It’s no secret, I bloody loved Edinburgh. We booked the trip as a surprise for my friend Grace‘s 21st birthday and it was one of my favourite trips this year! In total, we spent 4 days in Scotland and here’s all the things we recommend you should do!
Check Into Hotel and Then Head for Lunch at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern
We quickly checked into a private 4 bed room at Edinburgh Safestay Hostel and then headed out on the search for food before our first activity!
I can’t recommend Deacon Brodie’s Tavern enough. The food was incredible and definitely set us up for a full day of exploring! Anywhere that does macaroni cheese as a side is a winner! P.s. Everywhere in Edinburgh does macaroni cheese – it’s incredible.
Become Familiar With the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the centre of the action in Edinburgh and is where you will find most of the main attractions (or they will be nearby at least)! Our hostel was perfectly situated just off of the Mile, so it was in the prime location for some great restaurants (I can’t count the number of hearty pubs and cute cafes on this one road!) as well as shops (it took a lot for me to resist buying complete tartan outfits).
Take the Sandeman’s Free Europe Walking Tour
It wouldn’t be an Escaping Essex city guide without a recommendation for a free walking tour really would it?
We had Max as our guide and he was brilliant (so much so, that we booked another tour with him the following day).
Sandeman’s New Europe are one of my favourite tour companies, and as always the tour covers the majority of the free sights you will want to see in the city.
The website lists the following sights within the 2.5 hour tour, but it felt like we saw much more!
- Edinburgh Castle
- St Giles’ Cathedral
- Heart of Midlothian
- The real Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
- William Wallace and the Stone of Destiny
- Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) and Greyfriars Bobby
- The Royal Mile
- Edinburgh’s Old Town
- Mercat Cross
- National Museum
- Covenanters’ Prison
- Martyrs’ Memorial
- The Scottish Writers Museum
- The original ‘Hogwarts’
- The Hub
Grab Some Food and Head For a Drink
As we arrived in the city mid-way through the day and were completely exhausted, we wandered around for a while after the tour before heading to a local shop, picking up a pack of cards and heading back to the hostel bar to chill obviously!
Even if you’re not staying at The Edinburgh Safestay Hostel, you can go to Bar 41 for cheap drinks and good food (they also had events on throughout the week – we respectively failed the pub quiz).
If you’re more at home in a pub, do not fear, Edinburgh has a pub basically on every corner to fill your needs!
Browse The Royal Mile Market
Located inside the historic Tron Kirk is a gorgeous market filled with independent crafts, arts and fashion traders. My friend picked up a pretty epic pair of tea-pot earrings and I was almost drawn in by some cute prints (before realising I have no wall space left for more prints!)
Make the Most of The Long Walk To The Botanical Gardens
We underestimated the long walk to the botanical gardens, it was looooong (made slighly better by the fact that Edinburgh is amazing for Pokemon Go… lol). While the walk is long, there are some good little photo stops along the way! My favourite being the Scott Monument (you can’t miss it, it looks like a giant rocket), this is the largest monument dedicated to a Scottish author (Walter Scott), so it’s pretty special. With the backdrop of Princes Street Gardens, it’s definitely worth a photo stop and if you’re feeling a little bit more active, there are 287 steps to the top!
Explore the Botanical Gardens
There’s something so god damn relaxing about being in botanical gardens, I loved my visit to one recently in Cologne and Edinburgh was just as good. As an added bonus, bring a friend who works in horticulture to show you around and pronounce all of the funny plant names. The gardens are pretty huge (especially if you pay to enter the greenhouses too) and with the long walk there, this is easily a half-day trip.
RELATED: Read about my time in Cologne’s Botanical Gardens here!
Head Back to the Royal Mile Visit the Castle
With my friend’s love for horticulture now suitably satisfied, it was my turn to inflict my love of castles on the group! Edinburgh Castle can easily take up another half-of your day as there’s plenty to see in the castle (including a graveyard to the army dogs – which melted my stone cold little heart).
We visited a few days after The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the stage was still in place which blocks the main view of the castle when you are walking towards it – so if you’re a photography buff, you might want to avoid Edinburgh at that time!
RELATED: Do you love castles too? Read all about my latest castle jaunts here!
Optional Extras Near The Castle
The castle is at the far end of the Royal Mile, so when you’re in the area you might as well see everything else that the area has to offer. After a long day of gardens and castles, we were shattered and in desperate need of food, but if you have some more energy than us, the main two attractions are:
- Camera Obscura – A world of optical illusions which sounds like a fun day out for all ages! Apparently there are some epic views of the city from the roof!
- The Scottish Whisky Experience – Directly opposite Camera Obscura is the ultimate place to try Scottish Whisky! With none of us being big Whisky drinkers and one of us actually being allergic to alcohol, we decided to give this one a miss but I’ve heard great things!
St Giles Cathedral
On our walk back down the Royal Mile to the hostel, we made sure to pop into St Giles Cathedral which is absolutely gorgeous. When we visited (September 2016), a boat used in the current refugee crisis was on view, a really harrowing sight.
The Dark Side Tour & Calton Hill
As if we hadn’t walked enough today, we decided to take another walking tour. We loved Max so much after our Free Walking Tour in the previous day that we booked onto The Dark Side Tour for the following evening!
Edinburgh has a very spooky past and the stories were great (especially when told by Max)! I would highly recommend this tour if you like to hear a little horror story (and if you don’t… don’t worry, I’m a wuss and I was fine)!
During the tour, you’ll tick another of Edinburgh’s bucket list items off of your list – Calton Hill! What’s even better is that you will visit the hill at sunset which is really gorgeous in early September.
Take A Day Trip Into The Scottish Highlands
Whilst Edinburgh is absolutely incredible, sometimes it’s nice to head out into the countryside. We decided to take the FREE Scottish Highlands Tour with The Hairy Coo and I couldn’t recommend it more.
The company were so incredible that they deserve their own blog post and you can read all about our experience here.
Learn From Our Mistakes
We decided to go for a wander in the evening as one of my favourite times to explore a city is when they are lit up at night… apparently not all that much of Edinburgh is lit up (unlike some of my favourite evening cities such as the view of Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest or the view of the Castle in Prague from across the river or the Wesminster area of London). The castle was lit blue but was very hard to photograph!
With some time to kill before our flight home that afternoon, and a number of options to chose from in the city, we decided to go to the National Museum (we were mainly swayed by the giant posters of turtles outside telling us that the National Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was on…. turns out we read the signs wrong and it was next week, oops).
I’m not usually a big museum fan, but this one was great! There were plenty of interactive exhibitions and it reminded me of the London Science and Natural History Museums – a good day out! Plus… did you know that a mega sloth once existed?!
Eat in The Elephant Cafe
I am a huge Harry Potter Fan, so a trip to the Elephant Cafe was an absolute must! This is the cafe that J K Rowling began writing the famous novel series in and for good reason – the food and drinks are great! Make sure you peep into the toilets to see the messages that fans have left scribbled on the walls!
RELATED: Want to find more Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh? Read all about them here!
Shop in Cute Independent Stores
Edinburgh is a creative city. It can be felt in the aforementioned memorials to Scottish writers, J K Rowling’s inspirational presence, the Scottish Writers Museum, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the sheer number of crafty independent stores. The arts are really celebrated in this amazing city and it’s amazing.
We headed up Victoria Street and the surrounding roads popping into cute shops, my favourites were Miss Katie Cupcake (specialising in handmade jewellery) and Museum Context (a shop for creative unique interiors).
The Things We Missed
After exploring the shops and getting some food, it was time for us to head to the airport to catch our flight home. Edinburgh is an incredible city and there were a tonne of other things we could have spent our time doing, so to make this post as informative as possible, here’s some other really great options to fill your days in Edinburgh!
In the City
- Real Mary King’s Close – We tried really to visit this underground city tour on our last day but unfortunately they had a power cut just as we tried to visit!
- Arthur’s Seat – TripAdvisor lists this as the number one thing to do in Edinburgh and it’s very unlike me to have not completed one of the best tourist attractions in a city! However, we were restricted for time and the hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat wasn’t too appealing on our very worn-out legs but I’m sure the views would have been great – there’s always next time!
- Palace of Holyrood House – This is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland and it looks VERY grand! If I ever find myself back in Edinburgh, I will definitely be making a visit!
- The Edinburgh Dungeon – Having visited the London Dungeon’s, we felt like this was an tourist trap we could probably miss!
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Annually Edinburgh Castle becomes the stage for military tattoos performed by the British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands.
- Edinburgh Fringe Festival – In late September, the city comes alive with the world’s largest arts festival!
- Christmas Markets – As with any European city, supposedly Christmas is a great time to visit!
- Hogmanay – This is the Scottish word for “New Year’s Eve” and the celebrations in Edinburgh are huge! Their fireworks displays are world renowned!
During our time in Edinburgh, I stumbled across some things on the Edinburgh TripAdvisor page that looked great but on further inspection were nowhere near the city centre – if you’re in the area for longer than a few days or have access to a car, these could be the spots for you!
- Craigmillar Castle
- Inchcolm Abbey
- Gilmerton Cove
- Jupiter Artland
- Portobello Beach
- Hopetoun House
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. This post does however contain affiliate links which I may earn a small commission from should you purchase from the respective company.
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