In 2011, Ava Goepfert spent a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her time there was organized by IFSA-Butler, a study abroad provider that has sent over 50,000 students abroad since its founding in 1988, and currently operates programs in over 19 countries.
In this article, Ava shares how she discovered and fell in love with the historical, magical city of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a great city to get lost in. Small and compact, its streets pile on top of each other like ladders. Buildings, medieval skyscrapers as some are known, date back to the twelfth century and are called as they are because, at six stories tall, they were enormous for their time. Cobblestone streets are heavy with foot traffic and lined with shops and restaurants.
I was first intimidated by Edinburgh, particularly because I am directionally challenged; how would I ever find my way in this double-layered city? But I soon began to enjoy getting lost in the streets; in fact, I quickly learned that the best way to get to know the city was to walk through it, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes purposefully taking a new street or a wrong turn. I stumbled upon parks and shops and people I likely would have never seen or learned about otherwise. I even discovered a favorite route that took me from New Town to Old Town, almost a reverse chronological tour of the city. So indicative of Edinburgh’s past and present, I actually now recommend that route, outlined below, to all visitors. It gives you a chance to see so much of what the city has to offer and be introduced to its landscapes and cityscapes, its people, and its culture.
Start at the bus station in St. Andrews Square, New Town. Georgian New Town was constructed in the eighteenth century with a grid system that neatly outlines the area; it makes getting around easy for those of us who are more prone to losing our way. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle in New Town: shoppers, business workers in smart suits, joggers, commuters and taxis honking along the roadway, and bright signs and stores begging for your business. The action quiets down a bit as you leave St. Andrews Square. From there, head toward Princes Street, the main street separating Old Town and New Town.
Navigate down Princes Street. Princes Street truly embodies Edinburgh: on one side, you’ll find lots of modern shops; on the other, you’ll see a large old castle and the gothic-looking Scott Monument. Princes Street so clearly reflects what I love most about Edinburgh: the old constantly merges with the new, and it’s beautiful. Take your time here; I always enjoyed sitting on a bench and eating my lunch facing the castle.
Discover The Mound. End your tour of New Town by wandering around its most impressive architecture. The Mound is an area in between Old Town and New Town that is home to many buildings from the eighteenth century, including New College and the National Gallery of Scotland.
Venture along until you hit streets named “bridge.” The “bridges” of Edinburgh are where getting lost becomes shockingly easy, and also where it becomes strikingly apparent that you aren’t in New Town anymore. At this point, you have entered Old Town, which is literally a city on top of a city; because Edinburgh is rather small, city planners simply just built on top of what was already there.
For example, walking down North Bridge or George IV Bridge, you think you’re on an ordinary street; in actuality, they are both bridges with numerous streets running underneath them. The most confusing part to me was trying to decipher all of this on a map. Though it looked like North Bridge intersected with Cowgate, Cowgate was in actuality under North Bridge. This takes some getting used to.
Harry Potter fan? Find The Elephant House and wander Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. Legend tells us J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book on napkins in The Elephant House, a small coffee shop located near Greyfriar’s Bobby. Next door is the Kirkyard, a church and graveyard that is open to the public. If you wander through, you’ll find names like “Tom Riddle,” “James Potter,” and “McGonagall.”
End at the only appropriate pub to end at: The Last Drop. The Last Drop is located in the Grassmarket area. With Edinburgh Castle towering over the marketplace, you can stroll around marveling at the history and architecture. In the middle of the area, you’ll find a large circle slightly raised from the ground; this is where they used to have public hangings. It is believed that before people were hung, they would head to The Last Drop where they would sit and dine and drink their last drop.
And so there you have it: a fine walking tour from New Town to Old Town in Edinburgh. Surely, it’s not necessary to go about this route in the suggested order; that’s part of the fun and beauty, isn’t it – getting lost and exploring on your own, finding your own rhythm in the city. Edinburgh isn’t pushy; it is welcoming and unassuming and offers its history and secrets openly. I encourage you to get know it by walking and wandering and discovering your own routes that will forever be memorable.
The Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University (IFSA-Butler) is a nonprofit organization with over 90 study abroad programs in Europe, Latin America, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. We aim to immerse, to challenge and to inspire our students to develop global perspectives and a thirst for new adventures. Where will your next adventure be? More information about IFSA-Butler can be found at www.ifsa-butler.org.
More culture. Less shock.