By Anton Constantinou
Scotland is a country definitely worth visiting. All the wonders of the UK can be found here including great architecture, world famous landmarks and breathtaking landscapes. After a good pub? Scotland has more than its fair share. The same goes for quality accommodation.
We paid a visit to two of Scotland’s greatest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and had a fantastic time. Between the initial landing and the final farewell, we crammed in loads, even if the trip was only four days.
We flew into Edinburgh on a Tuesday morning from Gatwick Airport. Total journey time: 45 minutes. We could have got a train from King’s Cross, but it would have taken four hours. If you choose your days wisely, you can get some excellent deals. Our flights only set us back £40 each, and were direct.
Edinburgh Airport is very close to the city centre, and well connected by public transport. A simple Airlink 100 bus ride will only take you half an hour, but we chose to take a tram instead – which is equally fast. The trams come every seven minutes, and a return fare for adults costs £8.50.
Hungry for some breakfast, we headed to Leo’s Beanery: a cute little café just down the road, serving artisan coffee and local produce. I went for an eggs royale, the other half, scrambled eggs and wilted spinach. We shared a pot of tea and finished off the meal with a delicious avocado cake. Leo’s is one of those places that really speaks to you through its interiors. There are old photos on the wall of a previous owner, and a bookshelf with interesting reads on it like a retro travel guide.
Seeing the sights
Next up was a visit to the historic cemetery, Greyfriars Kirkyard. Graveyards aren’t exactly the most cheerful places, but the headstones here are really striking. Many famous people are buried at the Kirkyard, including characters from Harry Potter books. At any given point in time, you’ll find a crowd gathered out front taking photos of a dog statue. That statue is none other than Greyfriar’s Bobby: a faithful pooch that apparently kept guard of its master’s headstone. Bobby is easily identified by his gold nose, which tourists rub for good luck.
For those who don’t know, Edinburgh is divided into new and old towns. The Old Town is largely medieval in design, made up of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and other Reformation-era buildings. The New Town, on the other hand, is mainly Neo-Classical and Georgian-period architecture, popular for its bars, restaurants and chain stores. One thing that really struck us about the Old Town are its enchanting alleyways. They’re narrow and dimly lit, with old signs that suggest a forgotten past.
It was in the Old Town that we stumbled upon the Royal Mile Market. All sorts of odds and ends can be bought here, from jewellery to art to greetings cards. The market is open daily from 10:00 – 6pm, and also hosts live music.
We awoke the next day feeling rested and refreshed, having slept on a very comfortable bed. First up was a visit to the Surgeons’ Hall Museums.
As one of Scotland’s oldest cultural institutions, the Surgeon’s Hall is full of fascinating curiosities, with separate sections for surgery, dentistry and pathology. You learn loads about the human body, including what certain organs look like, and the specific medical technology needed to save lives on the battlefront.
You don’t have to be an adult to appreciate this place. There are plenty of interactive displays to hold a child’s attention, along with videos to watch.
That evening, we dined at one of the best restaurants in the city – Bia Bistrot. While not centrally located, it’s easy to reach, but retains an off-the-beaten-path feel. It’s relaxed and unassuming with a seasonal offering of taste sensations.
Out starter was a simple amuse bouche of cheese and olives. For main, I ordered the cod fillet in dules and herb lemon butter, and, for desert, the most watering apple jelly crumble with vanilla cream.
As both of us were eating fish, it made sense to order white wine. The attentive waiter recommended a bottle of the Cattarato, on account of its soft, dry texture.
Off to Glasgow
Come Thursday, it was off to Glasgow for a flying visit of Scotland’s largest city. Glasgow is less than an hour from Edinburgh by train and super cheap to reach. My off-peak return ticket for the day only set me back £12.70.
The best bits
One of the first things you notice as you leave Glasgow station is George’s Square, celebrated for its magnificent statues and monuments. Christmas parades take place here, and, being early November, some of the lights were already up.
A short distance away from there is the wondrous People’s Palace. This cultural centre turned museum was built entirely for the people of Glasgow, at a time when the city was becoming grossly overcrowded. Its main intention was to provide a source of inspiration for locals, to offset the pressures of urban life. Adjoining the palace is a beautiful winter garden, full of exotic palms and plants, located inside a glasshouse.
For those unfamiliar with Glasgow’s past, it’s a city that went from being a major shipbuilding and textile centre, to a place of economic and social decline. Visitors are brought up speed with its history through a mixture of paintings, prints, photographs and artefacts.
Lovers of street art will feel right at home in Glasgow. The city of full of awesome murals, that you can discover using the app, Glasgow Mural Trail. Here are a few of the best ones we came across.
As interesting as Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is, it’s nowhere near on the same level as Glasgow’s major cemetery, the Necropolis. This Victorian graveyard is set on a hill and overlooks the entire city. As many as 50,000 people have been buried here, with the Necropolis being home to roughly 3,500 monuments. More film set than burial ground, it feels exactly like the sort of place that should be in a horror movie.
A spot of shopping
Our Glasgow trip was rounded off with a potter down the popular shopping precinct, Buchannan Street. All the upmarket stores can be found here, including BOSS, PANDORA, Reiss and Vivienne Westwood, and it looks fantastic at night.
The final lap
Friday was our last day in Scotland, and we’d reserved it especially for three major Edinburgh attractions: the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Carlton Hill, and, last bit not least, Arthur’s Seat.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery sits just at bottom of Queen Street, walking distance from SACO Eden Locke. The art museum boasts more than 3,000 paintings and sculptures which are split by period. Also inside are prints, drawings and photographs.
Carlton Hill is a heritage site in central Edinburgh, famous for its monuments and buildings. Walking up it is easy enough. Once at the top, you can pretty such take your pick of photo backdrops. Here we are stood in front of the National Monument of Scotland.
Scaling Arthur’s Seat is no easy feat (pardon the rhyme!). At 251m tall, it takes a considerable legwork getting up, but the payoff is worth it. The panoramic views it gives you of the city are out of this world, even if it is a bit windy at the top. The hills are rocky in places, so it’s recommended that you wear running shoes, or, better still, climbing boots.
A taste of India in Scotland
It was very chilly that day, and, after climbing Arthur’s Seat, we were ready for something hot to eat. Sticking local, we stumbled upon this contemporary Indian restaurant called the Pakora Bar, which, while modest looking from a distance, couldn’t be homelier inside.
It’s small and rustic in design with an open-plan kitchen and bite-size menu that calls to mind a street kitchen. Sukdev, our charismatic host, recommended several dishes for us try, including their signature veggie haggis pakoras – which, might I add, were delicious.
Between courses, he regaled us with stories of the restaurant’s history. Starting life as a series of the street markets, The Pakora Bar came about from a simple idea to bring real Punjabi food to the heart of Scotland. Now open a year and half, it draws locals and travellers alike, with a strong contingency in the Indian community. The restaurant also gives to Khalsa Aid: a not-for-profit dedicated, founded on Sikh principles, and dedicated to disaster relief. We can’t recommend this restaurant enough and definitely plan to return.