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.
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).
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.