The yearly Edinburgh Marathon Festival is only a few months away, and last year, I was lucky enough to use this as a perfect excuse to see a fantastic city. If you are a runner, or like me – there for moral support, and making your way to Edinburgh, there are some things I wish I had known before making the long trip north. Here’s the best way to make the most of your time.
Day 1: Pre-marathon
A great choice we made was taking an early flight on the day before the race. From the airport, the journey to the city centre is super easy: you can take the tram or train in less than 30 minutes. The four of us there decided on the tram, as we thought it would be a more Scottish experience (we don’t have trams in Essex) and travelled to West End – Princes street.
Then we did some light sight seeing. We made our way to see the Scott Monument first. On a normal day, I’d have been scrambling up to the top, but pre-marathon, it’s probably not a good idea.
We made our way to the old town to see Edinburgh Castle, and although I announced, and begged, and moaned, that I wanted to go in, we didn’t, so I had to settle with looking at the architecture. But there is no reason you couldn’t go in to explore. Along the Royal Mile, you’ll see hundreds of quirky shops and attractions, and you might even get to see some quality street performers.
We then made the trek to our hotel, The Ben Doran Guest House, a half hour walk from the city centre. If I were to go again, I would aim to find one a bit closer to the Royal Mile. There we got changed and shot back out for a meal and a drink to calm some nerves.
Despite all the brilliant independent places to eat in Edinburgh, we ended up in Bella Italia. Why? Because on a Saturday night, I hadn’t booked a table for 4, and nowhere would have us! Definitely do a little research a few days in advance to book dinner, as there’s nothing worse than eating deep fried grease the night before a 26mile run.
Another key thing to be aware of is almost no pub shows Champions League football. I know, I was shocked too. We walked around Edinburgh for a good 25 minutes before we found one packed pub showing the Liverpool vs Real Madrid Champions League Final.
Day 2: Marathon day
Start by eating breakfast. Today is going to be a long day. Unlike London, the finish line isn’t in some easily accessible, central location, oh no. It’s a solid half hour bus journey, so definitely make sure you have bought bus tickets from (or to and from) the finish line.
That morning, my friend and I said goodbye to our runners, and realised we had a couple of hours to kill before we had to get the bus. It was a cold morning, and we carried all the kit in the world: cameras, jackets, food, drinks, flip flops, you name it. We considered going to the castle, but decided to take in some more sights of the city instead.
Be prepared to stand in a line for ages waiting to board the bus from the finish line. Be prepared for the driver to have no idea how to get out of Edinburgh. Be prepared to wait 40 minutes (or in my case an hour and 40 minutes) for your designated runner to arrive.
I did run the last few 100 meters for emotional support, so I kind of did take part…
After the race, we sat around the field, drinking beers and waiting for the return journey to start. The walk from the finish line to the bus is not short either, so I balanced a jelly-legged man on my shoulder on the 20 minute walk. On arrival back in the city, we realised it would be another 25 minute walk to the hotel, so we ordered a cab, ergo aim to stay a little closer to the city centre.
That night we waddled back to the centre. Again, I hadn’t booked anywhere to eat so we settled on Pizza Hut, however we did end up drinking for a couple of hours in Scotsman Lounge, which had a brilliant singer until 10pm. We considered staying out for the night, but the aching feet and legs were too much for the boys and we had to retire to the hotel.
Day 3: Post marathon
Sprightly and refreshed the next morning (as if) we packed our bags ready to leave the wonderful city. We picked a later flight purposely to allow us to spend a bit more time exploring the real reason I accompanied the runners to Edinburgh: the zoo!
We rode the tram back out of the city, making a pit stop outside Murrayfield and took a taxi from there. What I realised about Edinburgh is that you can call any taxi company and there will be a cab at your feet in 5 minutes. I’m not a fan of Uber or Lyft, so I know a location with good taxi service when I find it!
Edinburgh Zoo is huge and hilly. Probably not the best choice for someone post marathon, but if you deal with it, you’ll have a wonderful time! I loved seeing the vast array of animals in their brilliantly maintained enclosures, especially the sun bear and chimpanzees, but the day was also one of firsts.
I had never seen a panda or koala before, and I was so excited to finally see them that I was almost shaking, but let me tell you they are the least interesting animals on the planet. If you want to see an animal sit and eat for 20 minutes, please, go and find a panda or koala!
So ends the trip to Edinburgh and my advice. I definitely want to visit again but for a longer time period, and when no one has to spend 5 hours running!
Best of luck to all runners (and spectators), and enjoy your weekend in one of Britain’s finest cities.