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10 Things No One Tells You About… Edinburgh

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From wheels down to sun up, TPG Contributor Amanda Wowk wants you to experience Edinburgh like the locals. 

The beautiful city of Edinburgh is best known for its stunning castle, (surprisingly) tasty haggis and world-renowned festivals. While all of these attractions are worth checking out, the Scottish capital’s lesser known gems have plenty to offer as well. Here are 10 tips for visiting Edinburgh you probably won’t find in a guidebook.

The Best Ways to Get Around Town

While the trams that slide through Princes Street might seem like a convenient way to get around town, your best bet for public transportation is by taking the maroon double-decker Lothian Buses, which cover much more ground for the same price. If you’d rather get to your destination in a jiffy, hail a black cab — they’re everywhere in the city center, offer free Wi-Fi (look for the code on the back of the driver’s seat) and cabbies are some of the friendliest, most helpful guides to learning more about the city.

Catch a black cab for a quick, informative ride around town. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Catch a black cab for a quick, informative ride around town. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Edinburgh’s Other Famous Drink

Scotland is well-known for its whisky, but there’s another local liquor that’s worth sipping: gin. In fact, Edinburgh Gin is distilled right in the heart of the city, meaning you can visit the distillery, learn about the process and sample some of the good stuff. And if you’re in town for any of the city’s August festivals, stop by Edinburgh Gin’s pop-up al fresco gin garden in St. Andrews Square for a signature hand-crafted cocktail.

Isn't it time you tasted Scotland's other famous drink? Image courtesy of Edinburgh Gin's <a href="https://www.facebook.com/edinburghgin/" target="_blank">Facebook page</a>.
Isn’t it time you tasted Scotland’s other famous drink? Image courtesy of Edinburgh Gin’s Facebook page.

The Ultimate Palate Pleaser

Hungry? Head on over to the neighborhood of Bruntsfield, home to Meltmongers and the UK’s #1 cheese toastie (aka. grilled cheese). Order The Big Cheese, an oozing combination of three cheeses and chili chutney on plump sourdough with a side of sweet potato fries, and you’ll soon soak up all that gin you drank the night before. You’re welcome.

The most amazing grilled cheese you'll ever try. Image courtesy of Meltmongers' Facebook page.
The most amazing grilled cheese you’ll ever try. Image courtesy of Meltmongers’ Facebook page.

Be Prepared for Wacky Weather

The weather here is notoriously unpredictable. Scots love to say that you’ll experience all four seasons in one day — and they’re right! If you have any sort of rain jacket, I’d advise bringing one, or if not, buying one. Sure, you could buy an umbrella in any number of tchotchke shops — you’ll find them next to the shelves of stuffed hairy coos (that’s ‘cows’) — but they won’t stand a chance against the strong winds Edinburgh often experiences. Skip the umbrella and sport the rain jacket. The way I see it, you can’t blow a hooded rain parka inside out, and this will leave you hands-free for snapping photos.

Brace yourself for all kinds of crazy weather in this city. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Brace yourself for all kinds of crazy weather in this city. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tour the City With Local Photographers

If you’re looking for a structured way to see the city, check out Iconic Tours. The owner, Will, is a former Lonely Planet photographer and born-and-bred Scotsman, while his business partner, Chris, is also a professional photographer and Edinburgh local. As professional photographers, Will and Chris offer tips for taking the best photos and maximizing your camera’s functionality, all while guiding you to a number of iconic spots around the city. (Not to worry, you can use your smartphone if you don’t have a “real” camera — that’s what I did!) As locals, the duo will provide you with historical facts and interesting insider tidbits you won’t hear anywhere else. And the best part? They’ve been known to make pitstops at charming pubs — it’s thirsty work touring Edinburgh so have a pint, you deserve it!

Try a photography tour led by local pro-photographers. Image courtesy of Iconic Tours' Facebook page.
Try a photography tour led by local pro-photographers. Image courtesy of Iconic Tours’ Facebook page.

Beware the Witching Hour

In the center of the city, you’ll find Edinburgh Castle perched atop a crag of volcanic rock, and just below it, the Princes Street Gardens. While the gardens are both picturesque and peaceful now, this wasn’t always the case — they were once home to Nor’ Loch, or North Lake, a body of water where Edinburgh residents would (allegedly) drown witches during the Middles Ages. So, go ahead and enjoy your picnic and view of the castle from here, but don’t venture through them at night, just in case.

Sure, Princes Street Gardens are a beautiful, relaxing place now. But it's history is a little darker. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sure, Princes Street Gardens are a beautiful, relaxing place now. But it’s history is a little darker. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Get ‘Oot’ of Town

Thinking of hopping over to Glasgow during your visit to Scotland? If you haven’t rented a car, your best bet is the one-hour train ride from Waverley Station. Fair warning though: Edinburgh and Glasgow have a long-standing rivalry, so I advise that you don’t tell the citizens of one city that you favor the other. Historically, Glasgow is a brutish, blue collar city with a reputation for having the highest crime rate in the UK. Times have changed in recent years, but Glaswegians’ fierce loyalty and love for their city hasn’t. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is known for its beautiful Georgian townhouses and white collar crowd. While I’d have my money on Glasgow in a fight, I recommend you save the favoritism for when you’re safely back home.

Hop a one-hour ride to Glasgow from Edinburgh on ScotRail. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Mon the Hibees

Speaking of rivals, if you’re interested in European football (ie. soccer) and want to attend a match while you’re in Edinburgh, you’ll have to choose between the two local clubs, Hibernian FC (also known as Hibs or Hibees) or Hearts FC. Why choose? A fierce rivalry exists between the two clubs that’s been around for hundreds of years. Need help deciding? Just last year, Hibernian won its first Scottish Cup championship in 114 years.

Image courtesy of the Hibernian Football Club's Facebook page.
Let’s hear it for the Hibs! Image courtesy of the Hibernian Football Club’s Facebook page.

Go Shopping in Stockbridge

Not a sports fan? If shopping and sipping more your vacation style, skip the “high street” stores and bars (aka, those found on George and Princes Streets) and head to Stockbridge. This Edinburgh neighborhood offers a plethora of boutiques and vintage stores for your shopping pleasure. Once you’ve had your retail fix, head to St. Stephen’s Street to check out one of its swanky cocktail bars.

Treat yourself to a shopping spree in Edinburgh's Stockbridge neighborhood. Image courtesy of Flickr.
Treat yourself to a shopping spree in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge neighborhood. Image courtesy of Flickr.

FastTrack Your Way Through Security at EDI

When it comes time to leave this fine city, you might find yourself a bit behind schedule with the recently upgraded but slow-moving security lines at Edinburgh Airport (EDI). Unless you’re flying in business class, I recommend purchasing FastTrack to skip them entirely. You’ll have to buy the pass ahead of time through the airport’s website, but doing this will also ensure that you have plenty of time to stock up on any last-minute whisky purchases in the duty-free shops before you go. And as they say in Edinburgh, haste ye back!

Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What are your favorite things to do there?

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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