For the grand finale of my family’s tour de Europe we took the train from York to Edinburgh for four days.
Kilt-wearing street musicians, locally-made Scotch whiskey, and that cheerful Scottish accent give Edinburgh its charm. However, to say it’s a quiet, relaxed city would be far from the truth. It may not be as fast-paced as London (few places are) but it’s no small village either. Edinburgh is the bustling capital of Scotland and the second most populous city in the UK. I had been once before for a quick work trip but was anxious to return for a proper visit. Edinburgh didn’t fail to impress us and even revealed its illusive Scottish sun during our stay.
Four days was plenty of time to see everything in town, although if you want to see Scotland beyond its biggest city plan for a week or more. I’ve heard nothing but praise for the Scottish highlands and isles, but those trips require a car rental or guided bus tour which we preferred not to deal with this time. Despite staying put in one place, Edinburgh kept us so entertained we barely had time to sit at the pub and drink whiskey. Let’s review the highlights.
1. Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle has dominated the skyline of the city since at least the 12th century. If those walls could talk they would regale you with tales of royal feuds over power, wars for Scottish independence, and centuries of battles. The audio guide is a great substitute for the walls. Nowadays it also houses Scotland’s crown jewels. We spent around two hours wandering the castle grounds. The ticket was expensive but you can’t miss this if you’re in Edinburgh. Website here.
2. The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare through old town Edinburgh and stretches from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Queen E in Scotland. Near the palace you’ll also see the modern parliament building which is open to tourists. We went in to listen to a few speeches which you’re welcome to do anytime parliament is in session. It felt very House of Cards with a Scottish twist.
3. Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is the largest monument to a writer in the world and commemorates Sir Walter Scott. A small fee gets you inside to climb the 287 stairs to the top for some anxiety-inducing, yet stunning views of the city below. My dad and I survived the trek to the top and even received a little certificate for our accomplishment. We also rewarded ourselves with whiskey afterwards.
4. Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park
Everyone I know who has been to Edinburgh comes back raving about their hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the highest peak in Edinburgh’s lush green Holyrood Park. I have an intense FOMO (fear of missing out) and therefore decided I would be hiking it as well. Luckily my dad is game for anything and made the trek with me. We pounded some whiskey at a pub on the Royal Mile and then walked to the base of Arthur’s Seat, a short walk from the center of town. Our hike was perfectly timed to experience sunset from our perch at the top.
5. Scotch Whiskey Experience
We couldn’t leave Scotland without learning more about their most famous export, Scotch whiskey. Fortunately, we saved this activity for our last full day when the rainy gray weather made its reappearance. The Scotch Whiskey Experience, located next to the Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile, will entertain you whether or not you like whiskey. The tour was really well done and lasted about 90 minutes and ended with a guided whiskey tasting in the room of the world’s largest Scotch Whiskey collection (around 3,500 bottles)!
6. Royal Botanic Gardens
To sober up after the whiskey tasting we headed for some fresh air at the Royal Botanic Gardens. I don’t have a green thumb or an affinity towards flowers, but I really enjoyed this, much to my surprise. The gardens are housed in huge glasshouses dating from 1670 and boast one of the largest plant collections in the world. It made me want to be a better gardener…one day…when I stay home more than two weekends in a row.
Know Before You Go:
- Scotland has the same currency as England (the GBP) although the notes and coins are decorated differently. It’s all the same to the shopkeepers.
- Grab coffee or lunch at The Elephant House. We came here two days in a row at my request because the food was delicious. It’s also known as the birthplace of Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling used to write here.
- We referenced this helpful travel guide several times from The New York Times.
- The train between London and Edinburgh takes four hours. I’ve also flown the short 45 minute flight. We trained from York which took only two hours and provided gorgeous scenery.
- Prepare for rainy weather and pack your raincoat and brolly.
Photo credit to my dad for many of these beautiful shots, including this winner from the Edinburgh Castle.