The Mole Diaries: Edinburgh
Edinburgh by Tiniest Tiger
Jessica Hodges studied Ecological Sciences at Edinburgh University. Here, she gives us her top tips for getting about in Scotland’s capital city...I came to Edinburgh in 2005 to go to University and a year after graduating I still haven't been able to tear myself away! Edinburgh is a a city in which a lot of different elements are at play. Historic and modern, proudly Scottish and vibrantly multicultural, the city is really made up of lots of different areas all with their own distinct character. As cities go it's not that big but you'll still spend your entire time here exploring and still not see half of it properly.
There are 3 main student centres in Edinburgh, Newington for the majority, Marchmont for the slightly well to do and New Town for the truly posh. Accommodation prices vary as you'd expect between those three and you do pay a premium for living in a capital city. It's important to make accommodation decisions as early as possible because, with three universities and five colleges, demand is high and places disappear fast. Find your flatmates and expect to spend a week dedicated to attending viewings, if you find somewhere you all like then snap it up!
Things to do
Museums, galleries, theatre, gigs, guided tours...Edinburgh has it all and more. For a unique look at the city and its history you could take one of the ghost tours that leave from the Royal Mile and, while you're there, you could pop into Mary King's close for a view of what's been beneath your feet the whole time. If you have an old unwanted doll, you could take it along and make one of the city’s paranormal inhabitants very happy.
There's so much going on it can be hard to prioritise but you certainly shouldn't leave Scotland without seeing a rugby match at Murrayfield stadium. If you fancy a more relaxing day, you could take a stroll along the water of Leith to the Dean Art Gallery or have a picnic in the botanical gardens. If you're a fan of skiing there's a dry slope in the Pentland hills which is easy to get to by bus (take the number 4 to Hillend); and of course you absolutely have to take a trip up Arthur's Seat, the dormant volcano that dominates the Edinburgh skyline and gives you a fantastic view of the city and the country that surrounds it.
The buses in the city are excellent. A £3 day ticket gives you unlimited travel and a discount on the night bus, otherwise it's £1.20 for any bus journey regardless of distance. There has been disruption throughout Edinburgh recently due to the tram works which are ongoing and it's worth knowing which part of the city they're currently digging up so you can add to your journey time accordingly.
Finding something to eat
When it comes to eating out in Edinburgh, you shouldn't have any problem finding whatever your heart may desire, in a variety of different price ranges. If you're looking for a posh meal out then Leith waterfront offers a variety of great restaurants, including the Michelin star-winning Kitchin, with many of the restaurants offering really reasonable set lunch menus. If you're looking to fill your stomach on a budget, then you can't go far wrong with the Mosque Kitchen or The Baked Potato Shop where I can guarantee you'll have no complaints about the food or the portions... If you're looking for something a little special ingredients-wise Edinburgh has a vibrant farmers market which is held every Saturday at Castle Terrace and is worth a look.
The night life in Edinburgh is heavily dominated by the burgeoning student population. There are a variety of clubs in the centre of the old town. If you're looking to go slightly more up-market, then you can head to George Street where a surprising number of venues come alive at night. If you're just looking for a drink then there are pubs galore. Rose Street, The Royal Mile and the Grassmarket will give you the highest concentration of watering holes but you'd be hard pressed to find a street in Edinburgh without a pub. If you're a real ale fan then try Cloisters in Tollcross and you won't be disappointed.
Safety considerations are what you'd expect in a capital city and there are areas of Edinburgh that are best avoided. If you're staying in the centre of town, the streets are usually busy and you'll have little trouble finding assistance or a taxi if you should need them; but if you're venturing further afield, then it's best to stay in a group and make sure you know your way around. Make sure that you don't jump into a taxi on your own without checking that it's licensed. It’s worth carrying the number of a known company with you when you go out.
If you're in Edinburgh for Christmas you'll get to experience the German Christmas market complete with hot chocolate, mulled wine, ice skating and every variety of German sausage you could wish for. Stay for New Year’s and you can join in the Hogmanay celebrations. Tickets for the street party sell fast and there is always a risk it'll be rained off, but it's still a night to be out an about celebrating. Be aware that drink prices will take a sudden upturn in the more mercenary establishments.
The main event in Edinburgh is of course the Festival. There are actually several festivals running in Edinburgh throughout August, the International Festival, the Book Festival and the Military Tattoo but the one most people mean when they talk about the Edinburgh festival is the Fringe. The Fringe runs throughout August and utterly transforms the city, every public area becomes a performance space and every nook and cranny becomes a venue. It's the world's largest Arts festival and features a staggering diversity of acts including dance, theatre, comedy and exhibitions, big names and complete unknowns. When you're thinking about your accommodation in Edinburgh it's well worth arranging a tenancy for the whole year, not just the academic period, so you can stay for the summer. You will enjoy yourself, I guarantee it and there's plenty of work to be found in the Festival if you apply early.