edinburgh, scotland

Our weekend in Edinburgh was really fun - there's so much to see and do in the historic, coastal capital of Scotland.  But before we get to all the good stuff, let me start with how we got to Edinburgh.  

We used a mode of transportation we'd heard about in Europe but hadn't tried out yet...ride sharing via BlaBlaCar.  The concept is that someone posts where they're driving (i.e. from Aberdeen to the Lake District) and the places that they're willing to stop along the way, as well as how many seats they have available and how many bags each rider can bring.  The amount you pay the driver depends on how far you ride, and typically you pay through the website, but sometimes you pay the driver directly once you've arrived at your destination.  It's quite popular in Spain, but we were hesitant to try it since our Spanish is...lacking.  However, in Scotland we were feeling a bit braver (and also really pinching pennies since we weren't making any!) so we decided to try it out.  

Caroline dropped us off at a McDonald's in Arbroath, and a minute or two later, our driver pulled up.  We chatted with her and the other rider in the car the whole way to Edinburgh, and it cost each of us £9, which felt expensive to us for an hour and a half drive, but BlaBlaCar drivers aren't allowed to charge more than the cost of the fuel (and it's significantly more in the UK than the US), so we went with it.  It's worth noting that it was cheaper than both the train and the bus, so that's why we decided to try it out.  As our Spanish continues to improve, I think we'll check out BlaBlaCar in Spain this coming year as it can be a very reasonable option for getting around!

We got dropped off at the train station, so we walked from there to our Airbnb - we were staying steps away from the Bruntsfield Links, and the place was gorgeous (check it out here!) - where we met our host and then got on our way.   We walked through The Meadows to get to the National Museum of Scotland which I had heard from our friend Whitney we could spend a whole day at, so we planned to go on our first day, and then leave time to go back on our second and third days if wanted to (we did).  

We only made it through part of the Animal World gallery on our first visit - all of the lifelike animals and short, to-the-point, but interesting signs kept us engaged.  The area is five floors high, so I think we only made it through the bottom two before we had to leave for our next thing.

D - I am an animal lover, and I love taxidermied (made up word) animals, possibly even more than live ones, because you can get really close to them and they won't attack you.  This area of the museum would definitely come to be my favorite.  It was really, really interesting.  For example, have you ever seen a Japanese Spider Crab?  They also had this really cool exhibit on animals that camouflage within their environments! 

 At 3pm we had a scheduled tour of the Scottish Parliament.  The Scottish Parliament is a funny building - I think opinion on it is really divided.  I mentioned to Karina, Hugh and Caroline's housekeeper, the week before we went to Edinburgh that we were going to tour the building, and she voiced strong thoughts against it.  However, we thought it was quite nice.  Perhaps because we're younger, or because we're not Scottish, we didn't have any issues with the new (it opened in 2004), modern building.  One of the most interesting features, I think, are the contemplation spaces, pictured in the second photo below.  Each member of the Scottish Parliament has an office which features a bay window as well as a seat and a shelving unit that comes out from the building a fair bit.  It's a really interesting design element, and definitely something we haven't seen in other country's capitol buildings. 

D - Okay, I'm going to be a tattletale here and tell the truth.  Shannon fell asleep on this tour...multiple times.  It was pretty funny.  In her defense, though it was fairly interesting and our guide was good, I think we were both just a bit tuckered out. 

After our tour, we began at what is often considered the end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and continued up the road stopping along the way until we reached Edinburgh Castle.  But first, Holyroodhouse.  The Palace of Holyroodhouse is where the Queen (and her family) live when they are in Edinburgh.  We would be touring it on Sunday, but since we were in the area, we stopped by briefly.  

The Royal Mile is in fact about one mile long and is the busiest tourist street in the Old Town of Edinburgh.  Most people, when walking the Royal Mile, begin at Edinburgh Castle and walk downhill to Holyroodhouse, but we did what made sense for us proximity-wise.  St. Giles Cathedral, pretty alleyways, kilt shops, a detour for colorful Victoria Street, and the fact that pretty much every building in the area is attractive made for a nice walk.  Plus, it wasn't raining, which, I've said before, but it's always worth saying again in Scotland, was a gift.  It might've been cold, but it wasn't raining, so we were having a good time.  

D - The Royal Mile is popular for a reason!  Some parts are better than others, and I think a good walking tour is a must (we used our self guided Rick Steves one), but it is really jam-packed with interesting architecture, historical tidbits, and Scottish Spirit.  I don't think we heard a bagpipe at all before coming to Edinburgh, and then we heard...many.

Once we finished our Royal Mile walk at Edinburgh Castle (we didn't go in - it's pricey!), we walked to Dean Village, a pretty part of town that was once a village known for water mills, but now popular with tourists and locals alike because of how picturesque it is.  It has a great walkway (that was partially under construction when we were there) along the Water of Leith  that is very green and wooded in parts, and seems to continue for quite a ways.  If you're looking for something kind of off the beaten tourist path, but not too far from the central area of town, this is a great, peaceful walk and area to explore.  

It started raining a little on our way back, and was dark before we made it to a grocery store to pick up soup for supper, so we ate in our cozy Airbnb's kitchen just like we did the week or so before on Skye - it saves so much money, and the soups at many of the stores were so wholesome and reasonable, it was hard to resist.  

On Saturday, we started out by taking the bus to the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Danny had been excited about Loch Ness since we decided to spend time in Scotland, and I was excited about visiting the Britannia (you know me and all things royal).  

The Royal Yacht Britannia was built in 1952 and used by Queen Elizabeth II and her family from 1954 until it was decommissioned in 1997.  Throughout its 43 years of use, it travelled over a million nautical miles around the globe, and visited 135 countries.  It was used for state visits, official receptions, royal honeymoons, and family holidays.  We grabbed our audio guides, climbed onboard, and started our tour.  I really enjoyed seeing all of the rooms onboard, especially the family's private quarters.  There was also a (stuffed) corgi treasure hunt going on aboard the ship in celebration of the Queen's 90th birthday - you can't visit the UK this year and not know about it! - so we had fun seeing them in almost every room.  

D - I was really surprised by the modesty of the Queen's personal quarters (see above) and the interior decorating style of the whole yacht.   Though I'm sure in its day it seemed quite stylish, and possibly still does seem that way to some people, I might define it as "classy old lady."  To be fair though, we learned that she didn't want over the top extravagance, but just a relaxing place with her own personal style.  

After we finished at the Britannia, we took the bus back into central Edinburgh, took a quick walk around Princes Street Gardens, and toured the National Gallery.  My favorite part of the National Gallery was how manageable it was!  It had a variety of gorgeous art in different styles, but it wasn't overwhelming - we saw the entire place in under an hour.  Well done, Scotland.

We finished our afternoon at the National Museum of Scotland with more of the Animal World gallery, and then Earth in Space, and Restless Earth (astronomy and geology and the like).  Seriously, the National Museum of Scotland is a must-see in Edinburgh!

Once the museum closed, we walked over to and up Calton Hill, which is just to the east of Princes Street and is an especially iconic part of Edinburgh's skyline because of the Greek acropolis located at the top of the hill (it was supposed to be a memorial - modeled after the Parthenon in Athens - to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars, but money ran out and building stopped, so that's all there is of it).  There were nice views over Edinburgh from Calton, but we were there on a cloudy day, so I think they could have been better - and I think they're even better from Arthur's Seat, which we visited on Sunday

D - My favorite part of Calton Hill was watching people trying to get up and down off the monument.  We saw at least one fall, and one girl spend about five minutes trying to figure out how to shimmy down the five feet to the ground while her friends formed a half moon around her to try and help (I started a raucous round of applause when she finally made it).  It was hysterical.  

Speaking of Sunday, we began by walking from our Airbnb to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, stopping along the way for a photo with Greyfriars Bobby.  Bobby was a terrier, who, in the 1800s apparently spent 14 years guarding his owner's grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard after his owner died.  He became popular around Edinburgh, and is now well-known throughout Scotland for his loyalty to his master.  There have been books and movies made about him, and the graveyard and statue have turned into quite the popular tourist attraction.  

We tried to arrive at Holyroodhouse not long after it opened so we didn't have to fight many crowds, and thankfully we also had a beautiful morning for visiting.  We took the audio guide around the outside and inside of the palace, and although its no Buckingham Palace, we thought it was pretty nice (no photos allowed inside).  My favorite part was the special exhibit, Fashioning a Reign, which showcased many outfits and accessories from throughout the Queen's 90 year life, and I found it just so beautiful and special to see.  It opened just three days before our visit, so we (okay, maybe just me, it wasn't really Danny's thing at all) were really lucky since we didn't plan our trip around it or anything.  It's moving to Buckingham Palace in July, and then onto Windsor Castle in September, and if you're visiting any of those places in that time frame, I can't recommend it enough.  The staff has done a remarkable job with it.  (P.S. I am loving following @royal_collection_trust on Instagram as they showcase many of the pieces both on display and on the Queen when she wore them.  It's a neat account especially since we got to see them all in person!)

D - I actually really loved Holyroodhouse, just not the special exhibit.  As I already sort of established above, I think the Queen and I just have different tastes...

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is adjacent to Arthur's Seat, a hill within Holyrood Park that is 822ft high.  I think we figured it would be just a bit harder than Calton Hill (which took about 5 minutes and wasn't difficult at all), so we were sort of surprised with Arthur's Seat, and definitely overdressed.  Danny was in a button down dress shirt and we were both wearing two warm jackets - definitely not hiking gear! - but the view from the top was pretty great.  I think we'd both agree that it's superior to Calton Hill as far as views of Edinburgh and the scenery on the way up go.  

D - Overdressed indeed.  I kept joking that I was going to a business meeting at the top.  

Really our only noteworthy meal in Edinburgh happened after Arthur's Seat, at a place called Let Me Eat.  They have another location that we came across earlier in our trip, and we took notice because of the reasonably priced paninis.  We were pleased to serendipitiously come across their second location when were looking for a place to eat lunch.  Anyways, good food, good prices, and even some vegetarian options.  Danny even tried haggis!

D - I'm not gonna lie.  I could go for another one of them Haggis paninis.  It was really good!  Plus, I think this place advertises that their panini sandwiches are the world's biggest, and I like to eat a lot so it was a win win win (tasty, big, and cheap).

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the National Museum of Scotland, again, this time seeing the Scottish History galleries, which are really quite extensive, and the roof terrace (good views of the city if you can't make if up one of the hills).  

We finished our time in Edinburgh like any American who desperately loves scones but whose time in the UK is coming to a close...we went back to a vegetarian cafe named Henderson's that we'd stopped into on Saturday for lunch that had vegan scones (!!!) for only £1 (serious bargain).  We both started with one, and they were so good (and £1 pound each, let me remind you!) that we both got one more.  Worth it.  And also, if I remember right, we called it dinner.

We went back to collect our bag from our Airbnb and meet up with our BlaBlaCar driver...except as we were leaving our Airbnb we got a message from our driver saying her car broke down on her way to get us.  We waited a little while to see if she would be able to get it fixed, and then decided to just walk to the train station and take the next train to Dundee.  It was a bit of a mess (and turned out to be kind of expensive for us!), but obviously it was much worse for her than us.  We made it back to the farm without too much trouble, and it hardly put a damper on what was otherwise a most excellent weekend in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh was full of all sorts of highs - for me, the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Arthur's Seat, the National Museum of Scotland, and eating scones were my top five, if I had to choose.  But really, nothing was bad.  Everything was pretty, and walkable, and there was plenty to do for the 2.5 days we had there.  If we had more time (+ money), we'd love to see the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh Castle, the National Portrait Gallery, go up the Scott Monument (it was closed for renovations when we visited), and maybe the Camera Obscura and Real Mary King's Close.  We were happy with what we did get to see and do, though, and had a really nice time exploring (what we'd consider to be) Scotland's prettiest city.  Until next time, Edinburgh!