The first time I went to Edinburgh, Scotland was in the summer of 2014. Going back this year for the University of California Education Abroad Program, or UCEAP, Scottish universities orientation was a blast. The three Scottish universities that participate in UCEAP have their orientation in Edinburgh before students are shipped off to their respective universities. For those of us going to the University of St. Andrews or the University of Glasgow, we only had a few days in Edinburgh, so we did our best to make the most of it. Here’s how you can, too!
Similarly to in the Bay Area, Edinburgh’s hubs are very easily walkable and accessible by public transit. The university is close to student housing, so it’s generally easy for students to get around; everything is easily accessible by foot, bus or train. Also similarly to in the Bay Area, Edinburgh is very hilly and winding — not to mention the added challenge of cobblestone.
There are tours galore to be had in Edinburgh! If you can think of it, there’s likely to be a tour for it. Whether you’re interested in the historic side of the city, the university or nature, including the nearby highlands, there are seemingly endless options to get your bearings about the city. There are even graveyard tours for the brave souls abroad!
Shopping and dining
Do you have any Scottish blood in you? You’ll find tartan, often called plaid, everywhere in Edinburgh. If you’re one of the lucky sods who can trace their lineage, you might be able to get your own family tartan pattern in the form of a kilt! For the rest of us, there are plenty of nice, thick wool sweaters to keep out the Scottish chill. There are also plenty of Scottish goodies to bring home to your family, such as shortbread biscuits, collectible tea tins or maybe even a little whiskey, which is spelled “whisky” in Scotland.
Edinburgh has a surprising foodie culture, with everything from vegan options to restaurants dedicated to serving whole roast pigs. A popular favorite is The Baked Potato Shop, which is exactly what it sounds like. Everything on the menu is both delicious and a great source of warm, starchy goodness.
History and tradition
Like many cities in Europe, Edinburgh is an incredible mashup of old and new — in a magical way. There are McDonald’s restaurants next to decades-old pubs and Starbucks locations beside real-life castles. There’s definitely something to be said about looking at a city as old as Edinburgh from the window of a Starbucks. A vanilla latte combined with a view of a castle is absolutely wild. Edinburgh Castle is in incredible condition and suited to be a military fort. Although the castle hasn’t been active for years, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a military performance event, still happens each summer.
Arts and culture
This year, we arrived just after the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, where people come from all over the world for live entertainment. The festival offers more than 300 venues for comedians, plays, musicals, puppeteers, dancers and other performers hoping to strike it big. Edinburgh is also known for incredible authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and J.K. Rowling. Once you’ve seen the city for yourself, it’s easy to see how the city would help inspire the haunting and magical world of Harry Potter.
Unfortunately, there was no way for us to do everything we wanted during our brief visit to the city. The good news is that we’re already planning our trip back!