Kristi and I are planners.
Prior to vacationing we plan out our days’ activities, pre-order tickets, print route maps and directions, select restaurants and bars, all in order to create as much efficiency and ease as possible for when we arrive. If anything, we started forcing ourselves to “un-plan” to allow for the spontaneity which often creates the best travel memories.
When we visited Edinburgh, Scotland, tacking it on to the back end of a trip to Glenlivet Whisky School (another story for another day), we didn’t plan a single thing other than how we were getting there and where we were going to stay. This left us at the mercy of partaking in the “touristy,” obvious, well-publicized activities. We were rewarded finding Edinburgh’s “touristy” side delightfully charming, historic and full of character.
Edinburgh Castle serves as the crown jewel of touristy Edinburgh and coincidentally houses Scotland’s crown jewels. Along with the breathtaking jewels, you’ll find old cannons, war museums, the stunning Great Hall, the Stone of Destiny and much, much more. Edinburgh Castle tells the history of Scotland and with regular guided tours and commanding views of the city, is a must.
Walk out the front gate of Edinburgh Castle straight down the “Royal Mile” to find the Palace of Hollyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. On your way stop into one of the numerous whisky or cashmere shops.
Castles, palaces, shopping – you’re thinking this is all terribly cliché. It may be, which didn’t make it any less enjoyable. I’m never going back to Edinburgh in my life, I’m not going to spend the three days I have there chasing elusive “hidden gems” which may end up being more “hidden” than “gem.”
I loved the compact layout of Edinburgh.
Kristi and I walked everywhere, never for a moment thinking we needed to rent a car or even bikes. All of the destinations I’m describing are within easy walking distance of the city center. While the terrain can be hilly, you shouldn’t have any problems provided you wear comfortable shoes. We were fortunate to have clear, bright, late fall days for our visit, but don’t fool yourself, the weather can be dreadful, be prepared.
In general, we tend to be big walkers on vacation, often surpassing 10 miles a day on foot. Edinburgh is a wonderful city to walk. Just get out and go. Head in any direction. Walk, look, listen, smell, eat, drink. This is how you come to know a place. Everyone there speaks English if you get lost and at no point did we ever feel we were in a shady area of town.
We indulged our “walker-lust” on the Sandeman’s New Europe Edinburgh free walking tour. The 2 ½ hour tour took us throughout the city to St. Giles’ Cathedral, Greyfriars Kirkyard and Greyfriars Bobby, past what may have been the inspiration for Harry Potter’s “Hogwarts” and provided us a fine introduction to Scottish history and culture.
The walk-ability, the spectacular views, the mountains and the ocean, the climate, the food and its cosmopolitan nature all reminded us both of San Francisco. If you like the Bay Area, you’ll love Edinburgh.
A moment more on the food.
At every stop we found the food to be outstanding. Kristi is a VERY picky eater and had no trouble finding something to order, or enjoying it. Following our trip to Dublin and the less than spectacular cuisine we found there, this was a most pleasant surprise.
Gratify your inner foodie with a stop at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning located at the base of the Castle. All manner of locally sourced and prepared treats can be found here – both food and drink. It was at the Market we were first introduced to a spirit the taste of which will live with us all of our days – elderflower infused gin from Edinburgh Gin.
Venturing further afield, hike up Calton Hill. Located on another end of town from Edinburgh Castle, the views there provide a different perspective on this beautiful city.
Taking the tour of Mary King’s Close was another uber-touristy attraction we thoroughly enjoyed. Costumed – cliché, I know – tour guides take you through the “close” (pronounced exactly how it’s spelled and the Scottish word for “ally,” essentially) describing the squalid living conditions prevalent in the city during the 1600s.
We stayed at the Apex International Hotel in the Grassmarket district directly across from our favorite pub The Beehive. We enjoyed the hotel and its view of Edinburgh Castle greatly and its location couldn’t have been more convenient to our excursions.
I like weird travel. I prefer craft beer and quirky boutiques. We went mainstream, however, in Edinburgh making memories to last a lifetime.