Archive | December, 2010

Welcome to all things Scottish. Part 1: Edinburgh

19 Dec
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

The MBA is a great opportunity to do a bit of travelling during the holidays. Oxford is a great location for seeing Europe as we’re pretty close to both Birmingham and Heathrow airports, from where you can fly to pretty much anywhere in Europe. As the only Scot on the course, I’ve been asked more than a few times what people should do if they visit Scotland.

So I’ll try and make a few recommendations based on either going up there for a long weekend, or for a bit longer.

When people go up to Scotland for the weekend, they tend to just go to Edinburgh. Apparently it’s the UK’s second most popular tourist destination after London. If you only ever visit Edinburgh you’re only seeing a teeny-weeny bit of Scotland but it’s a good place to start and a good place for a long weekend.

First of all travel: when I travel home to my home town of Dundee, I usually fly from Birmingham to Edinburgh with FlyBe. It’s like any other budget airline, the fares are quite cheap and then they charge you an arm and a leg for luggage etc. Birmingham airport is very easy to get to from Oxford as the airport is connected to the Birmingham International stop, at which most of the trains going to Birmingham stop. Once you get to Edinburgh, there’s a regular bus which takes you in to the city centre from the airport – it takes about 20-30min.

Occasionally other airlines can have decent prices. You can fly British Airways from Heathrow (hahaha – BA – they’ll either be on strike or cancelling everything because of the snow!). Also, EasyJet flies from Luton to Edinburgh, but Luton’s a bit of pain to get to from Oxford. Don’t be tempted to fly RyanAir to Glasgow Prestwick. A) It’s RyanAir, which should be avoided by the sane at all costs, B) they fly from Stansted which is also a pain to get to, C) Prestwick is in the middle of no-where.

I would also advise not taking the train to Edinburgh from Oxford (I know some would disagree). It seems to take ages (~8h) and is massively expensive. I’d rather have the day broken up through flying and expand my carbon footprint a little (it would be flying anyway, right?). What is a good option is the sleeper train, which I’ll discuss in Part 2.

So back to Edinburgh – where to stay? Well… I’m not sure really to be honest. I think I’ve only stayed overnight once in Edinburgh as a tourist, when I managed to get a cheap rate at the Scotsman hotel, which is a fancy hotel in the centre of town. Don’t turn up in Edinburgh expecting to just book a hotel when you get there. I tried that once and there was a not a single hotel room to be had in the city. I ended up sleeping the night on a bench outside Waverley Train station with my girlfriend. It was a bit cold.

So, what to do in Edinburgh? Well, I’ve not been a tourist in Edinburgh that many times, so my recommendations are not that far beyond the obvious. The first thing you need to think of is the Festival. Edinburgh Festival is probably the world’s biggest performing arts festival and is on during most of August. If you like that sort of thing you should go. If you hate massive crowds and being handed a flyer every 5 metres, then don’t bother! The Festival is home to the Edinburgh Fringe, at which some great established and upcoming comedians will be playing. There’s a lot of dross, but a lot of good stuff too!

If you’re in Edinburgh during the rest of the year there is plenty to do! Here’s a few suggestions (some very obvious):

  • Edinburgh Castle – I guess this is the must-see for all tourists to Edinburgh.
  • Holyrood Palace – The official residence of the Queen in Scotland. The Castle and the Palace are at opposite ends of the Royal Mile, which is a long touristy street.
  • Mary Kings Close – this is on the Royal Mile, and I really recommend you see it. It’s basically some streets that were built over when the new town was built, creating a kind of eery sealed in under-city.
  • Arthur’s Seat – is a hill in the middle of Edinburgh, which gives a nice view across the city. It’s a decent climb, but can be a bit dangerous in Winter if there is lots of snow on it.
  • Whisky – I’m afraid there’s no distilleries in Edinburgh. The nearest one is Glenkinchie, which is a wee bit out of town and is best reached by car. I believe there are buses that take you near there too. In Edinburgh itself there is the Scotch Whisky Experience. I’ve never been myself but I presume it gives a decent tourist experience. I’ve also heard about this WhiskiBar place which is meant to be quite a posh whisky bar with loads of rare malts available.
  • Pubs – sorry, I don’t know enough to recommend specific pubs, but I would suggest checking out the Grassmarket, which has loads of pubs and restaurants around it. I’m told there are some must-see pubs, but I don’t know which ones. Sorry!
  • Scottish Parliament – yes, we have our own diddy parliament where we make important decisions about how much to charge people for prescriptions, etc. I haven’t been yet but intend visiting one day. It’s a bit of a love it or hate it building design.
  • Dynamic Earth – ok, I don’t really know what this is, but it’s a major tourist attraction in the centre of Edinburgh
  • National Portrait Gallery – it’s got, like, pictures n’ stuff!
  • Edinburgh Tattoo – again only if you’re there at the right time of year. It’s a big military performance thingy. Lots of bagpipes!
  • Royal Yacht Britannia – was the Queen’s former ship, now docked in Leith.  Something else that I haven’t seen but I have heard is worth a visit!
  • Rugby! Go during the Six Nations and watch Scotland get gubbed play at Murrayfield.

So that’s all I can think of for now. In fact, this all makes me think I need to get back up there to see the things I have been meaning to see for years but haven’t yet got around to visiting!

In Part 2 I’ll give some suggestions for if you want to spend a bit longer in Scotland and see a bit of the countryside.