A short guide to Edinburgh and a tale of two hostels
Edinburgh, a multicultural metropolis (a small one at that compared to other major cities in Britain), a city with sole that oozes wisdom and self-assurance combined with a chic and student-like playfulness and carefree attitude. A city that provides an ever-emerging underground scene, in both senses of the word. Half of the goings on in the city seems to be underground – a good thing when you’re trying to escape the cold weather, discover a new band or immerse yourself in a good book in a historic pub – a bad thing when you’re desperate to make a phone call or check your emails.
It’s a city that’s big and happening enough to hold it’s own with the tourist trail – Hogmanay, Fringe Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to mention but a few. Yet small enough to retain it’s individuality and charm and is home to friendly, chatty and helpful people who on the whole seem to enjoy life and are proud of the city they call home.
Haggis Hostels (plural by name, single by nature) is a newborn to the world of budget accommodation. Located just off Princes Street and a stone’s throw from the prestigious Balmoral Hotel, Haggis is wedged in-between a ground floor pub, first floor social club and a top floor ‘other’ backpackers. Upon my arrival I admit, I had apprehensions that the noise coming from the floor above and floor below was going to rock the bunks at Haggis all night long. But alas, these buildings are built like Fort Knox and I didn’t hear a single sound other than my own breath.
The first obvious appeal of Haggis Hostels is that it’s bright, sparking clean, fresh (I should mention that the bathrooms give off a lovely aroma of apple) and a proper family run establishment. Alan and Chris, the two head honchos have had the talented hands of close family and friends to make the place what it is. From hand-made bunk beds to the spiffy privacy curtains featured in one of the cosier four-bed rooms – the hostel has a range of rooms on offer out of a total of six – you really get the feeling that this place is a carefully considered venture.
Guests are asked to recycle and respect the environment and to respect each other at that. There’s free Wi-Fi and computer facilities plus a good range of information about the city, tours, days out, nightlife etc. Yet the real source of knowledge comes directly from the hairy coos’ mouths – Chris and Alan. With proper Scottish accents they know Edinburgh inside out and it’s refreshing to be informed about the city’s abundance of up and coming restaurants for example, instead of just the booziest and cheapest pub-crawls on which to embark.
Other facilities worth mentioning and perhaps which set this place apart, are all the little extra features that are so simple yet make life ten times easier when traveling. Each bed comes with its own power point – a proper savior when you need to keep your mobile phone plugged in and close to you. There is a hairdryer available for hire – all women will be with me on this one, as even though we’re happy to assume backpacker status, we’re also still female! A full operating kitchen with ‘with two of everything’ so to avoid any frustrating delays at the toaster/kettle/microwave in the mornings. And speaking of mornings, the breakfast spread is a bit of alright at that. Porridge in a range of flavours (obviously a national dish of Scotland), pastries, breads & spreads are provided as well as all the tea and coffee you need for your day of exploration ahead.
Areas of consideration:
The bathrooms and newly painted walls are so clean and white that you almost need sunglasses to navigate your way around the place. Being only weeks old, Haggis can afford itself to such high standards. However I do wonder how long the place can stay so immaculate given the fact that it is, after all, a place where much human traffic will pass. With all the showering in the world, backpackers are still backpackers and will inevitably over time grubby up the walls and shower cubicles. Having said that Chris and Alan have opted for a robust choice of flooring – those carpet squares which are especially good for charging your body and giving electric shocks to unsuspecting others – and seem entirely equipped to maintain their high standard of guest accommodation.
All in all I feel rather excited for this new kid on the hostel block and I’d be more than happy to go back in the future (solo travelers, groups of friends and even families with children are welcomed) to see how the place has come into itself, indulge in porridge and most importantly to get a secure, comfortable and restful night’s sleep. Watch this space as well, for they are looking at securing some hot discounts for guests, in the future with a range of local businesses.
Visit this review at Independent Hostel Guide online.
High Street Hostel is located just off the High Street in the old town and claims to be the city’s oldest hostel. When you enter the solid and prominent building you are greeted by a large, warm and homely lounge area, furnished with sofas, table and chairs, a few status of medieval ‘knights in shining armour’ and a succession of multi-socket power adaptors which every backpacker and their laptop are plugged into. For it seems that if you don’t have a smartphone, smart tablet or laptop then you are definitely not one of the kool kids at this hostel. New age technology and medieval entrance aside, the first obvious thing about High Street Hostel is the meet and greet from the enthusiastic staff. Quick to tell you about the social aspects of your stay – the must do pub crawls, pool nights, pizza nights and any other social night starting with the letter P; their main priority is definitely about getting people socialising rather than concerning guests with the nuts and bolts – the house rules, where the kitchen is, if you can hire towels etc.
In a place this bustling and of this size (159 beds and counting) it’s not surprising that staff don’t impose each and every new guest with the dos and don’ts of their stay. Which, judging by a sign I clocked on one of the bedroom doors (indicating that if the occupiers are caught smoking in the room one more time, they will be prosecuted), with all the will in the world, pointing out the rules to people who’s interest is all about bending them is of not much consequence.
Having said this, upon my hostel tour I was pleasantly surprised to find the bathrooms and toilet areas clean and tidy, plus guests enjoy the benefits of staying in a place with machine-washable mattresses. This means that the chances of picking up any new friends, Bruce the bed bug, Felicity the flea and the likes, are minimal. Other features in the boudoir department worth mentioning include individual lockers (there is also a larger safe at reception for more valuable items), two pillows for every bed, and for the romantics and more private folk there’s a double room and two twin rooms available. Furthermore, staff kindly have guests’ beds already made upon check-in and are the ones who remove the bedding for washing upon check-out. A welcome gesture for any traveler.
From the bedrooms to the basement, the communal self-catering kitchen is to say the least sizeable, well equipped and airy with colourful murals across the walls. Down here it’s less about laptops and more about chilling out and meeting new friends. High Street Hostel also provides a basic breakfast – most probably the cheapest in the whole of Scotland (circa 70p for a huge bowl of particularly tasty muesli) – and free tea, coffee and hot chocolate throughout the day. It’s also one of the growing number of hostels that have turned eco-friendly, with recycling bins and signs dotted about the place encouraging guests to dispose of their rubbish considerately and to turn off the lights to save electricity.
Areas of consideration:
Even when not at it’s peak capacity there was seemingly a lack of power points to cater for everyone charging their laptops and smart devices. Especially in the bedroom where I didn’t actually find a single power point. This also meant that the early risers (i.e. 5am) resorted to blow-drying their hair in the corridor for all and sundry to hear. On the floor I was staying (floor 5) there was also a very creaky door in need of a squirt of WD40, meaning that every time someone passed through the corridor – frequently throughout the night – I painstakingly woke up. With the relaxed approach at this hostel, I also wonder how much calm and order there would be if guests had to evacuate the premises during an emergency situation, without such procedures ever being highlighted when checking in.
All in all I would recommend High Street Hostel for its location, social atmosphere and inclusive manner of hosting guests. For those who are heavy sleepers or like to party first and sleep later, the fast pace and busyness of this hostel will be an attraction. However if traveling with a family or you like more peace and quite then the double or twin rooms could prove a better option.
Visit this review at Independent Hostel Guide online.
Must do in Edinburgh:
- Grab a copy of Skinny magazine (popular with the student crowd and available online and in hostels/cafes/pubs etc). Students and backpackers have one thing in common, which is being short of money. Therefore this publication makes for good reading for finding out inventive ways to survive on a budget, places to eat and drink, music gigs, and cultural events etc in Edinburgh and other Scottish cities.
- Drink tea and stock up on ‘extra cushioning for one’s bottom half’ at one of the hip and utterly adorable (if not somewhat girly) teahouses. Eteaket (do try the chili rooibos brew), Loopy Lornas, The Chocolate Tree but to name a few.
- Have a day off from the Royal Mile. There’s no denying that the Royal Mile is a must see in the city but Edinburgh has much more to offer than what the usual tourist trail provides. There’s a new flavour of IRN-BRU in town (the national drink second to whisky), and it’s called Leith. A district in it’s own right north of the city, Leith is an eclectic arrangement of historic waterfront, council estates, new-build apartments and typical high street stores and supermarkets. Harmoniously mixed with independent business, cafes, charity shops, fishmongers, barbers, pubs and a string of warehouse-come-award winning restaurants and swanky bars. Over recent years there’s been a lot of regeneration in the area and you’ll even see signs dotted along Leith Walk saying ‘I love Leith’. Or take a stroll through the district of Morningside, south west of the city centre and browse the handful of boutiques, lovely delis and cafes.
- A visit to Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith. Despite being Edinburgh’s largest shopping centre it lacks shops, character and customers. Although, if you’re in need of a good massage while visiting the area, I recommend the Herbal Inn on one of the upper levels. I was left in lovely drooling state of sleep afterwards; it was that satisfying after a day on my feet.
If you still want something a little closer to the Royal Mile, you could eat your way along the GrassMarket which, although is in the old town, has a much more local feel to it. When you’re all haggis and whiskied out I recommend Petit Paris for some classic French dining complete with French staff and one of the most spoon-licking crème brulees I’ve ever had. Big enough for two people to share…but well worth the tummy ache afterwards if you’re not the sharing-is-caring type.
Give it a miss: