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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Activities That Preserve Edinburgh's History

There was nothing that we did in Edinburgh that I thought was terrible or boring. I feel like they really know how to preserve history in cool ways. Ways you probably don't expect of a city like this, and then ways you completely expect and would be disappointed in them not having. 

As you walk around the city, make sure to look up and down at all the fun details you'll find on buildings and sidewalks. While plenty of stuff is out in the open, there are some awesome things tucked away too.

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

In 1853, a clever female Victorian scientist created the Camera Obscura. It's an inverted dish and three mirrors that allow you to view what's happening outside without cameras or windows. Your visit to the World of Illusions comes with a 15-minute show that shows you how the Camera Obscura works and lets you play with the images. Women in science, yo! My brother-in-law was so into it that he asked a bunch of questions to see if it was something he could create at home. This old technology is amazing, even for people who have all the modern technology.

After the view of the Camera Obscura, you have the views of the rooftop terrace to take in and then 4 floors of optical illusions to check out. There are over 100 inside and they are almost all interactive. Switch noses with your friend, see a giant spider climb out of a picture, walk through the hall of mirrors, try to walk straight through the Vortex Tunnel (we thought this was so entertaining, we each did it 3 or 4 times), play a tune on the musical stairs, and try your luck at seeing 3D magic pictures (why did they ever go away?). 

There are so many things to see and do here, and it's especially fun with friends. 5 of us visited and spent several hours making our way through room after room of things we had never seen before and taking pictures of wacky and weird things we tried. One of our favorites was the box that looked like your head was on a platter on a table and the forced perspective room that made the person on one side look huge and anyone on the other side looks small. This is one of those places you have to see to believe.

St. Giles Cathedral

I'm not a religious person, but that doesn't mean I don't like beautiful things that are rooted in religion. Right on the Royal Mile is a massive church with gorgeous stained glass windows. Inside is even more breathtaking and you can still go to services here. I can't imagine being able to pay attention to anything other than the awesome construction. Between the brilliant ceiling, the Thistle Chapel, and the gorgeous pipe organ, there's no part of the building, built in 1124, that isn't beautiful. 

Much of Old Town wasn't even built when St. Giles went up, which should tell you how important of a landmark to Edinburgh it is. St. Giles allows visitors to explore the cathedral for free, though they ask for donations or £2 if you want to take pictures of any kind, because first and foremost, this is a working church that costs £20,000 a day to run. Attend afternoon service, Sunday services, and even Holy Communion. We contributed a few pounds to the cathedral for photo taking and also by making a purchase in their gift shop. You'll also find a small cafe in the basement. 

Check the website for tour times, if you want to know more about the cathedral, services and hours. There is a rooftop terrace, but the person who could take me up there wasn't in when I visited, so I didn't get to check it out. (This does cost a fee.)

The Real Mary King's Close

Old Town is full of little alleyways that lead to other buildings, shops, and restaurants. These are called closes. Mary King's Close was once the second widest street in Edinburgh, only matched by the Royal Mile. This seems like a feat when you visit, because it's probably only 6 feet wide. This small alley used to be the main street for housing and was 11 stories high on both sides. During the day you'd find stalls on either side selling wares and also stairs going to people's front doors. 

Mary King's Close has remained unchanged for the last 400 years, except for the electricity and safety measures added, and can be found underneath the streets of Old Town. As such, you are not allowed to take pictures, but that just makes it that much more authentic. Learn about the poor people of Edinburgh and how they lived, including those who contracted the plague. Your one-hour tour teaches you about Plague Doctors (and how they avoided contracting the plague by sheer luck), what life was like in the Close, the ghosts that might still reside there, and the man who had the first indoor toilet and was so proud that he would use it with the door wide open. Gross, right? But it's still there, so he moved on up to a better life.

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The Scotch Whisky Experience 

So, there's this thing you should know about me: I love whiskey. I'd rather have whiskey than most other alcohol. I like it room temperature without ice, but I also like it cold, with ice, or mixed in drinks. The Scotch Whisky Experience takes you through all the steps to make a whisky and focuses on the flavors each region of Scotland brings to their different whiskys. Scotch whisky doesn't have an "e", which distinguishes it from all other whiskeys. 

Your short tour starts with a barrel ride that takes you through the whisky-making process to the bottle. Did you know each distillery has its own style of still? I didn't, but I know now. The next part of your tour shows you the different regions of Scotland and what flavors are brought out in their whisky. After this, you go into the tasting room to learn even more about these smells and flavors and it's where you will choose the one you want to try*. 

Hold on to your hats, because the end of your tour takes you to the Whisky Vault, where thousands of unique bottles from a private collection surround you on all sides. This is where you actually learn to taste your whisky correctly and see if you can taste the individual flavors. At the end of your tour you get to take home your whisky glass and are taken to the bar. You can choose to try even more whiskys than the handful available on the tour. And then you move onto the "gift shop", which is just a huge store that sells a ton of bottles of whisky and whisky foods and candies. 

*if you don't drink, but still want to learn about the process, you don't have to miss out. Your tour guide will offer you a bottle of Irn-Bru, a Scottish soda with its own unique flavor. You still get to keep your glass.

*Witches Well

All over the world witches were persecuted for being who they were, and many more were wrongly accused. To honor those who were burned at the stake, Edinburgh put in a memorial fountain to remember them. If you blink you'll miss it, but it's on the left-hand side of the walkway as you're coming from Edinburgh Castle. 

*Armstrong's Vintage

As a person who loves vintage goods, I've been following the awesome vintage clothing finds at Armstrong's Vintage on Instagram for quite some time. If I'd had more time in the city, I certainly could have spent hours in this store, and quite a lot of money. I took a quick spin through the labyrinth of rooms stuffed top to bottom with gorgeous old clothes and accessories. If you find yourself in awe of the Scots and Brits in their fantastic fashionable coats, then you can get yourself one here with vintage flair. There are racks packed with them. 

Everything I saw was amazing quality with equally amazing prices. Next time I visit, I'll be bringing along an extra bag to bring home all my treasures there. You can find them right at the bottom of Victoria Street, across from an adorable little ice cream hut. 

Who's interested in my Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh? Not just the actual tour, but the tour we took on our own over the course of the week? Well, I'll be talking about that next, because it was awesome! 

Have you been sucked in by Edinburgh's history yet?

Disclaimer: My admission to the first three paid attractions were complimentary of Visit Scotland, but all opinions are my own, and I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to work with them on this whirlwind trip. *These are just places I visited that I thought were cool and should be added to this list. They have no affiliation to Visit Scotland.

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