Tim has a large contract in Edinburgh and because of this, we have been venturing up to Scotland’s gorgeous capital every few weeks. While Tim is off at work, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the fair city on my own. Luckily, Edinburgh is perfect for solo female travelers and as such, Edinburgh has quickly become my favorite city in the UK. As you’ve heard me say countless times, I’m not a city person. I don’t really revel in the hustle and bustle. I don’t like having to constantly worry about the safety of my belongings and myself. But Edinburgh is different. Edinburgh is a fairly quiet, tame city (unless of course you go in August during the Fringe… see my post about that crazy trip here.) The combination of tons of tourists and the friendly Scottish nature makes me feel right at home when I’m visiting. While I’m sure there are places you don’t want to venture to alone, as there are in every city (remember folks, I lived in Oaktown…eek), Edinburgh is generally safe. Even at night, the city bustles with a quiet hum of pubs and visitors excited to explore the ancient city and I never felt scared or alone, even on an evening ghost tour.
While I’ve been traveling alone since junior high when I started flying to Pennsylvania to visit my best friend, exploring alone is a completely new concept to me. For those of you who are just joining us, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and a big trigger for me is crowds. Because of my crowd anxiety, I tend to enjoy having Tim around and refer to him, only half-jokingly, as my “Emotional Support Husband.” He knows my anxiety triggers, he knows when I’m on the verge of an attack and he knows how to soothe me when an attack occurs. He’s also really good at explaining to others what’s happening or about to happy if I’m happen to have an attack in a public place. Because of this, I really enjoy having him around when it’s time to explore new places. BUT since one of the two of us has to work, I must let him go to his meetings. Now I could technically stay in the hotel all day while he’s at work, but what fun would that be? Plus… I’d starve haha. And you all know how much I love food.
So when we took our first work trip up to Edinburgh a couple of months ago, I put on my big girl panties and decided to explore on my own. We stayed in the Grassmarket area so I was able to easily walk throughout Old Town. I’ve compile a list of things that are perfect for solo exploration in Edinburgh.
Get Coffee and a Croissant at Patisserie Valerie or The Elephant House
Located next to each other on George IV bridge, both places have delicious almond croissants (my go to favorite) and other yummy treats.
Patisserie Valerie is a chain (though I didn’t know this at the time), but that doesn’t detract from its deliciousness or wonderful service. I got an adorably decorated cappuccino at Patisserie Valerie and it was fairly nice and quiet.
Next door is the Elephant House, which, it claims, is one of the coffee shops where J.K. Rowling spent time writing the first Harry Potter books. Because of this claim to fame, the Elephant house is obviously much more busy, but if you’re a solo traveler, they have a nice little bar at the front where you can sit down for a while with your coffee and maybe your laptop if you’d like to take a run at writing something of your own while you’re there.
I worked on this blog while I was in the Elephant house the first time and I don’t necessarily think it made me write any better, but I do think that it made me feel happy. There’s something about writing your own words sitting in a seat that could possibly have been previously occupied by a famous writer that makes the writer in me feel all warm and fuzzy.
Side note… it’s weird to call myself a writer again. It’s been a long time since I’ve written as much as I have since we moved to England. For those of you who don’t know, my college degree is actually in journalism and public relations and I have been writing for as long as I can remember. When I started in school I wanted to be a newspaper journalist but my professors all saw in me a lack of ability to write the boring things. I love to write happy things (fluff pieces you might call them). I also definitely ha a hard time writing objectively so my professors suggested I focus on public relations. I got my second job out of college as a communications specialist with Martel-Day but quickly became their sole graphic designer and I absolutely loved getting to create layout and design and art for work. And the rest is history. So here we are… nearly ten years later and I’m enjoying getting back to my roots, even if I’m a bit rusty.
Go on a tour at The Real Mary King’s Close
Scottish English Definition of Close: A narrow alleyway between buildings that leads throughout the city. Often named after a prominent person or shop in the proximity of the close. Pronounced like “you’re close to me.”
Part of what I love about Europe is the deep history that comes with every turn and Edinburgh is no different. Except here, not only can you see things to the left and right, you can go DOWN and see amazing historical things.
To know a little about Mary King’s Close, you have to know that Edinburgh was built UP and at one time buildings were as tall as 11 stories! Mary Kings Close is now underground, buried when they built today’s city hall. Because they used the structures of the original buildings to support the new buildings, the walkways, homes and shops on Mary King’s Close were preserved, almost frozen in time.
Taking a tour of the close is a unique experience to learn about how Scotsmen lived, worked, and died 100s of years ago. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s definitely worth a tour. You’ll likely have to come back after you book in for your tour, but we got lucky and there was a fairly empty one starting ten minutes after we got there.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Built on top of a rock that has been occupied by humans since the Iron Age, Edinburgh castle is nearly impenetrable. It’s location, towering above the rest of the city give the castle both a regal aura and the perfect defendable location.
Still used today by the military, but not by the Royal family, Edinburgh castle is also mostly a historic site open to the public. I would advise to take the free tour that is offered near where they check your tickets. It’s definitely worth your time as you’ll learn so much history about the castle and its former occupants. Most notable for me was the room where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the next king, James I.
Take a Ghost Tour
Edinburgh is said to be quite haunted and whether you believe in ghosts or not, why not join the local culture and take a haunted tour throughout the city?
There are ghost tours throughout the streets of the city and into underground rooms similar to those preserved in Mary King’s Close. There are afternoon and evening tours offered by various companies throughout the city and even a bus tour if you’re not up for walking. Book in on a tour and even though you’re alone, you wont be alone for that hour or so because you’ll be with a group of people and your tour guide and it won’t feel quite so scary.
We took a ghost tour in the early evening when it was already dark but not terribly late, but the tours run until about 10pm. I asked the lady when we booked our tickets what the difference is between the times and she said simply that it was who the tour guide was and that they all go to the same locations. I do however, think that they have a couple added thrills by staff members in costume if you go on the really late ones. I mean, what’s a ghost tour if you’re not scared, am I right?
I think I’m too chicken to go on a tour really late and I was pretty creeped out just by the tamer tour we went on, but if you like the feeling of chills down your spine and revel in the idea of being scared in sound proof underground chambers, try your hand at the late night ones. If you do, let me know how it goes!
Shop, or window shop, on the Royal Mile
At the top of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, down the hill, is Holyrood Palace, a royal residence still in use today when the Queen comes to Scotland. The distance between these two palaces is 1 mile. Thus, the name the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile is really where all the tourist hustle and bustle is and you can definitely spend a few days just meandering down the street. There are several shops to browse in but most of them fall in one of three categories, woolen and cashmere items (think, scarves, wraps, socks, sweaters, etc), Scottish souvenirs including kilts an anything tartan you could think of, and whisky. All Whisky. All the Time. Now don’t get me wrong, these shops are super fund to browse through but they are also pretty pricey and many of them carry the same thing. So don’t get hung up on the first blanket or scarf you want because it may be somewhere else, probably not for cheaper, but maybe another one you like better.
This street is one of the places I feel most safe when I’m exploring alone. The plethora of tourists makes me feel not quite so alone and you never know, you might meet a traveling buddy.
Meander your way through Greyfriars Kirkyard
If you’re up early enough (and by early I mean like 930 on a weekday), it’s likely you can meander through Greyfriars Kirkyard alone. Which is both creepy and really awesome. The centuries old graveyard is said to be one of the most haunted graveyards in Scotland, if not Europe. But creepy stories aside, there’s also a ton of history there. So much so that J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from some of its inhabitants, most notably Tim RIddle. But McGonagal and Neville Longbottom are also supposedly found somewhere in the yard.
The quiet still fall mornings were perfectly picturesque while I was there and I was both a little scared and excited to wander through all on my own. I did see a few homeless people’s tents set up in one corner so I steered clear of that area as it’s just not safe when you’re alone.
Explore the National Museum of Scotland
Now here’s a place you could get lost for hours. The museum is huge, well put together and best of all, free to enter! There are displays ranging from nature to the history of Scotland to the history of the world to fashion, industry and much more.
I was there for about an hour and only saw a fraction of the rooms. Unfortunately for me, a group of small children came in and there was quite a bit of chaos. As most of you know… I’m not one to enjoy the presence of screaming children, especially while I’m alone. So, I lasted as long as I could. I did get to see an amazing exhibit on fashion and I wanted so many of the dressed and hats.
Eat some delicious food
I’m not really usually one for eating alone in a restaurant, and to be honest, only one of these I ate at alone. The others I ate at with Tim and his coworkers in the evening. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it alone! Be braver than me!!
I know what you’re thinking… BBQ in Scotland? Come on Sam… you’re from the States… but really… truly… this place has AMAZING BBQ!! They even had ranch dressing for my fries so I was totally sold!
This is the one restaurant I actually did eat at alone and while it was pretty intimidating at first, once my food came, I was okay. I was also happy to see there were a few other girls there studying or hanging out alone. So even though the place was bustling with people, I didn’t feel quite so inconspicuous.
I was craving a smoothie bowl like you can get from Jamba Juice in downtown Disney and reminiscing on eating one on a warm summer morning at Disneyland so when I saw they had smoothie type bowls here, I had to stop in. The bowl was delicious, not quite what I was remembering but good enough that it hit the spot. I’d definitely come here again.
Recommended by the bartender at “The Inn on the Mile,” this restaurant was delicious! I’m not sure if I was super hungry and a little (or a lot tipsy) or if it really was the most amazing enchilada, but either way, I enjoyed it tremendously. Again… I know, enchiladas in Scotland, Sam? And, no it’s nothing like a true enchilada from back home in So Cal, especially not any made by my Nina, Martha Alvarado, but it was delicious nonetheless. But this bistro wasn’t really a Mexican restaurant and Tim had tradition haggis and potatoes which he said was wonderful as well.
The atmosphere was cute and cozy and I could have easily seen myself eating alone there if necessary.
Grab a drink
Speaking of the Inn on the Mile, stop in and grab a drink there while you’re strolling through the shops or waiting for a ghost tour on the Royal Mile. Tim and I did just that while we were waiting for our tour and the next day, while I waited for Tim to get done with his 1000000 meetings, I felt safe enough to head back into this little pub and grab another drink or three.
The manager remembered me from the night before and welcomed me warmly. I sat down an sipped my drink listening to the bartender and manager chat with the little old lady who was obviously a regular. Eventually I had enough liquid courage to join in the conversation and I found myself loving learning about the Sicilian village where the manager is from and discussing life in Scotland with the bar tender and local lady. It was truly a simple evening but it was probably my most favorite thing I did alone on all of my trips to Scotland. I’ll definitely be heading back on my next trip up.
They also have a highly rated hotel but I haven’t had the pleasure of staying there yet. Maybe next time we go for vacation and not work, Tim and I can check it out.
Search for that perfect vintage piece
Right in the heart of the Grassmarket, across from our first hotel, was the amazing vintage store called Armstrong‘s Vintage. This very large and slightly overwhelming vintage store has tons of items ranging from 50s – 90s vintage pieces (if you’re one who believe the 90s are really vintage…) and while a lot of it was 70s and 80s stuff that doesn’t really excite me personally, I did locate the most amazing red, wool, hooded, floor length cape there that I HAD to have. I snatched it up as soon as I saw it and have worn it so much since I got it a couple months ago. Best impulse buy for sure. It takes some patience and digging, but it’s worth it to venture into Armstrongs, if not just to see their crazy vintage clothing and item displays on the ceilings, shelves and roof. I’m really in my element when I shop alone as I feel like it’s something one often does alone and was the first thing I ever did alone when I became an adult and had to venture out without the security of my parents and friends. So I definitely felt at home browsing through this store seeing all the amazing pieces and wondering just where they used to be in their former life.
So there you go… a few suggestions on what you can do if you have a few hours or a few days alone in the gorgeous city of Edinburgh. Like I said before, if you know me, I’m not usually one to venture out on my own, but I’ve done it now a few times in Edinburgh and will again I’m sure. The city is calling this is one call I’ll be glad to answer.