It had been exactly three years since my last visit to Edinburgh and as it’s one of my favourite cities, that was far too long. So, to remedy the situation, we managed to squeeze in a short break to the Scottish capital just before Christmas. We travelled on a Cross-Country train that was over-crowded all the way from York for almost three hours of the journey. Thankfully we did have seats but many of the passengers weren’t so fortunate as they had made reservations for the previous service one hour earlier which had been cancelled. These things happen and those affected will be entitled to some delay repay compensation but nonetheless, standing on a train for almost three hours isn’t something anyone wants to do.
Getting back to the positives about our journey, our train was on time and we enjoyed some lovely views of the rugged coastline from just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed into Edinburgh. If you ever plan to travel up to Scotland on the east coast main line, I suggest reserving seats on the right hand side of the train so that you can also appreciate the dramatic scenery. As can be expected just before Christmas, Edinburgh Waverley Station was teeming with crowds of people arriving into the city centre around midday like us. Despite it being so busy, I had a spring in my step as I took the escalators up to Princes Street as I was so happy to be standing on this famous thoroughfare with its magnificent ancient buildings and views of the castle. The sounds of a Scots piper greeted us as we crossed the road up to St. Andrew Square where we called in to a familiar cafe for some much needed cups of coffee before dropping our luggage off at our hotel which was nearby.
It was still only 1.30 p.m. as we strolled along George Street in Edinburgh’s ‘New Town’. This broad avenue is lined with high-end stores, hotels and restaurants and runs parallel with its more famous neighbour, Princes Street below.
Edinburgh’s New Town is far from new, in fact it dates from the mid 18th century and was created in response to overcrowding in what is now known as the Old Town. The ‘new town’ was designed with a square at each end. St Andrew Square near to Edinburgh Waverley Station that we had passed through earlier, and Charlotte Square that we had now just reached. The original character of the Georgian era remains today with its cobblestone roads and neo-classical architecture. Many of its buildings feature grandiose pillars and ornate fanlights over the front doors.
We had come to visit Georgian House, a magnificently restored Edinburgh New Town house now owned by the Scottish National Trust. Standard adult admission is £8 but free for National Trust members (even those from south of the border!). It was pleasing to find that the rooms had been decorated in readiness for the festive season just as they would have been in Georgian times.
We toured each floor including the kitchens and servants quarters below stairs. A helpful volunteer was on hand in each of the rooms to answer our questions and to give us a feeling of what life would have been like for the family living there. He told us that the Drawing Room and Dining Room were designed not only to entertain guests but also to impress them and it was all very interesting and definitely worth a visit.
On leaving the building we noticed the brass sign on the gate post next door which read Bute House, the official residence of the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.
Moving on, we wandered down the steep hills of the new town to the charming village of Stockbridge. I don’t know if any of you have ever visited there whilst staying in Edinburgh, but it’s one of my favourite haunts, especially on a Sunday when the Saunders Street farmers market is taking place.
This market is always a hive of activity with its yellow and white canopied stalls crammed close together offering the best of local Scottish fare, street food and handicrafts. There were even two stalls dedicated to dogs with an array of festive treats and accessories for our four legged friends.
Continuing along Raeburn Place, it’s a shopper’s paradise with its thriving high street lined with small independent retailers from fishmongers and greengrocers to vintage clothes and bookshops. We spent a couple of hours enjoying a wander around the shops picking up a few bits and pieces along the way. Although a branch of Starbucks and Costa Coffee have put in an appearance, Stockbridge still has lots of independent cafes which I consider to be so much more welcoming than the big chains.
Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to add Stockbridge to your Edinburgh itinerary. It’s so easy to find, as pretty much all roads from Princes Street lead down there, just head south across Queen Street and you can’t miss it. The most direct route is down Frederick Street until you reach St. Stephen’s church at the bottom of the road and then you’ve arrived! If you do prefer to take the bus then the 24, 29 and 42 all head down to Stockbridge from the city centre. It might be a good idea to take the bus back if you want to avoid walking up the steep hill. (Single fares on Lothian Buses £1.70 or £4 for a day ticket). We actually walked back up to our hotel for a couple of hours rest, then feeling reenergised, were ready for action again.
Our first stop was to The Dome on George Street which is an Edinburgh institution trimmed up to the hilt with its thousands of fairy lights, baubles and elaborate Christmas tree. The exterior features a Graeco-Roman facade and Corinthian Portico which are also adorned with festive cheer. It’s always crowded but a great place to get into the festive spirit on a night out in the city centre.
For dinner, we headed to the Booking Office at Waverley station and as it was a Sunday we felt like a roast so we opted for the roast turkey festive dinner which was very tasty and filled us up nicely. To walk off our large meal we spent the next hour or so wandering through the enchanting Christmas market which covers an extensive area in the Princes Street Gardens between the railway station and the Scottish National Gallery.
It felt a magical experience sauntering along the rows of traditional wooden huts festooned with twinkling lights offering festive gifts to the tunes of seasonal favourites including ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. A brightly illuminated ferris wheel and a traditional carousel were proving popular with all ages as was the beautifully lit Christmas Tree Maze down below. With our hands wrapped around mugs of mulled wine we couldn’t have been more content enjoying our much overdue return visit to Edinburgh.
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