Sunday, October 15, 2023

My Edinburgh Top Five and another Five Honorable Mentions September 2023

Well, now we have been back from Scotland for about a week and since my last post was more about drinking culture than actual Edinburgh sights, I think I owe you all a post mentioning some things to actually go and do while in Edinburgh.  So here are my FIVE must do's while in Edinburgh with an additional five honorable mentions.

1)  Take a Highlands tour.  Now literally there are like a million of them and it's a little tricky to sort through them all.  They all seem to follow about the same structure, and all the buses you see on your stops would confirm this; an early meeting on the Royal Mile followed by a scenic drive to a loch with an optional boat cruise (for an additional fee) and a return to where you left off about 12 hours later, with a few snack stops, photo opportunities and potty breaks along the way.  I happened upon a blog post that recommended the tour with a company called the Hairy Coo, which I booked through Get Your Guide.  After initially bristling at the name of the outfit-I learned that a hairy coo is simply a highland cow.  The joy of the experience is really in the journey itself, as there is nothing to "do" along the way except view the scenery, and take photographs. I would have to say that your tour guide makes or breaks your experience.  Our guide, Martin, in the full day we were with him, told us everything there was to know about Scotland, from history to economics to politics to common culture.  He did this whilst interspersing personal stories in his thick Scottish accent, leaving us positively in stitches-seriously nearly rolling on the ground at some points.  He was also quick to advise us where to eat lunch, what snacks to grab, and where the local toilets were. As mentioned above, most of these highland tours include a 90 min boat trip on a loch (mostly Loch Ness or Loch Lomond) which is not included in the price.  The ticket was about 20 pounds and what else are you going to do with the time? Also included, a stop at the Hairy Coo himself!...or herself.

Overlooking Loch Ness

The Hairy Coo herself!!

Nothing like Highlands Fish and Chips and Cider
at the Lock Inn

2)  Hike Arthur's Seat.  This trail is described in All Trails as a 2.5 mile moderately difficult loop with a 853ft elevation gain which begins and ends in Holyrood Park.  We took this trail in the mid afternoon on a Sunday.  The Salisbury Crags, which is described as one half of the loop seemed to be gated off so we just came up one side and came down the same side, which took a little over an hour.  We hiked it after spending the morning at Edinburgh Castle and then walking down the entire Royal Mile to Holyrood Park, so though difficult, it can be completed on the reserves of your energy.  We also completed the trail in sneakers, which was doable, but did get them quite dusty.  There were a lot of people on the trail, including an 80 student freshman orientation group from the University of Edinburgh.  Arthur's Seat is by far the highest point in Edinburgh and from the pinnacle the views are breathtaking.  Your can oversee Calton Hill, the Holyroodhouse Palace, Edinburgh Castle, the Meadows--basically all of Edinburgh all the way to the Firth of Forth.  It also feels pretty good later as you down your haggis or your steak pie or your fish and chips that you got some proper exercise during the day.

Made it to the top!
There are sure a lot of people up here!!

From Arthur's Seat all the way to the
Firth of Forth

From the trail with Calton Hill and the
Palace of Holyroodhouse in the foreground

3)  Find a way to learn about Scotch, and then start drinking it.  Scotch is what Scottish people drink, and it is offered everywhere with a huge variety that can get rather overwhelming if you don't have an oar to paddle through the stream.  Much in the same way that one learns about wine, what you like and do not like, one can learn about Scotch.  We came to Scotland knowing absolutely nothing about Scotch Whisky, but got a great education at The Scotch Whisky Experience.  The SWE ( I'm just going to call it that) is located at 354 Castlehill on the Royal Mile right at the exit of Edinburgh Castle and is faulted for being extremely touristy.  Well, it is touristy, but it was super educational. From 10 to 5 daily the SWE runs tours ranging from 21 to 90 pounds.  We took the Gold Tour which allowed us to taste 5 single malts from each region and a blended Scotch.  The tour takes you through an informative film, then a single tasting and instruction in how to taste, then into a very cool collection of 3384 bottles of whisky-all different!  The tour concludes as a self paced seated tasting of your remaining single malts.  There is an extensive gift shop, no surprise there.  Anyway, that last little bit is lifted directly from my last post, which was strictly about drinking.  With our new knowledge we were able to order in pubs and restaurants with some degree of authority, and we pretty much did so daily thereafter.  While still in Scotland I ordered a set of Glencairn glasses and I picked up my first bottle at Safeway (followed by my husband picking one up at Costco).  Now we are Scotch drinkers!

Putting forth our best efforts!

4)  Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Quite frankly I liked this more than Edinburgh Castle.  The Palace of Holyroodhouse is run by the Royal Collection Trust and is the official residence of the King (actually he owns it) while he is in Scotland.  Having visited both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, also run by the RCT, it is evident that the company has a tried and true method for presenting these royal homes, from their included audio guides which keep visitors moving along to a steady pace to their classy gift shops.  Anyway, Holyrood Palace was finished in the late 1600's and is built on the same site as the ruins of Holyrood Abbey which was founded by King David in the 1200's. The place has seen a whole lot of Scottish history, including the murder of Margaret Tudor's private secretary by her looney husband, Lord Darnley.  Anyway, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is open every day except Tuesday and is located at the end of the Royal Mile next to Holyrood Park.  Why did I like it better than Edinburgh Castle, I don't know.  It's brighter, newer, less crowded, takes less time to see, and is in use by the current royal family who offer commentary on the audio tour. 

5)  The Royal Yacht Britannia.  Now this was just great!  The HMY Britannia was the Royal Yacht from 1952 until its decommission in 1997. During its exalted career, Britannia travelled nearly one million miles and visited 600 ports in 135 countries (thank you Wikipedia).  Though many cities competed for the chance to claim the Britannia follwoing her retirement, Edinburgh prevailed as the host city and the yacht was moored at Ocean Terminal in Leith--a 15 minute 2 pound tram ride from Picardy Square on the Newhaven line (there is actually only one tram line to my knowledge).  The yacht itself is delightful. The tour includes an audio tour, which again, keeps the line moving.  Yes, you can see the bridge and the engine room, but far more charming are the original quarters of the Royal Family-understated and humble yet cozy and personal, with family photos displayed on the walls and on desks.  The dining room seats 56 and is adjacent to a large living room complete with a fireplace which apparently was once home to a grand piano.  I just like Queen Elizabeth II and her history.  She was such a classy lady.  I loved seeing all the pictures of her on the yacht throughout its lifetime.

Okay now for some Honorable Mentions:

1)  Edinburgh Castle Well, it IS the focal point of Edinburgh and the oldest structure, so you best go.  There is a lot of historical info, a lot of info about the Scottish military, and of course the crown jewels of Scotland, which are alone worth queueing up for. 

Scotland's Crown Jewels are in the building on the right.
The last person to wear them was Charles II in the 1600's

2)  Stirling Castle.  More impressive IMO than Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle requires a 50 minute train ride from Edinburgh Waverly to Stirling.  Also a lot of historical info and great views.  The town is rather lame though so when you are done with the castle there is not much to do.

3)  Calton Hill.  Don't feel like the making the trek to Arthur's Seat?  Calton Hill is a short trek off of New Town at the top of Waterloo Place.  It takes pretty much zero fitness level to get up here and it affords pretty nice views of Princes Street and the city in general.  There are several monuments up here, including the National Monument of Scotland, a small copy of the Acropolis built to honor Scots who perished in the Napoleonic wars, whose development was abandoned due to lack of funds in 1829.  Calton Burial Grounds is also right there and worth a look. The beauty here really is in the exercise and the views.

Great views from Calton Hill!

4)  Tea at the Dome.   Ooooo did I really put this in honorable mention??  The Georgian Tea Room at the Dome is all class at its pinnacle.  I am not much of a tea person, but the detail and delicacy of the treats served on the three tiered tower is not unnoticed!  Located at 14 George St.  29.50 pounds per person.  Reservations a must.  Full bar, and we took advantage.  This experience cost more than many of the dinners we ate.

That's what I'm talking about!!

5)  Witchery at the Castle.  Restaurant located just outside Edinburgh Castle.  It's semi fancy and super romantic.  Service exquisite.  Wine list worth just ogling over.  When reserving you can choose from the opulent dark wood original dining room or the slightly more airy Secret Garden room.  Both are lovely. Try the Lamb Wellington for two.  Reservations required.

Our table in the Secret Garden..

Well, that's my take on things!  Thank you for reading my post!  I am going to San Diego soon and I hope to find out some new experiences to share!

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