Ugh, we often dream of the gothic, dark, and weathered buildings of Edinburgh. We were happy with our decision to spend less time in Dublin so we could enjoy more days in Edinburgh – since it did not disappoint. You better believe we partook in some whisky drinking, although now that Kenny is somewhat of a whisky connoisseur, we both wish we would’ve made a trek out of town to try a few more of our favorite distilleries. Bucket list checks for next time! Even if you don’t want to try some of the local drink, there’s tons of other things to do and see in Edinburgh – hopefully it’s on your list for your next stop in the UK!
We flew from Dublin to Edinburgh on a delayed Ryanair flight late at night. Flying is the quickest and easiest way to get into Edinburgh, you can fly in from just about anywhere and there’s a lot of direct flights from all over Europe! From the airport you can take the Airlink bus into town for about $6 one way.
Edinburgh is on the pound, which at the time was about 1.5 to every 1 dollar. So we definitely had to factor this into budgeting since it was a little more expensive than every country we were in that was on the Euro. The Euro was about 1.1 to every 1 dollar, so it was just about even when we were in EU countries. Originally we had budgeted out about $75 for food, fun, and attractions during the day. Once we factored in ATM fees, currency converting, accommodations of hostels, and any extras it bumped our end budget to about $125 for our daily expenses.
where to stay
Our flat in Edinburgh was the most perfect Airbnb, right next to Arthur’s Seat, one of Edinburgh’s main attractions. I would definitely recommend our cozy, cute room to any travelers in Edinburgh, especially because of our hosts. Lewis and Paula, were super down to earth, fun, and hospitable and gave us tons of fun recommendations of things to do. Plus, it was really close to a supermarket and restaurants when we didn’t want to walk into the “main part of town”.
when to visit
The warmest time to visit Edinburgh is during the summer months, May through August. However, much like a lot of the Northern European countries there is always the potential for wet weather. Make sure to pack your rain gear because even when the sun is shining the weather has the potential to turn around in a moment’s time.
things to do
We walked to EVERYTHING in Edinburgh, you don’t have to take the public transit to really anything. Plus, the locals all walk everywhere so you will definitely feel like you belong when you’re jamming down a street next to a business woman in high heels!
Our trip to Edinburgh couldn’t be complete without a visit to Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano that has some pretty amazing panoramic views of the city. It was right next to our flat, so one of the mornings while the weather was nice we ventured up. It’s a pretty easy hike and also has a few spots to view the 2,000 year old fort remnants scattered around the hill.
Explore Old + New Town
Two of the busiest, well known streets in Edinburgh are Princes Street (New Town), where you will find most of the main shopping and the Royal Mile (Old Town), where you will find most of the tourist shops in the historic district along with the Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace where the Queen stays once a year. We walked up and down both of these streets and all over some of the West End, the economic center of town that holds many of the art galleries of Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is definitely something to see but we didn’t choose to spend a lot of time here so we had time to explore the hidden gems of the city. But, it is definitely a must see place in Edinburgh; especially a trip to the Scotch Whisky Experience, just so you can see all the different types of whisky in their gift shop! We also took some pics on the grounds of the castle, but we didn’t do a tour because at the time it was pricier than what we wanted to spend money on. Tickets run about $25 per adult so if you factor that into your budget, it would probably be worth the time and money!
And maybe you’ll even see some of your heritage, like me and my maiden history!
National Gallery of Scotland
I am not always one to choose to visit art galleries, but when your husband is an artist and he’s totally nerding out in his element, you suddenly love every art gallery you’re in with him. Kenny was like a little kid in a candy shop with all of the amazing art pieces, cathedrals, sculptures, architecture, etc. that he has studied in college. It was something so cool for me to be a part of since I learned so much more from him than I ever could have from a little plaque next to a painting. The National Gallery of Scotland is actually a pretty extensive museum for the country being as small as it is, and houses some really famous pieces from the early Renaissance to the 19th century. We meandered around the 3 stories for a couple hours and saw pieces from people like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. Probably the coolest thing about this museum is that it is COMPLETELY FREE and who doesn’t love a free attraction?! There is also a little cafe on the lower level that opens up to a nice little garden terrace below, where you can also walk around and enjoy a sunny day!
Diagonal to the National Gallery is the Scott Monument, a staple piece of architecture dedicated to one of Scotland’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott. You can actually go inside the monument for $4 and see some statues from Sir Scott’s novels, we didn’t because the outside is very pretty and I don’t think we knew any of his books.
Towards the east end of the Royal Mile is St. Giles Cathedral, where you can marvel at the stained glass and grandiose ceiling.
St. Cuthbert’s Cemetery
One part of town we really enjoyed was the quiet church graveyard in the West End. The cemetery of St. Cuthbert’s Church is one of the coolest cemeteries with mossy, dilapidated, broken gravestones dating back many centuries. It’s a peaceful place to reflect on your time in Edinburgh, enjoy the quiet atmosphere, and also offers a nice view of the castle. We didn’t go into the church that is located on the grounds, but reading the headstones that we could make out was a good little history lesson.
The Royal Mile Market
On the corner of the Royal Mile and High Street you will find this old church building with new traditions happening inside. The Tron Kirk church has been closed since the 50’s but at the beginning of 2015 reopened as a market for foods, coffee, and crafts from local vendors. Venture in to find the most delicious shortbread vendor and grab a cup of tea as you wander around all the booths with homemade jams, food, and artisan goods.
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is also a free museum, and one we definitely recommend to spend some time in, especially if you have kids. It houses a super extensive, permanent exhibit of Scotland’s history from A-Z, along with some really cool astronomical, geological, and natural history showcases. Kenny’s favorite was the animal exhibit, complete with whale and T-rex bones!
Explore the College Grounds
The backside of Arthur’s seat runs along the north end of Old Town and into the upper neighborhoods near the college of Edinburgh. School was in session so students were abuzz the campus, but didn’t seem to mind all the people walking around and viewing their university. We ended up happening upon a big open park – the Meadows – full of runners, football (the UK kind) players, picnickers, frisbee-ers, and families enjoying the sunshine. This is a great place to find a nice quiet park bench to people watch and picnic.
Given more time, we would have definitely spent more time in Leith – an outer suburb of Edinburgh. It’s becoming a lot more known for cool pubs, chic boutiques, eateries, and cultural diversity. It is still the port of Edinburgh so there’s a lot of cruise liners that come in to dock from the water, along with the Royal Yacht Britannia – Queen Elizabeth II’s former yacht. Apparently, this was named the #1 attraction in the U.K. by TripAdvisor, but we didn’t care much for seeing it while we were there. However, we did hear that the Water of Leith Walkway was quite beautiful and worth the trip to explore the area.
◊ Deli Fresco – Even though we didn’t make it all the way down to Leith, we did journey a block in and found a little coffee shop where we ordered paninis and cappuccinos. Even though good coffee was hard to find in the north (maybe we’re just snobby!), the sandwiches were good and it was a great people watching zone while people were on the way to work.
where to eat + drink
◊ Tolbooth Tavern – We found shelter here, where we sipped on a hot toddy and warmed up before venturing out into the cold of Edinburgh!
◊ Whiski Bar – Located on High Street near the Old Town, this feels a bit more like a “touristy” destination. Even still, we quite enjoyed our time spent here. Kenny asked our bartender for a middle of the road priced whisky that he couldn’t get back home, and she came back with a 10 year aged whisky from a distillery in the Highlands that no longer was making whisky – so it was about as exclusive to Scotland as Kenny could get. I tried my first Innis and Gunn beer – the oak aged original; which I fell in love with!
◊ Coffee Angel – We grabbed a quick latte and chai here when we were close to the university and admired the architecture of the college buildings. They had good coffee, a friendly staff, and a nice place to hang out before braving the cold again.
◊ Tapame Tapas Bar – This tapas bar is super close to the college and good for a happy hour appetizer.
All in all, Edinburgh treated us very well, especially the exceptionally friendly and hospitable community that it holds. Kenny even said he could move to Scotland, which is a lot coming from my Reno native man. We can’t wait to be back in this rainy, medieval city to explore more!
Any places we missed in Edinburgh that we need to visit next? Let us know!