I first visited the Royal Mile (or High Street) about 12 years ago, taking the train from Leeds, for a solo day trip. I enjoyed a beautiful ride through the countryside.
As luck would have it, I was there in August and had no idea I would get to experience the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe or The Fringe-the world’s largest arts festival. How fortunate was I to stumble upon this?! Here’s how they describe themselves as they prepare for their 70th anniversary:
The Fringe began in 1947 when eight groups arrived in Edinburgh hoping to perform at the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival but were refused entry. Rather than being discouraged from performing, they went ahead and performed on the fringe of the Festival anyway and so the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born.
2017 marks the 70th anniversary of these eight groups’ defiance and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world.
The Fringe is a truly open access festival where, in the spirit of the original eight, no one is denied entry, making it the largest platform on earth for creative freedom.
The street was filled with entertainers, artists, and music. I visited the Real Mary King’s Close (more on that), Edinburgh Castle, had a nice lunch, and did a little shopping. It was a fantastic day and I couldn’t wait to come back and share it with my then boyfriend (now husband).
Twelve years and two kids later, we made it back! Even though The Fringe was not yet in town, we still got to see some magicians and artists. We were even chosen to participate in some street magic which was truly a memorable experience for my daughter.
They got to see statue artists (is there a name for this?). You know, people who dress up and pretend to be statues. But they weren’t just any statues; they were floating. I have yet to figure out the trick behind this.
In addition to the entertainment in the street, we had fun stopping in the little shops. The kids were interested in various rocks and gems for sale. I was scoping out the wool and cashmere for a potential birthday gift for myself.
Then we made our way to what I suspected would be super fun for the whole family and it did not disappoint-The Camera Obscura.
Camera Obscura is a museum of optical “experiences” and illusions. You start on the top floor with a short introduction and showing of the eponymous Camera Obscura itself, which was originally created in 1853. Described as a cross between a pinhole camera and a periscope, it uses a mirror on the top of the buiding’s tower that turns and provides a live 360 degree view of Edinburgh. It then travels down the tower, passing through 3 lenses (last updated in 1947) to project the live image on a table. They make it interactive, allowing visitors to “pick up” the people on the street using index-type cards and “smush” them.
Then we made our way down through the floors where we got to experiment with various illusions-mirrors, light tricks, and perpectives. It’s fun for kids and still educational for adults.
Everyone’s favorite part was the dizzying light tunnel, though the mirror maze leading up to it was also very cool. It may just look like a pretty light tunnel, but those innocent lights spin around throwing your equilibrium off and you feel like a drunk sailor times 10 trying to walk across this little bridge. We all had a blast and kept going back in to do it again!
At this point, we were hungry and had to get to our next tour (the Real Mary King’s Close) so we stopped for a quick bite at The Hub. The food was good as was the service, and the atmosphere was an upscale cafe with your choice of lounge seating or regular table seating.
Next stop- the Real Mary King’s Close for an hour long visit underground to see the original 17th century streets and homes where people lived and died (average life expectancy was early 30s), most notably of the plague. The new city was later built on top of these old streets.
It’s definitely an interesting and educational tour, so much so that I chose to see it again with the family. It kept my kids’ interest for a little bit, but they were a little worried about the fake renditions of families including children suffering from the plague. Though the 7-year old was fine (but concerned), it got a little boring for the 5-year old. It may be a stretch for families with younger kids-use your judgment as you know your kids better than anyone, and weigh it against how fascinating the history sounds to you.
Stay tuned for Part 2…when we return to the Royal Mile to visit Edinburgh Castle and Our Dynamic Earth!