A Greek style acropolis sits atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh. The 1829 National Monument which commemorates Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic Wars, took its inspiration from the Parthenon in Athens. Many assumed that the structure was left unfinished due to lack of funds, but evidently the architects, William Cockerell and William Playfair, plans only portray the current twelve columns.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh when the weather is clear and dry you should take a walk, or drive, up Calton Hill for a closer look at the National Monument and the views of Edinburgh.
The National Monument on Calton Hill Edinburgh
View from Calton Hill towards Edinburgh Castle
The National Monument isn’t the only landmark on Calton Hill; you can climb the Nelson Monument for even better views of the surrounding city. The Nelson monument, completed in 1815, marks Admiral Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805; appropriately it’s shaped like an inverted telescope.
National Monument & Nelson Monument on Calton Hill Edinburgh
I won a two night stay for two people including breakfast in any Jurys Inn hotel in the UK in a business card prize draw. I redeemed my prize at the three star Jurys Inn Edinburgh. The hotel’s very centrally located at the side of Waverley railway station. The hotel’s exterior is a bit of an eyesore, but the glass frontage cleverly reflects Calton Hill, which gives the building a bit of character.
Exterior of Jurys Inn Edinburgh
It’s quite strange that you have to exit reception and cross an access road to reach the lifts to get to your room. We were allocated room 517 at the front of the hotel, which had a view over the station, its adjoining car park and over to Calton Hill. Althought the windows were double glazed, we could still hear a lot of exterior noise from passing traffic and trains coming in and out of the railway station.
View from our roon at Jurys Inn Edinburgh
Our room was a triple with a double and a single bed. The room was a pretty good size; often when I sit at the desk in a hotel room there’s very little space to get past me, but that wasn’t an issue at Jurys Inn Edinburgh. There was a fair amount of storage space with a built in luggage rack which could easily accommodate my medium suitcase and some open shelving and hanging space. Jurys Inn are still charging £10 a day for in-room internet access, which is really annoying as I couldn’t get a decent signal with my Three mobile broadband dongle in our room.
I reckon that if you want to explore the countryside, small towns and villages around Edinburgh in Scotland, you really need a car. Public transport can be expensive and/or infrequent. Having your own transport makes you much more flexible with timings and if you are enjoying a location/attration, you can stay for longer than planned. Plus you can carry a lot more gear with you e.g. a picnic and change of clothes for the four seasons in a day which you may encounter.
Highland cows & calves at Paxton House in the Scottish Borders
Here are my suggested itineraries for three day trips by car from Edinburgh.
The dog-head shaped Kingdom of Fife lies north of Edinburgh. You’ll need to cross the clearly signed Forth Road Bridge to get there. A few miles after the Bridge, you can turn off into Dunfermline to visit Dunfermline Abbey and Pittencrieff Park.
The Glen in Pittencrieff Park
From Dunfermline, head east on the A921 coastal road to visit the beaches in Aberdour and Burntisland.
Then continue along the A921 to Kirkcaldy to pick up the A92 dual carriageway. A few miles north of Glenrothes, join the A912 heading for Falkland. Just outside the village is a single track road which takes you half way up Falkland Hill. It’s not too arduous to climb to the peak for wonderful views. There are plenty of picnic beanches and toilets at the car park, so it’s a good spot for a picnic. If you’re interested in Scottish history you can visit Falkland Palace.
It’s amazing how much you discover when you take the time to explore an area which you usually walk past on the way to somewhere else. I’ve walked past Holyrood, the area at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, on many occasions. I’m usually en-route from the free parking in Abbeyhill to the city centre. Normally, it’s either raining, I’m carrying luggage or have just enough time to get to my appointment. Last week on a dry, if somewhat dreich (Scottish for grey/dismal) December day, I’d no luggage and I had a few minutes to spare before my lunch appointment.
I loved the reflection of Salisbury Crags in one of the ponds in the landscaped area by the Scottish Parliament. You get a much clearer overview of the landscaping in this aerial photo taken by Rankin Fraser, the landscape architect who carried out the work.
Salisbury Crags reflected in pond in Scottish Parliament landscaping
There are also ponds at the front of the Scottish Parliament.
Pond in front of the Scottish Parliament
Behind the Scottish Parliament is Dynamic Earth, an interactive attraction which explores the life of our planet. The white exterior of the Millenium Dome style construction provides a striking contrast to the backdrop of Salisbury Crags.
Dynamic Earth against the backdrop of Salisbury Crags
I stayed at the Tune Hotel Edinburgh Haymarket for one night on 26 December 2012. The price was £16.80 for a double room with a window. However, you can’t avoid a card payment fee when booking with Tune Hotels; it’s 1% for Maestro and Electron cards and 1.75% for credit cards. The hotel is directly opposite Haymarket Railway Station, so it’s easy to find. The hotel opened around one week before I stayed and there was an unpleasant plasticy type smell throughout the whole building.
Exterior of Tune Hotel Edinburgh Haymarket
I was allocated a room on the fourth floor, facing Haymarket station. The double glazing was very effective as I didn’t hear any exterior noise with the window shut, despite the fact that there was construction work going on overnight at the station. However, I had to have my window open overnight to try to dissipate the “new build” smell. There are also tram track works going on outside the hotel, which I assume were suspended for the holidays.
When you book at Tune hotels, the cheapest rooms are windowless. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. It could be a positive thing in Summer when sun streaming through inadequate curtains can wake you up early. It could also reduce external noise in your room. At the same time, I don’t like not having any natural light. The rooms do have air conditioning.
View from my bedroom window toward the Pentland Hills
I was glad that I was only staying for one night, as there were only four rather insubstantial coat hangers. The rooms was just big enought to fit in the double bed. The bed was comfortable, but I prefer to have a chair in my hotel room for working on my netbook. The bathroom had a very good shower.
For six weeks from the end of November until early January, Edinburgh’s Christmas Fair brings plenty of festive spirit and bling to the city centre. While parts of the Fair may descend into slightly tacky commercialism, the overall effect, especially after dark, is of a sparkling Winter wonderland.
I had lunch at the Hispaniola Restaurant in Edinburgh with Darren Cronian of My Life in Leeds in July 2012, using a Groupon voucher. Groupon gave me credit, to select and try some of their deals. The Hispaniola voucher cost £35 for a six course taster menu for two people, which included a half bottle wine per person. I was able to book a table for lunch on a Saturday, although the voucher said that there was limited availability at the weekends.
The restaurant was formerly the Rutherford Bar, a favourite haunt of Rober Lewis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island. That’s why the Hispaniola has a pirate theme. There were various life size pirates armed with muskets and swords dotted around, a skeleton in a cage suspended from the ceiling and a skeleton with a treasure chest beneath a glass panel on the floor.
Darren in his pirate hat
There was a separate Tasting Menu for Groupon customers, with a choice of two dishes for most of the courses. Neither of us had the wine, we stuck to water. We started with Minestrone Soup which was served with a slice of bread and butter.
This was followed by a selection of topped breads served with a small salad.
I had lunch with Lola Akinmade Akerstrom and her family at the Mezbaan South Indian Restaurant in Edinburgh in June 2012 using a Groupon voucher. I had previously received credit from Groupon, to choose and try some of their deals. This restaurant deal, priced at £29, included a starter and a main course for four people (although only three of us ate there). The voucher was only valid at lunchtime, so I wondered if I’d be able to get a booking on a Saturday. However, when I phoned to make the reservation, I was offered any time that suited me.
Interior of Mezbaan Edinburgh
The only things not included in the deal were the seafood options which carried a £3.95 supplement on starters and £5.95 on main courses. But that wasn’t an issue, as there were plenty of chicken, lamb and vegetarian options. In fact I was quite bewildered by the choice and asked for recommendations. I started with a Masala Dosa (pancake).
I stayed at the Premier Inn Edinburgh Princes Street for one night in April 2012 on a complimentary basis. This purpose built Premier Inn opened a few weeks ago, so everything is very shinyy and new. The hotel isn’t that obvious as you walk along Princes Street; just a small sign at an entrance doorway.
Entrance to Premier Inn Edinburgh Princes Street
Inside there’s a lift up to the second floor Reception & The Kitchen restaurant, which has views towards Edinburgh Castle.
View from The Kitchen restaurant at Premier Inn Edinburgh Princes Street
The Bread St Brasserie is in the Point Hotel Edinburgh, just off Lothian Road. When I was staying at the hotel in late February, there was an offer (ending 29 February 2012) where two people could have 2 course meal and either a glass of wine or a soft drink each for £20.12. As I was meeting our son Gary for dinner, we decided to try out the Bread St Brasserie. The restaurant normally offers a lunch and pre -theatre (5-7pm) set menu, priced at £9.95 for 2 courses and £12.95 for 3 courses.