It’s no secret that I love London because I’ve managed to get myself here for two different semesters abroad and am currently 1/3 through my master’s. While I will never tire of London, I am always dreaming of my next trip to Edinburgh, its smaller, less busy cousin to the north. I managed to convince my friends to accompany me on my third trip to the city and while I had a pretty packed list of things I wanted to do, I wound up repeating quite a bit of what I had already done and adding a ton more to my list for the next visit. This trip was particularly touristy, but I quite enjoy doing the tourist thing when it involves so much history and I didn’t mind the autumnal colors everywhere we went.
This was a bit of a lost one as we had spent five hours on a train and were tired/hungry, so after dropping everything off at our Airbnb in New Town, we went out for food and stopped at a nearby steak and hamburger place. As the sun had already set when we arrived, we weren’t able to see much of the city and everyone was fine just waiting for daylight to see everything. We then headed back and had a few drinks as we hung out for a bit before planning our next day and heading off to bed. That aside, we had some stellar views of the English and Scottish countryside and while five hours may seem like a lot, I actually felt that it flew by!
I recommended a free Sandeman’s walking tour of the city (free because you tip based off of your overall feelings of the tour at the end) because I had been on one during my first visit and found it quite informative while hitting all of the main spots in Old Town (they also provide tours for New Town, ghost/scary things and pub crawls). We started along the Royal Mile, stopping near St. Giles Cathedral and the Writer’s Museum before making our way down through Grassmarket.
We had a break about an hour and 15 minutes in and then headed to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (graveyard) where I had the most fun because it’s such a beautiful area of the city. We learned about grave robbers and inspiration for Harry Potter character names before ending our tour and having a photo shoot.
We did a tour of Edinburgh Castle next and because I had already been and didn’t remember particularly enjoying myself, I wasn’t keen on returning, but I had nothing else to do and didn’t want to separate from the group when they were still unfamiliar with the city. While I do think the castle is worth a visit for any history buffs out there and it’s worth checking out the amazing views, I do think it’s waaaaay over-priced AND even though they advertised a discounted student ticket, they didn’t honor that in person, but did recommended we book tickets in advance online to receive the promotion (rolls eyes). I did catch a sneaky shot of the Stone of Destiny and the Crown Jewels, so yay! Almost immediately upon entering the castle, I started having terrible cramps that made me super nauseous and I couldn’t move, so I mostly sat around and waited for the sharp pains to subside. My friends were great though and really helped me feel better/were concerned about me the entire time.
We then went to the Elephant House Cafe where it is rumored that J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the first two Harry Potter books. Whether that’s true or not, I love this cafe because it has a really cozy vibe with a great staff and the breakfast offerings are really good. The best part of it all is the graffiti covering every inch of the women’s restroom as a tribute to the Harry Potter series. I have written a few things on my two previous visits and was surprised that my main one was still there! I drew a cute little Harry along with a quote three years ago and it’s just really cool to see it and a few other familiar things each year I visit. We ordered a light lunch because we hadn’t eaten a proper meal yet and were anticipating a pizza feast so after devouring our salads, we were off to the Airbnb again where I laid in my bed with a hot water bottle for a couple of hours and then treated myself to an entire pizza. It was glorious.
I love hiking and one of my favorite hikes is Arthur’s Seat, a total tourist attraction. The views of the city from the hill (let’s be real – it’s not a mountain) are stunning and you’re just off of the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyrood House (worth a visit to see the grandeur, the gardens and the Abbey). We spent a few hours up there because we took our time and went up one of the more difficult trails rather than the one labeled “main path.” While we had a few who weren’t so keen about the hike, I think they really enjoyed themselves by the end of it and they all got some really great snapportunities out of it (so you’re welcome).
We then hit up Starbucks for a quick bite before most of us headed to the Scotch Whisky Experience. Now, I already knew going into it that I did not like whisky, but when in Scotland, you have to try it, right? And the website makes it seem so fun because it tells you that you’ll get to ride around in a barrel as you learn all about whisky. Well, the barrel did nothing for me because it wasn’t a fun ride and the whisky was so smoky that it was almost like drinking bacon or sticking my head in a BBQ pit. I was proud of myself for at least attempting to enjoy whisky and two samples for under a tenner isn’t so bad.
After the tour, we went into a few shops on our way back down the Royal Mile and then met up with the others at TriBeCa for dinner. I had heard that TriBeCa was good for breakfast from a Sunbeams Jess vlog (she lives in Edinburgh and is my go-to source for all food recommendations), but we were there at dinner and while I’m not completely sure of this, I think we were also at the newest location? It could be the only location because I just saw one when I looked it up, but it seemed to be far away on the map, but was actually just around the corner from our flat when we were on the hunt for a place that could seat eight of us. With that said, our service wasn’t great and neither was the food (it’s all meant to be American foods). We spent close to three hours there because everything took SO LONG to come out or have anyone service us. It was really ridiculous and as a person who has worked in fast food forever, it takes a lot for me to complain about service anywhere. I will say the milkshake I had was really good and the breakfast looked amazing, so maybe I’ll go for brunch one day.
This was my favorite day and totally solidified my need to move to Scotland. We woke up early and boarded a small shuttle to catch a Highlands Tour, which my roommate last summer RAVED about. I was totally salty about paying £46 for a tour but an hour in, we reached Doune Castle and I was convinced that this trip was more than worthy of the price. Our tour guide was so great and knowledgable. He made every story interesting by being invested in the history and adding humor everywhere he could. We learned about the legendary Kelpies and the true mystery of Loch Ness, Mary Queen of Scots and where every single important scene from Harry Potter, Outlander, Spectre, Batman and Game of Thrones were shot along our trip. Our guide made stops at Loch Lomond, the Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe, Fort Augustus/Loch Ness, the Cairngorms National Park and the town of Blair. We even had time for another small whisky tasting with a cup of pure, warm melted chocolate. Everything was picturesque and breathtakingly beautiful. Being there in the autumn meant we got to experience all of the rich colors and while the weather was quite cool, it wasn’t unbearable and we only had a bit of mist, no major rain or anything worse. There was quite a bit of fog, but I was hoping we would be able to see some thick fog anyway to make the scenery look even more beautiful and mysterious. The tour lasted about 12 hours and seven cups of coffee/hot chocolate. While I photographed everything I could, none of my photos did the richness of the highlands any justice so if you ever get the chance to go to Scotland, please book a highlands tour – you won’t regret it! I’m trying to convince Kat to go hiking in the highlands during our trip to Edinburgh later this year because it looked like it would be a stunning experience. We ended the trip feeling sleepy and hungry for pizza.
This was our last day in Scotland so we headed back to the Royal Mile and did the Mary King’s Close underground tour. While it was super cool to see some of the less glamorous Scottish history, I feel like this tour was also heavily over priced for what it actually was. It took us an hour to learn of plagues, cramped quarters and merchants while we walked down the preserved roads of the past and visited their tiny homes. We then split up and had lunch before doing some additional shopping. I bought Kat a stuffed Scottish highlands cow and it is so cute! I only briefly saw some during my tour and while our guide kept mentioning that we would see them, we sadly kept missing them. We also went into St. Giles Cathedral and saw the only angel playing a bagpipe carved into wood, so that was cool!
Overall, it was a bit daunting leading a group of eight through Scotland, but we managed quite well and most of us wanted to do the same things anyway. For those that didn’t, it was easy for them to make their own arrangements and meet up with us later. The best thing about Edinburgh is that everything is relatively close and there’s something for everyone, so that makes it a great city for small and large groups. It gets more and more beautiful with each visit I can’t wait to revisit Scotland this summer!