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8 Reasons To Try Traveling Solo

By Kaeli Conforti
May 21, 2015
A solo traveler takes a photo of herself on the beach in Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Courtesy Sam Hauser

According to an article by The New York Times, 24 percent of people traveled solo on their last vacation, up from last year's 15 percent. More and more people, of all different ages and backgrounds, whether single or in relationships, are saying yes to adventure and letting nothing stand in their way. 

I'm proud to say I'm one of them. It started small—a weekend in Washington D.C. by myself back in 2011 because I wanted to see the cherry blossoms and no one else was able to join me at the time—and has resulted in some of my most memorable trips: a solo trip to Paris and the beaches of Normandy this time last year for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a solo road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, and more recently, a solo road trip adventure through Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.

We've talked about solo travel before: you've shared your favorite solo travel adventures with us, and we've shared advice from our favorite solo travel experts. Now, I'm sharing my own tips with the hope that they might inspire those of you who are thinking of hitting the open road alone to take the first step. Chances are you won't regret it. Here's why.

The freedom is intoxicating

Have you ever been on a trip where someone else is calling all the shots, directing you around from place to place, and giving you only a limited amount of time to explore the things that you're really interested in seeing? Kiss all that frustration goodbye! On a solo trip, you are in charge of your own destiny. What do you really want to see? Where do you want to eat dinner? Would you rather stay in a fancy hotel or chill out in that cozy looking hostel you spotted on your way into town? It's all up to you to do as much (or as little!) as you want each day, so take it easy and focus on why you wanted to be there in the first place.

It's surprisingly easy to meet new people

Having your own space and independence is great, but there comes a time during every solo trip when you just want to interact with people again. For me, it usually happens at the end of a long day around dinner time. I've learned that it's way more fun to sit at the bar (instead of at your own table in a restaurant) and let the people come to you. Usually a prop like a book or a map full of circled spots you can't wait to check out will do the trick. People are naturally curious and will probably ask you about your plans, where you've been so far, and in my experience, offer funny stories or suggestions about where I should head next. I've had some amazing conversations, made new friends, and even went bar-hopping with a South Dakota rancher and his cowgirl girlfriend once while I was in Deadwood all because we'd been chatting about rock and roll music and they decided to show me around town—all things I probably never would have experienced had I been traveling with a friend and talking to her the entire time.

You get to choose your own adventure

Use this uninterrupted time wisely. Do things you're interested in, however silly or dorky your friends and family might have said they are, because guess what, they're not here to tease you about it. Pull over and take a silly photo with the giant smiling ear of corn on the side of the road if you want to. Stop at every sign along Scenic Byway 12 in Utah that says "scenic overlook" because there's no one there to tell you not to and every view is amazing. This is your adventure after all, so go for it. Or if you feel like you need a day off from all the sightseeing and want nothing more than to veg out in a pretty park in the middle of Madrid for the day, make it happen.

It's a rare chance to unplug and be in the moment

You're probably going to hate me for saying this, but if you want to really experience a place, you need to unplug and just be there. I always carry my iPhone when I travel but only use it for taking photos. I purposely carry a paper map at all times because wacky technology problems always have a way of finding me, especially when I'm abroad, and I've learned not to rely on a sometimes-faulty GPS. That being said, as long as you have a basic idea of where you're going, wandering aimlessly around town can also be an incredibly enriching experience, especially when you stumble upon random events like free rock concerts and opera performances in Plaza Mayor or movie premiere parties in Times Square.

Not everyone is out to get you

It can be a little unnerving at first, especially when you're traveling by yourself, but don't be afraid to talk to the people around you. You might up meeting someone who could change your life, or at the very least you'll have fun swapping crazy travel stories for a while. It's important to follow your gut when it comes to your own personal safety, but also to remember that not everyone is out to get you. Believe it or not, people are curious about other people and it's amazing to see how similar we all are despite our different cultures and the places we come from. Everyone on earth worries about their kids, hates getting stuck in traffic, and wonders where life will take them. Embrace it.

It's a great way to blend in with the locals

I've been to Paris a few times now, usually with a group, but occasionally by myself. There's nothing like donning a black and white striped dress, smart black trench coat, your favorite comfy pair of boots, and that cute little red hat you picked up on a whim, and strutting your supposedly French self on the swanky streets of Paris. It was really fun to blend in with the crowds as much as possible and get smiles from the locals. A lot of times, people would start speaking French to me—including some American tourists who stopped and asked me to take photos of them, in French. I entered French shops and restaurants and greeted people with a hearty "Bonjour, Madame! Bonjour, Monsieur!" just like I saw the locals doing. Most people would immediately start chatting and after I reached the threshhold of my tourist-level French, I'd politely smile and reveal that I really didn't speak too much of the language. In response, I'd usually get a chuckle, a smile, and a confession from my new friend that their English was not so great either, to which I always said, "No, no, that's okay. My French is worse." They loved that one.

You'll get to know a new place from the inside out

I love taking public transportation and staying in Airbnb apartments when traveling solo so I can get a sense of what it's really like to live in a place. I've done this so far in Milan, Madrid, and Venice Beach in California. I stayed in each place for under $100 a night in the city center and my hosts gave me amazing suggestions for places to check out that only the locals know about. It's a nice change of pace to wake up to the sounds of a real neighborhood and be able to prepare a quick meal or do last-minute laundry in the apartment if I need to—just remember to leave an extra day for your clothes to dry on the line as most European homes don't have dryers.

You can always join a group tour if you want to

If you're more of a social butterfly or are starting to miss interacting with people on a daily basis, consider staying in a hostel, where you have the option to book a bunk or your own private room for less. Generator Hostels in Europe are built to feel more like an artsy boutique hotel than your average hostel. I've stayed at Generator London and Generator Barcelona so far, but they're also in Paris, Copenhagen, Dublin, Berlin, Hamburg, Venice, and Rome. The best part? Access to movie nights, game nights, free concerts, tapas tastings, bar crawls, and other events to help you get to know your fellow travelers. Thanks to sites like MeetUp and others like Zerve and Viator that specialize in group walking tours and other local adventures, you're never too far from a night on the town within the safety of a group should you feel the need. If you're looking for a longer guided trip but still want to do your own thing, check out tour companies like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, and Contiki (if you're between the ages of 18-35), as they will pair you up with a roommate of the same sex and never charge extra single supplement fees for traveling solo.

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Budget Travel Lists

9 Tips For Your First Overseas Cycling Tour

This article was written by Jim Johnson, president and founder of BikeToursDirect. If you're looking for a new and exciting way to travel overseas, an increasing number of travelers are forgoing traditional bus- and train-based tours in favor of tours by bike. More and more travelers are finding great options to ease into adventure travel with bike tours that offer riding distances for every ability, easy-to-follow routes, and a variety of budget-friendly itineraries. Here are a few tips to consider if you're thinking about taking your first bicycle tour. Decide whether you prefer riding with a guide and a group or more on your own Guided and self-guided tours offer somewhat different experiences, and each has unique advantages (and, for some people, disadvantages). For example, on guided tours, riders tend to stick together as a group with the guide. If you prefer to explore cities and the countryside at your own pace, a self-guided bike tour may be a better option. If getting lost is a real concern, or if you worry about language barriers, a guided tour may better suit your travel style. Don't overestimate your ability level Many strong athletes who do a lot of running, swimming, or weight training make the mistake that they'll do fine on a bicycle tour. Cycling uses a lot of different muscles than other sports, and even strong, in-shape athletes find their weariness comes sooner than expected. Regardless of your athletic or cycling ability, you'll have a much more comfortable tour if you spend some time on a bike ideally starting 6-8 weeks before your tour. Keep in mind long rides on the weekends may not prepare you for spending multiple days in a row on a bicycle. Before you travel, aim for shorter back-to-back rides at least 60 percent of the daily mileage of your tour. Your butt will thank you. Be realistic in the distance you wish to cover each day Don't use your longest ride or ideal weekend distance as a guide in choosing the daily distance of your bike tour. Remember that you will be on vacation and there will be a lot to see along the way—and you'll be riding for several days, usually back to back. Also, you're at a much slower pace on a bike tour. You'll find yourself getting on and off your bike, whether to take pictures, visit that amazing castle, or stop for a coffee and a pastry. And it's likely you'll be using a heavier bike than you're accustomed to. If you worry about traffic or getting lost, choose a tour along a dedicated bike path Many tours follow dedicated bicycle paths that are paved, free from traffic and well-marked. While dedicated bike paths are most prevalent in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, other countries in Europe and even Asia are following suit. Consider electric bikes Some purists may scoff, but electric bikes are making cycle-touring possible for travelers who never thought they could tour on two wheels. This is not just a question of fitness level; older riders especially those who are recovering from knee surgery don't have to miss out thanks to the benefits of "E-bikes." Electric bikes are also great "equalizers," when two riders are of differing abilities. Electric bikes are quite prevalent in Europe and Asia, and newer models don't make it obvious that you're getting an added "push." Note that these are not mopeds. You still have to pedal—just not as hard. Ride in the off season—just before or after high season Prices are often lower and crowds are smaller, but otherwise you're getting all the pluses of a high-season experience. Pay attention to the weather Look up average weather conditions and rainfall in the area and time of year you'd like to tour and plan appropriately. Some like it hot, others prefer the weather to be a little cooler, and most like it dry! There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices If it's likely to be cold, wear layers and remove clothing as the day progresses and temperatures climb. Always be prepared for the chance of rain. Carry good rain gear to cover your shoes, legs and torso. Bring your own helmet—and wear it Many companies offer rental helmets, but we encourage clients to bring their own for reasons of hygiene and safety. When you bring your own helmet, you know it fits and hasn't been damaged. Many travelers also choose to purchase a helmet after they reach their starting destination. Remember, no matter how safe the cycling seems, protect your noggin and wear a helmet!   Whether you're a seasoned cyclist, a seasoned traveler, both or neither, bicycle tours are a unique and accessible way to see the world. BikeToursDirect offers more than 500 bike tours all over the world for every ability level and travel style.

Budget Travel Lists

16 Picture-Perfect Small European Towns

This article was written by Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker and originally appeared on their blog, littleroadseurope.com. Europe is full of small towns that look like they're lifted right from a postcard rack: Sweeping vistas; cobblestone streets; thatched-roof cottages or terracotta-roofed villas; idyllic parks; quaint storefronts selling meats, cheeses, flowers, and crafts; restaurants and pubs full of local flavor, in their cuisine and in their people. Some of these, like the villages that surround Italy's Lake Como or dot the landscape in England's Cotswolds, are dauntingly pricey and crushed with tourists during high season. However, there are many places, if you know where and when to look, that offer dining, shopping, and admissions to sights for very reasonable costs; lodging, too, is significantly less than you'd expect, especially in the off-season. Here are 16 picture-perfect European towns that we've discovered over the years. Hallstatt, Austria Hallstatt is a tiny town—it has fewer than 1,000 residents—sitting on the edge of a small lake surrounded on all sides by precipitous peaks. Above the town is a network of salt mines that have been in operation for centuries—there's also a bar up there. Be sure not to miss the church with the Beinhaus ("bone house"), where, due to lack of space in the tiny cemetery, generations of deceased locals have had their skulls preserved on display, painted with their names and dates of death. Pienza, Italy The small Tuscan town of Pienza is famous for its cheese—pecorino di Pienza, a sheep's milk cheese whose scent permeates the town. The town has a beautiful 'balcony,' a large pedestrian walkway on the town wall overlooking the valley below and Monte Amiata in the distance. Pienza has a lot of great restaurants, including Trattoria la Fiorella and Osteria Baccus. It's also home to talented artisans with shops including leather artist Valerio Trufelli and ceramic artist Linda Bai. Pienza evokes romance with its wine bars, beautiful sunset views, and cobblestone streets with names like Street of the Kiss and Street of Love. Bibury, England Tiny Bibury dates back to the 10th century, and features one of the most photographed streets in England, Arlington Row, a row of quaint stone cottages that date back to the 1300s. Today the village has a pub and a restaurant (both offer rooms), as well as a woolen mill. Stroll through the hamlet and admire the ivy-covered stone cottages, the lush English gardens, and the small pond in the park filled with white swans. If you like fresh fish, your lunch will never be fresher than when they pull your meal straight from the trout farm down the street. Crookhaven, Ireland This very cute little fishing town, Ireland's most southerly village, is located on a thin peninsula in west County Cork. Surrounded by the sea and rolling green hills, Crookhaven boasts gorgeous views. There is an excellent gastro-pub here called the Crookhaven Inn and next door you'll find Jorg's Goldsmith Studio, where goldsmith Jorg Uschkamp creates unique jewelry with precious metals and jewels. Just outside the town is the Protestant Church of Saint Brendan the Navigator, built in 1717. Orta San Giulio, Italy Orta San Giulio is perched on a hill that juts out into Lago Orta. It offers great views of Isola San Giulio, the only island in the lake, which houses an excellent restaurant and a convent. The convent is ringed by a shady, circular stone walkway, called "The Way of Silence." Orta San Giulio has many great restaurants, a specialty chocolatier, and beautiful views of the lake. Praiano, Italy On the Amalfi Peninsula, next door to the much larger, pricier, and more crowded Positano, Praiano is a quiet, picturesque cliffside town with many little nooks and crannies to explore. There is a walkway that leads to the water's edge, where several restaurants cling to a rocky grotto and serve fresh fish unloaded by the fishermen in the cove just minutes before. The coastal road bisecting the town bustles with shops, bars, a fruit vendor, and a butcher. Driving through the town, one can also see a miniature model layout of Praiano tucked under a little overhanging rock on the side of the road. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany If you're looking for the perfect medieval walled town, this is it. Visitors can walk atop the entire circumference (more than two miles) of the city walls, stopping to admire the buildings, gardens, and countryside below. Aside from enjoying many German lagers without worrying about driving, activities in Rothenburg include the Night Watchman's tour, offering an entertaining and educational slice of life; the Museum of Medieval Torture; and the Christmas market stores, where you can find beautiful German decorations as well as a museum outlining the history of Christmas traditions. If you're there on a Wednesday night, head over to Mario's which hosts the English Conversation Club, hosted by a man who calls himself Herman the German. The town is very crowded May thru September and in December, but in other months you'll have it all to yourself. Certaldo Alto, Italy The modern sprawl of lower ("basso") Certaldo belies the treasure that sits at the top of the hill. Take the long footpath, or ride the cable car ("funivia") up to Certaldo Alto, and you'll have stepped into a timeless, Renaissance storybook village. Explore the charming streets; see the artwork on display at the Church of Saints Tomaso and Prospero and at the Museum of Sacred Art; visit the Civic Museum at the Praetorian Palace, which includes a torture chamber and prison; and have a "cappuccino decorato" (decorated coffee) at the Caffetteria Artistica. Montefioralle, Italy Tiny Montefioralle in Tuscany is known as the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer whose name inspired the name "America". The door of his birth home displays two symbols of his family: their family insignia of the wasp, and the letter V. The hill town is quite small, with one circular cobblestone street that can be walked in about 10 minutes. Like many medieval villages, the stone houses here are all seamlessly connected. Montefioralle's homes have very beautiful and ornate doors, making for a charming stroll. Doolin, Ireland A coastal town in County Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way, Doolin has a few pubs and is well known as a place to hear traditional Irish music, which can be heard nightly or weekly depending on the season. Doolin is also quite close to the famous Cliffs of Moher, and just outside Doolin is the evocative Doonagore Castle. Both Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher are popular tourist destinations, but if you visit in the off-season you can enjoy the music and the sights without the crowds. To experience the Cliffs of Moher completely alone, visit them at daybreak and enjoy your own private, stunning sunrise. Vigoleno, Italy A visit to this ancient and tiny castle town feels like a step back into the past. The castle fortifications and town buildings, some dating back as far as the 10th century, are largely intact. A walk within the castle walls takes just a few minutes, and you'll discover several shops, a bar, a hotel with a restaurant, and a tiny old church that is a popular location for weddings in the area. As of this writing the town has just five residents, and after you've seen the place you'll want to add yourself to that population. Just outside the castle, overlooking the castle courtyard, is a very modest but excellent restaurant, La Scuola Vecchia. The best part: You can stay overnight in a B&B in this fairytale castle town, in a four-poster bed, for less than a budget hotel in Rome. Monteriggioni, Italy This hilltop castle town of Monteriggioni is visible for miles around. Visitors can walk the platforms around the high 12th-century walls and look out over the broad countryside. The wide town square has several restaurants and artisans' shops, as well as the small but beautiful Church of Santa Maria. The Medieval Armor Museum has replicas of armor and weapons from the ages—you can even hold and try on some of them to get a feel for what it was like to defend the ramparts 700 years ago. The town has a full-on medieval festival in mid-July, with costumed musicians and artisans plying their trade just like they did in the 1300s, offering all manner of crafts, foodstuffs, and entertainment. Glastonbury, England Glastonbury is a Mecca for many New-Age and pagan pilgrims, who regard various aspects of the town's tangled history and mythology as sacred. The village is identified most with its links to the Arthurian Grail legend, as well as to tales of Joseph of Arimathea. It is marked by a large hill of mysterious origin, called the Glastonbury Tor. As is the case with many such pagan sites, early Christians built upon and co-opted these sacred places and attached their own legends to them, such as Glastonbury's "Chalice Well," a more than 2,000-year-old natural spring purported to be a holy well with healing properties. The preponderance of all this history and legend gives Glastonbury a different feel from most other smallish English towns. Its commercial center, in addition to the usual pubs and gift shops, is full of book shops and art galleries highlighting the town's mystical background. In the middle of town stands the evocative ruins of the ancient Glastonbury Abbey, the supposed burial place of King Arthur and his Guinevere. Barga, Italy Set amidst the steep forest hillsides of Tuscany's Garfagnana region, Barga is a fortified, walled city. Piled up on a hill, it is overlooked by its Romanesque Duomo, a cathedral dedicated to St. Christopher—if you get there at noon you'll hear its ancient bells ring out and echo across the mist-covered valleys below. No cars are allowed within the old city walls; good shoes and good endurance are a must here, as the narrow cobbled streets are extremely steep. Barga hosts several festivals in the summer including a famous jazz festival. Lyme Regis, England The cute little port town of Lyme Regis is at the center of the "Jurassic Coast" of England, a stretch of coastline known for its rocky exposure of several geological eras spanning some 180 million years, and is therefore of great interest to purveyors of a lot of dinosaur stuff at the gift shops. Lyme Regis is one of those salty towns that is crowded during summer vacation times, but also a lot of fun in the off-season. You'll find many pubs with great local ales and ciders; shops that sell the same; and lots of places to buy artworks, goods, and foodstuffs from various artists and artisans. It is also the home of the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, great for little kids and grown-up kids. Andechs, Germany The beer brewed by the monks of the Andechs Monastery is regarded as the best beer in Germany, and after trying it, we have no cause to question this claim. This thousand-year-old Benedictine monastery is still an active holy place and a pilgrimage destination. Positioned atop a small hill in the midst of the idyllic Bavarian countryside, the monastery includes a Baroque church and a bell tower topped with a distinctive "onion" dome. The monastery grounds comprise a village in itself, with a restaurant, several shops, and (naturally) a huge beer garden where visitors can enjoy the local foods and of course try the many varieties of masterful brews.

National ParksBudget Travel Lists

BT Staff Picks: 8 National Parks We Love!

Visiting a U.S. national park is a bargain no matter what day it is, but this weekend, on April 18 and 19, admission to every park is free in celebration of National Park Week. Can't decide which one to visit? Take the National Park Service's quiz on FindYourPark.com to find out which of the U.S.'s 407 parks you should explore first. (The Statue of Liberty is one of them!) The site and social-media hashtag #FindYourPark is part of a public awareness campaign for the service's centennial anniversary in 2016. We want to guide you in the right direction too. Asking the BT staff members to choose a favorite national park is a little like asking us to choose a favorite child, but we sifted through our best travel memories and each picked one that's special to us. We hope our stories help inspire your next adventure. BT staffers weigh in: What's your favorite national park, and why? "Glacier National Park, in Montana, is not just my favorite national park, but also my favorite place on earth. Pristine mountain lakes, easy hikeable trails, mountain goats greeting you at the continental divide at Logan Pass, plus huckleberry ice cream." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor in chief "Badlands National Park, the first place I visited during a road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. The landscapes were like nothing I'd ever seen before, and I kept pulling over at every sign that said 'scenic overlook' because I knew there was another amazing view behind it. If you go, give yourself plenty of time to sit back, enjoy the scenery, and listen to the sounds of nature around you. Just remember to stick to the walking paths—those are rattlesnake rattles you're hearing!" —Kaeli Conforti, digital editor "Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enveloping the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park is unparalleled in the fall. The specks and flecks of warm-colored foliage are painted throughout the layered mountain range as its signature fog hangs between peaks, making any view of this park a remarkable one." —Whitney Tressel, photo editor "Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. It's what I imagine being on Mars would feel like: The landscape is an incredible, fiery ochre, and delicate rock formations defy gravity. Basically, you'll spend the day here picking your jaw up off the ground." —Sophie-Claire Hoeller, contributor "Haleakala National Park, on Maui, is amazing and one of the most unusual parks in the USA. You can explore lush rain forest and the colorful crater of a volcano all in one park, a trip that will definitely earn you bragging rights." —Darley Newman, contributing editor "If you want to guarantee a wildlife encounter during your national park visit, it's impossible to beat the Florida Everglades. From the second you enter the park, you're bombarded with more than 350 bird species—plus alligators and crocodiles out catching rays. And you can skip the binoculars; you'll practically be tripping over wildlife during your entire trip." —Nicholas DeRenzo, contributor "I've always loved this quote by John Muir: 'The mountains are calling, and I must go.' To me, Yosemite, in California, is the most beautiful national park, from the first moment you see the incredible vistas at Tunnel View to the stunning reflections of the immense mountains in the valley streams. I'll never forget hiking to Vernal Falls with my best friend and how we were both in awe once we got to the top." —Jennifer O'Brien, marketing manager "Putting the unique beauty of Joshua Tree National Park into words is nearly impossible, but I still try to describe the feeling I had when I first saw it for myself. I've told people the towering boulder piles, spiny trees, and arid desert floors are 'otherworldly,' 'alien,' or 'incomparable,' but 'spiritual' is probably the best term for Joshua Tree, as the park will speak directly to your soul." —Jamie Beckman, senior editor

Budget Travel Lists

8 Things You Can Only Do in Edinburgh

This article was written by Zoe Smith on behalf of Viator.com. Whether you’re exploring the sights along the famous Royal Mile or taking in the views from the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, you’ll never be short of things to see and do in Edinburgh. But like many of Europe’s great cities, there’s much more to the Scottish capital than most tourists get to discover, so once you’ve checked off the must-see attractions, spice up your itinerary by enjoying some of the things you can only do in Edinburgh. 1. Attend the world’s biggest arts festival The mammoth Edinburgh International Festival and the coinciding Edinburgh Fringe Festival need little introduction and those visiting Edinburgh in August will never be short of entertainment. Held each year since 1947, the festival features an entire month of theatre, dance, music and comedy events, including thousands of free shows, street entertainment and a huge fireworks, pyrotechnic and music show on the final night. 2. Climb seven hills in one day Famously ‘built on seven hills’ like Rome, Edinburgh has an abundance of scenic lookout points and climbing all seven peaks is a popular challenge for both locals and tourists. If you’re not brave enough (or fit enough) to join the annual Seven Hills of Edinburgh Race, it’s still possible to walk to the top of all seven hills in one day—a 14.2 mile walk taking in the highest peak of Arthur’s Seat at 251 meters, Edinburgh Castle atop Castle rock and the iconic Calton Hill, alongside Corstorphine Hill, Braid Hill, Blackford Hill and Craiglockhart Hill. 3. Travel back to the 17th century Among Edinburgh’s most unique attractions is Mary King’s Close, a 17th-century street that was buried beneath the city’s hills in the mid-18th-century and reopened as a tourist attraction in 2003. The remarkably preserved street offers an authentic glimpse into the city’s past, but enter at your own risk—Mary King’s Close is notoriously haunted and so popular among ghost-hunters that it hosts the annual Mary King’s Ghost Fest. 4. Visit the birthplace of Harry Potter Prodigious Harry Potter writer J. K. Rowling is among Edinburgh’s most famous former residents and the author famously began writing the hit books at the Elephant Café on George Street. A number of fictional locations in the books were also inspired by real-life sights, like Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Tom Riddle’s grave resides, and George Heriot’s School, which inspired the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 5. Join in an ancient pagan fire ritual With fire-twirling dancers, marching drummers and a gigantic bonfire blazing at the top of Calton Hill, the annual Beltane Fire Festival is one of Edinburgh’s most mesmorizing events, drawing up to 12,000 revelers to the hilltop party. It’s not just about drinking and dancing though—the festival also forms an important part of the city’s pagan heritage, based on an ancient Celtic fertility festival and marking the start of spring. 6. Pay tribute to Greyfriars Bobby One of Edinburgh’s most beloved former residents was a little Skye terrier called Bobby, who became famous in the 19th-century when he stood guard over his owners grave for 14 years. Today, a statue and gravestone commemorate the loyal hound at the Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetery, where visitors can pay their respects to ‘Greyfriars Bobby’—proof that dogs really are a man’s best friend. 7. Check out the world’s first cloned mammal Forget the towering dinosaur skeletons and ancient Egyptians—the star attraction of the National Museum of Scotland is a stuffed sheep, named Dolly after country icon Dolly Parton. Of course, Dolly the Sheep isn’t just any old ewe—she made history back in 1996, as the first ever mammal to be cloned from an adult cell and remains one of the world’s most significant scientific breakthroughs. 8. Spend 4 days celebrating the New Year Nowhere on earth celebrates the New Year like Edinburgh and the city’s time-honoured Hogmanay festivities last for an exhausting 4 days! Join the fun by participating in the torchlight procession on December 29th, partying the night away at the huge open-air Ceilidh on the 30th, watching the gigantic fireworks display on New Year’s Eve, then braving the icy waters of Loony Dock for a New Year’s Day swim.

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