Edinburgh is a fairytale place. It’s almost a city frozen in time. There isn’t another place on earth that has the same look and feel. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then it’s somewhere you cannot miss because every corner you round looks like you’ve just stepped into Diagon Alley. If not, then go for the history and see one of the best preserved castles in Europe, or go for the food and try pheasant or Scottish beef.
the Royal Mile
A few weeks ago, Eoin and I took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a location that both of us had on our bucket lists, and when flights dropped to €20 on RyanAir we jumped at the opportunity. We left Dublin mid-day on Thursday, and stayed in Edinburgh until Saturday evening. Both of us thought this was plenty of time to explore what this city has to offer, if you plan and manage your time well.
Edinburgh is a city rich with history and culture. As the capital city of Scotland, it is filled with museums, universities, shopping, fine dining and a surprising number of quality antique shops. You’ll also find excellent coffee and colourful accents.
- Check into our hotel: The Elder York Guest House. This 3 star boutique guest house was so cozy, and the hosts were very friendly. As soon as we arrived, they offered to help us plan out the rest of our time there and gave great recommendations for restaurants and night-life. It’s also literally right next to the light rail, so easy access to the airport!
- Out for a pint at The Conan Doyle – Our hosts recommended this pub to us as the perfect afternoon duck-in. He was right, and we were delighted when we walked around the corner to find this traditional snug furnished with plush leather armchairs, damask wallpaper and mahogany tables. We tried a couple of pints of their craft beer and relaxed after travelling.
- Shopping on George Street – Eoin and I saw Lululemon from the bus as we pulled onto this street, and we couldn’t wait to stretch our legs there! This street is as beautiful as it is well stocked. As you walk down the boulevard surrounded by Georgian architecture, you’ll find high store shops like Anthropology, Whistles and The Kooples. It’s a great place to pick up a luxurious cashmere scarf or a new wool coat, which you will need for the cold climate!
- Stroll to Palace of Hollyroodhouse – After meeting up with a friend who was also in town, we walked over to Hollyroodhouse the ancient home of the Kings of Scotland. The palace looked gorgeous, but we had to admire it from afar since it closed at 4:30. 🙁 If this spot is on your list, go early!
- Go for a drink at The Newsroom – This hipster spot is a cool haven in the centre of the city. Order a pint of the craft beer pumped from the cask in the middle of the dining floor or a cheeky cocktail like the Xante Warrior Princess.
- Dine at Amarone – We noticed this place on George Street earlier in the day. They had gorgeous high windows filled with string lights. Say what you will, but I’m a sucker for good packaging! The wine was a bit pricey but the food didn’t disappoint. Eoin and I tried the focaccia, linguine alle vongole, and milano pizza, and found each one equally mouth watering.
- Wake up early and go to Carlton Hill – Eoin and I woke up early to watch the sunrise from the high point in the city. Many people go to Arthur’s Seat, but our hosts recommended that we try Carlton Hill instead because the weather was still very cold and windy. While we didn’t get to experience the alternative, this location was very beautiful, and offered an amazing view of the city skyline. With the exception of a couple of other people we had the whole hill to ourselves. We watched the sun come up over the sea and gradually flood the city with light from the columns of the monument. It was an unforgettable experience that I am so happy we were able to share together.
- Head up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle – After heading back to our hotel for a Scottish breakfast, we ventured out to explore the Royal Mile, the road leading up to the castle from Old Town. This is a historic street dotted with small shops and restaurants as well as an awe-inspiring cathedral. Spend some time in the tourist shops looking at the immense variety of clan tweeds, or duck into a coffee shop and people watch. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself at the threshold of the castle. The views of the city from here are incredible, and only get better the farther you venture into the grounds. We opted for the audio tour, which we did find very interesting. One thing I would suggest would be to breeze through some of the exhibits you find less interesting. You could be there for 3 hours if you want to see everything.
- Have lunch at the Elephant Cafe – After spending the morning walking around the castle, we were starving. The restaurants around the castle are really pricey band packed, so try not to go to them if you’re on a time crunch or budget. We opted to check another destination off our list by visiting the Elephant Cafe, the spot where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. This is a bustling, colourful cafe full of plants and artwork. The food here isn’t the best you’ve ever had, but it’s comforting. The dessert on the other hand – to die for. Try the chocolate cake, and you can thank me later.
- Visit the National Museum of Scotland – After filling up on cake and lasagne it’s just a skip over to this museum. Admission is free, and I was very impressed by the variety of exhibits. There’s something for everyone here: history(ancient and recent), science, geography and art. It’s also super instagram-able!
- Have a nap – Edinburgh is an extremely walkable city, but this means you will do A LOT of walking. It’s great for your health, but it really hits you at about 4pm. So treat yourself to a nap!
- Go for a drink at Villager, followed by dinner at The Outsider – Eoin and I found The Outsider on Yelp when we were looking for a nice place for dinner. The Outsider stood out to us right away with it’s modern twist on traditional food, and we couldn’t wait to try it. We arrived a bit early for our reservation though, and ventured across the street to Villager for a pint to pass the time. We sat in the back bar which had walls covered in old mirrored whisky advertisements. This place had such cool character and atmosphere that we almost missed our reservation! After we darted across to The Outsider, we sat down into a cosy booth and sipped on some divine wine while we waited for our mains to arrive. The service here was top notch, and the servers are very knowledgeable about the menu. Eoin went for a medium rib eye steak (a huge departure for him!) and I tried the roast pheasant. Both were absolutely heavenly. This place is a must-do. If you’re strapped for cash, I also heard that it is great for lunch because it has some class views.
- Enjoy some serious craft beer at BrewDog – Yes, like the tv show. This is a uber hipster spot where the locals go to drink. We met my friend here, and blew through a few pints with names like Gamma Ray, Hardcore IPA, and Zeitgeist as well as something that had started as a beer and been distilled until it was more like a scotch. All in all, a great spot that will send you stumbling into the nearest chipper at 2:30am.
the view from Calton Hill before sunrise
St. Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile
one of the many “closes” or alley ways off the Royal Mile
- Visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – After having breakfast and checking out of our hotel, we stepped out without much of a plan, and saw this museum just a block down. We decided to have a look in (free admission, whoo!) and were very pleasantly surprised. There was a crazy and zany modern art exhibit just next to the main entrance which I loved, and then after that a main hall with the most gorgeous constellation ceiling mural. The art here was breathtaking as well, and they have some very interesting WWII portraits that Eoin and I both found very moving. It’s a place well worth stopping into.
- Go for a walk to the Scott Monument and Prince Street Gardens – After that, we walked over to the centre of the city to visit the Scott Monument and stroll through the gardens. Both places are beautiful is very different ways. The Scott Monument is very gothic and dark (you can’t miss it from any vantage point in the city), while the gardens are natural and peaceful. Strolling along here, you can vividly imagine what the city might have been like 200 years ago.
- Visit some vintage shops – as I mentioned before, Edinburgh has surprising brilliant vintage shops. Even though there was no way I was fitting anything else into my carry-on, I couldn’t help but check out a few of these places. Most things had a very Edwardian or Victorian vibe, and there were piles of middle eastern rugs. Had this been in Dublin, there were a few pieces that would have had to come home with me.
- Warm up at the Royal Botanic Gardens – This may have been my favourite place we visited. If you love plants, then this is the place for you. The is a small admission fee to see the glasshouses, but they are the best part so pay it. You walk through 7-8 different climates (many of them warm 🙂 ), and get to experience the beautiful vegetation of each one. There was one climate in particular which I couldn’t believe: the arid desert. There I found a creosote bush, which is native to the Mojave Desert where I grew up. I knew it by its clean, minty smell as soon as we entered the green house, and (as silly as it sounds) it almost brought tears to my eyes. I hadn’t smelled that smell in over 15 years.
It’s hard to not have a magical experience in Edinburgh. It’s such a historic and unique city with gorgeous, untouched Georgian architecture. So, no matter what you plan to do when you visit there, you’re sure to have a memorable experience.
I hope this post helps you plan your own trip to this beautiful city and that you tell me all about your travels when you go.