Wow! So here we are in Edinburgh, Scotland in May 2016 after spending a week and a half in England. My best friend and I trained from Huntingdon (mid-England) after spending a couple of days with some family friends who were stationed at a military base outside of London. There were major train delays across England that day because someone got hit by a train, eek! So once we finally made it on the train, it was about 4 or 5 hours up to Edinburgh, and we arrived smack in the middle of the city at Waverley Station.
Where we stayed:
First, we made our may to the Airbnb we booked in the Grassmarket/West Port area of Edinburgh, which is an awesome area to stay! Airbnb has become my favorite way to find accommodations in foreign countries…how could you pass up an entire flat, including a full kitchen and a washer/dryer for about 1/3 of the cost of a regular hotel room? Check out the flat we booked here, complete with courtyard and a direct view up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. JAWDROP. You could not have asked for a better view and only $85/night…you can’t beat that!
The Grassmarket area was only about a 5-10 minute walk up to the castle and Royal Mile (Edinburgh’s main road). It had a lot of cool pub-type places to eat, so we ate here almost every night except one. Per our Airbnb hosts we also got some ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar up the street. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, go out of your way and go to this place! We ate local pub food, Italian food, and French food all in the Grassmarket area too, and everything was delicious! We ate at one nicer restaurant (also recommended by our hosts) called The Outsider a few blocks away from our flat; it had a cool modern vibe.
What we did:
Everything we did was centered mostly around The Royal Mile, which is the mile or so long road connecting the historic Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland (but really, she only comes here once a year…) Of course a visit to Edinburgh Castle was on our list, and with the castle up on a hill, you get great views across Edinburgh. Some parts of the castle were founded as far back as the 12th century, including the notable St. Margaret’s Chapel, and other parts were added on later. Cost was £16.50. We took one of the free tours offered by staff, which was a great overview, and we stayed here a couple of hours.
It definitely felt just like all of the pictures look here: cold and dreary! It rained most days, just like England. A popular attraction right next to the Castle is The Scottish Whiskey Experience, where you can sample different types of whiskey and learn how they are made, but we opted for something different and went to the Camera Obscura, a kinda illusion/fun house. We didn’t spend too much time here, as most things were geared more toward kids, but some of the illusions were cool, and it also had a great rooftop view over Edinburgh. If you can climb to the roof and get a city view, you better believe I’ll be there! It really puts the city into perspective. After that, we spent the rest of the day hanging out in cool shops around the Royal Mile.
My best friend and I had some common things we wanted to do, but I really had my sights set on one thing: climbing the Scott Monument in Prince’s Street Garden. Prince’s Garden is around Waverley Train Station, and it houses this huge, ornate, gothic monument dedicated to the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Not only does it look hella cool, but once I found out it had steps…oh yeah!…and then we got there…and it was closed for maintenance, so my hopes and dreams were crushed…like seriously…anyways here’s a beautiful picture of my favorite site in Edinburgh.
Customary Scottish bagpiper on the Royal Mile!
The next day we walked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. We got a free tour around the grounds of the Palace and the Queen’s gardens and then headed inside. I’ve found a lot of major sites offer free tours at certain times throughout the day, so definitely take advantage of them because it’s a great way to catch up on some history of the particular site. The Palace is considered a Royal Apartment (like Windsor), so no photos inside allowed yet again! But below are some beautiful pics of the outside. The inside also contained a dress exhibition dedicated to Princess Diana and The Queen, and connected to the back of the Palace, you can see the beautiful Holyrood Abbey ruins. You can easily spend a few hours here between the Palace and gardens, and admission was £12.50.
From the Palace, you can also see Arthur’s Seat, which is within Holyrood Park. It’s rumored to have connections to the legendary King Arthur and Camelot and is a perfect location for hiking. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to climb it, and honestly I’m not sure we would have made it with all the walking we had done the past 2 weeks ha!, but I would go back to Edinburgh just to hike up Arthur’s Seat. How gorgeous is this place? A must-do in Edinburgh if you have time.
After the Palace, we walked (or trekked really-ugh) to Calton Hill, which is on the same side of town as the Palace. It is the headquarters of the Scottish Government and contains some cool monuments and buildings, including an old astronomical observatory. It’s an awesome place to sit and chill, especially after climbing all those dang stairs to get up there! You can see the Edinburgh Castle and Scott Monument in the distance from Calton Hill.
FUN FACT: Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, & Castle Rock (Edinburgh Castle) were formed by an extinct volcano system, with Arthur’s Seat being the largest.
Last minute looking for something to do, we found tickets to a symphony orchestra performance of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. My first orchestra performance in a foreign city and sweet may to end my two weeks abroad. We had so much fun…but we were so exhausted from walking everywhere and just ready to be home. Yes…Europe is beautiful, but there is still nothing like being at home where you feel comfortable.
I absolutely loved Edinburgh and would go back in a heartbeat! It was a great contrast from busy London. We spent 3 days in Edinburgh, but a full day was taken by our tour to Northumberland, so we only had 2 days in the city. This was an ok amount of time to visit Edinburgh, but I would have loved another full day to hike Arthur’s Seat and explore a little more. We didn’t visit any museums (cause ya’ll know I’ll go crazy), but Edinburgh has several, including the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery, if museums are your thing. One museum I would have loved to see was the Surgeons’ Hall, which houses the largest collection of pathological specimens in the U.K…now that’s my kind of museum! If you’re a Harry Potter fan, stop by The Elephant House – the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote the first HP book. I already have a list of things to do when I come back to Edinburgh, but I’m so glad we added it onto the end of our trip. Check out my final post here when we traveled to Northumberland and saw 3 castles in 1 day! Thanks for reading and following!