I decided on a city break in Edinburgh, Scotland as my last trip of 2015. I had visited Edinburgh in my student days to stay with a friend who was at University there but I really don’t remember much other than stepping off the train on a winter’s evening and seeing Edinburgh castle lit up as it started to snow. Christmas is a magical time to visit the city as it it is geared up for the festive season and it is a small and easy place to shop for Christmas gifts.
The easiest way to get to Edinburgh from London is a direct train from Kings Cross in just 4.5 hours. Those of you who know me already know about my love-hate relationship with the UK train service. Love, because all of London’s mainline train stations are easy to get to and you don’t have the stress of getting to a London airport and through security etc. Hate, because the fares are extortionate – nowhere else do I know of in Europe where traveling by rail (and tube) is so expensive – and a double hate because the trains are always delayed so you are not even getting value for money. Thankfully, the UK is small enough to travel around easily by train meaning the inevitable delays will not result in days or nights stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also, I felt that this was a good time to take advantage of “going abroad” within the UK without Passport controls – which may all change if the Scots opt for another yes/no referendum!
Back to trains though and here are a few tips I can share from my years of train travel experience: if you are not traveling alone and book your train tickets in one go, you can get a group discount which does make the journey better value for money. Always, always book as far in advance as you can and play around with two single tickets rather than an open return as it ends up being a lot cheaper although you lose the flexibility to be spontaneous as you have to get a set train back. I was told that the journey between Newcastle and Edinburgh is the best bit as you travel along the coast with some beautiful scenery along the way. We didn’t see any of this though as we got talking to a lovely Scottish lady on the train which meant our journey flew by and before we knew it, we were in Edinburgh Waverley Station!
Our plan was to spend a weekend in the city and stay overnight. As I have been on many a tour myself, this would be my second attempt (after New York) at being a tour leader for our little group of three. The main sites in Edinburgh are easily walkable and the city seems to be split along two main streets – Princes Street and the Royal Mile along the High Street. We were staying in the centre so we first went to check in at our hotel, right at the other end of Princes Street. The train got in at 14:30 and it was a really beautiful time to arrive at twilight as the sun was beginning to set and all the main buildings were in silhouette. With hindsight, it would have been easier to get a taxi to the hotel as we had all our bags, but it was a great walk to see some of the main sites including Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, the world’s largest monument to a writer. We also walked past the Scottish National Gallery, Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle, which was a permanent backdrop of our walk along Princes Street.