Student Reflections

Edinburgh: First Impressions

Ellie Witham
September 21, 2021

I arrived in Edinburgh on the first of September, after a long night-into-day of travelling and layovers. I was nearly delirious- the only sleep I’d gotten was a short 30 minute nap on my red eye flight. But I was finally here, after waiting for so long (nearly two years!). 

I had a warm welcome from my taxi driver. As we drove, he pointed out all of the landmarks I had only previously seen in pictures or on a map. The castle is breathtaking, high up on the hill, overlooking Old Town and New Town. He gave me recommendations for tours and the beach, which I mentally added to my ever-growing list. I thanked my driver and handed him some pound notes (Scottish ones, not English!) and was on my way.

Views of Edinburgh Castle.

The UK’s restrictions on international travel are a traffic light system. Countries at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission are red, then amber, then green. The United States is currently on the amber list, meaning people have to isolate themselves for 10 days and take tests upon their arrival into the UK. However, of late, if you are vaccinated from the United States, you no longer need to isolate, just take a test within two days of being in the country.  

I intended on arriving early to Scotland because I was going to self-isolate for 10 days. But now, as I am vaccinated, I have 10 free days to myself before school events begin. I got nervous and considered changing my flight, but in the end, I thought these 10 days would give me valuable time to get to know my new city. Without the looming stress of classes, I’d have time to situate myself properly. I’m expecting the start of term time to be quite chaotic!  

The first big task on my list was moving into my new flat. At the University of Edinburgh, where I am studying abroad for the fall semester, I was given the option of either catered or self-catered accommodation. Since I lived in an apartment style dorm at Northeastern last year, I decided to go with self-catered. I was placed into a 5-person flat, where I have my own single room. I share a kitchen and bathrooms with my flatmates. I haven’t had my own room since I’ve been at school, so it’s been an upgrade! What I love most about my accommodation is the name. It’s called Hermit’s Croft. I also love the location. It’s close to many shops, restaurants, and the school, but is tucked away in a quiet residential area. 

Since I arrived a whopping ten days early, I have not had anyone else in my flat or my building. Most students will be moving in for the University’s Welcome Week, or more commonly known as Fresher’s Week. Because of certain privacy laws in the UK, roommates’ names aren’t released. But I can’t wait to meet my flatmates, whoever they may be! 

In my ten extra days in Edinburgh, I’ve been spending most of my time exploring and shopping. I’ve tried multiple grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs to get to know the area better. I doubt I’d be able to run out of new places to see in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has surprised me in small ways- I’ve noticed many vegetarian and vegan options wherever I go. Travelling and not eating meat or animal products isn’t always the easiest. My fellow vegetarians and vegans will know that. But I’d highly recommend Edinburgh! 

Bookshops are plenty in Edinburgh. The famous Harry Potter series was written in one. In my first few days, I visited a bookshop called Topping & Company Booksellers. The shop had two floors and floor to ceiling bookshelves with sliding ladders. It was beautiful! I couldn’t leave without getting a book. I bought my current read, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. 

Inside Topping & Company Booksellers.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, and even better, it is walkable. New Town and Princes Street (a bunch of shopping, the ‘Newbury Street’ of Edinburgh) is only a short walk from Old Town and the University of Edinburgh, where I live. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat can be seen from my accommodation. The picturesque hike is steps away from where I live. I’m also 10 minutes from the Meadows, which is a beautiful park that definitely rivals Boston Common and the Fens. The green space and scenery in Edinburgh is a huge part of its charm.

Whenever I would mention I was studying abroad in Scotland to friends and family, one of the first things they’d comment on was the weather. I don’t blame them. Why would anyone want to be in a city that is so gloomy all the time? Well, at least for me, that was not my first impression of the city. The weather has been perfect for me. 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15 to 20 degrees Celsius) and a mix of sun and clouds. It rains sometimes, but most days have been perfectly dry. It is definitely a change from the Boston heat of the summer. 

Before I left the US, I was nervous but excited to start at a new school, even if it is just for a semester. It feels as if I am a first-year again! I spent time making new friends and meeting new people. This has been a welcome change from over a year of navigating a mostly-virtual world. I connected with fellow Northeastern students through social media, which has been amazing, as there is an instant connection. It’s always great to meet another Husky!

It hasn’t even been a full two weeks of being in Edinburgh since I arrived. I know there are so many more things I need to do (eat haggis, or at least the vegetarian kind!), but I’ve had an incredible first impression of the city.