Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Sarah Dara - The Elephant House

Edinburgh: History and Literature

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Edinburgh's Charms

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the 7th most populated city in the United Kingdom. Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, it is cited as

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Top 5 Ice Skating Destinations in Europe

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures have dropped: we’re anticipating snow, hunting for that perfect present and the fires are lit. The winter season also means the opening of outdoor ice rinks across the world. Whether you’re a beginner or practically a pro, it’s something that everyone can be involved in. It allows you to participate in some festive cheer, appreciate your surroundings and you can use the ‘it’s exercise’ excuse before/after you make a start on that massive Christmas dinner on 25th December.

Europe in particular has some beautiful rinks. Below I’ve compiled a list below of the top five rinks – which was no mean feat. If you find yourself in any of these cities this winter, it is worth checking them out. Make sure you wrap up and remember to skate in the direction of the crowd!

5. Edinburgh – Princes Street Gardens

Every winter Edinburgh’s Christmas comes to town. It’s a highly entertaining six-week festival in the heart of the city, featuring shows such as stand-up, carnival and disco, the event also offers rides and attractions. The ice skating rink in particular stands out, and is popular with locals and tourist alike. The rink is located underneath the big wheel and is especially beautiful at night when it’s lit up. There’s juxtaposition between the old and new here, with the big wheel situated right next to Scott Monument. The presence of this Victorian Gothic memorial might appear a bit sinister in all its dark glory next to the brightness of the wheel, but it really is testament to the feel of the Gothic Edinburgh as a whole. And better yet, you’re afforded a spectacular view of the skyline.

Price: Starting from £5 – £12.50 depending on time of day/age of person

1387672893-the-ice-rink-at-the-hotel-de-ville-opens-in-paris_3548505(Visit the ultimate symbol for Christmas in Paris www.demotix.com)

 4. Berlin – Potsdamer Platz

This rink is set against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, a fine example of German classicism is Berlin’s annual Winter World in Potsdamer Platz. The event hosts a wide range of winter sports, the most popular being Europe’s largest mobile Toboggan, curling and ice skating. The ice skating rink affords you a splendid view of the Stage Theatre, which is Berlin’s answer for housing cinema and live entertainment. Within the area are the famous German Christmas markets with small huts offering a variety of different foods. The smells of savoury and sweet are mixed in the air and laughter chimes out from the nearby pop-up biergartens. The result is a fun atmosphere that is undeniably German.

Price: Free, but pay for skate hire

3. Paris – Hotel de Ville

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The Scotch Mist

8116835014_913ba8c97c_z(The Scotch mist casts an eerie blanket over Edinburgh. www.flickr.com)

I am just back from a long weekend in Edinburgh: a place adorned with kilts, whiskey and a man busking on his bagpipes. It felt nippy up there and a frisky breeze added an extra chill to the cheeks; trousers weren’t enough to keep me warm. What is not obvious to the eye, however, is that below the ancient streets of the city centre, a hidden depth of mystery lies below your feet: vaults carry a dark history and there are sinister stories to tell. I joined Mercat Tours for an evening Ghost Walk. It seemed fitting that a layer of hazy mist cast an eerie blanket on the Royal Mile (the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh).

GG1 (Medium).JPG[ProductMain](The Mercat Tours take you on a Ghost Walk guided by a hooded figure. http://www.visitscotland.com)

A group of us somewhat curious tourists were led down a narrow lane and taken through a large wooden door and down some wonky steps into the South Bridge Vaults, which is said to be the most haunted place in Edinburgh. Gathered together on the uneven flooring we listened. The tour guide, dressed in a long black cloak, held a dripping candle as he told tales of grim murders and grave diggings under the arched, damp walls of a vault. He made it clear that no gimmicks are used to scare the tourists – if we sensed a drop in temperature, saw a shadow of a figure or felt the touch of a boy’s hand in ours – it was the infamous ghosts reminding us of their presence. I felt an icy gust brush against the back of my legs but chose to ignore it, and another girl stroked the back of her neck as if she’d felt a shiver. The musty smells and flickering candlelight made for the perfect setting of ghostly tales, and each little vaulted room had its own tale of the past – but I can’t say I saw anything out of the ordinary.


Edinburgh in a Day

The Scottish capital is a beautiful and vibrant city. It has rich associations with the past, and its Gothic architecture is unlike any other European city. What is really great about Edinburgh, though, is that it is compact and walk-able, and therefore is an ideal place to take a day trip. To make the most of it, it’s best to arrive as early as possible in the morning (which might mean a very long journey for those of you coming from London), and leave as late as you can. Below is my suggested itinerary:


Let’s say you hypothetically arrive in Edinburgh at 8am ( sorry – I did mention it was best to arrive as early as possible!). Upon arrival, head straight to Princes Street Gardens, which is only a 5 minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley Station if you’re arriving by train. This beautiful public park separates the Old Town from the New Town, and is home to a wide variety of statues, monument and floral displays (and make sure you check out the floral clock!).

By 9am, it’s time to move on to the next stop: the Scott Monument. It is a bit of a climb – 287 steps to be precise – but is worth every loss of breath and sweaty mop. It stands as a tribute to Sir Walter Scott, and its size makes it the largest monument of a writer in the world. Once you’ve reached the very top, take a moment to appreciate the splendid view.

08.08.2005(Bring spending money for the ‘Harrods of the North’. wikimedia.org)

The next stop is directly across the street from the foot of the Scott Monument. It’s known as the ‘Harrods of the North’. That’s right, you’re going to Jenners, the city’s famous department store.

After you’re laden with shopping bags, for any art lovers out there, the next place on the list is the National Galleries of Scotland at the bottom of the Mound: they’re only a 2 minute walk away from Jenners. The galleries are comprised of the Royal Scottish Academy building and the National Gallery of Scotland, two magnificent neo-classical designs which house works from many famous artists including Da Vinci, Vermeer and Monet. Still not convinced? Entry is free.


By now you have probably worked up a thirst so it’s time to stop off for a spot of lunch. Allow yourself a 10 min walk to the George VI bridge and head to the Elephant House. This is a popular haunt for tourists and locals alike. It is steeped in literary history; JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books here!

Once you’re finished it’s time to start exploring again. The next stop is only 100 yards away: Greyfriars Bobby. This is a little statue commemorating one of Edinburgh’s well-loved residents, a Skye Terrier. He’s been made famous by various books and the 1961 Disney film ‘Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog’. There’s time for a quick photo before the next stop.

2675713_8d00f6cc(Grab a quick photo of this well-loved resident before your next location. geograph.org.uk)

If you’re a museum buff, directly across the road from Greyfriars Bobby is the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a fantastic way to explore Scottish history, from the primeval age to the modern era. Be sure to check out the amazing 360 degree views of Edinburgh from the roof garden.

From the museum, your next stop is Edinburgh Castle – a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to the city’s iconic landmark. It is best to go just before closing time because it is quiet and contemplative in nature. You can also observe the dusk falling. If you do want to see everything the castle offers, it might be worth skipping an earlier attraction to give yourself time to explore.


Like London, Edinburgh is a city containing numerous top restaurants. However, the highest recommendation is The Dome. Located in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, it was originally the old Physicians Hall (1775), and then a bank, before it reopened in 1996. It offers you the most famous Scottish delicacy: haggis! Are you brave enough to try it? You’re looking at under £20 for a main, but considering most of your day has been low-cost, it’s time to flash the cash a little.

518bc9440b3f2(After a long, cheap day it’s time to reward yourself with a lavish meal at The Dome. http://www.luxuryscottishwedding.co.uk)

There’s just one last stop before you head home. This one is a bit further out, around a 50 minute walk from The Dome, but you would’ve noticed this on your travels. The final and most famous stop is Arthur’s Seat, the 251m high extinct volcano that sits in the middle of Edinburgh. Because of its location, a taxi is probably the quickest route. Take one to Dunsapie Loch and then there’s only a 30 minute climb where you can work off the lunchtime calories. It offers an amazing panorama of the entire city best enjoyed in the summer evenings. If you go during other times of the year, it might be best to have this as one of the first stops made.

And now it’s time to head back home full of happy memories – but before you leave, don’t forget to buy some famous Edinburgh rock for the journey home!