Soooo it has taken me a while to post my Edinburgh Travel Guide. I spent a long weekend in Edinburgh, December 15-18. Today is March 12. Whoops.
I could blame my tardiness on laziness (which would be about 90% true). But the actual reason why I am so late in launching this Edinburgh Travel Guide? I didn’t know what to say.
In case you’re new to Glitter & Spice and/or don’t know me personally, you should know that me being speechless about anything is a rare occurrence. Especially about travel. I’ve visited all but two continents and, in each and every destination, I am able to define exactly what I love about that country. Sure, it’s usually the food… but I’m able to put it into words.
Edinburgh… it was everything. I loved the people. The architecture of the city. The history. All of the kilts. Heck, I even loved the food! Part of what makes the city so special is the fact that the city is divided into two sectors: Old Town and New Town. The Old Town dates back to as early as the 12th century, while the New Town was built starting in the 1760s. And y’all – I love any city in which the “new” city is older than my country.
I did a long weekend in Edinburgh with my best friend and within 10 minutes of our arrival in the city, we both declared our love for Edinburgh. So much so that I am trying to get back to Scotland for a week this summer, just to experience it again. If you haven’t yet been to Edinburgh, trust me: this is a destination you’ll want to visit.
– Edinburgh Travel Guide: How to Get to Edinburgh –
So I’ve convinced you to visit… but how does one actually get to Edinburgh? Planes, trains, and automobiles, my friend.
Flying to Edinburgh
The next time I visit Edinburgh, I will be flying (more on why that is under the next heading). If you’re traveling from the U.S., you’re probably going to have to stop in London or New York. As we traveled from London, I’m going to focus on getting to Edinburgh from London for the remainder of this section:
There are tons of nonstops each day from London to Edinburgh via low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet. These carriers will likely cost you about $100 (or less). If you have points on American Airlines, British Airways also has nonstop flights to Edinburgh (they’re in the Oneworld Alliance so you can purchase your tickets using AA points – otherwise about $150 each way). You can get to Edinburgh for roughly the same amount via trains or planes. Since this is an Edinburgh Travel Guide in which I am supposed to make recommendations, I highly recommend flying.
Taking the train to Edinburgh
Why do I recommend flying so highly? Because we didn’t fly. Whoops.
For our visit, we took the train from London to Edinburgh. It’s a five+ hour long trek so if you opt to do the train and can afford it, I highly recommend purchasing first class seats (typically around $150-$200 each way). However, you should know that there are tons of delays and cancellations, so make sure your travel plans are somewhat flexible.
On our trip to Edinburgh, we arrived at London Euston station to discover that our train had been cancelled [without notice] due to a strike. Thankfully, my mom had given us a head’s up that something similar happened on her train to Edinburgh a few months prior, so we were prepared. We were able to use our purchased tickets for another train (well, trains).
However, we still ended up arriving in Edinburgh a full five hours later than planned. And, on the return trip, we were delayed multiple times due to mechanical issues and arrived two hours late in London.
The SparkNotes version? Fly.
Driving to Edinburgh
If you have some extra time (and feel confident in your ability to drive on the left), why not drive? The drive from London to Edinburgh is 400 miles and will take roughly 7 1/2 hours (about the same time as the drive between Dallas and New Orleans). But, if the views from the train were any indication, the drive from London to Edinburgh would be much more scenic than the drive from Dallas to NOLA.
I’d recommend breaking the drive into at least two segments and stopping in the Peak District. The Peak District is a national park, and it looks super pretty. For all the Pride & Prejudice fans, Chatsworth House (Pemberly in the movie) is in the area. Or you could stop in Nottinghamshire and visit Sherwood Forest (yes, the Robin Hood one!).
– Edinburgh Travel Guide: Where to Stay in Edinburgh –
As I mentioned earlier, Edinburgh is divided into the Old Town and the New Town. Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Mile are both in Old Town, so we decided to stay in Old Town.
Since it was just the two of us (and we wanted separate bedrooms), we booked an apartment on AirBNB. And we loved it. Our apartment had the most incredible views of Edinburgh Castle. Note that Edinburgh as a whole is super walkable… Don’t fret too much about booking in Old Town or New Town.
If AirBNB is not your style, there are a few great hotels in Edinburgh. The Balmoral is stunning (J.K. Rowling finished writing the Harry Potter series in this hotel!). The Principal Edinburgh George Street is meant to be lovely. If you want to say a bit further out, I’ve heard the most magical things about the Nira Caledonia and Prestonfield House.
For the most part, hotels in Edinburgh seem to be extremely reasonably priced. In fact, they’re priced comparably to many of the AirBNB listings. All that’s left is for you to decide which you prefer!
– Edinburgh Travel Guide: Where to Eat in Edinburgh –
Ah yes, my favorite section. While the food in Edinburgh did not beat the food in Barcelona (I’m still dreaming of that paella!), it was surprisingly delicious.
I say surprisingly because – truth be told – the Scottish are not necessarily known for their cuisine.
While we avoided haggis (I’m adventurous but not that adventurous), we did try the Scotch Eggs. We were told to eat this breakfast dish (made of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried or baked) cold. I still maintain we were led astray by the seller – it definitely tasted like it should be eaten piping hot!
The true culinary successes of the trip occurred in restaurants… and I’ve included all of my faves (and what we ate) below.
Angels with Bagpipes:
We went to Angels With Bagpipes on our first night in Edinburgh, following my mother’s recommendation. They had squeezed us in with a late reservation (about 9:45PM), which ended up being perfect following our train delay. This restaurant was incredible. Seriously no Edinburgh travel guide should be without it.
Not only was there a cozy ambiance (truly found at each restaurant we visited on our trip), but the waitstaff and fellow patrons were all super friendly. And the food was delicious.
To keep warm on the chilly December night, I drank the mulled wine and my friend enjoyed a whisky from Isle of Skye (accompanied by plenty of water to dilute it). We started off with the beef tartare (topped with a quail egg). For our mains, my friend had the lamb and I had the salmon (topped with green apples). As our dessert, we split the pressed apple. And – in the event my opinion influences your dining decisions – everything was so yum.
However, the sides at Angels With Bagpipes were a bit of a mixed bag. While we didn’t care for the chips aka french fries, the side of mushrooms was the highlight of our meal. Seriously. Don’t miss the mushrooms. And do miss the chips.
While Angels With Bagpipes was my mom’s favorite spot in Edinburgh, Grain Store was definitely mine. Located on the second floor of a building on Victoria Street (the street that inspired Diagon Alley!), Grain Store was primarily filled with locals. Between the stone walls and the low ceilings, it felt super cozy – perfect for a winter dinner.
I am still upset that Grain Store was out of the lobster and the salmon ravioli (I’d read both were incredible). However, my truffled polenta with mushrooms and my friend’s braised hare both exceeded all of our expectations. And our expectations were already high after our fantastic dinner the night before.
Cafe St Honoré:
After delicious meals at both Angels With Bagpipes and Grain Store, Cafe St Honoré had some big shoes to fill. I found this restaurant through online sleuthing. Each and every Edinburgh Travel Guide I read which included a list of the best restaurants in Edinburgh featured Cafe St Honoré. Like the other two, this restaurant had all of the cozy vibes and a great ambiance.
The menu changes daily, so I won’t bother diving into exactly what I recommend based on what we ate. However, the smoked salmon appetizer seems to be a menu staple and that was so. good. What made our dinner at Cafe St Honoré extra special was the restaurant’s wine list. After a long weekend of mulled wine, hot toddies, mulled cider, and whisky, I was ready for a glass of wine and my friend was ready for a beer.
Honorable Mention: The Balmoral Palm Court
While technically a hotel, I had to include The Balmoral on this list due to their tea. Tea at the Palm Court was such a serene experience – if you’re going to do tea in Edinburgh, I couldn’t recommend it enough!
There was a harpist strumming Beatles tunes, plenty of champagne, and enough food to last each of us a full day. Truth be told, it was a bit too much food given that we had plans to go to dinner only a few hours later. But, if you have a late dinner planned or skipped lunch and need an afternoon pick-me-up, there is nothing more wonderful.
Honorable Mention: Prestonfield House
We had originally planned on having tea at Prestonfield House upon our arrival in Scotland. However, due to the massive train delays, we had to cancel it.
Prestonfield is still on my list though – particularly because their Champagne Afternoon Tea includes my favorite champagne!
– Edinburgh Travel Guide: What to Do in Edinburgh –
Our biggest mistake of our trip was only scheduling two full days in Edinburgh. We arrived late Friday night and left early Monday morning – not nearly enough time to explore the city fully!
Saturday we largely spent at the Christmas Markets, visiting places that inspired parts of Harry Potter, and on the Castle Tour. Sunday, our day was consumed by an 8-hour-long Outlander-inspired tour. And before you poo-poo the Outlander tour: a) the show is fantastic and Sam Heughan is a dream of a human and b) it was an incredible tour.
In case you didn’t know, my bat mitzvah back in 2003 was Harry Potter-themed. I have been a die-hard Harry Potter fan for my entire adult life – both legally and according to Judaism. While I traveled to Scotland with somebody who was not a fan, he (thankfully) enjoyed seeing me elated so we got to do all of the Harry Potter-ness.
J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series in Edinburgh. And you can clearly see which places within the city inspired bits and pieces of the novels. While you can book a guided tour to visit all of the sites from which Rowling drew inspiration (and where she wrote some of the books), to conserve time and money, we decided to do organize our own makeshift tour.
We started the day walking up Victoria Street – the inspiration behind Diagon Alley – to the famed The Elephant House Café, where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We then went around the corner (literally a 2 minute walk) to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, which inspired the setting for the cemetery scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There are also gravestones in this cemetery bearing names which inspired Harry Potter characters.
All in all, our mini-tour took about 30 minutes and cost us $0. It was the perfect lil dose of Harry Potter (and some gorgeous views) to start our trip off right!
Located at the end of The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle looms high above the rest of the city. When my parents visited Edinburgh, they did this castle tour – they loved it so much, they recommended it to us as well.
And – spoiler alert – we enjoyed it too.
While you’re welcome to do self-guided tours of the castle, I always like to do a guided tour. That way, I can learn not only the history of the site, but also about the people. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to the 12th century. However, it’s super unique in that it is still used as a fortress even today.
With this tour, you’re not only given the history of Scotland and the castle from a Scot’s perspective – you’re also allowed to roam freely (for the most part) through the castle after the conclusion of the tour. Our guide actually stuck around for a bit to discuss more of the castle’s history with me after the tour, and even suggested particular museums within the castle for us to visit.
Oh also the lines to get tickets to the castle can get really long. Purchasing these passes will let you walk right in with your guide. Worth it.
Outside of Edinburgh / Outlander Tour:
Even though it took us outside of Edinburgh, the Outlander tour was my favorite part of our trip. As such, no Edinburgh Travel Guide should be without it. The tour visited filming locations for the STARZ show, as well as a few places which were important in the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century.
Through the tour, we visited Blackness Castle, Linlithgow Palace, Culross and Mercat Cross, and Callendar House. For all you fellow Roman history nerds: the Antonine wall runs right next to Callendar House. As extra bonuses since Hopetoun House and Midhope Castle were both closed during our tour, our guide took us to Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway and to Doune Castle.
I was particularly excited to see Doune Castle as it was used as a film site in Outlander. And in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Aaaand in a lil show called Game of Thrones.
What made this tour so special was not necessarily seeing the filming sites for Outlander (though that was cool). It was special because we got out of the city, into the Scottish countryside. And that’s what has inspired both my friend and me to return to Scotland very soon. It was such a beautiful countryside, with castles and cute towns just about everywhere you look. On my next trip, I would love to go into the Scottish Highlands – to Aberdeen and Inverness.
Honorable Mention: Edinburgh Christmas Markets
If you visit during the holiday season, you must go to the Christmas markets! The markets offered a bit of everything – tchotchkes and Christmasy trinkets, a wide array of foods, plenty of drinks (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic), and even a few amusement park-type rides.