Edinburgh was a whirlwind four days and we managed to pack in so much! Undoubtedly a beautiful city, Edinburgh has taken a piece of my heart – I might even go as far as to say that I would live there if the UK ever decided to let me stay! The gorgeous buildings, the lovely people, the small town feel – but with so much to see- and of course the obvious connection with The Queen J.K. Rowling, Edinburgh has a certain charm that I haven’t found in any other city I’ve ever seen.
Where to Stay
As a rule of thumb, I always try to stay as central as possible, no matter where I am travelling. This also means that you save money on transport (however, you might make this up in accommodation costs) and really get to experience the city life. I also love to go out during the day, come back to the hotel for a rest in the afternoon and then go out again at night (this is just something I have come to realise over the years and I find works best for me- or maybe its because I’m super lazy and love my afternoon naps…). Staying within a central hotel allows you to do this easily.
Edinburgh Old Town
The old town is beautiful and close to many of the tourist sites that no doubt you’ve planned to visit (St Mary’s Cathedral, Grey Friar’s Kirkyard, The Royal Mile etc.). The old town seems to be split into two areas, the lower level and the upper level. The lower level has a fun vibe and is home to many clubs and bars. It is also close to the university and student accommodation which creates a young vibe in the surrounding bars. The upper level is within throwing distance of all main attractions, but closer to the tourist spots, and further away from the locals.
For a cheap, trendy hotel with one of the local hotspot bars on your doorstep visit Stay Central Edinburgh. My sister and I decided on this hotel due to its central location and a compromise in type of accommodation (she, with more money to spare wanted an upper class hotel, me with dwindling cash was fighting her for a hostel). This was the perfect option for us, as we were young twenty-somethings wanting to have a great weekend away, meet people and see the sites. I probably wouldn’t reccommend for a romantic weekend with your significant other unless you and your partner are both nightlife inclined.
Stay Central has The Three Sisters on its doorstep. The Three Sisters is a bar that is frequented by many young professionals and students especially on a Friday or Saturday night. Edinburgh, does seem to also be a bucks party destination (I think I counted at least two hairy man bums that were obscenely shown to us in the few nights we went out!) and this adds to the party vibe of the lower level old town.
What to See
St Giles’ Cathedral
If you see nothing else in Edinburgh, go see St Giles’ Cathedral. If you are at all interested in churches or architecture or history, or just like looking at beautiful things (duh), this is a must see. My sister and I were in absolute awe of the detail in this Cathedral. Take advantage of the £2 photo licence (allows you to take as many photos as you wish, including flash & tripod).
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is of course a must do. It is essentially the high street in Edinburgh Old Town and is full of Scottish pubs, kilt shops, tourist shops and bits and pieces. It is the street that leads to Edinburgh Castle so you are likely to walk it anyway without even meaning to! I would definitely recommend also walking the streets adjacent to the mile as these are far less touristy, and have many restaurants and cafes.
Grey Friar’s Kirkyard
If you’re a lover of Harry Potter (Or a die hard fan- like me) you will know that this is the graveyard that J.K. Rowling strolled through and found her inspiration for the name Tom Riddle (Thomas Riddell is the ‘real’ Voldemort’s name). This graveyard was one of our first sites to see in Edinburgh and the medieval aesthetic is incredible – its no doubt how J.K Rowling got her inspiration! Skulls, crossbones and mausoleums, go for a wander at twilight to feel the full affect! I ran around like a little kid looking for Tom Riddle’s grave (in my mind) retracing J.K. Rowling’s steps. Tip for finding Thomas Riddell’s grave: look around the outside walls in the second yard.
Edinburgh Castle is of course, the top of many traveller’s lists when they set out for Edinburgh. We went to Edinburgh on a very cold and windy weekend in November- so windy in fact, that they closed the castle for a day! “How can you close a castle!?” you may ask, my thoughts exactly. We had battled the winds and slow moving tourists, knocking old ladies aside in our quest to get to the castle, only to be told in a thick Scottish accent “Sooryy Maam, th’ castle is closed the-day”. Much of the castle is outdoors (walking to and from the buildings) and even on the day we were allowed in, we were nearly swept away! It is a must see, especially if you’re a history buff. My favourites were the royal jewels and seeing the room that Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James IV – so small!
Arthur’s Seat is within walking distance of the Old Town and makes for spectacular views over Edinburgh. I would definitely recommend walking up to the peak if you are at all fitness/nature inclined. We managed to walk up to the top in wild winds in ballet flats and converse shoes- but I would recommend wearing some kind of walking shoes/joggers. It is definitely worth the walk up to the summit – beautiful 360 degree views of Edinburgh. Leave about 2-3 hours for this trek depending on how speedy you are at climbing mountains!
Sir Walter Scott Monument
Sir Walter Scott Monument is based right near the main train station and the New Town. Its gorgeous intricacies are beautiful and its definitely worth getting that perfect shot to make your friends at home jealous (all for ‘the ‘gram’ you know).
The Elephant House
The coffee shop where J.K. Rowling used to come and write the first of the Harry Potter books. Yes, you can probably hear my squeal as we walked up the street and the red shop came into view! This cute little coffee shop is open for breakfast, lunch or dinner and if you’re lucky you may even get to sit in the seat at the back next to the window overlooking Edinburgh Castle that inspired J.K Rowling!
Where to Eat & Drink
Urban Angel – Brunch
This one rated highly on all of the ‘best brunch in Edinburgh’ lists we could find. Located in the New Town, we walked from the Old Town while absolutely starving, walking past Pret & Starbucks (shock, horror!) saving ourselves for an amazing brunch. Urban Angel does not disappoint, but be sure to get there early on a weekend as they do not take bookings and it is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Try the Breakfast Smoothie (almond milk, blueberries, banana, honey + almond butter) or the Raw Chocolate Smoothie (cacao, almond milk, banana + vanilla) – our favourites!
The Witchery – Dinner
If you have a bit of extra cash or feel like treating yourself to a romantic dinner out, go no further than The Witchery. Beautifully presented food and candlesticks lighting your meal, this restaurant is a must stop for couples. Located on the Royal Mile right near Edinburgh Castle- what could be more romantic? Perhaps not being there with your older sister…
The Dragonfly – Cocktails
If you’re after cocktails- The Dragonfly is a cute little bar located on Grassmarket Road, just a short walk from the Old Town. If you’re feeling like something sweet, try the Raspberry Ripple, it comes in a Martini glass complete with hundreds and thousands covering the rim!
The Three Sisters – Drinks/Pub
The Three Sisters is the pub/bar that was connected to the Stay Central Hotel that my sister and I were staying in. We went to a few other places, trying to find a bar with a good vibe equal to what we were used to in London. It turns out, we should have just walked downstairs! The Three Sisters is a haunt not just for tourists but for the local young crowd too. It has a large outdoor and indoor area, two large bars and a great, lively atmosphere.