After spending some time in Glasgow, I was incredibly excited for all the beautiful sights and tourist destinations of Edinburgh.
All The Tartan
I arrived in Edinburgh shortly before noon. As I had expected, my room wasn’t ready; so I dropped my bags with the concierge and headed out for the afternoon. I hadn’t really made any plans for my first day in Edinburgh. Originally, I was going to have a car in Scotland, and my plan was to see some of the country outside of the city – but then I nixed the car situation. I had googled a little, and came up with a starting point and decided to play it by ear from there. The starting point I settled on was the Tartan Weaving Mill & Experience. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a tourist trap of the highest order: a glorified outlet of all things tartan and Scottish souvenirs. However, on the bottom floor is a history of tartan, and viewing point to see how tartan fabric is woven. Plus, it does give you a great opportunity to all the different types of tartan in one place.
Learning About Scotch
I didn’t spend that long there, and after walking outside I was a bit concerned; what was I possibly going to do now? Then I looked almost directly across the street, and I found my next stop: The Scotch Whiskey Experience. If I’m being brutally honest, I’m not much of a scotch drinker, in fact I’m not really one of those people who can drink hard alcohol without something to mask the taste. But, I was in Scotland, and experiencing the whiskey was important to me. Again, this is definitely a tourist destination. Since I’m not a whiskey expert, I found it to actually really informative.
You start with a ride not unlike “it’s a small world” from Disney; except instead of little singing dolls, a bizarre ghost takes you through the process of making whiskey. Next up is an informative movie explaining the taste differences in the 5 whiskey regions of Scotland – you’re given a nifty little scratch and sniff card to go along with it. Following the movie, you’re brought into a tasting room and your whiskey education continues. Now that you’re knowledgeable, they bring you to their collection – the largest in the world – and you get to finally taste the liquid you’ve learned so much about. Lastly you come to the bar (for more tastings) and the shop (the joys of tourist destinations).
After the whiskey, I needed some fresh air – remember I said I wasn’t much of a whiskey drinker? It went right to my head. So I meandered around, walked along Victoria Street and got myself a coffee. I started my walk back to the hotel and came across my first spectacular sunset of Edinburgh.
Atop the Fortress
Edinburgh has what’s referred to as the “Royal Mile”; it’s the mile long stretch between Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle. I started my first full day at one end of the Royal Mile – in Edinburgh Castle. Sitting up on Castle Rock overlooking the city below, Edinburgh Castle has been a fortress and a military headquarters since the 17th century. The Castle claims to be the “most besieged place in Great Britain”, hinting to it’s role in many conflicts over the years.
I arrived first thing in the morning, and it’s high up location meant that it was windy and I was freezing. All bundled up, I made my way along the self guided tour route. By far my favorite part of the visit were the Crown Jewels (no photos!) and the Dog Cemetery (melt my heart).
I walked for a bit and grabbed a tea and bite to eat before I made an Edinburgh rookie mistake. Edinburgh is filled with small alleys, closes, and stairways that interconnect the streets. After consulting Google Maps, I realized I could cut through to my destination if I used a set of stairs. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was a mistake; there ended up being well over 200 stairs. Tired and aching, I went to The Real Mary Kings Close. No photography is allowed, but the “underground” tour truly gives you an idea to how the common person would have lived in the Edinburgh of old.
I headed back to the hotel after to change for dinner. Edinburgh has some pretty spectacular Christmas Markets that I had the chance to check out that night. Not only were the lights amazing, and the size overwhelming – but the food options were downright plentiful: even going so far as to have salmon cedar grilled on the spot.
My second full day in Edinburgh once again started bright and early. Holyrood Abbey is at the other end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. As it is an official residence of the Queen, no photos are allowed inside the Palace itself, only on the grounds. The Palace is beautiful – as you would expect – but my personal favorite part was the ruins of the Abbey. Holyrood Abbey was haunting and beautiful; in the warmer weather, I’m sure the rest of the grounds would have been beautiful but it was just too cold to spend time outside.
As a book lover, I always try to fit some time to explore the literary landscape. Finding a local bookstore that encapsulates the flavor and pulse of the community is always an experience. Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature so I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed and happens to have a number of rather special bookstores. It’s West Port neighborhood – where Bread St meets West Port – is home to several bookshops like the well known Armchair Books. I took a few minutes to wander around the store packed floor to ceiling with literature of all varieties. The Edinburgh Bookshop is unofficially considered the best bookshop in the city but alas, I didn’t make it there.
After visiting Armchair Books and walking for a bit, I made my way back to Victoria Street. On Castlehill, Lawnmarket, and Upper Bow streets there are tons of shops selling all kinds of Scottish souvenirs. Everything from tartan skirts, cashmere sweaters, shortbread, and golf memorabilia. A lot of it is especially kitschy, however there are some gems. I have always really loved tartan, so visiting Scotland I knew I wanted to pick up a scarf in the signature pattern of the region. Going from store to store hunting through piles of cashmere was truly no hardship.
Multrees Walk is a luxury shopping street just off of St Andrews Square. Once my scarf purchase was complete, I made my way from Old Town to New Town to visit Multrees Walk. I started with Harvey Nichols. In America, we don’t have the luxury department store, but I remembered it well from my last visit to the United Kingdom and was eager to head back in. The days were short as it was the end of December, so when I left Harvey Nichols, it was already dark outside and Multrees Walk was beautifully lit up with fairy lights. Other honorable mentions on the shopping front; Covet (in New Town) for fantastic accessories, and Jane Davidson for designer duds. Basically I would wander down Thistle Street and its’ surrounds for some great stores. Oh, and I also caught another incredible sunset.
Of all the meals, breakfast and brunch food are my favorite. If I have any time, I try to go to a local place for that all important first meal of the day. The aptly named “Brunch Edinburgh” fit the bill perfectly. Small and quaint, with good food and quirkily named sizes for their coffee (see the pic), Brunch could easily become a favorite of mine if I lived near it. Directly across the street is the Elephant House; one of the cafes that J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in. Don’t be surprised if you see tons of people taking pictures outside of it.
A Literary Detour
Edinburgh happens to have a pretty amazing writers museum. Hidden down Lady Stair’s Close, the museum features the lives and works of three of Scotlands most well known authors: Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott. Edinburgh is particularly proud of their literary heritage, and since I’ve read works by all three authors, the visit was definitely fun for me.
After the visit to the writers museum, I started to feel a bit run down. Despite my gratuitous usage of hand sanitizer, it felt as though I was coming down with a cold. So I made a quick run to Boots to pick up some cold medicine and went back to the hotel for a short nap. When I woke up, I made a quick trip to one of the last places I had on my list for Edinburgh: Jenners Department Store. Jenners was the oldest independent department store in Scotland until it was bought by the House of Fraser. Even under it’s new ownership, it still retains it’s charm and history.
When originally planning my trip, I had planned to hike Arthur’s Seat at dawn to see the sunrise over the city. I didn’t take into account how cold it would actually be and that at dawn it would be below freezing, so I didn’t exactly make it there. The next morning I headed to the airport to make my way to my next destination.