Every Halloween, Lee and I visit a different place to celebrate. One of these places was Edinburgh and it is now one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s beautiful buildings, winding streets and curious history made me fall in love with the place in just one visit and I can’t wait to return. Although we stayed over Halloween, there was already a few hints of Christmas, and we are hoping for our next visit to be a festive one! So here are 10 things you just HAVE to do this Winter, whether for Halloween, Christmas or anytime in-between.
Take a Harry Potter walking tour
I’m going to kick this one off with some magic! Edinburgh is the birth place of the Harry Potter books and J.K. Rowling’s inspiration can be seen everywhere! If you want to follow in her footsteps then you could find the sites yourself, ORRR you could take the free walking tour, the Potter trail. One of their cloaked tour guides will take you through the city, showing you J.K’s old haunts and inspirations. From the café she wrote parts of the Potter series in, to the tombstones that inspired her characters names. If you’re a potter fan, you will not be disappointed! Dependant on group size, you will get your very own wand for the occasion and taught a spell to change the traffic lights! I won’t give too much away, but I assure you, you will be more than happy to leave a generous donation at the end!
Visit the Castle
Edinburgh castle is a historic fortress, over-looking the city. Home to the crown jewels of Scotland and the national war museum. Even if you don’t fancy the almost £20 entrance fee, it is still worth a walk up for the views. Listen out for the 1 o’clock gun that sounds every day except Sunday, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Hike up Arthur’s seat
Ok, so I haven’t actually done this, but I will next time! I’m told it takes about 30 minutes and the views are beautiful but we didn’t fancy it in the rain! The thing that interests me more than the views though, is that it’s a volcano! Not only Arthur’s seat, but also Castle Rock. Yep, Volcanos in Edinburgh, who knew, eh? Not to worry though, they are extinct and therefore won’t be erupting again!
Go on a ghost tour
Edinburgh has a pretty gruesome history and is home to many myths and legends. The best way to learn about its gory past, is to walk its streets… at night! Admittedly, you could learn from the comfort of your own home or a museum, but where’s the fun in that? I recommend doing a night tour, just to add to the atmosphere but you don’t have to. Check out a few options before you book. You will find tickets available online and all over the city, some are paid but many are free (although you are expected to tip!). Our guide was dressed as a Victorian ghost and played her part pretty convincingly! At one point she had us underground, with no light, talking about the spirits of murdered children. SOOOO if you’re easily scared, consider which tour is best for you and whether you want to go during the day or night. If you don’t fancy the walk or find it difficult to walk far, then consider a ghost bus tour! This comedy-horror theatre experience will tick off the 12 most terrifying places around the city!
Visit the spooky Greyfriars Kirkyard
Rumoured to be the most haunted cemetery in the world and it’s not difficult to see why. For one, it is thought to be home to half a million bodies, built up into a mound over the last 500 years. The cemetery certainly doesn’t feel big enough for that many people, but only a small portion of this number still have head stones, or it would have taken over the whole city! I’ve heard that the top soil is now so thin that it isn’t unusual for the odd bone to be found poking out!! It might not seem like your ideal tourist spot but it really is worth a visit. We found ourselves back here several times on different tours, each time seeing a different side of it and hearing new stories.
Wonder at the Samhain festival
The Samhain or Samhuinn festival will take you back to Halloween’s beginnings as a pagan festival. The harvest festival of fire sees people dressed as mystical characters walk the streets. Be transported back in time and celebrate the end of the summer in chilling style!
Hit the shops!
Edinburgh old town is full of little boutique shops and plenty of places to grab an unusual gift, either traditional to the city or unique to Scotland. If you’re after something a little more unusual, then over Waverley bridge, passing the old station booking office, which is now a Wetherspoons. In the ‘New Town’ you will find more common shops, like Primark, H&M and everything else you might want for a Christmas shopping-spree!
Enjoy the Christmas Market
From the 17th November, you can enjoy Edinburgh’s Christmas market, as well as a whole host of other festive events. From Christmas tree mazes, to Ice skating and mulled wine, there is something for all ages.
Photo from Edinburgh’s Christmas events website
Wander the old town streets
I have a habit of recommending this for anywhere I visit, but there’s nothing like an aimless wander! Walk the cobbled alleyways, take beautiful photos and find yourself an old pub to warm your hands by the fire and warm your insides with a whisky! Or, you know, a café and a cuppa tea if you prefer!
Visit the underground world of Mary King’s close
In the 17th Century, Edinburgh had become increasingly over-crowded. The defensive walls build around the city meant that it wasn’t possible to build outwards and instead they built up. The richer inhabitants had the upper levels where there was more light, while the poor lived in squalor in the lower floors. In some cases buildings were 8 stories, tall for the time! In some areas, the tops of the building were knocked down and the lower levels used as foundations for new buildings. One of these places was the Stock Exchange, built above Mary King’s close. The poorer residents stayed in this underground network of streets and rooms and rumour has it, were locked in when the Plague hit in the 1600’s. The last inhabitants finally moved out in 1902 and the area was opened to the public in 2003. Many ghostly sightings have been reported over the years, including a little girl called Annie. Abandoned in her room to die when she fell ill with the plague, she was lonely and wished for a toy to keep her company. Now tourists leave gifts for her, resulting in a creepy pile of dolls and teddy bears… If you fancy wandering these haunted streets and immersing yourself in the history then you can take a tour from around £15.
Meet Greyfriars Bobby
Little Bobby, a loyal Skye Terrier, was said to have sat by his owner’s grave for 14 years, until his death in 1872. The story became so popular that Bobby has become arguably the most famous dog in Scotland and his story has even featured in books and films. You can visit his grave, admire his statue, or grab yourself a drink in the pub named after him!
Where to stay
Of course Edinburgh has many hotels, hostels and Airbnbs to choose from but our favourite place to crash is Castle Rock Hostel. Fairly priced and with private rooms available, it is the ideal spot to explore from. While it may not rate the highest in the city for comfort and style (note the mouldy window!) it makes up for it in character and a great view of the castle. We stayed in the ‘Romeo and Juliet room’ and had a shared bathroom which was lovely and clean. There is a communal Kitchen where you can grab breakfast, a no-phones-allowed common room and a front desk of friendly staff to help you plan your trip! They even host a Halloween party!
Have you been to Edinburgh? Maybe you have a recommendation or a favourite myth, legend or story from your trip? Let me know in the comments or join me on Facebook or Instagram! And don’t forget to Pin this post!