Welcome to the start of our 4 part Getaway adventure to Scotland and Iceland! This is a smidge farther than our getaways usually take us, but we decided that after 2-1/2 years of blogging together, we were ready to go international!
In case you don’t know your “Unlocking” trivia, I (Bev) was born in Scotland and moved to CT when I was 20. A wee while ago! I was due to visit my “other home”, and Lora was long overdue a trip to the UK, being that she’s a total Anglophile. Iceland has also long been on Lora’s bucket list, so we came up with a plan to bring our Unlocking show on the road. We would Unlock Edinburgh, Glasgow, The Trossachs + Loch Lomond, and Reykjavik.
Welcome to Edinburgh. Part travel journal, part guide, this is a compilation of what we did, plus some bonus “must-dos” thanks to the locals, i.e. my friends and family!
Edinburgh Castle is an ideal place to start any visit to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. Living in the US, particularly in NW CT, we’re not overly exposed to magnificent castles and cobblestone city streets. The castle, at the very top of The Royal Mile, is the perfect place to just stand and take in all of that history. It’ll take your breath away…and your hat if you’re not careful; it’s a windy spot sitting up there 430 feet above sea level overlooking the city below! Choose to proceed through the gates and take a tour to learn all about it, plus a walk past the Crown Jewels (which are guarded there)…or, choose to take a selfie in front of it!
Carry on down the Royal Mile – it’s impossible to get lost!
That’s what I love about the Royal Mile. You start at the castle and walk the mile in one straight line – no turns, one road – to the bottom, where Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament stand. Edinburgh is a very walkable city, which is always a plus in our books. During our Royal Mile walk, we passed countless historical buildings and landmarks, some great, albeit touristy shops, carrying everything-Scottish-you-could-ever-need, and it was Lora’s lucky day, we spotted a bagpiper or two!
Bagpipes & kilts. We have come to learn that people either love bagpipes or they can’t stand them. I love them because they always make my heart swell for Scotland…plus my current Outlander obsession. Lora loved the whole thing; the music, the kilts, the lot. This was bagpiper and kilt number one. Lora proceeded to count every kilt we saw from that moment forward. End tally: 17. [Lora’s note: Count is for actual men in kilts. Not counted were the hundreds we saw in kilt shops!]
Historic landmarks just waiting to be spotted.
We just so happened to look down and see these brass markers and got curious. Sure enough, on the wall of the nearest building, there was a plaque describing the site of the last public execution in Edinburgh, 1864. Our tip? Keep an eye out for plaques on walls – fascinating facts made easy!
Greyfriars Bobby was one of my favorite stories my Granny would tell me when my family would visit her in Edinburgh for the day. It’s just a short walk from the Royal Mile to visit the famous Greyfriars Bobby statue. The story goes that Bobby, the Skye Terrier, became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for supposedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, John Grey, until Bobby died on 14 January 1872. Sad, but lovely!?
National Museum of Scotland
Extra bonus points for getting fully absorbed in Scottish history and culture – a visit to the National Museum of Scotland. The museum houses many museums under one roof with exhibits about history, nature, art, fashion, science, and technology in Scotland and around the world. During our visit, there was a special exhibition about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and thanks to Outlander, I’m more interested in Scottish history than I ever was in school! Fascinating, but we got lost with the family tree and which King was which.
We digress…back to the Mile!
You know you’ve made it to the bottom of the Royal Mile when…
You see a very modern building (The Scottish Parliament) and a very old building (Holyrood Palace) side by side. FYI – Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II. We only missed her by a week, apparently. Drat.
Visit, or take a tour of either of these places if you’re in the mood!
You have just completed Edinburgh 101. Time for a brief interlude…
[Lora’s note: that ending music though…]
The climb to Calton Hill
With Arthur’s Seat (the extinct volcano in the background) behind us, we started the climb through New Calton Burial Ground up towards Calton Hill for some of the best views of the city. You’ve made it this far (your iPhone is probably telling you you’ve climbed 30+ floors at this point!) so you might as well get to THE best view and enter the Nelson Monument for £5.
That’s quite enough history. Shopping time!
Hit Harvey Nichols and take a stroll around Multrees Walk for some high-end luxury designer shopping. Princes Street is one of the main retail thoroughfares in Edinburgh with all the UK standards; Marks & Spencer, British Home Stores, Zara, Next, and loads more. Make sure you visit Jenners, once the oldest department store in Edinburgh. And for some cute independent boutiques, enjoy the off-the-beaten-path feel of Thistle Street.
Afternoon tea anyone?
It doesn’t get much more delightful than afternoon tea at The Dome‘s Georgian tearoom. Think white linen napkins, fine bone china, a silver tea service, and of course, the best tea (made the proper way), plus lashings of delicate finger sandwiches, scones, and sweet pastries. Oh, and Champagne. We treated ourselves!
Mary King’s Close tour after dark!
History is brought to life with a tour of Mary King’s Close, a historic close located under buildings on the Royal Mile. The Real Mary King’s Close actor in character leads you down under the street level (they built the Royal Mile over many tenement buildings in the 17th century), telling true tales of residents past. Fascinating, scary, and a fun thing to do after a bottle of wine at dinner at The Educated Flea. Lora, our friend Julie, and I, all voted the goat cheese nachos, beetroot crisps, poppadums, and smoked shallot vinaigrette the winner. We still speak of it.
Dinner in The Secret Garden at the Witchery
Continuing on the topic of dinner recommendations, we strongly urge you to have a meal at the Secret Garden, by The Witchery. Located just a few feet from the gates of Edinburgh Castle, The Witchery has long been an Edinburgh institution and somewhere I will always remember going when I was maybe 10, with my Granny for a very special treat! It’s still as magical, and the food, wine, and atmosphere are exceptional.
And hopefully, you’ll leave dinner and enjoy a gorgeous evening dusky sky, as we did!
Worth a wee side trip…
If you have extra time, a car, or a friend with a car, make sure you take a 25-minute drive out of Edinburgh to Falkirk to enjoy, The Kelpies. My brother drove us and very kindly organized a double rainbow. Thanks, Simon!
Try to get out to South Queensferry if you can, preferably towards the end of the day when you can enjoy some of the independent stores on the main cobblestone street, as well as a stroll on the beach. Have dinner at one of the many great “ferry” restaurants and enjoy some really great seafood, or haggis, as I did…and firmly encouraged Lora to try! We had dinner with my family at The Railbridge Bistro – serving fresh contemporary Scottish food – then walked off the meringue dessert that we couldn’t resist. Oh, and the bridge all lit up at night is pretty!
Even MORE restaurant recommendations from family + friends!
Sadly, we ran out of time so we’ll just have to go back to try all of these!
City Center – Galvin Brasserie de Luxe in the Waldorf Astoria
Thistle Street – Café Marlayne
Southside – Aizle
Leith – The Kitchin
Morningside – Canny Man’s (pub established in 1871)
If you’ve ever had Edinburgh on your bucket list, or want to return, there’s no better time to go than now. Norwegian Airlines is now serving more local airports with direct (and inexpensive) flights.
Hope you enjoyed Edinburgh, give us a shout if you have any questions or need any more suggestions!
Pics : Lora Karam / Words : Bev Canepari / Video editing: Jeff Oliver