Scotland was one of my absolute favorite places in Europe. Everything about this country is enchanting, and the lines between magic and reality are blurrier here than most places. The accents alone were enough to make me fall in love with this place, but the more I learned about its rich history, the more I appreciated it. My love for this city also grew due to the fact the fact that I stayed with a family who owned an ice cream company, but I’ll get to that later.
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh, like many cities in Europe, has an Old Town that is separated from where most daily life happens today. This was my favorite part of the city. After climbing some stars and hill or two, you will find yourself on the Royal Mile, a cobbled road stretching from Castle Rock to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (both of which are on my list) and the Scottish Parliament Building (which is not). Even though it is a path between two amazing sights, be sure to take your time peeking into cashmere shops and the numerous alleyways, or “closes.” This picturesque road is where most of the magic happens.
This is a must-see for a reason! The castle is perched at the end of the Royal Mile on the dormant volcanic cliff face of Castle Rock and looks over the entire city. You should definitely go inside the gates, which lets you walk through more than just some stone archways (there are plenty of those too, don’t worry).
The castle grounds are beautiful, but there are also some great things to see that go beyond the building itself. You can visit 1) the National War Museum of Scotland (if you’re into that sort of thing) 2) St. Margaret’s Chapel 3) hear the One O’Clock Gun sound (which is pretty much what it sounds like…a gun that is fired every day at one o’clock that used to let the townspeople know what time it was once a day) 4) Mons Meg, a 15th Century siege gun and 5) (my personal favorite) the Scottish Crown Jewels, which begins by walking through rooms recounting the royal history of Edinburgh and ends in a room displaying the crown, scepter, and sword of state.
There is also a cute café with a beautiful view of the city below, which we stopped at to warm up with a bowl of soup (I went there in February, so it was a little nippy outside).
Going through the castle was fun, interesting, and a great way to learn about the city before continuing to explore. Definitely worth the (slightly expensive) price of admission at £16.50.
The Elephant House
Remember how I said the Royal Mile is where most of the magic happens? I wasn’t kidding. This historic road was the inspiration for the setting of one of the most magical places around in a book series you may have heard of. That’s right, if you ever want to walk through the original Diagon Alley, this is it! One store on Victoria Street has even been coined “The Original Flourish and Blotts.”
The Elephant House is a little coffee shop right off the Royal Mile on the George IV Bridge and is where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. We popped in for some coffee and cake and could just feel the magic in the air. I realized (as I was looking out the window at Edinburgh Castle) that it’s no surprise the magical school of Hogwarts ended up in a castle too.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
All the way on the other end of the Royal Mile, you will find this beautiful palace—the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. I sometimes forget that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, but Queen Elizabeth is just as much queen of Scotland as England, and this is one of her homes-away-from-home. This is another tour of a royal residence, but it is a much different experience than walking through the grounds of the Castle, and it’s one I really enjoyed! It is beautifully manicured inside and out, but one of my favorite parts was the ruins of Holyrood Abbey in the back by the gardens.
If you have to choose, I would definitely pick seeing the Castle, but this is a fun visit, especially if you’re a fan of the royal family! And since I was the girl who hosted a watch party for the royal wedding at 4am in high school, I qualify.
The place we were staying was only a mile away from this beach, so for the few days we were there, my friend and I started each morning of our Scottish holiday with a run along the seaside. It is just as picturesque as it sounds. After running, we stopped to get breakfast at one of the little beach cafés. My personal favorite was simply called The Beach House.
Whenever I think about these distinctive vehicles whipping around corners, London is always the backdrop, but Scotland is just as much a part of the UK as England, so they have them too! They’re a great way to get around while you’re sightseeing. And you should sit on the upper level. Otherwise, it just feels like a bus.
Arcari’s Ice Cream
So this is the ice cream company I mentioned before! The family we stayed with owned it, so on our way to the airport, they asked if we wanted to try some. After giving an enthusiastic response, we pulled up to the backdoor of a warehouse in an alley…which is not where I typically go for ice cream. Well, maybe I should start. Because out of that factory door came the creamiest vanilla ice cream I have ever had. They don’t have their own shop, but they supply trucks and stores. I’m sorry to tantalize you with this story without having an exact location to get it, but keep your eye out! Seriously. So good.
The Scottish Highlands
So this is not technically a sight to see in Edinburgh, but if you’re there and you have an extra day, I would definitely take a tour of the Highlands. The Highlands is really the image that pops into your head when you think of Scotland: rolling green hills that turn into towering mountains and beautiful lakes (called “lochs”) scattered throughout.
The one I went on began in the morning and didn’t get back to the city until the evening, so we spent the day in what felt like a fairytale book. Listening to our Scottish tour guide talk about the sights and simply driving through the mesmerizingly beautiful scenery was great, but the stops were definitely the highlight:
It’s pretty spectacular, trust me.
I didn’t see the monster in the lake, but it was still fun to see the location where the legend was born. There are also some great places to grab fish n’ chips, which is a must when in the UK. We found a little pub and had a great meal while sharing a pint with some locals. I don’t think anywhere you go will disappoint!
Enjoy this amazing city! Just don’t try the haggis.