experience the sensation of flying while riding a bike, if a bike is available). Then wander down into South Queensferry, stroll around, see the bridges from sea level, and then pick up the train back into Edinburgh from Dalmeny station.

I'll stop there, before I get talking about Cramond Island, Newhaven, Leith, the Innocent Railway Line, Broughton Street, Corstorphine Hill, St Mary's (Episcopalian) Cathedral, the modern section of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (if it's reopened yet), the main hall of the Royal Scottish Museum (as opposed to the Museum of Scotland) if that's reopened yet, the Reid Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, or St Cecilia's Hall. Otherwise we'll be here all night.

If it's opened in Britain yet, seeing The Illusionist in Edinburgh, where most of it is set, would be great.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2010

Wow. positively fantastic suggestions... thank you!
posted by specialk420 at 8:42 AM on July 29, 2010

any suggestions for best places for fresh food (fruits, vegetables, cheezes, and the like? )
posted by specialk420 at 9:26 AM on July 29, 2010

For cheese, she should check out I.J. Mellis, the cheesemonger on Victoria street, which is just off of the Grassmarket, or underneath the castle.

Bruntsfield is a really nice area for lovely food and things - it's got a Peckhams for lovely bread and wine (and a very nice place to have lunch), Coco which is a delightful chocolate shop where everything is made in Edinburgh, and i think there are a few wee shops that have fresh fruit and veg sitting outside. It also has a park nearby (the Bruntsfield Links) which is a lovely place to stop and relax if the weather is nice. To get there, she needs to go to Lothian road at Prince's street and basically keep walking along the road until it turns into Bruntsfield, bearing right when she gets to a great big intersection. The walk will be about 20 minutes. Here's a Google street view location of Bruntsfield, starting with the park.
posted by ukdanae at 10:03 AM on July 29, 2010

any suggestions for best places for fresh food (fruits, vegetables, cheezes, and the like?)

Depends where she's staying. Mellis's, definitely, for cheese--as well as the one mentioned by ukdanae, there's another one a bit out past Bruntsfield on the Morningside Road (and, I see from that link, one in Stockbridge too). For fruit and veg, Argyle Place in Marchmont (on the south side of the Meadows, beyond the university) is good--it's also round the corner from Eddie's on Warrender Park Road, one of the best seafood shops in Edinburgh (according to a Japanese friend of mine who was, as you might imagine, extremely particular). On the north side of the city, very good fruit and veg can be had at Tattie Shaw's on Leith Walk: it's on the section of this long, busy, boulevard-like road called Elm Row--the lower part, after Montgomery Street on the right.

The upper part of Elm Row, of course, is home to Valvona & Crolla--the destination food shop in Edinburgh, and don't they just know it. It's expensive, it's exceedingly self-satisfied, and yet (curses!) you forgive them as soon as you walk out of the shop with a bag of freshly-ground Caffè Bar blend coffee in your bag (a scent rich enough to get you and everyone else on the bus high), or bite into the crust of the San Francisco sourdough loaf. Great cheese, too. Damn them.

While she's around there, for a slightly guiltier pleasure than 'fresh food', the Tail End fish bar a little further down Leith Walk (still on the right) does REALLY good fish and chips--it doubles as a seafood restaurant.

Not too far away, Abercrombie's on Broughton Street is reputed to be the place for sausages--never tasted them (don't eat meat) but I bet they're good if that's your thing. I had a number of good meals at Urban Angel, a café/restaurant just off Broughton Street, in Edinburgh last year too. A bit pricey, but not outrageous, and good, at brunch/lunch and at dinner. But here we're straying from fresh food again. You can tell where my tendencies lie.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2010

How could i have forgotten Valvona & Crolla!? Definitely a must-visit, ignore everything I said and get she to Elm Row. And if she keeps walking down Leith Walk, she'll be treated to a wonderful Asian food shop that has delightful sticky sweets in its window that i can highly recommend. Leith Walk is great for all manner of chinese, indian, polish and many other regional foods and shops.
posted by ukdanae at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2010

Tattie Shaws ( is nearby Valvona & Crolla and is the place for good veg

I recommend the Canny Mans pub going there is like stepping back in time, as well as a ton of antiques adorning every inch of the place, they also have a strict set of rules which often provides additional entertainment value...
"They have a rather obvious dislike to anything modern as they have a sign up saying No smoking, No credit cards, No mobile phones, No cameras and No backpackers. With the obvious dislike for my type I took myself and my money elsewhere. I shall certainly never return to them again."
posted by Lanark at 12:47 PM on July 29, 2010

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