Recently, it was called to my attention that it seems like I LOVE everywhere I’ve ever been so how can I keep saying this place or that place is my favorite? And while it is true that for the most part I have loved almost everywhere I’ve been fortunate enough to visit, there are some places that I love more than others! Scotland is on THAT list!
I absolutely cannot wait to get back and explore more!
Our visit to Scotland was part of a larger month long trip which also included, London, Paris, and Barcelona! Scotland was the one place on our itinerary I had never been to and it did not disappoint! We took the train from Kings Cross Station in London to Waverly Station in the heart of Edinburgh. It takes about 4.5 hours and it’s a beautiful ride through the country side.
On a side note Kings Cross Station is the famed train station from the Harry Potter books and if you are so inclined you can even “pretend” to push your baggage cart through the wall to Platform 9 3/4!
Tim had been to Edinburgh many times and he told me it was beautiful, but I was not prepared for just how beautiful it is! When I came out onto the street from Waverley station. I was floored and I am quite sure that my mouth literally fell open! It is absolutely spectacular! There is a look about the place that I just fell in love with! The station is located between the medieval Old Town and the 18th century New Town and right near Princes Street which is a main shopping/dining street through New Town.
From the train station we took a taxi to our hotel, The Waldorf Astoria Caledonian which is located on Princes Street. I would definitely stay here again! The people were extremely friendly and so willing to help with everything and anything we might need. The room was very spacious and we had a great view of the Edinburgh Castle.
The hotel also has a nice indoor pool which we visited one rainy afternoon. They added nice little touches for the kids which included little bath toys shaped like what I thought were little green dinosaurs. Okay, so I’ll admit that we were home for about a month before I finally put it all together and realized they were little Loch Ness Monsters! How cute is that?! We were able to walk from the hotel up the hill to the Castle and the Royal Mile as well as many other places!
Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
Old Town is medieval and is made up of narrow passages, cobblestone streets, and hidden courtyards. It is incredibly well preserved and is a treasure trove of history. You can almost feel what it might have been like hundreds of years ago. I loved Old Town!
Unlike Old Town, New Town is very ordered with everything laid out in a grid. The streets are wide and the buildings were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Everything is perfectly preserved and it’s a stark contrast to the very tight and enclosed feeling of the Old Town streets and buildings. This is where the upperclass lived and It’s here that you’ll find a lot of upscale shopping and restaurants. The streets and main squares were named for King George, his wife and his sons. Therefore you have Queen Street, Princes Street, George Street and Charlotte Square.
Edinburgh is a UNESCO Heritage Site and here is what they have to say about it:
Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress; and the neoclassical New Town, whose development from the 18th century onwards had a far-reaching influence on European urban planning. The harmonious juxtaposition of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character.
Castles and Palaces
As I’ve mentioned before in earlier posts I have a keen interest in all things history and I do love a good castle or palace! Guess what?! Scotland is an excellent place to visit if you love castles and palaces! We visited two in Edinburgh alone, Edinburgh Castle and The Palace of Holyroodhouse. yep, its all one word!
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is still in use as an official residence of the royal family and both the Queen and Prince Charles stay there performing official duties one week each year. We arrived with one day to see it before Prince Charles arrived, so it was the very first thing we did! It is located at one end of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle is that the other, hence the name! While their have been various forms of the Palace and the Abbey on this site the Palace in its present form has been there since about 1679.
Adjacent to Hollyroodhouse is the Holyrood Abbey which was founded in 1128. Here is what the official website has to say:
The Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland for the Augustinian Canons. According to medieval legend, a vision of a stag with a cross glowing between its antlers came to David while hunting in the area. Interpreting this as an act of God, the King declared that an abbey should be built on the same spot. Holy Rood, the name of the abbey and subsequently the Palace, means ‘Holy Cross’, a fragment of which had been brought to Scotland by David I’s mother, St Margaret, and kept at the Abbey until the 14th century.
There are many things to see and do at Holyroodhouse, The Queens Gallery, The State Apartments, Mary Queen of Scots Chambers, tour the Abbey (summer months only), audio tours, and walk around the gardens.
We spent quite a long time visiting here and saw almost everything. Of particular interest to me where the Chambers of Mary Queen of Scots and we really enjoyed walking around in the vast gardens. The Queen throws an annual garden party here when she’s in residence. We ate at the Cafe at the Palace which has quite good food and offers many traditional Scottish dishes. It was here that Simon first tried haggis. We didn’t tell him what is was until after he’d eaten it and liked it and surprisingly, he enjoyed it enough to order it twice more during our visit to Scotland! Do you know what haggis is? Just in case you don’t…
Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, a type of pudding composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep (or other animal), minced and mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, cayenne pepper, and other spices. The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled
Haggis is traditionally served with “neeps and tatties”, boiled and mashed separately, and a dram (a glass of Scotch whisky).
Of course Simon didn’t have the dram of Scotch whisky! Interestingly, even though Simon is one of the pickiest eaters I know he will often try exotic foods while traveling. Once we arrive back home he goes back to his finicky ways. I recently discovered a place near our home that serves haggis, but so far he’s turned down my offers to go and eat there. 😉 He now says he wishes he’d never tried it because he’ll never live it down!
As is often the case photography inside the palace was very limited, so most of my photos were taken outside and in the Abbey.
Edinburgh Castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile on Castle Rock and is probably one of Scotland’s most famous attractions. It sits high above the city and can be seen from almost anywhere. Its spectacular at night when it’s all lit up! We were there during The Moon Walk which is a Breast Cancer awareness and fundraising event. That night the Castle was lit up Pink as were other monuments around town. It was incredibly beautiful. We learned that the Castle is often lit up for special events!
Their has been a building on this site for close to 3000 years! Really! Since 900 BC! I find that simply Amazing! There is so much to see and learn about at Edinburgh Castle I don’t want to spoil it for you, but here are some of the highlights: The Great Hall, The Royal Palace, The Stone of Destiny (returned to Scotland after 700 years in Westminster Abbey), the Scottish Crown Jewels, St Margaret’s Chapel, Mons Meg, The One o’clock Gun, Half Moon Battery, National War Museum, Regimental Museums, Prisons of War, and the Scottish National War Memorial
I highly recommend visiting allowing the better part of an entire day! If you want to avoid long ticket lines I suggest you purchase your tickets online prior to your arrival.
The Royal Mile as I mentioned earlier runs from the gates of Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle and while it isn’t a building or a museum It does have a fascinating history! It’s actually made up of multiple streets Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand. The Royal Mile is the busiest area in Old Town. You’ll find yourself here quite often and it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs, see street performers and grab a bite to eat.
Along the Royal Mile you’ll find St. Giles Cathedral. We wandered inside and it has an impressive history, but we didn’t take a tour on this trip. It’s definitely worth a look and if I ever get a chance to go back I’d like to explore more.
If you’re looking for something to do with your kids in the early evening I suggest a walking tour. These ancient cities have so much history and with that comes legends, ghost stories and tall tales! If you want to learn more in a fun and even sometimes silly way a walking tour is a great way to do it! We took two in Edinburgh and both were very kid friendly.
The Cadies and Witchery Tour company was a bit more on the silly side, but offered a lot of fun and interesting history. We walked all over Old Town, but stayed above ground the entire time. There were a few “jumper outers”, some fun reenactments and the tour guide claimed to be deceased. They were dressed in the absolute worst costumes imaginable which made for a laugh rather than a scream! Simon was picked out of the group to participate and he really enjoyed it! Prices are very reasonable!
The other tour was run by a company called Mercat. They offer history walks, ghost tours and an Outlander Experience tour. We chose the ghost tour because Simon had been reading about a place called the Blair Street Underground Vaults and this is the only tour company who go there. As a side note Outlander is a series of books and recently a TV show on Starz that take place in Scotland and that are incredibly popular, I’ve read them, and if you’re a reader I highly recommend. This tour wasn’t available when I was there or I would have liked to go on it. While a bit more than the Cadies and Witchery Tour Company prices are still quite reasonable.
We visited the National Museum of Scotland twice and like many museums in the United Kingdom it’s free with donations welcome. The building itself is very impressive with incredible galleries and architecture. They have an incredibly large collection ranging from Science and Technology, Art and Design, Ancient Egypt, Natural Science, World Cultures and Scottish History and Archaeology! You can see why we needed to visit twice!
Located in the Grassmarket area which at one time, hundreds of years ago, was a market place for selling cattle and livestock, Victoria Street is about a quaint a street as they come! I read that JK Rowling based her magical shopping street Diagon Alley on this street and it makes perfect sense to me! There are many fine places to grab a bite, cute little shops and it’s simply just a nice place to go for a walk! There are so many wonderful places in this city to wander around and often the buildings are so amazing you feel like they just have to be something more special than just a place to eat or shop, but in fact that’s all they are. How cool is that!?
The People and The Food
The people in Edinburgh are incredibly friendly! I cannot think of one instance the entire time where the people weren’t kind, fun and more than happy to assist where needed! I’m inclined to compare it to Disneyland because no matter what everyone was just so nice!
We ate in a number of places worth mentioning during our visit. As I mentioned earlier Tim had been to Edinburgh a number of times prior to this trip and knew of a few worthwhile places. Oink was one of these places!
Oink is a tiny little shop where you can get freshly carved pork sandwiches. Basically they roast a pig each day and make sandwiches out of it until it’s all gone, that it! You can get three sizes, the Piglet, the Oink and the Grunter. You have your choice of a white roll or a brown roll and there are four different spreads to choose from. We went to the Victoria Street location, but they also have another shop on Canongate Street at the lower end of the Royal Mile and are at the Edinburgh Farmers Market on Saturdays. It’s a very unique place to grab a quick bite to eat with not a lot of fuss and the food is excellent!
Also located on Victoria Street The Grain Store is great little place we stumbled upon while wandering around. We ate lunch here and it’s quite a charming place. They have a prix fix lunch menu.
We have a friend in Edinburgh and we met her and her husband for dinner at her favorite place L’escargot Blanc. This is a classic French restaurant that has been around for 20 years. It’s located on Queensferry Street which if I remember correctly we walked there from our hotel. The actual restaurant is upstairs. The food, service and atmosphere were great!
The Edinburgh Zoo
Like we do in most cities we visit we went to the zoo! Not only is this a nice way to break up the days for our little one, but at this point we have been to the zoo in just about every single city we’ve ever visited and we like adding another one to the list! The zoo is located a bit outside the city and we had a really nice visit. It was a rainy day, but we didn’t mind because they had Pandas and Penguins, two of Elliot’s favorite animals! I wouldn’t say this about every zoo we’ve seen, but if the littles are growing tired of yet another historic site or museum and just need a break this is a very nice place to visit!