After finding myself with a bit of time to spare before my graduate classes begin, I booked an overnight bus, a hostel and was on my way to Edinburgh! I had previously visited Scotland’s charming capital back in 2012, but was dying to go back as a more experienced traveler. With two trips under my belt, I’ve created the perfect three day itinerary. Let’s get started!
Having visited in both July and January, I can definitively say that Scotland in January is bitterly cold and windy. While July was still chilly, I would not recommend going in January despite cheaper prices and less crowds. With that said, Scotland is often rainy so feel free to switch the order of the days based on weather forecasts.
As my hostel was right along the Royal Mile, I started my first day by walking down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood Palace. First thing in the morning, the Royal Mile is quiet, peaceful, and incredibly beautiful. On my trip to Edinburgh back in 2012, I did not have the time to fit in Arthur’s Seat, so this was my first destination this time around. Having only brought a pair of rain boots with me, I figured that they would be a sufficient choice for the 2 hour trek…. I was wrong. It was quite muddy on the morning I chose to visit, making it nearly impossible to make it to the top with so little traction. Obviously, the weather played a factor, as well as my choice of route. After my hike, I heard that there is an entirely paved option that could have been easier. Either way, I recommend a good pair of shoes and maybe taking a better look at the map before starting your journey.
Following your climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse (i.e. the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence) where you’ll find state rooms, Crown Jewels, and exhibits on Mary, Queen of Scots. Your ticket into the Palace will run you £16.50 which includes a multimedia tour. Next, head up to Calton Hill to catch the some of the best views of Edinburgh. I was lucky enough to time my visit in the morning, therefore capturing the above picture of Arthur’s Seat (and the very top photo of Edinburgh). Calton Hill is a bit of a hike itself, but it was one of my favorite parts of the trip as it offers views of both Arthur’s Seat and the city of Edinburgh. On the hill, you’ll find the National Monument of Scotland, the Monument to Scottish Parliament, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Steward Monument, and an observatory.
As you’ll likely be tried from a big day of walking, I recommend spending the rest of the evening with more leisure. A stop into St. Giles Cathedral (costing £5) before either a tour of the Real Mary King’s close, a visit to the Scotch Whisky experience or even one of the infamous Edinburgh ghost tours. The only way to visit Mary King’s close is with a tour costing £16.50 per person. Having done the tour myself, I can say that it is very interesting and great for those not looking for a full-on ghost tour. There are about six different whisky tasting options at Scotch Whiskey Experience ranging in price and time. Check out all the different tours here. If you are looking to be more *spooked*, then I recommend checking out Mercat tours which offer a variety of different ghost tours each night, more information on their website.
My second day in Edinburgh was a bit rainy and windy, leading me to check out the various museums the city had to offer. After checking out the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland, I would recommend the National Portrait Gallery as being the one most worth a visit (all are free to enter). The National Gallery, while centrally located, was rather underwhelming for a ~national~ gallery. I found the National Museum to be large, but very diverse. I was hoping to learn about the history of Scotland and its leaders, and instead found half a natural history museum and half science and technology museum connected by grand hallway (shown below). Finally, my visit to the National Portrait Gallery proved to fulfill my wishlist of classical art with some more modern exhibits as well.
However you chose to hide from the rain, I suggest heading to the Edinburgh Castle next. On my first visit to Edinburgh, it was the beautiful castle on the hill that captured my heart (which says a lot as we visited roughly 14 castles on the trip). Buying tickets online ahead of your visit will save you £2 and potentially time waiting in a line. Purchasing the ticket includes a guided tour, which I highly recommend doing as it was very informative, fun and made the whole experience more enlightening. After educating yourself on Scotland’s past, venture down Victoria Street, dubbed the “prettiest street in Edinburgh.” Victoria Street is lined with charming little specialty shops that demand to be visited. At the bottom of Victoria Street, you’ll run into Grassmarket where the charming pubs and shops continue. As the vibrant cultural hub of old Edinburgh, I found myself venturing back to these areas for food and shopping each day. (There are adorable little bookstores towards the end of Grassmarket so naturally, I kept coming back.)
Just around the corner, you’ll find Greyfriars Kirkyard and Greyfriars Bobby. JK Rowling took inspiration from the names on the graves at Greyfriars Kirkyard when writing Harry Potter, so it is here where you’ll find a grave for Thomas Riddell. The Greyfriars Bobby statue is that of an infamously loyal Skye Terrier, heart-warming story linked here. It is said that rubbing the dog’s nose will bring good luck. The Elephant House cafe is just up the block from Greyfriars. JK Rowling notably wrote her Harry Potter books (after getting her inspo from the Greyfriars Kirkyard) at this very cafe over coffee and cakes. I’ve eaten there myself, and while it wasn’t a masterful culinary experience, it is quite the cool lunch spot. Finish your day at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, and while this isn’t typically a spot that I would put on my list, it offers 360° views of Edinburgh and a lot of fun. Booking online is currently unavailable, but tickets at their admission desk run £16.50 per (adult) person. One great thing about their admission is that its valid the entire day, so you can come and go as you please, i.e. come back to see the views once the weather has cleared up.
After booking my very last-minute hostel and bus, I did a quick google search of the “must-sees” in Edinburgh as it had been a long time since my last visit. Upon rummaging through all the spots that I had already been to, I found Dean’s Village and a picture similar to my own shown above. I was sold. The picture captured everything I was looking for in my trip to Scotland and reminded me of all the reasons that I was so taken by the country in 2012. First thing in the morning on my third day, I made my way over to see if the village was really that charming – I wasn’t disappointed. While the picturesque Dean’s Village is quite a small neighborhood, it definitely warrants a stroll. If you continue up the Water of Leith, you’ll find St. Bernard’s Well. I will note that this whole excursion will not take long, maybe an hour total, but was my favorite of the trip. Once your photo-op is complete, make you way to George St, Rose St and Princes St where you’ll find bustling shops and restaurants. Was I so cold that I went shopping for more sweaters and gloves? Absolutely and Princes St had every store you can imagine.
Across from Princes Street, you’ll find Princes Street Garden with great views of the castle. In addition to the gardens, there is the Ross Fountain (pictured above) and the Scott Monument. The Scott Monument, while free to visit, has stairs you can climb inside for £8. The views are said to be incredible, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see them for myself as it was closed due to construction (tearing down the Bavarian Christmas Market that had filled Princes St Garden during the holiday season). Before you say goodbye to Edinburgh, I recommend taking either a free city walking tour or a free Harry Potter walking tour. Tours usually last about two to three hours and are the best way to learn more than you ever could through a guidebook. If you have more time on your hands, the area of Leith, where the Royal Britannia calls home, is the most buzzing neighborhood in the entire city – full of shops, bistros, microbreweries, picture-perfect views and art centers.
Thanks for reading!