Great Scott! My short weekend in Edinburgh was definitely one to remember. Within 5 minutes of my arrival in the city center, I kid you not, there was a red-headed man in a kilt walking the streets as if he owned them. The Outlander fan in me was already on Cloud 9. I spent most of my first day getting acquainted to the New Town (and pampering myself along the way). With a fresh manicure from Jenner’s (a renowned department store with a regality level of Macy’s circa 1954) and some “treat yoself” goodies from Oliver Bonas and Anthropologie, it was time for lunch.
The locals recommend Mexican, and boy am I glad I listened to their advice. El Cartel is a kitschy restaurant tucked into a less populated section of Rose Street, and their pork belly tacos gave me a renewed sense of purpose. And guys, if we’re being honest, you should go here just to look at the Mexican tiles that stand proudly across the walls in blue hues and patterns diverse enough to fill a book.
After checking into my charming Stockbridge AirBNB, just a short walk away from the lively bits of the city, I decided to explore the ever-so-famous Water of Leith. Described as a “silver thread in a ribbon of green”, this bubbling stream flows right through the heart of Edinburgh with divine purpose. Moseying along the neighboring walkway towards Dean Village, it’s impossible to breathe in anything but peace and tranquility. The pathway leads right into the village of a former grain milling site, and you’re immediately transported to another place in time.
The next morning, I was up bright and early for breakfast at MUM’s Great Comfort Food, whose fluffy pancakes were divided by maple-syrup drenched bacon strips. Please, sir can I have some more? I was delighted to find that most of my bucket list items were located in the same general vicinity. As I headed back from Mum’s, I passed Greyfriar’s Bobby – a pub named after the story of a loyal Scottish pup who never left his owner’s side, even years after his owner was laid to rest. A statue of this petite canine sits proudly outside the pub, and crowds wait anxiously for their turn to give his nose a boop for good luck. Definitely get there early if this is on your list!
Next, I passed The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote the first 2 books of Harry Potter. For everyone who has grown up with these stories, the Elephant House is not to be missed! Fans from all over the world visit the bathrooms to pay homage to these witches and wizards, writing quotes, thank yous and artful signatures. Seriously, it took me quite a while to find an empty space to write my own! (Pro tip: look for the “LeviOHsa… not LevioSAH” in pink)
Next stop was Grassmarket – famous for its eclectic collection of shops, cafes and Saturday tent brigade. Wander into all the little bookshops and pick a classic you haven’t read yet. So many old editions with pages that smell of years past! Walter Slater is more of an upscale clothier, but their vast collection of tweed goods will make your heart sing. Make sure to save some time for a cone at Mary’s Milk Bar if you can! I had the Salted Caramel while listening to a few local guitarists giving Ed Sheeran a run for his money, and it was a moment I’ll never forget.
Right at the center of Grassmarket are steps that lead up to Edinburgh Castle – home to Queen Mary and King James I. Brace yourself for wind at this fortress – those powerful gusts are no joke! It’s totally worth it for a look at all the 12th century buildings though. St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest of them all, and not too far from it live the Honours (Crown Jewels) of Scotland and the famous Stone of Destiny. As I stood atop Castle Rock, looking out across the city, the sound of bagpipes began to dominate the scene. Little did we know, he was playing for a wedding processional to St. Margaret’s Chapel!
Completely windswept, I made my descent with one thing in mind… COFFEE. A friend from Edinburgh had recommended Lovecrumbs as a quaint hole-in-the-wall cafe to grab a bite, and I’m so glad I did. With a warm grilled cheese in one hand and a smooth cappuccino in the other, I took some much needed R&R with the crisp pages of an ancient looking edition of Prince Otto.
Next on my list was the Scottish National Gallery, situated conveniently on The Mound. Free to visitors, this museum houses everything from Raphael to Titian to Rembrandt. There are over 65,000 pieces to see, and you could get lost for hours marveling at these artists’ livelihoods. Luckily for me, there was a Caravaggio exhibit in place during my visit so I was able to see some of the original paintings that created inspiration for famous artists to come. I then made my way towards The Dome for a couple peach bellinis. Merely being in this establishment makes you feel fancy with a capital F, and it didn’t take long before I booked a return for Afternoon Tea the following day.
This tower of scones, pastries, and cloud-like sandwiches would prove to be a real treat after the excursion I planned for myself the last day in Edinburgh. Yes, I’m referring to Arthur’s Seat! (Apparently I have a habit of embarking on the most challenging hikes during vacation). The highest point in the city of Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is an 835ft. peak within Holyrood Park. Though you have several different route options to take, I wanted to play it safe and take the fastest one. I followed the rocks chalked with a blue dash, regretfully, with Starbucks in hand. 1000% a mistake.
Apparently, I chose the steepest climb, following a zig zag path all the way up. Though it left me quite breathless along the way, the views were impeccable. And it only took me about 45 minutes! The summit right before Arthur’s Seat looked as if it was breathing, with grass rippling in symphonic waves across the plain. As pretty as it was, my fear didn’t lie in the heights so much as it did the wind. If you’re not careful, you could be carried a direction you don’t want to go – hence the desperate grip to Arthur’s Seat you’ll notice in my picture. And just as with the rock climbing excursion in France, there were dogs fearlessly conquering this hike as well. We don’t deserve them.
Side note: The red route seems to be the easiest hike to take, with a not-so-demanding incline to the top. Since this path follows the wide perimeter around Holyrood Park itself, it will take about 2 hours each direction. Be sure to plan accordingly!
All in all, Edinburgh is a city I could fall in love with more and more everyday. Not only are the locals sincere, history just abounds around every corner. I avoided haggis at all costs this time around, but perhaps I’ll muster more bravery on the Highlands tour to come! Realistically, you could see most of the city in 1-1.5 days, so give yourself some time to traverse the countryside like Merida and discover the secrets of the lochs on your next visit to the magical land of Scotland.