How to Spend 48 Fabulous Hours in Edinburgh Scotland

Hi there!  I just recently returned from a 10 day trip to Scotland where I pretty much road tripped from the Highlands all the way down to Edinburgh.  The whole journey was amazing, and I felt like I was really able to see the whole country.  However, more on that later (look out for a Scottish food post!).  One of my favorite places that I spent time in was the last place, Edinburgh which is a surprisingly bustling metropolitan center full of history and culture.  The last weekend was spent there, and although I definitely could have spent at least another day exploring the city, I was able to pack a lot in those two wonderful days.IMG_7297

Edinburgh isn’t very big in size and population compared to other landmark European cities, but the number of noteworthy sights, neighborhoods, and, quite frankly, tourists make the city feel larger than it is.  It takes on the vibe of a smaller and slightly less stylish London that is easier to walk around and harder to get lost in.  I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday having just played golf nearby.  The immediate cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city center, where my hotel was, made me realize that this place was different from the rest of Scotland.  Our hotel was very modern and stylish, as one would expect from a nice city hotel.

For dinner that first night, I ventured across town to the neighborhood of Stockbridge which is a hip high-end area bustling with coffee shops and gastropubs.  I went to a recommended restaurant called Scran and Scallie.  Nothing in Edinburgh is that far away, so my taxi ride to Stockbridge was an easy ten minutes and it easily paved the way for a light walk back to my hotel.  Scran and Scallie is a very popular gastropub serving traditional Scottish fare in a gourmet manner.  The clientele is young and fun, echoed by the quirky takes on traditional Scottish decor.  The menu appears very traditional with practically any pub fare you can think of available (meat pies, haggis, fish and chips), as well as some more contemporary options.  My Dad and I both opted for classic British entries, while I tried a Scottish specialty and he had an elevated Caesar salad for starters.  My haggis appetizer was a bit risky since I had never tried it before, but it was really good (the texture is oddly comparable to falafel) and I felt as though I was truly embracing the culture.  Our pies (mine was a seafood pie and he had a steak and ale pie) were deliciously comforting and really hit the spot after a day of golf in the rain.  The seafood pie, in particular, eluded flavor with salmon, cod, and shrimp mixed in with mashed potatoes.  Scran and Scallie is really the perfect place to indulge in local cuisine prepared beautifully in a fun atmosphere.

 

The walk back from Stockbridge was surprisingly easy and very pleasant.  The city feels very safe at night, and it is super cool to see all the sights and buildings lit up.  The famous hilltop castle that overlooks the city gleams brightly in a slightly eerie manner to the bopping crowd below.  Back at the hotel, my dad and I went to go check out Bar 1, 1 Square, and although my dad felt a little out-of-place, I found the Bar to be super trendy and cute.  They specialize in fancy schmancy gin and tonics (the hippest drink if there ever was one), as suppose to the traditional scotch collection that is found in most Scottish bars (more my dad’s cup of tea).

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Saturday was an early morning since there is so much to see and explore.  After a breakfast of Scottish smoked salmon (literally the best stuff ever) and black pudding (which is surprisingly delicious), I walked up castle hill which is a super cool walk to use my prepaid online ticket to Edinburgh Castle at 9:30.  On the way, there was a cute little farmer’s market that, if I was a local, I would totally be shopping at.  The castle is admittedly a tad touristy and you have to arrive right when it opens to beat the big buses, but it offers great views of the city and has a very interesting history.  I recommend going straight to the crown jewels exhibit since that line gets long very quickly and it’s probably one of the more impressive parts of the castle.  The castle takes about 2 hours, depending on the crowds, but you can totally condense it and choose to see less or more.

 

Tourist central of Edinburgh is the Royal Mile which you are fed directly into from the exit of the castle.  At first, the crowds are a little overwhelming but they filter out, and if you ignore all the street performers and touristy shops, the wide street is definitely worthwhile to walk down.  St. Giles Cathedral is a highlight and a must-see.  The Cathedral is huge and full of beautiful stain glass windows.  The tall blue ceiling is enough to take your breath away.  Farther down the mile, the crowds disperse and it’s fun to look around the admire the buildings and spirals.  The street finishes at the Holyrood Palace which is an official residence of the Queen.  It is fun to tour the palace and check out the old Holyrood Cathedral ruins since the place is rooted deeply in history.

 

After the mile, I, being a die-hard Harry Potter fan, wanted to check out some notable Harry Potter sites in the city, notably Victoria Street and the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first couple books.  I grabbed a quick lunch at a little cafe and continued to venture across town back towards the castle, but, this time, instead of walking up the mile, I walked on the edge of old town which is bordered by a valley with the train station underneath.  The views from there are great and there is a park that lines the street.  Victoria Street is the most “aesthetic” street of Edinburgh and claims to be the most photographed.  It is also the street that JK Rowling based “Diagon Alley” after, and really looks like it is out of a movie.  The shops are super fun along the curved street too! I then made the pilgrimage to Elephant House which calls itself the “birthplace of Harry Potter” to take some pictures, and I also photographed “Tom Riddle’s grave” in the nearby Grey Friar’s graveyard (creepy I know).

 

By this time, it was already mid-afternoon, so I ventured over to New Town to walk around and shop.  A highlight of New Town is the Scott Monument and park, a huge gothic steeple that distinguishes itself from the Edinburgh skyline.  Dedicated to the author and thinker Sir Walter Scott, visitors have the ability to climb the monument which I opted not to do since I wanted to get over to the shops.  I enjoyed a couple of hours shopping at British and European shores (including Topshop, Zara, and Harvey Nichols, a fabulous British luxury department store) while also in search of a quilt, being the cliché tourist that I am.  Shopping around Edinburgh is delightful, and there is a surplus of great stores that are harder to find in the US.

 

For my second night in Edinburgh, I went to Wedgwood Restaurant which is a widely considered one of the best in the city complete with a Michelin star and four rosettes.  That being said, the restaurant is nice and simple with a modern atmosphere that isn’t at all stuffy.  The food is centered around local game and seafood with very Scottish ingredients prepared in an elevated manner.  I had a douglas fir smoked salmon dish and an interesting savory bread pudding which was to die for.  My dad had a seaweed vongole pasta starter which was very unique and venison with haggis for his entry.  The highlight of this special meal was the very sticky toffee pudding, a celebrated Scottish dessert and a must try for anyone traveling to Scotland.  Wedgwood is a great restaurant located conveniently on the Royal Mile where you really get to appreciate Scottish produce and fine cuisine.

 

That wrapped up my stay in Edinburgh as I had a 10 am flight the next day.  Overall, I found the city to be delightful and could have definitely spent another day there.  Alas, I was able to squeeze in a lot while I was there.  Highly recommend exploring this city for yourself, even if it is only for 48 hours.

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Exploring London- Part 2, When/Where to Shop

Hello again!  Yes, I love shopping, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I spent a lot of time while in London exploring the famous department stores and street side boutiques.  I happened to be in London during their bi-annual sales week which occurs towards the end of June.  That being said, pretty much every store had a large selection of clothes 50% off and more.  Department stores, such as Harrods, went all out.  The annual Harrods sale is the only one they have a year, meaning that yes, the place is mobbed, but they dedicate a whole floor to sale items, along with sales up and down the rows of designer collections making it well worth the visit.

This might just sound like heaven in a shopper’s paradise, and it pretty much is.  However, I knew that the sales would draw crowds to prime shopping areas near my hotel in Knightsbridge.  It was true, and I definitely noticed more people on Saturday than Friday, but I took advantage of the limited shoppers on Friday and shopped all over the city.  Below, I have compiled a list of my favorite, along with the best shopping that I experience while I spent time in London this summer in celebration of London Fall Fashion Week starting this weekend.

  • Liberty’s and Regent Street
    • Liberty’s was my personal favorite.  The building itself is charming and perfectly reflects British culture.  Although known for its famous prints,   Liberty has a great collection of mid to high range British designers out of London.  The sale there was particularly good with an entire floor half off.  They also have an array of home goods and decor.
    • Regent Street is very popular for mid to high price range chain stores.  It can get very crowded, however.
  • Bond Street and Burlington Arcade
    • A little window shopping never killed anybody, and this rings true to this glitzy area.  Bond Street is home to flagship stores of both British and international Haute Couture houses.  The well-heeled crowd is fun to watch, and who says you cannot have a look around.  I personally love doing that, in order to find inspirational from my dreams.
    • The Arcade is famous for its jewelry and watch displays, and it is worth a visit to experience the quaint yet grande architecture that fills the narrow strip.  There is also a Ladurée shop at the end which sells divine macaroons that do actually live up to their hype.
  • Fortum and Mason IMG_7704
    • Very close to the high streets of Mayfair, Fortum and Mason is a food haven.  The department store specializes in delicacies, and has an immense display of speciality tea.  I’ll admit it, I’m a tea snob, so their food hall was paradise for me.  I had stopped here to grab lunch at their great café, and ended up spending over an hour such gazing at all the delicious preserves, candies, and groceries that they had.  In addition, I smelled and tested every kind of tea until I had them package a special one for me.  An amazing experience if you are into food shopping.
  • Harrods and Brompton Road
    • Probably the most famous department store in the world, Harrods doesn’t disappoint.  The massive over the top fashion mecca is stocked full with any high end designer and fashion house possible, along with middle market British brands, cosmetics, jewelry, and accessories.  The food halls are a whole other story with each room filled to the brim with different gourmet produces. They actually have a lot of decent take out options that can be eaten on the go (my hotel was right near by, so it was super convenient to grab food here), in addition to sit down places.  On this particular trip, I visited Harrods twice for multiple hours at a time, and I still didn’t feel like I saw close to the whole thing, but the size is amazing to gawk at!  Tip: go early in the morning and not on the weekend, when the tourist haven’t arrived yet.  It might still be crowded,  but the crowd will be either locals or actual interested shoppers, making the experience more authentic.
    • Brompton Road surrounds Harrods, and hosts large flagship stores and British chains.  There’s a huge Zara and Topshop for fast fashion fans, in addition to a flagship Burberry, Ted Baker London, and All Saints.
  • Sloane Street and BelgraviaIMG_7961
    • Another area that is optimal for window shopping; Sloane street is adjacent to Brompton Road and is lined with designer labels.  Harvey Nichols is another department store that calls Sloane Street home, and while I heard it is worth while, I didn’t get the opportunity to explore it on my trip.  Alas, something to look forward to for my next visit.
    • Right near that, there are a handful of side streets in Belgravia that have a lot of local ateliers and boutiques that are super fascinating to go into.  I was amazed by the fact that these tiny unassuming store fronts could produce masterpieces with fabric.

It seems like I cannot get enough of British fashion, and I couldn’t help to love everywhere I shopped in London.  I hope this guide’s helpful for fellow fashionistas!

Exploring London- Part 1: What to see

Hello world!  I write to you from my dorm room in upstate New York relishing this brief period of free time that I currently have.  School has been going well, but more on that later.  Right now, I’m reminiscing on the amazing summer that just “ended” yesterday.  One of the highlights from my last high school summer included a once in a life time trip to London.  My grandparents took my brother and I on a 7 day journey across the Atlantic from New York to Southampton, England on the world-renown ocean linear, the RMS Queen Mary 2.  The voyage was a super relaxing and fun opportunity, but, for me, the anticipation to arrive back in my favorite city made me so excited to get to England.

I had been to London once before when I was younger, and my lasting impression of it was that we did not spend even close to enough time there.  This time around, I had the same feeling of un-satisfaction that I had the first time I visited the city.  I don’t know what it is about London, but it sure is a hard place to leave even with its infamous cool dreary weather.  It might be the lively atmosphere, or the enduring charm of the storybook buildings, or, better yet, the quirky, yet attractive culture of tradition mixed with modern sensitivity.  If you cannot tell, I love London, and, because of that, I will be sharing tips and suggestion from my trip in a three-part series while I desperately try to grasp onto the last glimpses of summer.  It might take a while since I’m still trying to adjust to my new surroundings, but I hope to continue writing while in college.

When I arrived in June after a 2 hour drive through rolling hills of green, the city was a sweating thermos.  Supposedly, the day before we arrived, the temperatures were the highest they had been in 40 years.  Who knew we’d be complaining about the heat in London (of all places)?  Still, we took advantage of the dog days of summer by walking around the bustling streets, and sipping away at delicious elderflower cordials from Harrods (a refreshing must try).

 

 

Walking the London streets has to be one of my favorite feelings.  I probably looked like an idiot while I observed the walls, doors and iron work of the buildings, but, believe me, there was no way to prevent myself.  Even though I was there for only 5 days or so, I made a habit of strolling around in the morning.  I swear by the steps on my Fitbit, and it gave me much satisfaction to see myself easily crushing my 10,000 step goal early in the day.  Between the quaint residential streets, and the majestic parks such as Hyde Park, there are plenty of fabulous places to explore.  I highly recommend taking some time to observe the wonderful London surroundings when visiting the city.

 

 

The museum scene in London is rich with plenty of unique options ranging from culture, history, art, and science.  This time around, I visited the Imperial War Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Both were extremely well done and insightful.  The War Museum has an amazing interactive exhibit on World War 1 that walks you through the details of the war from the start to armistice day.  There are many more exhibits throughout the museum, but I didn’t get the chance to explore due to the sheer amount of time it took to get through one massive exhibit.  The V and A is a classic London museum that plays host to an immense collection of 3D art and design; all preserved in an old beautiful Neoclassical building.  The renaissance tapestries and ancient sculpture galleries are wonders to behold, and I loved the British fashion history exhibit which showcases important work from both english and european designers throughout history.

 

You of course have to go see a show in London!  There are plenty of broadway-esque shows playing in the west end theater district which are fabulous to see, but a lesser known secret is Shakespeare’s Globe on the south bank.  The theater is a complete replica of the original with cheap standing room seats, basic scenery and balconies.  The vibe is super fun, and the theater does a great job showing adaptations that appeal to younger audiences.  I attended a performance of Romeo and Juliet which was super well done despite it being unconventional.

 

My favorite day in London was spent at the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio which is located right outside of London.  Being a crazy Harry Potter fan, I felt overwhelmed being on all the sets of my favorite movies.  The tour is quite intensive, carrying you through multiple sets, both inside and out, and takes about 3 hours to complete.  One big highlight is the butter beer that is available for purchase midway through the tour.  They also have butter beer ice cream that I highly recommend as a way to cool off on a steamy summer day.

Suggestion:  If you go visit Warner Bros studio, take the train from Euston station to Watford, a suburb about 20 miles outside of London.  It’s fairly cheap and fast compared to a taxi.  Once you arrive in Watford, shuttles will take you directly to the exhibit.  For more details visit https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/getting-here.

 

 

Alright, next time, which hopefully will be a little bit sooner now that I’m starting to get the hang of this college thing, I’ll write about my shopping experiences and London fashion.  Stay tuned!