The Travel Dispatch

24 Hours In Edinburgh Without Any of the Sites

This post was born 18 Nov, 2015 4 Comments
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I have a habit of doing things every which way backwards.

Remember “opposite day” in grade school? The one kids made up in order to oppose everything their parents said? Well, I must have been slower than the other children since I wound up adopting it as a way of life rather than recognizing it as an immature rebellious act I was supposed to grow out of.

Some recent examples below:

“I don’t even know what to do with you Kristen Marie. You’re approaching 30 and way past the marriageable age.” So is this a bad time to tell my grandmother the older I get the less I want to get married? Perhaps I shouldn’t bother pointing out that the louder my biological clock ticks, the more the idea of children makes me silently pray to never have any. Also, is this the 1940’s because I’m pretty sure the time machine I’ve been working on only exists in my imagination?

Oh the United Kingdom is so beautiful in June.” Ok great. I’ll go in November then when the wind and rain make being outside more miserable than the scones you insultingly categorize as a ‘pastry.’

“You only have 24 hours in Edinburgh? You must go see the castle, the National Gallery, the whiskey tasting rooms, and of course the Royal Mile.” Thanks for the suggestions but I think I’ll just do none of those things.

See where I’m going with this?

Old pub in Edinburgh Scotland

Everyone hates a tease – and 24 hours in Edinburgh is one of the biggest taunts of all.

It’s simply not enough time.

I would have avoided a quick stopover altogether because of my firm belief in slow travel. However, I’m also a firm believer in beauty sleep so 24 hours in Edinburgh overrode the idea of a non-direct redeye flight followed by an additional train ride up to Stirling.

The lesser of the two evils won out.

But rather than stressing out while trying to fit in a week’s worth of sites in just one day, I vowed to not do much of anything at all.

The result of this experiment led to a fantastic day spent ‘living’ in Edinburgh.

24 Hours in Edinburgh - the colorful shops of Victoria Street

24 Hours in Edinburgh

I realized it was only 10 o’clock in the morning shortly after the airport shuttle pulled up to the stop outside my hostel. I remember thinking I had made it to the city in record time before I was momentarily distracted by the ensuing struggle to dislodge my suitcase from the luggage rack while simultaneously trying to avoid a hernia.

Exhausted by my efforts (and with a little bit of jet lag thrown in) I dropped my luggage off in storage and decided to approach the day as if I was home in New York City. What would I be doing on a Sunday morning?

Easy – I’d be at one of my three favorite coffee shops.

View of Edinburgh Castle from the walk to Grassmarket from the university


I was staying in the Grassmarket area whose close proximity to the University of Edinburgh meant that all you had to do to locate a cafe was throw a stone.

I must toss like a girl because I ended up at the Kickass Cafe – which was literally right next door to my hostel. I did a bit of photo editing over a cup of Scottish tea while watching people duck in to escape the typical seasonal rain.

The benched communal seating led to conversations with locals who were all too happy to point out the kind of ‘nothingness’ places I was looking for. One remarked upon how refreshing it was to meet someone who didn’t ask about the castle or where to buy the best kilt. I told her I had no interest in kilts as my dry cleaning bills were already expensive enough.

Recommendations that I would followup on later in the evening emerged as the chatting continued. Paradise Palms was touted as having the most amazing Asian buns (which in fact turned out to be true) and Boteco Do Brasil was said to be lively most nights of the week.

24 Hours in Edinburgh - visit Demijohn's to taste gin, whiskey, vinegars, and more

A Liquid Deli

Full on tea and cakes, I stepped out into the hazy drizzle to make may way through the Old Town on a journey with no particular end destination in mind. I wandered in circles through the cliched network of cobblestone streets and alleyways passing unique shops carrying everything from eclectic art to woolen scarves to priceless antiques. I rarely crossed any of their thresholds so as not to tempt myself into spending what little money I had. But when I came to a place that called itself a liquid deli, I couldn’t resist.

Demijohn is located on the not-so-secret Victoria Street – a street popularized in photographs showcasing its multitude of colorful storefronts. I entered the quaint “deli” which was lined with shapely decanters brimming with oils, vinegars, gins, whiskeys, vodkas, and more. I was alone with the shopkeep (thank you offseason travel) for a good half hour as she explained to me which region of the United Kingdom each blend hailed from.

I tasted samples of Lemon Gin and Elderflower Vinegar and listened as she discussed the locals who frequently return to refill their glass bottles alongside the tourists purchasing new ones for their families back home.

Park in Edinburgh Scotland

New Town

As charming as the Old Town can be, I impulsively decided to make my way across the train tracks to my favorite area of Edinburgh. A place where I had one of the best nights of my life back in January when I unintentionally (or rather unknowingly) crashed a father/son reunion 20 years in the making. Yep. I was going back to Stockbridge.

Well, that is until my ADHD kicked in and resulted in my becoming too distracted by New Town to actually make it over to Stockbridge.

I was sick of being wet from the rain that was now starting to pelt down in droves so I escaped into the nearest pub as soon as I reached New Town. I determined it was fate as the signs posted around the Guildford Arms promoted their ongoing Winter Ale Festival. I settled at the bar with a local ale and embraced the friendliness of the patrons who stopped to say hello whenever it was time for another round.

24 Hours in Edinburgh - a local French restaurant called Chez Jules where a 2 course meal of onion soup and mussels is only 7.90 pounds

When my bones once again remembered what dryness felt like, I dashed their dreams and exited back out into the sleet. Though this time I made continual stops in hopes of avoiding long walks in the inclement weather.

I spontaneously popped into the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which offered a pleasant (and free) respite. The next hour was spent roaming the halls of the neo-gothic building while filling my head with images of the people – past and present – of Scotland.

My stomach growled as I stood staring at a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots so I drifted back through the outside streets before coming across Chez Jules, a local French restaurant whose 2-course lunch special only costs £7.90. I cozied up to an intimate table nestled alone by the windows and indulged in a warm bowl of french onion soup and a pot of steamed mussels while I waited out the afternoon showers.

24 Hours in Edinburgh - dawn at Greyfriars Kirk

A Twilit Graveyard

Dusk soon began to fall as I walked through the lantern lit park that lies below Edinburgh Castle. I glanced up towards the rolling slopes just as the lights flickered on to illuminate the fortress and reflected on the settled peace that surrounded me. A Sunday night in November meant less people milling about and it felt like I had the whole city to myself.

Wanting to keep ahold of the quiet contentment I so rarely feel, I continued walking. Past the Royal Mile and the ‘closes’ that were once riddled with the plague; past St Giles Cathedral; past the lively pubs that never seemed short on patrons; past the old market street; and even on past my hostel.

I came to the gates of Greyfriars Kirk and slipped beneath the iron entryway to carry on towards the back of the church where old graves and mausoleums stood erect, concealing the bodies of those who had wandered Edinburgh before me.

I leaned against the stone wall as the sun made its final descent behind the horizon and thought there was no other way I would have wished to spend my 24 hours in Edinburgh.

Have you ever ‘lived’ or just spent an ordinary day in a foreign city? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?

Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!

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4 Comments on "24 Hours In Edinburgh Without Any of the Sites"

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You sound like my travel soulmate! I hate seeing touristy sights when I have limited time somewhere. I’d much rather just wander around and head in one direction and get distracted and go somewhere else and not know where I am but love it anyways. Sounds like you made stellar use of your time!

Jamie Italiane

We are direct opposites, I think, so fun to experience the city through you. I will there next week and will, most likely do everything and a couple other things. Te he.

Tiff K
Wonderfui post! Haha your intro made me crack up. Never had an opposite day in school but I hate going to places during peak season. I’m crowd-averse and I hate having to bump into shoulders with tons of strangers. haha! Thanks for these tips and I will definitely check out some of the places that you mentioned. I did walk around with no aim on my student exchange trip back in Lille. But I have to stay in a place more than 24 hours to get a relaxed trip. As much as possible I have an itinerary with all the… Read more »