Have you ever traveled somewhere and immediately felt like you belong there? An instant connection the second you smell the air? Scotland was that place for me. It’s one of those places that’s tamed on the surface but wild at heart; gentle, but rugged. (Much like myself 😉 )I left part of my heart in Scotland the day we left, and I’m going to have to go back to find it again…
After London, Edinburgh was the perfect transition North. It has all the history, cobblestone streets, small alleys, stone buildings, and bagpipe players that you’d expect to find, mixed with a touch of modern, a pop of color, and a hint of spice everywhere you look.
We rented an airbnb off Albert St, and it ended up being such a cute place and the perfect base for exploring the heart of Edinburgh. (There was a late night Chinese takeout place right across the street that was aaamazing too!)
Here are some must-not-miss sights and activities within the city:
1. Calton Hill & The Observatory – This location houses some historical buildings, an observatory, and a restaurant called The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage. The restaurant is beautiful and features a high end menu featuring local eats. It’s a great spot to grab dinner and catch the sunset over Edinburgh as it has pretty has the best view of the city around.
2. Edinburgh Castle – This one is obvious. You can’t go to Edinburgh and not see its most iconic landmark. The castle is steeped in history and gives visitors a glimpse of what life would have been like back in the 1200s and 1300s. The castle is large and will take a few hours to thoroughly explore so be prepared to spend an entire afternoon there. For less of a crowd, go towards the later part of the day as all the tours will have come and gone by then and you’ll be able to get shots of the castle without a ton of people in your shots.
3. Mary King’s Close – One of the only remaining closes from the Victorian era, this tour gives visitors an immersive experience of Edinburgh life during the Victorian Period. The city of Edinburgh has been built up over the hundreds of years as a city and the underground that houses all the dark history of Edinburgh’s past. There is even a well preserved Victorian town home that you get to check out. This tour requires booking a time slot (usually 24hrs in advance) so be prepared for that.
4. Holyrood Palace & Park – As the official residence of the British monarch, the palace isn’t always open to the public. In fact, it was being occupied by the Lord High Commissioner while we were there so we weren’t able to actually go inside but the grounds are lovely and feature sprawling gardens and the remains of an old Abbey.
5. Arthur’s Seat – A relatively easy hike behind Holyrood Park, this extinct volcano makes a prime view point to take in all of Edinburgh and the surrounding lands. There are two paths you can take: one lower path that’s great for taking pictures of the city, and the other path that continues up higher towards the peak thats great for a more intense hike and really getting a great view of the surrounding areas. However, if the clouds are low the top of the higher peak can sometimes be in the clouds so obviously you won’t get much of a view of the city.
6. The Black Fox – This one’s a pub and it ended up being one of our favorite places in Edinburgh. It also happened to be about halfway between our airbnb and the city center so it worked out wonderfully. This is the first place we found that had California style IPA beers and really flavorful food. It was a small bar with a tiny kitchen cranking out some great burgers and bites. This was also our first experience with haggis and it was a win!
7. The Royal Mile – You can’t really miss this one. It’s the stretch of road in Edinburgh’s old town that connects Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There’s tons of pubs, restaurants, and shops along the road so you’ll have no problem stopping in for a bite or a beer anywhere along the strip. There were numerous street performers as well so it made for an entertaining experience.
We spent 2 1/2 days exploring Edinburgh before making our way back towards the airport where we rented a car and began the “road trip” portion of our trip. From Edinburgh we drove through Dundee and over to St. Andrews where we had lunch and toured St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral. Before making our way over to Aberdeen, along the East coast, as the next base along our trip.
St. Andrews is the cutest town. It’s a university town so the demographic is young and fun and there’s lots of great restaurants and pubs in the area. It also has a ton of history associated with it (doesn’t all of Scotland?) so there’s plenty to see and do even though its a small town. St. Andrews is also the birthplace of golf and there’s a plethora of stunning courses in the area to try out, if you’re into that sort of thing. I wish we could have spent a whole day exploring St. Andrews but the time we did have there was beautiful!
Thinking of planning a Scotland trip of your own? Stay tuned for my post titled “The Ultimate Scotland Road Trip” for routes, tips, and tricks along your adventure. Questions? I’ve got answers so don’t hesitate to reach out!