A weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is a place that intrigued for a while, but I put off going there, because it’s so close. In fact, I haven’t been to Paris either for the same reason. I’m not sure what my logic behind it is – I guess I just think I could do a roadtrip there at any time. Since Edinburgh is about 6 hours from our part of England, we decided to turn it into a roadtrip over a three day weekend, leaving Friday night after work. It honestly wasn’t that bad a drive – just dark and remote at times. I much preferred the drive back in the daylight, and we even stopped at some cute towns along the way. It was nice to have a car to explore outside of Edinburgh, and also stop in cute towns briefly on the way back. We arrived in Edinburgh pretty late at night, and went straight to bed so we could hit the ground running the next day. We stayed at Holyrood Apartment/Hotels, and it was fine for our needs. It was a little outdated, but very spacious with a kitchen and living room, not that we used them since we were on the go so much. The location and access to parking was what drew me to the place. We were about 2 short blocks off the Royal Mile, which is the main street in Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is a great location to be close to when you are searching for hotels or airbnbs to stay in.

The great part about traveling to Scotland from England is that it’s in the UK, which makes it easy. When I first moved to England, I didn’t really understand what the United Kingdom is. The United Kingdom is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. You don’t have to go through customs when traveling from England to Scotland; it’s basically like traveling from one U.S. state to the next. It saves time, because dealing with the chunnel and customs when driving from England to France is a nightmare. I still insisted on bringing our passports even though no one was going to look at them or stamp them.

Scott Monument, the second largest monument dedicated to an author.

The streets of Edinburgh look like one big preppy dream! It’s mile after mile of charming architecture, with tartan plaid, kilts, and Harris Tweed sprinkled throughout. I’m not lying when I say we were literally greeted with a kilt wearing many playing the bagpipes! It doesn’t get much more Scottish than that. And of course there are the gift shops with the Heilan Coos and Scotch, shortbread, Harris Tweed, wool, all things plaid, and all other goodies from Scotland. Don’t forget the fudge – we found multiple fudge stops, and of course had samples at all of them. Edinburgh is definitely a shopper’s paradise, and I spent hours in gift shops, trying to decide what to buy. I did buy some scarves as gifts, and an adorable cow and sheep ornament for our collection. I wanted a Harris Tweed purse so badly, and looked at about 10 different patterns in at least 10 different shops and agonized my husband with my inability to make a decision. They were ALL so gorgeous and authentic, I just couldn’t decide. So I ended up with a pair of houndstooth Harris Tweed gloves. Then I whined the entire drive home about how I wish I had bought a purse but just couldn’t decide, blah, blah, blah. My poor husband had to endure all my banter about a purse I could’ve bought no less than 10 times that weekend, but was crippled with my own indecision. Since he’s wonderful, he ordered one for me online for my birthday and surprised me with it, and it’s beautiful! If I ever go back to Edinburgh I will buy another one, if I can make a decision. Edit: I just read this paragraph to my husband, thinking he’d find my honesty amusing. He said “We are never going back to Edinburgh because I can’t deal with that shit one more time”. Girls trip, anyone?

So many choices

We did a lot of walking while in Edinburgh. The city is just so charming, be sure to leave time to wander the streets, explore the Royal Mile, and browse the shops. The Royal Mile is basically the collection of streets that form the Old Town area of Scotland. They lead to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks part of the city. We explored a lot of Old Town, but didn’t get to see all of it, or get some of the iconic shots of the buildings because there was a protest/walk talking place. There was a Scottish referendum about leaving the United Kingdom. Many Scots feel they pay a disproportionate amount of taxes to the United Kingdom, but most of the many goes to London and England. I can relate to how they feel. Growing up in Upstate New York (like almost Canada) many New Yorkers felt the majority of our taxes went to New York City. It seemed like a similar situation. It was neat to see them assembled peacefully and listen to their concerns, but it certainly made for a crowded weekend and not ideal conditions for being a tourist. That said, everyone was friendly and cordial.

When in Scotland…

When we travel, I tend to drag my husband in to every Cathedral. Well, not all of them, but definitely the main ones! I love the architecture and the stained glass on the inside. They are all so unique and full of splendor. St. Giles Cathedral is right on the main strip of the Royal Mile, and worth going inside. I believe it was an optional donation to go inside, which we did. It’s beautiful on the inside, and worth a stop if you have time. I was disappointed that the streets were so crowded due to the protest; I would’ve liked a clean shot of the Cathedral. I missed so many good photos, so I guess I’ll need to go back!

St. Giles Cathedral

After the Cathedral, we made of our way to Edinburgh Castle. We turned an easy walk, into a long walk, by stopping at fudge shops, whiskey tastings, etc. There is a lot to see on the Royal Mile, and so many tasty things to try! Side note: I did NOT try haggis. That’s one Scottish specialty I’m fine skipping. The castle had a decent crowd because it was mid day on a Saturday. There was also a wedding taking place that day, which was interesting. Edinburgh Castle is affiliated with English Heritage. If you’re an English Heritage member, admission to Edinburgh Castle is half price. We had been talking about joining English Heritage, and this seemed like the right to do it, so we signed up and paid half price for our castle admission. Once inside the complex, there were lots of interesting things to see, and beautiful views of the city. We toured through the exhibits of armor and weapons (which to be honest, I’ve seen plenty of in other castles, but I’m sure it is fascinating to many people). We also visited the Cathedral and toured the castle grounds. It’s definitely a major attraction in Edinburgh, but if you’ve been to major castles throughout Europe, it isn’t very impressive. For me, one of the best parts about the castle was the view of the surrounding area. I didn’t realize Edinburgh was so large.

Edinburgh Castle
Chapel at the Castle
View from the Castle complex

After the castle, we continued to wander the streets and shops. I think I was searching for something that didn’t exist – I was intrigued by the tartan plaid Scotland sweatshirt but didn’t like the fit on any of them. It was still fun to explore the shops. As I mentioned, there was a large protest/gathering the day we were there, and that prevented us from exploring some areas of the city because it was just so crowded. We eventually decided to go to dinner and found a place that serves everything with mashed potatoes; it was amazing! We went to Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar and it was so delicious. Everything is rich and filling. It’s definitely not the place to go if you’re on a diet, but we really enjoyed being fatties. I would eat there again if I went back to Edinburgh.

After our late lunch/early dinner, we headed up to watch the sunset at Calton Hill. Calton Hill is accessible from the city, and is a great place to catch a view of Edinburgh. There is an (unfinished) monument to the Parthenon at the top of the hill. There’s also an observatory and art gallery at the top of the hill. It seemed like the perfect place to pack a picnic and bottle of wine, so if we ever go back to Edinburgh, I would definitely do that. The view of the city is stunning from the top of the hill so don’t miss it! We didn’t have much of a plan for the rest of the evening. We walked around town, enjoyed a pint, and went to bed early.

The view from Calton Hill.

For our second full day in Edinburgh, we had a full day planned. We started with a quick coffee and breakfast sandwich from Starbucks. Don’t judge; I had a gift card. After that, we set out on a quick hike to Arthur’s Seat, for amazing views of Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano sitting 251 meters above sea level. It’s located in Holyrood Park just outside of Edinburgh. Going to the top and back took us a little less than 2 hours. You could probably do it quicker; I stop ALLLLLL the time to take photos. It was extremely windy when we went. You will want to dress in layers as well because it is colder and windier at the top. The view is rewarding, and the changing landscape is unique. This is definitely a fun hike to do if you want a little exercise while in Edinburgh. It was the first thing on our “must do list” for the day, and as we finished we passed by Holyrood Palace and explored the gardens a little. We wanted to go in but didn’t have time. We headed to our car for our next adventure of the day.

At the top of Arthur’s Seat

If you’re following my instagram, or know me in real life, you’ll know I have a slight obsession with animals. This obsession has increased exponentially upon moving to England little fluffy sheep are everywhere. They are super cute, and the only thing cuter than the sheep in England, are the baby lambs in England. Lambing season is seriously my favorite time of year. Scotland surely has it’s fair share of sheep, thus all the wool. However, they have something even more unique – The Highland Cow. Pronounced “Heilan Coo”, these guys are so freaking cute with their shaggy caramel colored locks blowing in the wind. Occasionally you will see these cows outside of Scotland, but I wanted to see them in all their natural glory. My husband found a farm outside of town where you can walk around and explore. It was about a 25 minute drive from Edinburgh, which was easy for us to get to since we had a car with us. Swanston Farm has 700 acres of land, and the cows move around so you actually have to set out looking for them. We drove out there. It was ridiculously windy and cold when we arrived but we hiked around for about 2 hours, enjoying nature, admiring the views, and of course taking a bazillion pics of the most photogenic cows in the world. We found a bunch up on the hillside after hiking for a bit. There was even a calf, though he wasn’t a baby by any means. It was worth the wind, rain, and cold to get to be up close with these cuties! If you have the opportunity to drive around Scotland and take in the beautiful scenery, do it! And definitely jump on any opportunity to see some Heilan Coos!

How cute is this calf?

After our trip visit with the cows, we were starving from walking around in the cold, wind, and rain. We did a quick change of layers, and headed to the restaurant at Swanston Farm. We were lucky enough to get a table for two, despite not having a booking. I’m really bad about booking in advance, which is common in Europe, particularly England. The weather may have kept people away, which is why we were able to get a mid day lunch without a reservation. As we sat down, it starting pouring down rain sideways. We watched out the window as the golfers continued to play on. I’m not sure how it was even possible to play golf in that wind in rain, but they did. The Brasserie had an amazing menu, and my husband swears he had the best burger of his life. I joked that he ate those sweet little cows grandma. After my close encounter with the Heilan Coos, I opted for fish. I probably should’ve had the burger since the meat comes from the farm, but I just couldn’t do it. After a delicious meal, we headed back in to Edinburgh to do some window shopping in the rain. We opted for a beer and a dessert before calling it a night.

On Monday morning, we did one more walk down the Royal Mile. We stopped in some shops, and even did a Scotch tasting. This is where we learned we don’t like Scotch. We also learned that it is insanely expensive, so it’s a good thing we don’t like it! I searched for the perfect Harris Tweed bag and didn’t find it, and then we sampled more fudge. We grabbed an early lunch at an Italian restaurant, and had a pleasant conversation with the owner. We headed out of town around 12:30pm, as we had a long drive back and wanted the freedom to stop along the way. There was a really cute town called Berwick Upon Tweed where we stopped and hopped out of the car to walk around for about 30 minutes. We also stopped and strolled around Alnwick Castle as well. I enjoyed our trip to Scotland, and even though it was a long drive, it was pretty and I’d do it again.

Alnwick Castle

Have you been to Scotland?? I’m looking for more places to go since we’ve already been to Edinburgh. Let me know your favorites.

The Royal Mile.

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