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We’ve been to Scotland a few times and it definitely is worth a visit. Last year, one of us went on a whisky tour around Scotland and had a great time. Asonta, who last wrote about London and Phoenix, shares her tips for Edinburgh.
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Known as the capital of Scotland since the 1400’s and called ‘Auld Reekie’ by the locals due to the heavy amount of smoke in the industrial age, Edinburgh is an amazing place. Smaller than London but no less exciting, Edinburgh is a beautiful cosmopolitan city enriched with reminders of its history and heritage with the warmth of a small town. As a proud person of Italian-Scottish ancestry, it had been on my list for a long time and it did not disappoint.
No visa is required for US visitors. Edinburgh has a decent international airport to service long-haul flights – you can find Flight Deals there from the States throughout the year. We flew in from Southampton, England, on regional carrier Flybe for about £120 and it only took 90 minutes – you could also take the train up from London if you have some time to kill and enjoy the countryside but it will be more expensive.
This is a city of hills so be prepared and bring good shoes. The roads can be quite steep but the city is very pedestrian friendly. Taxis are prolific – from the airport to the heart of Edinburgh will cost you around £25-£30 but be warned that the taxi queue can get quite long so build in extra time when you land.
There’s also a tram that has a stop right at the airport and will go to Princes Street, in the middle of the main tourist attractions and hotels. It’ll take about a half-hour and cost £5.50 per person from the airport but only £1.60 for all stops in the City Zone (except the airport), making it a great cost-efficient way to get around.
Edinburgh also has a great bus system that crosses the entire city with frequent stops and is a great option for transport. An all day pass is £4.00 and there’s an app you can download for tickets so you’re not digging around for change.
Scotland uses the pound sterling but they have notes that are issued by the Bank of Scotland, which look slightly different to their English counterparts. Either can be used. Use ATMs to pull out cash, most of which you can easily find in the city, but credit cards are widely taken.
Where to Stay
If you want to be in the heart of the action, there are numerous hotels all around Princes Street and near the Royal Mile. We stayed outside of the city center at a boutique hotel called The Raeburn in the Stockbridge area, which is surrounded by fantastic restaurants and is only a short drive or bus ride to all the action. I would recommend the area for anyone who wants to stay somewhat away from the tourist hustle and bustle.
Where to Eat
When you think of Scottish culinary options, you think of haggis or maybe Scottish salmon or Angus beef. While all three are prolific, Edinburgh has grown in its culinary options and there is a wonderful mix of ethnic restaurants alongside iconic local dishes. Be prepared – Edinburgh is a pricey city and eating out can set you back a bit; make sure to check the high-end restaurants online as many of them do set pre-theatre menus that aren’t quite as expensive.
I would recommend Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge for a lovely take on classic Scottish meals. For a quick, cheap but still tasty seafood lunch, swing by the Mussel Inn between George Street and the Scott Monument – £7.95 gets you a bowl of mussels in sauce with salad or fries. If you can’t get into The Witchery for dinner (which is more about the experience and bragging rights than the menu, I think), try the Contini Cannonball at the top of Old Town nearby; have a drink from their whisky selection in the bar before going through.
Oh – and have the haggis. It’s quite tasty.
What to Do
There’s enough in the city to keep anyone occupied for a few days – from museums to quirky places like the Camera Obscura to houses and palaces hundreds of years old, there’s something to do. For a steep but satisfying walk with beautiful views, begin at the Scott Monument across the road from Jenners, the oldest Edinburgh department store. Start walking up The Mound, which is the hill that connects New Town to Old Town, and you’ll pass the National Gallery of Scotland museum, which houses a great art collection and is one of the five national art galleries in town. Keep going up and you’ll pass some of the buildings for the University of Edinburgh before coming out at the top of Old Town, right by Edinburgh Castle. The castle has been there since the 12th century and houses the Scottish Crown Jewels, along with the oldest building in all Edinburgh. It’s £17 per adult; if you’re going to be taking in some additional history while in town, it’s worth looking at the 5 day Explorers Pass that is offered. For £24, you get access to 40 places, including Edinburgh Castle.
From the castle, walk (mercifully) downhill on the Royal Mile, which runs all the way to Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland’s official royal residence. You can tour it for £12.50 per adult. The Royal Mile mostly consists of shops, mainly tourist ones, with pubs and restaurants. However, keep at eye for markers and small reminders of Edinburgh’s past, like the plaque by the Tartan Weaving Mill commemorating the hundreds of women who died after being accused of witchcraft.
If you’ve brought children with you and the idea of visiting museums and castles makes them squirm, try taking a day at Edinburgh Zoo, which is also £17 per adult. The zoo is tucked up on a hill and you can spend a really lovely day slowly making your way up; they house the only pandas in the UK and have daily penguin walks. Keep in mind that most of the zoo is uncovered, something to note if the weather isn’t good. We went on a Sunday and the majority of the food and drink kiosks were closed, so come prepared with water.
You can visit the Tartan Weaving Mill at the top of Old Town to experience kilt-weavers at work (for free) but if you want to buy the real deal, head down to the Royal Mile to Geoffrey (Tailor) to be fitted for your own. Geoffrey (Tailor) also does regular fittings in London.
Edinburgh is famous for its annual festivals – for those inclined to the arts, August combines the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals (which are all about theatre and music) with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. If you are trying to avoid crowds, I would highly recommend coming at a different time of year. If you want a good party, come for Hogmanay (New Year), when the city celebrates for four days with parades, traditional ceilidh dancing, and fireworks. If you’re visiting for Hogmanay and are invited to someone’s house, don’t forget about the tradition of First-Footing – bring along a bottle of whisky if you’re the first to cross their threshold in the new year.
About the Author:
Asonta Benetti is based in Phoenix, Arizona. When not at her day job or working on scriptwriting, she and her husband are avid travelers, most often exploring his native UK. Having just knocked Iceland off the list, they’re looking for their next adventure. She’s written articles for Highroads magazine on San Diego, the Oregon Coast, Missouri, and Belgium. You can follow her on Twitter/@AsontaMarie or Instagram/@asontabenetti.
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