By Jessica Russo
Culture Corner is an article series designed to share destination-specific cultural information. These tips and tricks are meant to help you as you plan your trip! Keep this information in mind as you embark on a journey to another culture that you may be unaccustomed to.
Known for its rugged landscapes and mythical folklore, Scotland is a whimsical wonderland unlike any other. You cannot (or at least should not) visit the Land of Scots without exploring its culture capital: Edinburgh. And for extra culture points, make sure you pronounce it correctly: Ed-in-bur-ruh.
I checked Scotland off my bucket-list last April (now it's on my list of places to go back to). As soon as I stepped off the plane, I felt immersed in the magic of its medieval charm. From colorful pubs and cobblestone streets, to storybook castles and bright green hills, Edinburgh will sweep you off your feet - if the whisky doesn't first.
Yes, you will actually hear bagpipes
... and see kilts.
Before I left for Scotland, I wondered if I'd really see bagpipers in kilts, or were they some sort of made-for-TV tourist wish. After one walk down the Royal Mile, my questions were answered. With bagpipes in the background, my Scottish fantasies were already coming true.
... and find out you actually like it.
While researching for my trip, I kept seeing the word "haggis." I searched for a photo of it (huge mistake) and found a sausage lookalike - except this was no sausage. Made of sheep organs and spices, wrapped in a sheep stomach casing, I thought,* there is NO way I'm ever trying that*. Long story short, it was the first thing I tried in Edinburgh, and as a surprise to you and myself, it was not the last time. In traditional pubs, it's common to find haggis as an appetizer, an entree, or even a burger topping. Aside from this uniquely delicious national dish, there are lots of different dining options. From cool coffeeshops, to farm-fresh cafes, to fine dining restaurants, be sure to take a bite out of Scotland's hearty cuisine. (But let's be real, eating bangers and mash at a pub will become your nightly routine).
... and find live music!
Where there's whisky, there's (usually) music. I remember the first time I stepped inside an Edinburgh pub, nestled on a quiet corner in the Old Town. The back of the pub was filled with musicians fiddling and fluting away, and the front of the pub was filled with smiley locals cheersing and tapping their feet. It was a magical moment straight out of a movie. Once you settle in, order a whisky, a gin cocktail, or a pint of Tennent's or Innis & Gunn! If you're a wee bit too timid to take on a full pint like me, half-pints will be your new best friend. Drink enough of 'em and you'll find yourself singing a Proclaimers song at a Scottish karaoke bar down the block! (Oh, that was just me? Cool, cool).
Head to the castle
... but don't go the wrong way (like we did)
Okay so we totally could've walked to the castle from our hotel (just about everything is walkable in Edinburgh), but it was slushy and rainy and an Uber sounded much warmer. Having never visited Edinburgh Castle before, we were sure our Uber driver would know the best drop-off spot at Edinburgh's most famous attraction. Long story short, he dropped us on the side of the castle, where we found a steep, slushy path up the hill. Twenty minutes and two falls later, we reached the top, only to find the main entrance filled with cars and better-researched tourists. This is when I realized that they call it the Royal Mile for a reason - the castle stands tall at the end! So, all that to say: Edinburgh Castle is a must-see that will transport you back to medieval times. Go, but go the right way.
Wander Victoria Street
... and feel like you're in Harry Potter
Just off the Royal Mile near the castle, you'll find whimsical, winding Victoria Street. Never have I ever stopped in my tracks and been in such awe of a street! Lined with brightly painted shops and pubs, this rainbow path will take up a lot of space in your camera roll.
Hike Arthur's Seat
... and I mean hike.
During my first few days in Scotland, I met some locals who told me to check out Arthur's Seat for its beautiful views. They made it seem like a little walk on a hill, so I dressed for what I thought it was... a little walk on a hill. Well, the locals were 110% right about the absolutely breathtaking views, but this New Yorker was not ready for a Scot's version of a "walk." While it's not a difficult hike, it requires good shoes and water. The views are unbeatable, and Arthur's Seat is like a little slice of the Highlands in the city.