Athens of the North; Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

Athens of the North; Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

#Edinburgh has been a #culture capital for centuries, and it’s especially #magical (like brooms and wands magical) right after New Year’s, when sights like Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and Calton Hill turn the city into a full blown #winter wonderland.


Scotland in January is cold. Russia cold. I imagine there’s Scottish word for it that’s unprintable (and unpronounceable to most Anglophones). But substituting Scotland as a winter getaway over Majorca or some other sunny locale is worth it.

Edinburgh is a capital of art, culture, and science, and has been for hundreds of years. That’s what earned it the nickname “Athens of the North”—and both “New Town” and “Old Town,” are home to dozens of sights. But when you visit in January, you tend to spend most of your time in one area or the other day-to-day: it’s a bit chilly to run back and forth. It’s like a winter-time machine, where you see the city in all its iterations, from medieval to modern neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

Edinburgh is a capital of art, culture, and science, and has been for hundreds of years

Wanting to bridge the Old Town and New, I chose the Royal British Hotel for lodging — overlooking Princes Street, and walking distance to most sites (Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, and Waverly Station). It’s also in the shadow of the Balmoral Hotel, so it’s perfect for popping by the train-station-lodging-turned-palace for tea.

from  $186

Royal British Hotel

 20 Princes Street, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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I decided to go chronologically and start with the Edinburgh of the past for the first few days. That required a trip to Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, naturally—the former residence of Scottish royalty and the current abode of British monarchy are both Edinburgh landmarks. The spires of St. Giles Cathedral demanded a visit, as well as the Scottish Gallery. 

Luckily all the major sights of Old Town lay on the Royal Mile, flanked at the top with the Castle and bookended by the Palace. I braced myself for a walk up Calton Hill to view the sprawl of the city from the columns of the National Monument. I thawed out on scotch and steak pie.

I braced myself for a walk up Calton Hill to view the sprawl of the city from the columns of the National Monument

After soaking up all of old Edinburgh, it was time to sample the new. Modern Edinburgh is more than haggis and plaid and shortbread: Scotland’s capital is known as a hotspot for fusion restaurants and global culture. I decided to try the latter with “The Potter Trail” tour

The point of the walking tour is to reveal the pieces of Edinburgh that inspired the Harry Potter series while JK Rowling was writing them. We toured some of the cafes where Rowling brought her witches and wizards to life, like The Elephant House. Also on the list is the grave of Thomas Ridell in misty Greyfriars Kirkyard, which allegedly inspired the name of Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort).

While Edinburgh is endlessly fascinating, after a few days I wanted to see the country that shaped it. I chose “Rosslyn Chapel and Scottish Border” day-tour with Rabbies, since the pick-up/drop-off point was close to my hotel.

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Rosslyn Chapel & the Scottish Borders Tour

Culture
 Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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We headed south toward England while our guide regaled us with stories of Scotland’s past—tales of knights and ladies, of queens without countries, and a time when the hills and moors of southern Scotland were a no-man’s-land between two warring peoples. 

History in marble and stone passed before us–the William Wallace Memorial, Melrose Abbey (burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart), and my favorite: the Rosslyn Chapel. Famous as a setting from The Da Vinci Code, nothing compares to seeing the church in-person and frosted with snow. Carved vines snake up the many columns supporting the starry heavens of the vaulted ceiling. 

Rumor has it that the wonder of the interior spurred a rival stonemason to kill the carver in jealousy. It’s like walking through a book of symbols hidden in snow, only 20 minutes from Edinburgh.

Famous as a setting from The Da Vinci Code, nothing compares to seeing the church in-person and frosted with snow

Winter in Edinburgh, like Rowling’s writing, is magic. The throngs of tourists are minimal, and you get to see a Scotland that’s all frigid lochs and windswept moors, bracing winds and the embrace of hot mulled cider. And seriously freezing. Like pack some ski gear or buy a wool sweater on Princes Street, because doing the traditional commando and kilt just won’t cover it in January. 

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