{Scotland Guide} Edinburgh

It is finally time for me to begin sharing our tips and tricks to navigating Scotland. We’ve been four times in 18 months. Yup, you read that correctly and every time we leave, we’re already making plans to go back. People ask us what makes us keep going and it could be habit, the feeling of going back to somewhere familiar, but the fact is that the Hubs loves his Scotch and I really like history. We really connect during all of the miles we’re driving through the gorgeous countryside.

But, without a doubt, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy our time nearly enough if the Hubs didn’t plan out our trips and do a ton of research in advance. So without further ado, here are some of our top recommendations by area we’ve gone. First up is Edinburgh.

A few housekeeping things before you go.

Currency / Credit Cards: Check whether your credit card and bank charge an international fee. Also alert them that you’ll be abroad so you don’t have any issues with using your cards overseas. Exchange some dollars into pounds before you go so you have some cash on you.

Opening Hours: If you’re planning on seeing any castles, check the opening hours since they change by season and you don’t want to miss out.

International Data: If you don’t have international data, I would highly recommend getting it. The ease it provides to have navigation on your phone instead of paying for a navigation system for the car is immeasurable. Plus the amount you pay to rent one by day is crazytown.

What to See

Palace of Holyroodhouse: At one end of the Royal Mile sits the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There’s always a different exhibit here, but keep an eye on opening times as it sometimes gets closed down for visiting dignitaries. The one time we got in was during an exhibit for the Queen’s 90th birthday and there were dresses from throughout her reign on tour there.

The Royal Yacht Britannia: A couple of miles outside Edinburgh you can tour the docked Royal Yacht. It’s no longer in service, but when it was, it took a number of royal couples on their honeymoons throughout the seas. You’ll see a bunch of royal photos and see how the crew operated the yacht in tip top shape. If you’re there around lunch time, you should stay for high tea on the yacht.

Arthur’s Seat: If you are down by Holyroodhouse then you should continue on and take a walk up to Arthur’s Seat. It’s not that hard of a hike. Heck, if I can do it, you can do it too! The views from the top are gorgeous if it happens to be a clear day.

Stirling Castle: Right outside of Edinburgh, this castle dates back to the 12th century. It’s one of the remodeled ones so you can see how some of the grander rooms could have looked. This castle passed back and forth between English and Scottish rule and is ultimately where James IV grew up.

Edinburgh Castle: Long thought the jewel of Edinburgh, it’s kind of the historic site in town that you have to see. On the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Holyrood House, it has been redone and kept in the style of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the Crown Jewels can been seen here and there’s also a canon shot every day. We didn’t do this particular castle until our third trip because I’m over the “done” castles and more into the ruins that you can explore, but definitely worth a trip through history if you’re staying in town.

What to See – Ruins

St Anthony’s Chapel: On your way up or down from Arthur’s Seat, take a slight detour through Holyrood Park and swing by to St Anthony’s Chapel. It’s a little ruin along the path and it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to walk around and check it out.

Craigmiller Castle: This is the first ruin we ever toured in Scotland and it got us hooked. Mary Queen of Scots visited this castle and was jailed in this castle. What I love most about ruins is that they’re not done up like some of the palaces we’ve seen. They’re raw, historical, and really give you a true sense of what it was like hundreds of years ago. It’s like stepping through a time portal back into the 16th century.

Linlithgow Palace: The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, this Palace has become a well toured ruin outside of Edinburgh. It’s well visited, but unlike a tour of one of “done” palaces, you can do self-guided and read the postings about each of the rooms. You’ll walk the same stairs, peer out the same windows; there’s virtually no area you can’t at least peek your head in to.

Aberdour Castle: This ruin is right in the middle of a town, literally next to a park. It’s possibly one of, if not the, oldest ruin in Scotland, dating back to the early 1100s, right along with Stirling Castle. What was really cool was the doocot {pictured below} and the fact that the last episode of season 1’s Outlander was filmed here.

Where to Eat

Mimi’s Bakehouse: Definitely go here hungry. It’s all about the cake. The cake, cupcakes, cookies, scones. We’ve gone a couple of time and had some cake and tea in the afternoon, but it also opens up early if you want to go and grab scones in the morning. Everything is fresh baked so prepare to enjoy.

Oink: This is where we go for lunch when we’re in Edinburgh. The menu is fairly simple. It’s pulled pork sandwiches, two different kinds of stuffing, three sizes. Then choose your BBQ sauce. I’d recommend going to the one on the Royal Mile in Canongate, not Victoria street. This one has seating and the turnover is pretty quick.

Printing Press: This is a great bar and restaurant in New Town, a short walk from Royal Mile. The cocktails are top notch and if you go on the weekend, the bar is definitely packed with hen and stag parties. I highly recommend the lamb rump and The Secret Garden.

Bow Bar: A great whisky list, but they don’t update it frequently so prepare a few options when you place an order. It definitely has a pub vibe.

Cannonball: We went here for a drink after dinner one night and it’s definitely more on the posh side. While we didn’t eat here, there’s this pumpkin risotto that I’m really eager to try on our next trip and the bartenders are quite helpful with their whisky recommendations.

Clarinda’s Tearooms: Full stop, we tried going here three times before we actually got to go this past time. In true European fashion, if things are slow, they’ll close unexpectedly. It was well worth the wait though. Cash only, they’re all about the fresh baked goods just like Mimi’s and we went here for breakfast. Scones and tea all the way!

Where to Buy Whisky

Cadenhead’s: I tell everyone to go here if they don’t know what they’re looking for. It’s a super small store front, but you can get some amazing stuff. It’s one of the oldest independent bottlers which is really cool. They have a chalk board in the store that lists all of the distilleries and then they write out what they have from those distilleries and how much it is. If they have a bottle open, they’ll definitely let you have a sample before you buy something. The other really cool thing about this store is that they have store casks you can have hand filled for you. It’s a really unique thing as each cask is constantly being added to so you’ll never get exactly the same bottle if you go again. You also get to write out the label so it’s a great gift to bring home for someone.

Royal Mile Whiskies: There is literally a whisky shop every other door or every third door. Besides Cadenhead’s and just randomly popping into each one you come across, this is another whisky shop you should definitely hit up.

Where to Stay

Caledonian: This hotel is gorgeous. It has a pool. It’s right at the end of Princes Street and the Princes Street Garden is a close walk. The only downside is that it’s a good 8-10 minute walk from the Royal Mile which is where we’ve spent the most of our time.

The Scotsman: We’ve stayed here three times. It’s right off the Royal Mile and also an easy elevator ride up from Waverly Place. The location could not be more convenient for what we like to do which is a little bit of Old Town and a little bit of New Town. We cruise the Royal Mile easily, hitting up the number of whisky and wool shops on the mile as well as an easy walk to New Town for the newer boutiques and stores.

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