I recently took a week’s holiday to explore Scotland and let me tell you now, that wasn’t nearly enough time. Not even close. I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the beauty this country has to offer so a return visit is ABSOLUTELY on the cards. My first stop was Edinburgh, the capital city of ‘Caledonia’. Read on to see how to spend a fab few days in this ‘straight out of a fairytale’ city.
How to get there
I started my virgin, Scotland trip with a dawn, Ryanair flight into Edinburgh ex Dublin (€53 return including priority boarding). Easy as pie, I then jumped on the Airlink 100 bus from outside the arrivals building at Stop D. Buses are every 10 minutes and an adult ticket is £4.50 single and £7.50 return. This bus terminates at Waverley Bridge, right in the thick of things, so you can’t go wrong. You can also get the tram to Princes Street with an adult single costing £5.50 and a return £8.50. Tickets are available at the kiosks before boarding the tram. For more transport info check out this link.
What to do next
When I arrived, needless to say, NOTHING was open at 7:30am. So that meant some resourceful planning and I dropped my case at Edinburgh’s Waverly train station left luggage (a little pricey at £7 approx for 3 hours and £12 approx for 6 hours) before boarding a ScotRail train to Linlithgow and a bus to Blackness. The return train ticket cost me £10.60 and the journey to Linlithgow, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, takes about 20 minutes. Head’s up, the palace doesn’t open until 10:00am (in winter) so maybe grab a coffee before you head over there. I feel that while the mad, tourist season doesn’t really kick off until Easter (with many attractions closed from October to March) February is a great time to go.
Spot of Breakfast?
You may not fancy heading out to Blackness or Linlithgow or any National Rail destination for that matter so here are a few breakfast spots you may fancy checking out. Urban Angel (opens from 8am-5pm Mon-Fri and 9-5 on weekends) on Hanover Street does great breakfast staples like avo on toast and eggs benny but also they do SMOOTHIE BOWLS! Loudons is a bright, airy open kitchen kinda place that serves a wide range of sweet and savoury breakfasty items that are sure to satiate the hungriest of visitors, plus they open at 7:30am Mon-Fri and 8am on weekends.
So if you do decide to visit Blackness the castle opens at 10am and adult tickets cost £6. Including the train from Edinburgh and the bus from Linlithgow you’ve paid around £18 but standing at the scene of Jamie’s beating (Outlander) in ‘Fort WIlliam’, priceless.
Blackness Castle is easily reached from Edinburgh Waverley. Get the regular train to Linlithgow and from the station there walk into the village and get on the F49 bus towards Boness. This bus takes about 15-20mins but runs every two hours so you may want to get a taxi back to Linlithgow if you finish your wanders here sooner. This 15th-century royal fortress was also a prison and an ammunition depot.
Edinburgh Old Town
Back in Edinburgh, you should prepare yourself to experience a time warp as you stroll about the most picturesque city centre I have ever seen. It is as if the buildings themselves fell from the pages of a Dickensian novel or from J.K Rowling’s Potter novels. The architecture oozes charm and history. Take a look….
It is worth noting that Edinburgh University is closed on Sundays and it is rather a waste of your time to show up on a Sunday morning expecting to be able to walk into the campus. That would be a no.
A little stroll around the city will yield more delightful architecture, closes, edifices and courtyards than you can imagine. Soak up the atmosphere from Canongate to the Royal Mile and up to Edinburgh Castle. If you fancy views over the city but aren’t too pushed about spending the £17 per adult ticket to the castle, war memorials, museum and Royal Scottish Crown jewels then fear not. Head on over to the Natural History Museum on Chambers Street. Entry to the museum is free and the rooftop terrace is on level 7 so head on up there and enjoy the stunning, panoramic views of the city.
Edinburgh has been the inspiration and film location for two of my favourite literary series; Harry Potter and Outlander. J.K Rowling’s Potter world is in evidence around every corner in the Old Town and all the more so on Victoria Street. This is the real-life Diagon Alley for all Potter fans and includes a museum/shop called Diagon House Museum Context where you can buy yourself a wand and overpriced paraphernalia.
Might I suggest going at dusk so you can catch the shop lights twinkling as the sun fades. Insta-perfect. There are tours you can do but to be very honest, looking at the tour stops I would rather save my money. I did a little research myself and saw the places I wanted to see on my own. Bakehouse Close is the location for Outlander’s Carfax Close and A. Malcolm’s print shop and the Signet Library is also used in Season 3 as well as Craigmillar Castle as the scene for Ardsmuir Prison. The Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetary is said to be one of the locations visited by Rowling when she wrote the Harry Potter series and some names of those interred appear in her stories. In particular the most infamous character, Tom Riddle aka Voldemort.
Where to eat
By now you must be decidedly peckish so why not check out these for a bite to eat. Edinburgh has so very many eateries to suit every budget and taste but one of my favourites has to be Dishoom for incredible flavours and authentic Bombay café vibes. The dishes are prepared with skill and attention to detail and the queues for a table echo their popularity. You can book a table of 6 or more for dinner but be prepared to wait if you arrive after 5:30.
There’s also a tapas joint called Café Andaluz on George IV Bridge with a tasty menu of treats to satiate the sight-seeing, weary traveller. Plus there’s a delish Gran Reserva rioja with your name on it just waiting for you.
If you fancy light Italian there’s Amarone on St Andrew’s Square and Forage and Chatter for modern Scottish fare. There are really so many choices in this city that you will be spoiled for choice.
What else to see and do
Far be it for me to dictate how much you should cram into one day but there is so much to see and do in Edinburgh that you can easily fill your time. no matter how you choose to spread it out. I wanted to visit Mary King’s Close, a warren of hidden 17th-century streets and see the Underground tour but I guess I will need to leave that for another visit. What I did do was get the bus out to the Midlothian village of Roslin, 7 miles south of Edinburgh, to see Roslyn Chapel. Bus #37 towards Penicuick from Princes Street takes about 50 minutes to get out there and buses run every 30 minutes or so. The return bus is on the other side of the road in the village towards Silverknowes. This beautifully ornate church is said to have connections to the Knights Templar and the Freemasons and was featured in the Dan Brown movie adaptation of The DaVinci Code.
Enjoying a tipple in the city
Last but not least there’s the gin. I’m already on board that wagon and enjoying it immensely. Edinburgh is scotch whisky and gin central with many places claiming to be the finest purveyors of either or both in the land. Let me I steer you towards Heads and Tales for the widest array of gin I have ever seen. They are alphabetised, in a book for goodness sake! This almost hidden spot in Rutland Place is down some steps to the Gin Distillery. Check out this link for info on the Edinburgh Gin Distillery and the two stills Flora and Caledonia!
Edinburgh, you are delightful and have earned a second and likely third visit. I will be a regular to this city, I promise myself!
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