Written by Delilah Kealy-Roberts
As a one time Erasmus student myself I know that there’s a lot more you have in mind for your study abroad year than just the studying. Erasmus years are for exploring, meeting people from all over the world, partying and, crucially, getting to know the brand new country that has suddenly become your home. With the whole of the UK at your sudden disposal you might find yourself asking, where to start? The UK has a bit of something for everyone, and whether it’s a day trip to refresh you from your studies or a road trip during the university holidays you’re sure to happen across many adventures that will make you glad that you chose the UK as your home for the year. You’ve already adventured out of your comfort zone by studying abroad so it’s clear that you won’t be satisfied as the average UK tourist, perhaps taking in only the tourist attractions of London and then moving on. With this in mind I want to encourage you to venture up the country, just keep going as North as you can get, right up to Scotland. Grab a book and get settled in for a long old mega bus journey (or perhaps a train if you’re really treating yourself). Tell yourself that you’ll get all of your uni work done on the journey, but don’t feel too guilty when in reality you spend it chatting to your travel companions and getting excited about your next adventure, your next escape from university life.
So whether you’re visiting pre-semester, during the roaring summer season to sample some of the hilarity and creativity of the Fringe Festival, or happen by at the Christmas holidays (why rush back to your home country when the UK has such festivities to offer?) in time for the bustling magic of the Christmas market, Edinburgh is pretty much guaranteed to win you over. There is a reason why this historic Scottish city is an all time favourite amongst travellers in the UK. With it’s historically satisfying old town, made up of winding cobbled streets and hidden nooks and crannies, coupled with cosmopolitan new town, it is a place that simply cannot be missed when visiting or living in the UK. Being from the North myself I have a natural bias towards the mountainous Scottish landscape. It’s true, the weather can be unforgiving, and those who may have told you that all it does is rain up North aren’t strictly wrong, but satisfy your adventurous side by braving the cold and being thoroughly rewarded with the sublime views over the lochs and mountains. Or if it’s more your thing, brave the rain splattered cobbles to reach a cosy pub and be received by the rumbling sound of that well loved Scottish accent.
The number one reason to love Edinburgh is that it can give you both of these worlds; the cosy and the adventurous. It can satisfy students who are eager to get a feel of Scottish culture, who have a taste for the great outdoors, or those who simply want to mingle and party with some of the local students in the grass-market of Hive Club (some favourite student watering holes). For the more adventurous amongst us, be sure to check out the dormant volcano known as Arthur’s seat. Situated right on the outskirts of the Edinburgh in Holyrood Park, visitors are able to take on the challenge of a hike (which isn’t too demanding and can therefore be enjoyed by everyone) to then be rewarded with an incredible view of the sprawling city, right from the seafront of Leath to the castle and the old town. Alternatively, if you want the spectacular view without the accompanying hike, you could opt instead to climb up the Scott’s Monument which is situated centrally on Princess street. The Gothic structure provides a seemingly treacherous climb and is not for the more vertigo-prone amongst us, but like Arthur’s Seat, the final view is worth every steep and spiralling step.
It’s natural to assume that some tourists amongst us will prefer to stay at ground level, and would perhaps prefer to experience the city through its many cultural institutions. If you’re a student of History, literature or art you will probably find the culture and history of the city greatly satisfying. Perhaps the most obvious, yet still worth a visit if it’s your first time in the city, attraction that comes to mind is Edinburgh Castle, full of enough history and intrigue for a full day out, and a brilliant place to really pinpoint the history of the city and begin to envision it’s origins. Be sure to make sure your visit spans 1pm in order to witness the firing of the cannon, a daily tradition which has been upheld at the castle since 1861. As well as history, art is another area in which this cultural city thrives. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a personal favourite of mine, primarily just for the beautiful Gothic revival building, which is art enough in itself setting off the diverse exhibitions it houses. Or if you perhaps have more of a preference for the modern why not try the lesser known art space the Fruitmarket Gallery, tucked away right next to Waverley station, exhibiting some unusual contemporary artists in it’s quaint venue.
The final cultural venue I shall mention for now is the tiny Writers Museum, which is so thoroughly tucked away despite existing right in the centre of the city that most tourists (and probably locals) are likely to pass it by completely. This tiny museum can be found by exploring the small and mysterious streets which sprawl away from the royal mile, some leading to dead-ends, some to great views of the new town, some to quaint restaurants and bars and one particular one to an exhibit of to an exhibition at the Writers’ museum of, amongst other things, some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original work. Even if, like a native UK student, your primary reason for venturing up North is for a new place to meet people and party in yet a new setting, I’m sure you’re still appreciate exploring some of these attractions with bleary eyes during the daylight hours! And if, like myself, you have a love for curious little places like this then it would also be worth paying a visit to some of Edinburgh’s vast array of tiny independent shops, which can often also be found like hidden gems, down the smallest streets. Armchair books and the Cuttea Sark tea shop are my top two picks.
Finally, I can’t leave you to start exploring for yourself without first talking about the seasonal wonders of this enchanting city. If summer is when you choose to meander up North and past the border make sure to make the absolute most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Whether it is before the start of the new academic year or on the completion of your study abroad it will do a great job of clearing your mind, getting you out of the studying mentality and giving you some guaranteed light-hearted laughs. The festival encompasses the arts in general, with a particular emphasis on comedy and performance. From famous stand-up comedians to University a cappella groups to thought provoking drama pieces and a multitude of street performers it can easily be said that there’s something there for everyone. As a student myself I made sure, during my last trip up to the Fringe Festival, to take advantage of the ‘Free Fringe’. For those on a budget and yet still with an eagerness to discover new and lesser known (yet still often mind-blowing or hilarious) acts it is definitely worth going to one of the free locations (pubs and bars scattered around the city centre), getting a pint and watching something new.
On the flip side of the seasonal coin, visit Edinburgh during the winter for a totally different atmosphere. Swap the frivolity of the Royal Mile during Fringe season for the enchantment of Princess Street gardens while the Christmas Market takes place during December and January. One of the most curious parts of studying abroad is sampling how your host country experiences it’s Christmas festivities or other yearly festivals, and comparing British students’ traditions with your own. If sampling the festive treats and sipping mulled wine while wandering around the fairy-light adorned stalls after sailing round the merry-go-round still leaves you hungry for more festivities, why not stick around until New Year’s Eve? If there is one thing the Scottish know how to do, it’s celebrate ‘Homogamy’ and if you’re wondering where to spend this holiday out of the option of all the UK cities I would highly recommend making Edinburgh your top choice. The incredible firework display and street party on Princess Street, while listening out for the booming sound of the cannon which reins in the new year, is the most festive and vibrant way you could choose to celebrate the yearly event, surrounded by the buzz of excitement as another year comes to a close, a year which has so far brought you to a new country, introduced you to new traditions and truly brought out your adventurous side.
So all in all, it can’t be missed. No excuses. Whether you’re into the great outdoors, cultural events, discovering hidden nooks and crannies or just a big old party, Edinburgh is one of the best cities to spend your Erasmus year and to satisfy your wanderlust. There is nowhere else in the UK quite like this beautiful city and few as welcoming and ready for festivities as it’s Scottish inhabitants. Even if you’re tight on a student budget and looking for a release after a heavy deadline season, or ready to explore, let loose, and party after a set of particularly nasty exams, look forward to embracing Edinburgh and all it has to offer.