Onsite: Touring Edinburgh at the Holidays

Travel Agent's Jennifer Merritt is on tour in Edinburgh, Scotland this week. Here, she reports her experiences

The holidays are a particularly wonderful time to visit Scotland's capital city, as Edinburgh is rife with Christmas markets, light displays and, come New Year's, its famous Hogmanay celebration.The day we venture to Edinburgh happens to be the coldest of the year so far for Scotland. So what if it's a bit brisk? Wearing a warm jacket and occasionally ducking into a pub for a local brew or mulled wine is enough to reheat and recharge.

Our driver drops us off at Wagner's Square, a perfect spot to begin exploring the city, as it places you right in the center of some of Edinburgh's more famed attractions, including the shopping mecca of Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle and the "Winter Wonderland" that appears in the Princes Street Gardens around Christmastime. Winter Wonderland features a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and markets where you can buy trinkets and sample such foods as mince pies, shortbread and crepes. Oddly, many of the goods sold at the market are Russian or German, including Russian dolls and the traditional Christmas nutcrackers.

Our feet have not quite frozen yet, so after walking through the market, we climb the hill to Edinburgh Castle. (Otherwise, you can take a taxi or one of the city's many hop-on/hop-off tourist buses.) From there, we snap pictures of stunning views of the city and learned a bit of Scotland's military history. Next, we head to the Scottish National War Memorial in the castle's Crown Square to check for our surnames in the books. Turns out I have two possible ancestors who gave their lives for Scotland in World War I.

Exiting the castle puts us right on Royal Mile, a strip everyone knows for its proliferation of Scottish tchotchkes. Well located at the end of the Royal Mile (or beginning, depending on your direction) are a Radisson SAS, Bank Hotel and The Scotsman. While the Radisson lives up to its European reputation, Bank Hotel and The Scotsman offered a more authentic Scottish vibe.

We're barely feeling our toes when it's time to move on to Rose Street, an almost purely pedestrian road lined with pubs and restaurants. We choose Kenilworth, a structure that's been in place since the early 1700s, for some light bites. Service is a little slow, but the cheddar and chutney sandwich is highly recommended.

Finally, there's shopping to be done (it is only about a week until Christmas, after all). Princes Street provides some fashionable staples like H&M and Mexx, but we find shops with more originality on side streets.

With the New Year less than two weeks away, Edinburgh is hot on promoting its Hogmanay street party. While we won't be here to attend, we hear from a friend who's been that it's Scotland's own version of Times Square, boasting concerts, fireworks and plenty of street revelers.

(JM)

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