The Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a beautiful city that features charm of Scotland with touristic sites and fantastic food (and whisky) to entertain for days.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city that exudes the rustic charm of Scotland while hosting visitors from all over the world (although I pretty much ran into Americans). The city is composed of distinctly different areas; the main places we visited were Leith, Old Town and the Royal Mile, and New Town. As you walk along the tourist streets and you will be filled with the sudden NEED to have everything in tartan and wool (writes the girl who has 3 new blankets and scarves).
WHEN TO GO:
Edinburgh is host to many large festivals during the year, and the size of the festivals may outweigh the size of the city. If you plan on going during a festival time, it is important to book your hotel months in advance, if not maybe a year if it is during the Fringe Festival. Regarding temperature, the averages for the city range from high 30's to low 60's, and it has an average of 20 rainy days a month so whenever you go it'll be a bit brisk and you'll need a raincoat.
January-March- Going in the winter it will be a little cold, but for the most part, not crowded. I went at the end of March and half of the attractions were empty and we really felt like we had the city to ourselves. We were able to book tours last minute and enjoyed having the streets to ourselves in the morning, cold but nice.
April-May- They claim that these are the least amount of rain so hopefully you'll have clearer days. Also the Scotland's Tradfest is in late April to beginning of May so you're in for live Scottish music and culture (I did the Irish Tradfest and I loved it). Also from May through July, the Highland games are in full swing throughout Scotland, check out dates and locations here.
June-July- Edinburgh gets a bit warmer (and maybe rainier), but is full of events including the Highland games.
August- Edinburgh will be PACKED. The military tattoo and the Fringe festival take up most of August, so if you plan on going book your hotel early. The military tattoo looks like a mix of a parade with a half time show and riverdance and if you're interested in tickets they are around 20-45 pounds and can be booked here. The Fringe festival is the "world's largest arts festival" full of plays, music, and other performances.
September-October-Nice crisp, fall weather, but still rainy but should be less crowded like in January-March.
November-December- The center square fills up with wonderful Christmas markets, a Fair, an Ice Rink and more! Also on the 30th and 31st of December is the Hogmanay which is a giant parade, party and fireworks that are sure to be a good time.
Attractions: Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse, Royal Mile, Calton Hill, New Town
Cuisine: Whisky, Salmon, Haggis and more!
Getting to Edinburgh is fairly easy. We flew direct from the US, but you can also fly from anywhere as it is a fairly large airport. Also you can take a train from London or Birmingham to Edinburgh, but it takes a few hours (almost 5 hours from Birmingham to Edinburgh) and can be more expensive than a plane ticket. The only con to taking a plane is that the airport is a bit far from the city. Two best ways to get in are either bus or tram into the city. We took the bus and for the FIRST time in any city I have visited, I can say the bus system was great, it takes you anywhere you want to go, you just have to hit the button when you want to get off. The tram looked like it was supposed to be more efficient but it was moving so slow I don't see how that was possible. Even getting from areas like Leith to New Town I would recommend the bus, it is quick and cheap. Just click to their travel site enter where you are leaving from, to where you want to go here in this website and they give you timetables and bus routes.
The city is full of fun touristy things to do. While I was only there for 3 days I enjoyed exploring these attractions and have added the ones I wish I still got to do.
The Royal Residences:
Edinburgh Castle- Pearched up on the hill overlooking the city is Edinburgh Castle. This beautiful castle is a must see while you are there, however everyone else visiting thinks the same, so BOOK IN ADVANCE. You can print out your tickets at home so do it before you leave. The line we saw for tickets was ridiculous, if you have your ticket pre printed you just walk straight through the gate. You can get an audio guide as well, which we thought added better insight to the trip. There are many parts to the castle so set aside a few hours (2-4) to fully explore it. If you get a good day you should be able to see down to Leith.
Palace of Holyroodhouse- The royal residence of Edinburgh, this Palace lies on the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle. The queen takes up residence here for a few weeks during the year so that is moderately exciting. When you get to Holyroodhouse you can buy tickets inside the Queen's Gallery. The Palace is impressive, especially since it is right next to the majestic Arthur's seat (the peak overlooking Edinburgh), but once inside you aren't allowed to take pictures. The audio guide is great at informing you about all the details of the rooms, however it is really drafty and cold once inside so wear layers. It isn't hard to see why so many royals died from bronchitis, my fingers were numb after 20 minutes.
Royal Yacht Britannia- This last royal yacht (I know, tears) has been decomissioned and sitting in the port of Leith. This yacht is immaculate and kept in the same condition as it would have for the queen. There are over 30 rooms and it is interesting to see how the other half lived at sea. Particularly interesting is that the queen slept on the hardest, twin sized bed, and she had a seperate bedroom for her husband. *note: to access the yacht you have to enter through the mall and go through a tiny exhibit before you can board the yacht. The yacht is not accessible from the outside.
View from the top:
Calton Hill - Climb up this small hill full of fake unfinished roman ruins, and prepare yourself for the wow factor. The view from Calton hill can be seen in my pictures and it took my breath away. A beautiful and large Cathedral, definitely take a moment to appreciate the stunning architecture and stained glass.
Arthur's seat- The peak ajacent to Holyroodhouse has been said to be an amazing climb and view over Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I didn't make the hike, but I would do so next time I go.
Things I wish I did:
Rosslyn Chapel- About an hour away from Edinburgh by bus is the Rosslyn Chapel. It is a beautiful church that was built in the mid 15th century and is ornately carved and if I had time for an hour there and an hour back I would have gone.
Royal Botanic Garden & Queen Street Gardens- These attractions are rated rather highly and the pictures look beautiful I just wish I stopped by.
Museums - After only seeing the Museum of Edinburgh, I was kind of turned off of the museums but I know that there is much more offered in Edinburgh including the: National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery, and the National Museum of Scotland.
ABOUT THE MUSEUMS:
Edinburgh has plenty of museums, and if I had more time I would have visited more museums than the Museum of Edinburgh (which if I'm honest wasn't great, but the movie they showed in the first floor was interesting). As I said above, the museums I was interested in seeing were: National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery, and National Museum of Scotland, just note that all of these close at 5pm so plan your day accordingly.
When the words, Scottish Cuisine, came up I immediately thought of sheeps guts and other stomach wrenching foods (forgive the pun). Turns out, Scotland has PHENOMINAL smoked (and cooked) salmon, beef, lamb, gin and whisky (they spell whiskey differently in Scotland so I am going with the flow). Eating in Scotland requires a bit of adventure, but the food was always on point.
Where to try:
Haggis and Aberdeen Angus Beef- I know I know, Haggis is sheeps guts. HOWEVER, the most appetizing Haggis I saw (and tried) was at a restaurant called Stac Polly. This French twist on Scottish fare was delightful. The Haggis was put into a puff pastry and situated in a red wine sauce, amazing. Their Aberdeen Angus was also fantastic and I don't think I can say enough nice things about this restaurant. It is a little expensive but the tasting experience was worth it.
Salmon- Literally everywhere I went I had divine Salmon. You can even find fantastic smoked salmon at the grocery store, just look for salmon soaked in whisky, you're welcome.
Gin- If you have read this site before you already know my love of gin. Home of Hendricks, Scotland mastered botanical gins and there are only more beautiful gins to behold in the capital of Scotland. My favorites include Edinburgh gin and St. Andrews gin, however there are a TON more, and after seeing this infographic and list of top gins I'll be on the hunt for more.
Whisky- Although it is a bit of a kitschy kind of a place, the Scotch Whisky Experience was something that was a bonus to our trip. I booked the "Taste of Scotland" for me and my mom (was super expensive), although I liked the animated barrel ride (like Disney for drunks), and the tasting gave great insight into the different regions of Scotland.... the dinner afterward wasn't phenominal and the class wasn't the best experience because we were put with a bunch of drunk guys who didn't speak english and yelled over the teacher.
If I could do it again, I would have just gotten the Gold tour and paid a third of the price (been able to go whenever I wanted instead of just at 5:30) then stepped downstairs to the Amber restaurant and gotten a whisky paring with some snacks.
Whisky and music- My favorite bar while I was in Edinburgh was The White Hart Inn. This bar is 500 years old and every night they have live music from around 9pm on. On Saturdays the music is more mainstream and the crowds are large, but if you get a chance to go during the week you can grab a stool, try some whisky and listen to classic Scottish folk music.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city full of personality. There are tons of things to see and explore while in Edinburgh but I personally prefered eating and shopping.
Shopping in Scotland shows you things that you have never wanted or had, but suddenly need. For example outside lap blankets, have I ever used one? No, but suddenly I needed one, and ended up with 3 lambswool blankets, and 6 tartan scarves. Why? Blame Scotland. The best shopping streets are: the Royal Mile (Old Town), Rose Street and Thistle Street (New Town). On Royal mile you will see no less than 30 blanket and tartan shops. Suprisingly enough, the best prices we found were at the giant wool mill next to the castle, and one of the Scottish shops by Holyroodhouse. By the end of your trip you will be fed up with everything plaid, but they are easy non-expensive gifts (when you buy in bulk), and for Christmas this year I will be the white Oprah of tartan scarves.
Things to buy:
Tweed (I personally love Harris gloves, but if you are paying over 30 pounds you can get a better deal)
At the base of Scotland, Edinburgh is a great base for a day trip, additionally you can book 2-3 day trips if you really want to go up north and see more of Scotland. I booked a trip to the highlands (for 12 hours, I know what was I thinking), but I have to say the highlands was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The price for a day trip was around 40 pounds, but there were extras not included, ie. for the boat for the Lochness (which was like the staten island ferry and totally overpriced).
When booking a day trip keep in mind the following with larger bus tours:
The stops they make will be at stores they have deals with
Most of the time will be spent on the bus and most don't have bathrooms, so bring snacks and maybe a blanket, and limit your consumption of liquids.
The description may change and they won't tell you. Ie. they said highland cows but there were no highland cows.
The bus may be too big for smaller sightseeing stops.
If I had the chance to do another day tour, I wouldn't pick the one up to Inverness (it is seriously so far), I would pick a smaller bus so we could stop more, but would still focus on the highlands, maybe a castle stop, and definitely shorter than 12 hours. There are a few different options when it comes to companies that you can use. I took Timberbush and I loved the driver and learned so much, but the reasons detailed above made me wonder if there are better options out there. There are literally dozens of options including: Rabbies, the Hairy Coo, the Highland Experience, Heart of Scotland and more, just make sure to check the reviews to ensure the right fit and try and book on a nice day, or you'll just be looking out on foggy, rainy windows. I've attached an additional slideshow below from my highlands day trip so you can get a feel for how incredible they are.
OVERALL, I loved Edinburgh and am looking forward to my next visit. I took my mother there and we had the absolute best time exploring the streets, shopping, and becoming Scottish cuisine experts. If you have the chance to bring one of your parents you will surely have memories for years to come. My love for Scotland has just begun and I plan on exploring more of the highlands, Aberdeen, and the Isles, and if I can see some of the highland games while I'm there, I'd be in heaven.
Check out some of my pics from my day trip to the highlands and the Loch Ness!