Last Time: I continued my trek, wandering around the top five primary locations you simply must visit on your exploits throughout this realm. It’s detailed here. This Time: I finish my trek with a rest in the Hold Capital of Solitude, and inspect the seat of power of the Imperials in Skyrim. It’s all detailed here:
Solitude: The main gates into Solitude, offering perhaps the most breath-taking of views across the mouth of the Karth River and into the Sea of Ghosts.
Solitude is the jewel of Imperial Skyrim. Ruled by Jarl Elisif the Fair, widow of the late High King, it is home to the headquarters of both the Legion and the Thalmor. Part of the reason for this is the eminently defensible nature of Solitude itself. Set upon a great stone arch that towers above the mouth of the Karth River, and surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Haafingar Mountains, Solitude is both a reinforced and breathtaking stronghold. Given the city’s name, it may be ironic that over 80 percent of the Hold’s population lives within Solitude’s walls, but this is testament to the city’s political importance, formidable defenses, and diverse population. The Bard’s College is located here, as well as the sumptuous Blue Palace; both constructed atop the huge, natural arch that the city rests on; affording spectacular views over the Sea of Ghosts and Hjaalmarch to the east. Solitude’s accessible docks and wharfs are in relatively calm waters, making trade one of the many reasons why the wealthiest Nords hail from this capital city. Solitude is the one, true cosmopolitan city of Skyrim.
But what is there to visit once you watch your first execution (that isn’t your own)? Here are the top five places you should endeavor to saunter through:
#5: The Winking Skeever
The only tavern in town, and sometimes host to a variety of interesting (and undesirable) folks. Corpulus Vinius runs this establishment. The minstrel Lisette plays here in the afternoons and evenings. The place is famous for wine and mead imported from Riften. Aside from a shifty Argonian named Gulum-Ei to run into (who becomes a Fence if you don’t kill him), you’re able to rest, learn rumors, and hire a ruffian named Belrand as a Follower. For a real flavor of Solitude, a trip to this inn is worth the rowdiness and periodic lute-played bards.
#4: Castle Dour
Dominating the northern district of the city is Castle Dour. Thick-walled and imposing, it protected its inhabitants from invaders. As the city grew, walls were added to surround the other, newer buildings. During a long period of peace, the Blue Palace was built for the Jarl, and Castle Dour became a secondary fortress. It now houses the Imperial Garrison and the Temple of the Divines. Aside from a fine fletcher (Fihada) and blacksmith (Beirand), General Tullius and Legate Rikke inhabit the castle interior, and are crucial folks to befriend (or turn against) during the Civil War quests. There’s also a small, and rarely explored dungeon under the jail you can find and escape from, if you’ve been throwing your weight around in town.
#3: Temple of the Divines
Formerly the Temple of the Nine Divines, this is the largest temple in all of Skyrim. Unlike the other temples, it reflects the Imperial view of all eight divinities being equal and represented. Outside is a small courtyard where the forthcoming marriage involving Vittoria Vici will be administered. There are a number of doors leading to and from the roof if you want a better look down onto this courtyard. Inside there are shrines for each of the eight gods, plus an empty place where the shrine to Talos once stood. If you side with the Stormcloaks during the Civil War Quests, and take Solitude for Ulfric, the Shrine to Talos is reinstated. Each provides a Blessing. Aside from the grandeur, be sure to fully explore this location; there’s a storage room downstairs, and a firmly-sealed door leading to a frightening, cobweb and Draugr-filled excursion into Potema’s Catacombs (Side Quest: The Wolf Queen Awakened).
#2: Bard’s College
A large building where Bards come from all parts of Skyrim and beyond to learn how to sing and play instruments. There are two entrances, and all are welcome. Outside is a large stone courtyard where the “Burning of Old King Olaf” festival was historically held. So why has this location been chosen and not Proudspire Manor (the house you can purchase in Solitude)? Because of the Bard’s College Quests, and in particular Other Factions Quest: Rjorn’s Drum. Giruad Gemane offers to up all your Path of Might skills by a point after completion; a fine reward for a modicum of work.
#1: The Blue Palace
Solitude’s other awe-inspiring landmark is its ornate palace, where the newly-appointed Jarl Elisif the Fair resides. It is built on the ruins of the old palace, which was burnt to the ground when Queen Potema was finally defeated in the War of the Red Diamond. There is only one entrance; from the cloisters at the end of the Avenues District. This place is well-deserving of your attention due in part to the people watching you can view, as well as Thane tasks you can undertake in order to improve your standing in these parts. But it’s the sealed Pelagius Wing, which leads you into one of the craziest quests ever undertaken in Skyrim – Daedric Quest: The Mind of Madness – in which you visit the Daedric Prince Sheogorath within the lunatic mind of a long-dead king of Skyrim!
Found a dungeon, hovel, abandoned camp or other location in Haafingar Hold and want to tell us about it? Then head on over here.
Until next time (when I wade around the swampy countryside of Hjaalmarch Hold), may your dealings with Sheogorath not drive you into a babbling mess, and your explorations through the Wolf Queen’s catacombs be Draugr-free.
As always, look for the The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Revised & Expanded Prima Official Game Guide at a retailer near you!