Edinburgh: Glittering Prize

Posted by in Culture, Travel

Familiar sights down memory lanes


Last time I was in Edinburgh, it was 2006, time then for an update. The one good thing about revisiting a city is I know the lay of the land from Haymarket to Waverley, from the old town up to the meadows and down the Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat or up towards the castle. 

Last time I stayed at the Argyle Hostel in Marchmont and incredibly it’s still there! I asked how it survived COVID, ‘it managed’ said the Argentine receptionist. Not quite the informative answer I sought, it was nonetheless good to be back among the creaking floorboards and neighbourhood vibe I so liked back in the day. 

Marchmont (nothing to do with Brideshead Revisited by the way) is home to architects, estate agents and a number of cafes: Detour Espresso, Machina Coffee, and Red Box Roasters. Everything but a launderette with Edinburgh University being not too far away I assumed this was a no brainer.

The Argyle is perhaps to Edinburgh what the Garden House is to Barcelona – out of the way, to be discovered by the more discerning backpacker or hostel goer. That said nowhere is out of bounds to the occasional stray hoon who obviously couldn’t tell the difference between the hood and Marchmont by spray painting his tag on the bathroom wall. That however was etched in the memory of Edinburgh 2006, this time was rather more brief.




That year, fibreglass cows dotted the city, now it’s giraffes! Cardiff just did similar with Snoopy. Interestingly the Princes Street hostel I stayed on my first visit in 1998 has gone the way of the one in Frankfurt and is no more. 

It was a huge hostel so one wonders what those running the place spent the money on, clearly not the hostel though no one was expecting a pandemic, the party cruise they thought would never end has. I did notice one up the other end of the street tucked behind the main drag – whether this is the remnants of the behemoth hostel of yore I don’t know.

This tram is just for show but the train goes.

What is clear though is how much Edinburgh council has put up to support, invest and grow the city. A shiny tram which didn’t exist in the Scottish Capital 16 years ago, now runs along  Princes Street all the way to the airport. The proposed train line was scrapped not long after I’d left. 

*TRAVEL TIPS Trains are expensive in the UK but if you can afford it, the Caledonian Sleeper (not pictured) would be a nice way to arrive. Likewise the tram is slightly more to get into town than the airport bus.

Although I’ve not been too kind about it, the city feels refreshed, modern, cosmopolitan without losing its unmistakable identity as Scots capital and World Heritage Site. While New Zealand has been busy reinventing itself as the Switzerland of the south seas, Edinburgh has become a mini Zurich. OK it isn’t £6 for a coffee yet but it could happen. 

Should that be the case it at least still has GREGGS (the bakery chain started in north east England – sorry I mentioned the E word Scots would rather I didn’t) and in Waverley Market is the most upmarket GREGGS I have ever seen, spacious, cosy with black and white photos attached to a brick wall and if that isn’t enough, it even has a toilet!

In the same mall are other eateries and some Scottish interest and travel related shops. Left Luggage? £7 for up to three hours, £12.50 for 24 hours, £50.00 for a week. Also in Edinburgh’s house of cards is the fact Harry Potter was born here which in turn brings its own tourist and revenue in the way that U2 does for Dublin. 

The National Gallery; a rich man’s wardrobe indeed.


Like Glasgow, the museum cloak rooms are out of action which means I’m carrying everything I own with me, not quite the experience I was anticipating. The Scottish National Gallery is fairly visible on Princes Street and acts as a natural divider between Princes Gardens and the old town. Its rooms are richly decorated in vermillion or ravishing red and some in deep green. 

It is not alone in the landscape of the city’s arts department. The other side of the railroad just before you climb into the upper reaches of the old town is Fruitmarket (for modern or contemporary art) and the City Art Centre. Even the art college has its own gallery, the Talbot Rice Museum, finding the entrance on the other hand can be a trying challenge.

Edinburgh’s libraries are not so kind as their Glaswegian counterparts and I’m told I’ll have to join and have a card at both the university, the national and the central library. Oh dear, this left the National Library’s cafe to get online. Or free wifi at Waverley train stn which does have a glass ceiling where the lifts literally go through the roof (well part of it).

The National library and museum take Scotland to the World.


As for the National Museum – another prominent building on Chambers Street they have a brilliant history of the Scots including those who moved away and more importantly for me a video on the pop culture featuring an array of Scots musicians from this side of Scotland (drum roll please)…

KT Tunstall (Fife), Ricky Ross’s Deacon Blue (Dundee), Shirley Manson of Garbage (Edinburgh), Travis plus Amy MacDonald, and Alex Harvey. The fact they can put together a montage of talent that doesn’t even include Simple Minds or The Blue Nile says it all. See more on my Hats off to the Scots blog (if you don’t know already).

Back in the day I remember walking along the moist cobbles of the Grassmarket and it seemed rather forlorn, hardly anyone around, a boulevard of broken dreams, now it’s full of eateries and the art college revamped in glass.

Toward Arthur’s Seat end of Canongate is to my surprise SHOUT! The Scottish Music Experience which is more bar than museum, however it has potential.

I barely scratch the surface of this buzzing hive of creativity – the fringe is due any week now and god knows what the rents will be like for high summer. You can’t fail to miss the Castle, the Scott Monument near Waverley, Arthur’s Seat and Carlton Hill – all still waiting to be explored by visiting nomads and/or academics.


Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos.

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Prospect Street – The Big Dish
Close Your Eyes and Think of England – Del Amitri
This is the Life – Amy MacDonald
Suddenly I See – KT Tunstall
Stupid Girl – Garbage
Sing – Travis