Hi there, friends! I recently got back from a ten day roadtrip around the UK. Though we started in Manchester, England, my husband and I spent the majority of the trip in Scotland. We ended our trip with three and a half days in Edinburgh and the capital city completely stole my heart. I’ve never been so sad to leave a place! I’ve always been a victim of the post vacation blues but this time it was different…..I wasn’t just sad that vacation was over, I was and still am sad that I’m no longer in Scotland itself.
Edinburgh is one of the most unique cities I’ve ever visited – and one of the most haunted city in the world. It has the charm of London, the history of Rome, the wind of Oklahoma (and then some), the rain of Seattle and the hills of San Francisco. I was shocked at just how medieval and historical the city was; if you took the cars and modern day signs/electricity away, I would believe I had stepped back in to the 1800s. All of the buildings are made of stone and look like they came straight out of a storybook. There was overwhelming beauty and history around every corner! I could have wandered for hours and never gotten tired of the cute storefront shops covered in flowers, greenery and ivy, the views of the castle towering over the city, the historical monuments and the genuine niceness of the locals. Though it was a bustling city, it was never overwhelming or dirty like New York or other large European cities can be (unless you were walking by a bus stop, that is). It was very compact but still quiet and peaceful; it made me feel instantly at home.
Bring an Umbrella – it rained almost every day we were there! It never rained hard, though, and never for long periods of time, but showers did pop up out of nowhere and I was thankful to have an umbrella each time.
Wear Comfy Shoes – there are lots of hills, stairs and cobblestone streets in Edinburgh. I don’t even want to tell you how many times I rolled my ankle on a wobbly cobblestone while wearing heeled boots. Sneakers (I like Keds, personally) seemed to work the best!
Pack Layers – the wind is CRAZY in Edinburgh. One minute I was warm in the sun without a coat, the next I was freezing being blasted by 60 mph wind gusts. I was always thankful to have multiple light layers to take on and off!
Make Dinner Reservations – every evening I was shocked at how busy the restaurants were, even on weeknights! If we had dinner reservations I was always thankful for them. If we didn’t, we usually had to wait quite a while. I’d recommend making reservations if the restaurant offers them, and if not, trying to go to dinner a bit on the early side as a lot of places closed earlier than one would think.
Transportation – I don’t think a car rental is necessary if you are staying in Edinburgh alone as it is a compact city and very walkable; it seemed like most places were within a mile walk (or Uber is readily available if you’re going a slightly further distance). If you plan to travel outside of the city itself (to hike, visit castles, etc.) you can rent cars pretty cheaply (we used the brand Sixt). There is not a metro or subway system, but they do have buses and a tram system. We did not utilize those services so I can’t speak to how nice or convenient they are, but they seemed to be popular.
Where to Eat
You will notice we ate a LOT of haggis and black pudding. If you don’t know what they are, let me just say, don’t judge a book by its cover! I thought I would hate them both but ended up thoroughly enjoying them. Haggis is a Scottish dish made of sheep intestines ground with oatmeal and served in a sheep’s stomach lining as the sausage casing. Black Pudding is a type of blood sausage made of pig blood and mixed with oatmeal; it is popular in all of the UK. Both are often served in round slices or ground into other dishes.
Makar’s Gourmet Mash – though slightly expensive, this restaurant was one of our favorites! It was very busy and they did not accept reservations but it was worth the wait. It had a great balance of casual ambiance and comfort food mixed with a nicer vibe of pricier plates and fancy food presentation. A perfect date night spot! They also offered a to-go counter, but they closed v. early! I got the Bonnie Prince Charlie Chicken with Cheddar and Chive Mash and Cole got the Beef Haggis with Black Pudding Mash. Both were delish!
Roseleaf – I enjoyed most of our meals, but this was by far the best…and we saved it for last! It was outside of the touristy area and was filled with locals. We had Saturday brunch at Roseleaf and loved every bite. The restaurant is decorated in a quirky way with unique art, old hats and pre-loved furniture with random treasures in every nook and cranny. I ordered the Haggis Scotch Egg and Cole ordered the Black Pudding Eggs Benedict. We split one of the signature “Pot-Tails” which was a cocktail in a tea pot…extra tasty!
The Edinburgh Larder – a cute little cafe in the heart of the city! Or a “wee” cafe as the Scottish say. They have bright yellow chairs and a light airy feel to the dining area. We ate breakfast here and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was very busy so I’d recommend a reservation if you are in a hurry. I ordered porridge and a sausage roll, both popular dishes in Scotland! Porridge is similar to oatmeal but a bit thicker and less runny. It is often topped with fruit, nuts or other yummy things! A sausage roll is like a sandwich with link sausages cut into strips. YUM! Cole ordered a full breakfast here and said it was one of his favorite breakfasts from the trip. They also served amazing coffee and had some incredible looking pastries. Gimme all the scones!
Mary’s Milk Bar – if you need a beverage to warm you from the inside out, look no further than Mary’s Milk Bar! It is located in the Grassroots Market area, basically at the base of Edinburgh Castle. Mary’s is a bright little shop with funfetti tables, orange mugs and colorful walls. They serve gelato, candies and hot chocolate. It was by far some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had! Angelina’s in Paris is the only hot chocolate I can think of that might top it, but Mary’s wasn’t as thick so it was much more palatable and drinkable. 10/10!
The Piemaker – this was definitely one of our cheapest meals but it was delicious! It is a great spot for a cheap, on-the-go meal. You order at the counter and you’re instantly on your way! They basically serve pot-pies (savory pies are another popular dish in the UK) and different pastry rolls (sandwiches). We ordered several pies to share but the haggis was my favorite, yum!
Dishoom – Did you know the Indian population in the UK is very high, so their Indian food is usually top notch? Tikka Masala is actually the national dish of England! We have wanted to try Dishoom on other Euro trips but have never been able to. When I saw they had an Edinburgh location, I knew it was time to make it happen! Dishoom serves Bombay style street food; C went super traditional in his order but I’m not overly into Indian food and really dislike curry….however, I was able to find the TASTIEST dish on their brunch menu, a bacon naan roll! It was a piece of naan bread covered in a yummy cream cheese like spread, herbs, bacon, an egg and lots of yumminess. I especially loved that their house chai was bottomless! It wasn’t like your favorite coffee shop’s chai, though, it was thinner and spicier but very warming to the soul.
Smoke Stack – nothing about Smokestack was a must eat, but it was just an overall GOOD meal. It wasn’t very crowded but the service was quick and the food was good, plus you got a LOT of food for the price! I ordered a Full Scottish Breakfast here which consisted of bacon, sausage, haggis, black pudding, beans, tomato, a fried egg, mushrooms, hash browns and toast……all of that for £10.95!
|Bonnie Prince Charlie Chicken for Dinner at Makar’s Gourmet Mash|
|Haggis Scotch Egg & Pot-Tails for Brunch at Roseleaf|
|Porridge and Sausage Rolls for Breakfast at The Edinburgh Larder|
|Hot Chocolate at Mary’s Milk Bar|
|Cheap Eats at Piemaker|
|Full Scottish Breakfast at Smoke Stack|
|Bacon Naan Roll at Dishoom|
Where to Shop
Princes Street & New Town – Princes Street is the main shopping street in Edinburgh lined with chain stores and regional shops such as Primark and H&M. Located just north on neighboring streets, you will find more high end stores including Lululemon, Fathead, etc.
The Royal Mile – this is where you will find ALL the tourist shops! Coffee mugs, magnets, shortbread, dish towels and plaid scarves galore! The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle all the way to Holyrood Palace and is lined with shops, pubs, restaurants and more.
Tartan Weaving Mill – I didn’t just want ANY plaid scarf, I wanted a Martin Tartan! The Martin clan is not one of the more popular ones so it took some searching. The Tartan Weaving Mill is basically a gift shop on steroids and is located at the base of Edinburgh Castle. On the second floor, you will find a giant book with every last name in it….it tells you which clan your family name would be associated with. They have WAY more clan tartan patterns than any other store I found. They have family crests, as well!
Tron Kirk Market – we didn’t make it to this market, but I read it was a great spot to find repurposed tweed and tartan items. Real tartan hats, purses, etc.
|The Royal Mile is filled with fun tourist attractions!|
Sights & Activities
Climb Arthur’s Seat – Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano right in the middle of Edinburgh named for the legendary tale of King Arthur himself. It is the main peak in Holyrood Park which sits adjacent to the Royal Palace of Holyrood at the end of the Royal Mile. The peak is about 822 ft and provides amazing views of Edinburgh, the North Sea and the surrounding countryside. It is a BUSY hike and a relatively easy climb but the top is very rocky, steep and WINDY, so be careful. I legit almost got blown over, Cole had to hold me up! There are about a million different paths to take to the top, but it took us about an hour to hike up and back and I tracked it at roughly 2 miles roundtrip according to my Apple watch.
Visit Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh Castle is one of the most attacked castles in the world! It towers over Edinburgh and dominates the skyline. It is truly a majestic sight to see, especially from below! We toured the castle and found it very interesting, but it was a tourist attraction, set up much like a museum with artifacts, glass cases and informational signs to read. Still worth a trip, though! It took us about an hour and a half to go through (we purchased tickets online prior to visiting to skip the line, but I don’t think it was necessary as there wasn’t a line to skip). My favorite part was the royal dog cemetery (pictured below) that looked out over the city.
Visit Craigmillar Castle – in my opinion, this castle was much cooler than Edinburgh Castle…..and much cheaper and less busy! It is located just outside of Edinburgh but is only a quick drive/Uber away. The castle is technically in ruins, but it has been very well preserved so the main structure is still standing and intact. Visitors are allowed to explore every corner of the property, climb to the top of the turrets, and get lost in the castle walls. It was such a cool experience! Do be careful, though, I knocked my head pretty hard on one of the shorter doorways! Mary Queen of the Scots lived at this castle for some time as she recovered from illness, so it has its own fair share of history, as well.
Walk Down Victoria Street & Circus Lane – the CUTEST streets in all of Edinburgh and v. Instagrammable! Victoria Street is lined with colored store fronts and is the most photographed spot in the city and for good reason. The street inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter! You will find cute boutiques, shops and restaurants here. Circus Lane is a quiet neighborhood street and it is the most charming thing I’ve ever seen; all of the homes are covered in flowers and greenery. It made my heart go pitter pat. When can I move in??
Do a Whisky Tasting – this is a pretty touristy thing to do, but we really enjoyed it! There are many larger distilleries across Scotland that you can visit, but if you’re looking for something quick and inexpensive in Edinburgh itself, I’d recommend the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile just outside of Edinburgh Castle. We did the Silver Tour and learned about the history of whisky, the different regions that Scotch Whisky comes from (including the flavors and aromas of each region), and then we got to sample, using the correct tasting techniques!! I am not a whisky drinker at ALL, but I was able to enjoy Scotch whisky from the highland region without scrunching my nose or puckering my face. It is much better than American Fireball, haha!
Go on a Ghost Tour – we did not have time to do a ghost tour, but since Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in the world, I hear it is a great place to do one!
Visit Holyrood Palace – another tourist attraction we didn’t make it to, but worth a mention as I’m sure the palace is lovely! It is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland (aka Queen Elizabeth II).
|Atop Arthur’s Seat|
There are lots of film and TV locations throughout Scotland, most notably Harry Potter and Outlander. I’ve never been a Harry Potter fan, but I LOVE Outlander and was excited to see all the locations on this trip!
Lallybroch – the Fraser family home! The film location is located just outside of Edinburgh at Midhope Castle. Though you can’t go inside, it does cost a few pounds to park and enter the property.
Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie’s Print Shop – you will recognize this from when Claire finds Jamie in Edinburgh and walks up the steps to the print shop. If you search for “Bakehouse Close” in Google Maps it will take you roughly to the spot….it is kind of in alley a few blocks of the Royal Mile.
Craigmillar Castle – I talked about Craigmillar Castle above but I actually found it because it was the filming location for Ardsmuir Prison where Jamie and Marta were kept after Culloden under Lord John Grey!
|Midhope Castle known as Lallybroch to Outlander Fans|
|Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie’s Print Shop|
|Craigmillar Castle known as Ardsmuir Prison to Outlander Fans|
Where to Stay
We stayed in an AirBNB in the New Town area close to Stockbridge Market. It was a quiet neighborhood but was still walkable to the Old Town (where a lot of the shops, restaurants and attractions are). I would definitely stay in the same area again but if you didn’t want to walk as much to attractions or didn’t mind a bit more hustle and bustle outside your door, I’d recommend staying closer to Old Town.
There ya have it! Edinburgh will forever hold a piece of my heart; I hope and pray that I can return to Scotland one day, it was the best and most beautiful place I’ve ever visited and it made me want to move there and never leave again. That being said…….anyone in the UK hiring a marketing professional? Kidding….kinda….but seriously 😉
Have you ever been to Scotland or Edinburgh? I’d love to hear your favorite spots and suggestions for things to do next time I’m there. Be sure to check back next week for a post about our road trip around Scotland and things we did outside of Edinburgh like visiting castles and hiking to mountain tops, glenns and waterfalls.