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Edinburgh 101: Learning my new city

    Having already visited Scotland twice in as many years, I’ve spent enough time in Edinburgh to have a vague map of the city in mind. I knew that old town and new town combined into a still fairly small city – the mostly residential areas notwithstanding. I also knew how to get into and around the city for the most part.

    But moving to Scotland for a little while meant learning more about Edinburgh to take advantage of all the wonderful activities and opportunities available. While I still have much to learn, here’s your Edinburgh 101, based on my explorations thus far.

    Get to Edinburgh

    Edinburgh is served by its own international airport, located about 35 minutes from Edinburgh center whether you drive or take public transportation. The Airlink 100 bus picks up directly in front of the arrivals terminal exit, offering service 24/7.

    Alternatively, the new Edinburgh tram is ever so slightly more expensive, but both options offer stops along the way until Waverley Bridge, just outside Edinburgh Waverley train station.

    Waverley Station is where you’ll likely arrive should you travel to Edinburgh by train from London or elsewhere in Scotland. It’s the central transportation hub for the city, with Haymarket being the other major train station in the city.

    Get Around Edinburgh

    The bus system is extensive in the city, but keep in mind that it is also incredibly walkable. Edinburgh Waverley station essentially divides Old Town and New Town, allowing you to easily walk around to any destination.

    The Tram also cuts basically between Old Town and New Town, so unless you’re headed east/west it won’t be of much use. Taxis are everywhere if needed, but just remember that if you’re staying right in the city you could easily walk.

    Outdoor Activities in Edinburgh

    Edinburgh hosts a multitude of green areas to explore. The city boasts fascinating history, with a constant recognition of natural spaces that has preserved much of the city for us to still enjoy today. Because of this dedication, Edinburgh is a proud UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    All of these outdoor activities in Edinburgh are easily walkable from Waverley Station. The most popular adventure yields stunning views of the entire city from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

    If you head to Holyrood Palace at the far eastern end of the Royal Mile, you can walk along the right-hand side of the property to the base of Arthur’s Seat. The path gradually inclines, there are a few rocky bits to walk over, but this is a rather easy little hike that can be done in normal walking shoes.

    The path is easy enough for your furry friends to join you as well (though not mine, she’s still an island girl at heart and would prefer to lounge in the grass than strut up a mountain).

    Holyrood Park encompasses about 640 acres, including the Palace and the dormant volcano that is Arthurs Seat. At about 250m in height, the Seat makes for a lovely, easy hike for fantastic views.

    Headed south from Waverley Station, you can mosey your way through Edinburgh University campus, which leads you directly to The Meadows. The Meadows is an extensive park offering paths and pockets of trees in a mostly grassy space perfect for recreational sports.

    Between The Meadows and Edinburgh Castle, you’ll stumble upon the Grassmarket area, where tons of small cafes, bars, and restaurants can be found, alongside cute little shops perfect for window shopping.

    A weekly Saturday outdoor market fills the space with lots of independent vendors selling everything from local cheese to handmade jewelry. While this might not be a green space, it’s still a fun outdoor activity filled with dining and shopping!

    Around the outer walls of Edinburgh Castle, or just west of Waverley Station, you’ll find the Princes Street Gardens. Filled with beautifully manicured patches of flowers and shrubs and dotted with benches along the paths, the Princes Street Gardens offer the perfect escape from the bus traffic and busy sidewalks just outside the wrought iron fences.

    There’s still much more to explore in Edinburgh, especially Calton Hill, more of New Town, and neighborhoods along the water like Leith and Portobello Beach. 

    Edinburgh’s plethora of green spaces also makes it the ideal city to host an outdoor festival. We’ll be attending this year’s Hogmanay festival to ring in the new year, so stay tuned for more information and updates to come!

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    An introduction to Edinburgh from a newly arrived American expat

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