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! Day One 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
  • Grassmarket
  • 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! Day Two  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. Day Three  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! Day Four  National Museum 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!
Seasonal
  • 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!
Day Trips/Excursions 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Booking.com

What are my two favourite things on the planet? Number one is definitely travelling. Second place is a tough call between food, my dog and Harry Potter. For the purposes of this post, let's go with the latter. So, you can imagine my excitement when visiting Edinburgh and getting to see all of the Harry Potter locations *insert squealing noises here*. There are plenty of tours  which enable you to pay someone to take you around the famous Harry Potter destinations of Edinburgh, but we saw the majority of them (or they were pointed out for us to explore later) on our free walking tour with Sandemans New Europe  (big shout out to Max the epic tour guide!). But if tours aren't your cup of tea, here's a nice little list for you to get your teeth stuck into and go find yourself! The Elephant House cake food and juice at the Elephant House, Edinburgh Even if you aren't a Harry Potter fan, please promise me that you will visit The Elephant House to experience their incredible freshly squeezed orange juice. It was unreal. The Elephant House is the cafe which proudly brands itself as "the birthplace of Harry Potter". This is the cafe that provided a nice warm cosy spot for  J. K. Rowling to begin writing the Harry Potter books in. You can expect fairly long queues to eat here, but it's well worth it for the juice and amazing range of cakes! Make sure you also check out the toilets as Harry Potter fans have taken to the walls and graffiti-ed their love for the wizarding world all over the walls! Never have I found myself taking pictures of cafe toilets before... The Balmoral Hotel
Image Credit: Booking.Com
Fast forward to the end of the Harry Potter series and Rowling suddenly had a few more pennies in the bank and decided to use the Balmoral Hotel (room 552 to be precise) as her writing grounds. On completing the novels, she decided to scribble ‘JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007' on a marble bust in the room. If you're willing to fork out a hell of a lot of money ((approximately £1,000) per night, you can stay in the Grand Suite that has since been named "The J K Rowling Suite" and it can be booked here. Greyfriars Kirkyard Greyfriars Kirkyard Harry Potter Inspiration McGonagall and Riddle at Greyfriars Kirkyard It's not often that a travel blog recommends you visit a graveyard, but here we go. Greyfriars Kirkyard is a short walk from The Elephant House and is said to be where J K Rowling went for a walk on her breaks from writing. The graveyard plays particular importance in naming a few of the books important characters - here you will find the graves of Thomas Riddle and William McGonagall (who we were actually informed on our Sandemans tour is known for being one of the worst recognised Scottish poets!) George Heriot's School Adjacent to Greyfriars Kirkyard is The George Heriot School which is known for being the inspiration for Hogwarts school (and it's not hard to see why). Unfortunately the school is very rarely open to the public and it's hard to see the entire building in all it's glory (unless you want to try and climb over the fence separating it from the graveyard). But apparently you can get a good view of the school from the observation deck at Camera Obsura - we didn't visit, so I can't comment! J K Rowling's Hands
Image Credit: Andy At College
One thing that I completely missed whilst in Edinburgh and have only read about since returning is the "Hollywood Walk of Fame"-esque  imprint of J K Rowling's hand-prints in the Edinburgh City Chambers floor. Go size up your hands - who knows, you could be the next biggest writer! Just Explore The City and It's Architecture Let's face it, the whole of Edinburgh feels magical. The buildings are old and whimsical. The city is also littered with ghost/horror stories (we took another tour with Sandemans New Europe called the "The Dark Side Tour" which explained all of the gruesome ancient stories that the city has to offer! There are so many other streets and buildings that apparently inspired J K Rowling, but who knows how truthful these accounts are! One story that I can believe to be true is Victoria Street inspiring Diagon Alley - take a look and you'll see why! Another favourite is the street "Potterrow" which alledgedly inspired the name for Harry! Glenfinnan Viaduct
Image Credit: Getty
Okay, this one isn't in Edinburgh, but if you are taking an extended trip to Scotland and you're a huge Harry Potter fan, you will want to know about it (it's still on my bucket list)! Glenfinnan Viaduct is the famous bridge that the Hogwarts Express takes its journey across. Trains still run across the bridge every day, so grab a ticket and pretend you're off to the land of Hogwarts!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Whats The Deal With Guided Tours? Guided tours are a controversial topic in the travel blog world because "if someone just shows you around, r u even travelling?!". But screw convention, I'm going to talk about one particular tour company here, because they definitely deserve some recognition & I'm a massive fan of a guided tours! I'm especially a huge fan of free walking tours, I find that they are the perfect way to orientate yourself when arriving in a new city. You get to know your way around, learn some history about the city, hear some interesting stories and best of all, if the tour guide was a bit pants, you aren't obliged to pay a penny! Having said that, I have never not tipped a guide! Another tour style that I'm a big fan of is a well structured day trip. As I have to plan my travels around work and study commitments, recently I have been going on a lot of city breaks rather than extended travels. Sometimes it's great to escape the city and take a day trip to somewhere new. You can read about a few of my guided day tours here:
  1. Alpine Fairytale - Slovenia - Roundabout Travel 
  2. Karst And Coast - Slovenia - Roundabout Travel
  3. Countryside & Windmills - Netherlands - Tours & Tickets

So Who Are The Hairy Coo? 

The Hairy Coo are a tour company operating from Edinburgh who take tourists around the Scottish Highlands in a manner that combines my two favourite tour structures. Yes, that's right, they offer whole day tours including transportation for FREE.

Our tour guide stressed the fact that The Hairy Coo company was set up to provide anyone, of any budget range, the opportunity to explore the beautiful Scottish Highlands. Something that I very much agree with - everyone should visit!

Is It Really Free?

You enter the coach without having paid a single penny. Of course, a tip to the tour guide is expected at the end of your tour, however, you are free to pay the amount that you believe the tour is worth.

I would highly recommend that you book your tour online in advance. When I booked our tour, we only had the choice of one day during our stay in Edinburgh as the others had all sold out. There were only 2 spare seats on our coach once all of the pre-booked passengers were on board, these were swiftly taken by two girls who had turned up hoping there would be spare spaces.

On booking, you are sent an email stating that your card will be charged £17 per person if you fail to turn up or cancel your place less than 48 hours before the tour is to take place. This is quoted as being the "cost" per person. Further to this, the website claims that the tour has a market value of £37, so bare these figures in mind when you determine your tip!

So What Was Our Day Like?

We were only in Edinburgh for 4 days and were dying to get a glimpse of the Scottish Highlands, so this seemed like the perfect way to do it. Ideally, of course we would have road-tripped the area over a few days, but time was not on our side!

We met at Deacon's House Cafe at 8.30am. We actually ate in this cafe twice during our stay in Edinburgh (once for lunch and one for breakfast) and would highly recommend it - great food in a cosy setting!

After being greeted by our tour guide Don (one of the founders of The Hairy Coo), we knew that we were in for a great day! Don was hilarious, well-informed and you could tell that he had a real love for Scotland. He wasn't afraid to give his stance on current affairs and since he grew up in the areas that we were visiting,  his anecdotes were funny and a great addition to an already great factual & beautiful tour!

You can view the entire itinerary for the trip on their website here. But I'll talk just explain the two highlights for me and let the photos do the talking for the rest of the trip (because those Highlands are blimmin' beautiful)!

Highlight #1) BABY HIGHLAND COWS

Yes, you read that right. You get to meet baby highland cows. The Hairy Coo have a "top secret" spot where you can feed a small herd (3 adults & 3 calves) and learn more about these gorgeous creatures.

Even the bus used by The Hairy coo is disguised to look like a Highland cow - it's orange and has a little fringe across the top of the windscreen - adorable!

Highlight #2) Loch Katrine

Many of the larger tour companies will take you straight to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. Loch Katrine is lesser known, but it is beautiful and definitely shouldn't be missed! Enjoy a leisurely walk around the beautiful loch and spend lots of time taking photos!

Would I Recommend?

Without a doubt, yes. This tour was well constructed and I can't sing Don's praises enough - one of the best tour guides I've ever experienced! I've paid around £50 for similar style tours in other countries, and if the tour/guide was rubbish, that's £50 down the drain!

They also offer a paid tour (£45) which visits the Loch Ness, Glencoe and a Whisky Distillery. If I had longer in Edinburgh, I would have most definitely paid to take this trip too! After taking the free tour, I know I would have been in good hands!

The Hairy Coo are a small business and many of the larger companies would like to see them shut down as they are rightfully gaining more custom. When you book your tickets, you have to provide your debit/credit card details to ensure that you are a real person as other tours have been known to fill the seats with fake customers - it breaks my little heart!

So, if you're in Edinburgh any time soon and want to explore the Highlands (duh, who doesn't), give these guys a shout!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. I rightfully paid the tip that I felt appropriate for my tour like all other customers. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1