When, Where and Why
I visited Edinburgh as a way to spend time after a trip to Ireland and before my summer job in Switzerland started. I am so grateful I picked Scotland! Edinburgh, its capital, is the perfect little city and I had a wonderful time there. The Highlands are just as magical as you’d expect them to be. Scotland is a must visit! My 3 day visit in June 2019 just wasn’t long enough!
About the destination
Edinburgh is the second most populated city in Scotland (after Glasgow), and has been the capital of Scotland since the 15th century. Edinburgh houses all of the three branches of Scotland’s government and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is a 16th-century palace of the Stuarts and the de-facto official seat of the monarch in Scotland. It is hailed as the second most popular destination for tourists in the United Kingdom.
Fun facts: J.K. Rowling wrote a large portion of Harry Potter in The Elephant House, a local café. Edinburgh has 112 parks, with more trees per capita than any other city in the U.K. Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn.
I flew there from Belfast, Northern Ireland on Flybe for $60 one way.
I spent two nights at Castle Rock Edinburgh, a hostel perfectly located just below the castle! I paid $50 for my 2 night stay in a shared room, which I ended up sharing with 2 guys- one who become a good travel buddy and another who didn’t speak to either of us. You can book all-female dorms or private rooms if that’s your preference! I wasn’t too concerned about anything other than a place to sleep, so I kept it as inexpensive as possible.
Try This There
- Free Walking Tours (don’t forget to tip well!)
- Edinburgh Free City Tour
- Free Edinburgh Tour: Everyday at 10am, 11am, 1pm from 154 High Street (2hrs)
- Free Harry Potter Tour: Everyday at 1:30pm from 154 High Street (1.5hrs)
- Free Ghost Tour: Everyday at 5pm, 7pm from 154 High Street (1.5hrs)
- Edinburgh Free City Tour
- Edinburgh Castle
One of the most recognizable symbols of Edinburgh and of Scotland in general, Edinburgh Castle is a momentous fortress dominating the skyline of Edinburgh from atop Castle Rock. With human occupation since at least the Iron Age and as many as 26 sieges in the last 1100 years alone, the site is famously one of the most besieged and attacked places not only in Great Britain, but the whole world. For £18.50 on site (or £17.00 in advance), you can visit Scotland’s most frequented attraction. Inside the castle is the National War Museum, the Royal Palace with its collection of medieval arms, and St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh and the oldest chapel in Scotland.
- For Edinburgh Castle, the 11 am and 12 pm slots have to be booked online at least 1.5 hours in advance. No more visitors are accepted after 4 pm (1 hour before closing).
- Holyrood Park
Go for a short hike through Holyrood Park and enjoy the magnificent morning view from atop Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. It has amazing panoramic views of the city and the seaside in the distance and climbing this hill is absolutely one of the best things to do in Edinburgh for free. Arthur’s Seat is often suggested as one of the likely locations for Camelot. There is a hill fort at the summit, while nearby smaller hills are occupied by other historical landmarks, including the ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel to the north.
- Explore the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the name used for several streets that run between the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle straight through the Old Town. Connecting two of the most significant locations in Scotland’s royal history, the Royal Mile is precisely one mile long. Getting from Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes on foot, with endless shops, pubs, restaurants, and attractions in between. Notable attractions include the modern Scottish Parliament Building, Canongate Kirk, the home of John Knox, and Saint Giles’ Cathedral.
- Palace of Holyroodhouse
Take one of the paths leading north through Holyrood Park until you reach the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to walk. At the price of £14.00 for adults, you can explore the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. It is located at the end of Royal Mile so it’s very easy to find. Holyroodhouse is open all year long. The audio tour, included with the ticket, focuses on the history of the Palace as it relates to famous historical figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots. Behind the palace, you can go for a walk among the columns and the ancient, crumbled arches of Holyrood Abbey, founded in 1128 by King David I. Wardens clad in traditional Scottish garb (Stewart tartan) offer free tours of the ruins.
- Museum of Edinburgh
After a short walk down the Royal Mile, you will reach a number of impressive historic buildings across the street from Canongate Kirk. Look for a bright yellow building with a red front. Visiting the Museum of Edinburgh is completely free. The Museum, formerly the Huntly House Museum, focuses on the city’s origins, legends, and history. Among its exhibits, you can find an authentic copy of the National Covenant dating back to 1683, beautiful Scottish pottery, and an engaging exhibition on the suffragettes.
- Princes Street Gardens
Just south of Princes Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and its main shopping street, you will find Princes Street Gardens, a gorgeous public park in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Separating the New Town from the Old Town, Princes Street Gardens is filled with beautiful floral displays, as well as numerous statues and monuments. You’ll find statues of Adam Black, David Livingstone, and Wojtek the bear, while the Scott Monument (honoring Sir Walter Scott) dominates the eastern side with its spire-like Victorian appearance. You can also Princes Street when you’re done at the park.
- Day Trip to the Highlands!
I booked my guided tour through Nessie Hunters and I had such a wonderful time with them! I paid $53 for my day trip with them and learned so much from our great guide. The tour departed and returned just down the street from my hostel and lasted all day long (7:30 am – 8:00 pm). It’s a long day, but it’s worth it in my opinion. I went with some new friends from my hostel and was grateful to not be alone! Here is what we did:
- Passed by Linlithgow Palace is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots
- Passed through Falkirk to see the Kelpies sculptures
- Passed through Stirling and see the Stirling Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, and the William Wallace Monument, Scotland’s Braveheart. Braveheart, however, was the nickname of Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace, contrary to what the movie teaches us!
- Entered Trossachs National Park, home to Loch Lomond and the town of Callander, gateway to the Highlands and frontier of the Roman Empire.
- Stopped at a typical Scottish farm where there are Highland Cows they we got to feed at an extra cost if you wanted to buy the feed.
- Drove past Loch Tulla – beautiful lakes, forests and mountains.
- Drove through Rannoch Moor which marked when we were officially in the Scottish Highlands. This place was the setting for the 2012 movie ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’.
- Entered Glencoe Valley and stopped to see The Three Sisters mountains. This beautiful landscape has inspired poets, film makers, artists and adventurers, albeit it is the scene of Scotland’s most shocking massacres. “Glen of Weeping” was the site of the 1692 massacre of the Clan MacDonald.
- Drove up past the Isle of Skye towards Loch Ness. St. Columba, an Irish monk, was one of the first people to record a sighting of Nessie in the 6th century. The lake is 24 miles long and over 700 feet deep, sitting at an average temperature of 40 °F year round. It isn’t the deepest lake (Loch Morar is), but it is the most famous.
- We took a boat ride on the lake, leaving from Caledonian Canal, and had lunch at our leisure (and at our own cost in Fort Augustus, which is on the shores of Loch Ness.
- Visited The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge which lies in the shadow of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, providing dramatic views. Admire the scenery and hear the tales of the men who liberated a continent. This is the place where the training camps of the special forces were established in World War II.
- Stopped in Pitlochry, a Scottish Victorian town made famous by Queen Victoria often vacationing there. Home to the world famous Salmon Steps and homemade ice cream made with whisky from the most famous ice cream shop in Scotland. The ice cream is out of this world!!
- Passed by the ‘Kingdom of Fife’ and over the famous Forth bridges. The 19th century Forth Rail Bridge crosses the Firth of Forth here and is the oldest metal bridge in the world.
- We even got a bonus stop because we were making good time and took a short walk to Dunkeld waterfall through the Hermitage Woodland Walk.