Lifestyle & Culture

Beth Hoke in Edinburgh: City of shifting light, haughty pillars and, of course, Harry Potter

In “The Sunday Philosophy Club,” author Alexander McCall Smith called Edinburgh “a city of shifting light.”


On a recent visit, I found this to be an apt description of Scotland’s capital city. Arriving on a bus from St Andrews, my daughter and I stashed our suitcases at Waverley Station’s left-luggage facility and walked the short distance to Edinburgh Castle in the early afternoon sunlight.

Billed as “the iconic Scottish tourist attraction,” the castle has served as both royal residence and military stronghold over the centuries during which it has stood on Castle Rock overlooking the city.

The streets leading up to the castle are lined with shops where you can buy all things plaid and listen to bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave.”

I had already been to the castle on a previous visit to Edinburgh, and we had a plane to catch later that evening, so we didn’t go onto the grounds.

If you have the time, though, it’s worth the admission price to see The Great Hall, The Stone of Destiny, The Scottish National War Memorial, and St. Margaret’s Chapel, which was built in the 12th century and is Edinburgh’s oldest building.

After wandering the shops along The Royal Mile, we made a detour to pay homage to J.K. Rowling by visiting The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where Rowling worked on several of the early Harry Potter novels.

The café overlooks George Heriot’s School which bears a striking resemblance to Hogwarts, and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, a cemetery with tombstones bearing the names of characters from the books.

If you haven’t had haggis, a traditional Scottish dish of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs encased in sheep’s stomach, this is the place to try it. After your meal, be sure to visit the restrooms, where Harry Potter fans have covered the walls with tributes to Rowling.


If you still haven’t had your fill of Harry Potter connections (which, as huge fans of the series, we hadn’t), you can visit nearby Victoria Street, said to be Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. Several stores along the street have capitalized on Pottermania, selling novelty products and themed maps and wands.

As the afternoon went on and the light shifted, we had to make a decision about where we wanted to spend our few remaining hours. My daughter had seen what we thought were ruins in the distance, so we walked back up to the Royal Mile and headed in that direction.

On the way, we passed St. Giles Cathedral, the principal place of worship for the Church of Scotland, and, standing outside the cathedral, an imposing statue of native son, Sir Walter Scott.



As it turns out, this statue is only a minor nod to Sir Walter when compared to The Scott Monument, a 200-foot tall tower on nearby Calton Hill — the largest monument to a writer in the world.

The train station where we had left our luggage earlier in the day also has a connection to the writer. It is named after his Waverley novels, which were popular in Europe for nearly a century.

Calton Hill is also home to another monument, which we had mistaken for ruins.

The National Monument of Scotland is a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of Scotland who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Modeled after the Parthenon, it was left unfinished due to lack of funds.

Several other monuments and notable buildings, including the Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace, are located on Calton Hill as well, and the top of the hill offers a panoramic view of the city.

As the light faded, we made our way out of the “city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars” (another nod to Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith) to Edinburgh Airport — happy with what we had seen, but eager to return for more.


About the author:

Beth Hoke is rejoining the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.

Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.

You can read Beth’s other posts here:

Croatia: All in all, a pleasurable experience far from the madding crowds

Ode to the London Underground

The King is I: You could be an expat … or you could start your own micronationDispatches Detours: Dramatic scenery, local flavor make Madeira the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’

Trading Chicago for Madeira: ‘Sometimes, the universe thanks you for your service and vistas are reopened’

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