I’d defy ANYONE not to fall in love with Edinburgh. It’s certainly one of the most magical cities I’ve visited. Medieval architecture, hipster coffee bars and quirky streets that feel like you’re walking down Diagon Alley (start counting Harry Potter references now) coexist in perfect harmony under the dramatic backdrop of the grandest of castles. Add in some live bagpipes, lots of friendly scots in kilts, and 36,000 runners and you’ve got yourself the very best of city breaks.
Our apartment was situated in grassmarket, part of the old town and traditionally the site for public executions. Thankfully these days its just a vibrant area full of some of the best independent eateries, street food and a generally buzzing atmosphere. Even at 9am on a Saturday, as I ran down the road, the lure of freshly baked pastries and coffee was hard to ignore.
Food tip: Pumpkin Brown calls itself ‘Edinburgh’s freshest cafe’ and boy was it good. It’s certainly worth a stop as you run down grassmarket. I had a red velvet latte and a raw vegan blueberry slice and both were delicious. It also had a great selection of salads and breakfast options.
As I turned away from grassmarket, I got my first view of the castle. Sitting on top of a black craggy mound which is actually a plug of extinct volcano, it dominates Edinburgh’s skyline. On several occasions I narrowly avoided bumping into people and lampposts because it’s so imposing it’s hard to tear your eyes away! It’s easy to see where JK Rowling got her inspiration for Hogwarts.
Princes Street Gardens
The gardens are beautifully pretty and one of my favourite parts of the city. On a sunny day they are a wonderful place to lounge with friends, or even just a picnic and a good book. I followed parallel to princes street, the main shopping road in Edinburgh until I got to the mound.
The dominating feature of the east side of the gardens is the Scott monument. It’s gothic structure celebrating the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, is the second largest monument to any author in the world. Whether you knew that or not, it’s structure is still pretty impressive. You can actually go up it to the viewing platforms which give great views all the way across the city and to the coast on a clear day.
From here I ran up Cockburn street. A steep a curving road with some great architecture (like most of Edinburgh) which brought me out onto the royal mile.
The Royal Mile
Deceivingly, the royal mile is actually longer than a mile by 107 yards. Thats almost 100m in new money, or 9.58 seconds if you’re Usain Bolt! As you run along, it’s an eclectic mix of shops, selling everything from kilts and stuffed highland cows, to fudge and smoothies.
Early in the morning was a good time to run as it often gets busier with tourists during the day. It was at this point also, that I realised I was about to hit the start of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10k. So many runners were walking and jogging to the start line with the race number pinned on their top. I could see people looking at me, wondering if they should tell me I was going the wrong way! My turn, was not until the marathon the following day however.
Most of Edinburgh is a tussle between old and new. Nowhere is this more pronounced than at the bottom of the royal mile where the new parliament buildings (complete with friesian cow splodges) sit opposite Holyrood palace. Apparently the queen spends one week here at the start of every summer. I wonder whether she’d consider renting it on airbnb the rest of the year. It’s a great location for the marathon festival weekend!
I’d have loved to have spent longer running around Hollyrood, but with 26.2 to run the following day, I thought I’d better call time. So, after glimpsing Arthurs Seat from a distance, the main peak of the group of hills in the park, I ran round the race expo at Dynamic Earth and back up Hollyrood road to Grassmarket and our apartment.
Another gem around the Grassmarket area was Hula Juice Bar. I had a great poke bowl and a tahiti kick smoothie. I loved how fresh the food was, and the way your cutlery is in a coconut shell!
My final recommendation, particularly after a hot run would be Mary’s milk bar. It sells all things icecream, including hot chocolates and milkshakes. As well as quirkly flavours such as banana and kiwi sorbet, rose and ginger and pistachio and cardamon it has lots of dairy free options. I went for a very tame salted caramel, as it just looked so good. On a sunny day, the queues outside can be up to half an hour, such is it’s popularity. And if you don’t get an instagram of your ice cream with the castle backdrop (literally opposite), then who even are you!
This was my fourth trip to Edinburgh and one of my favourites. Regardless of what you enjoy doing, Edinburgh has something for everyone. It’s easy to get around and whilst it doesn’t feel like a big city, it has such a buzzing atmosphere that you can’t not fall in love with it. Plus, any city that was the birth place and inspiration of Harry Potter, is a winner with me! See you at Hogwarts?