We've been so focused on travelling around Europe, so we decided it was time to further explore the UK. We were looking for a trip we could do in a weekend without taking an time off work, so Edinburgh seemed like the perfect choice. With an old castle perched at its center, Edinburgh is a beautiful city full of history and charm.
Friday 15 April
Edinburgh is accessible from London by train, but we opted to fly because it was significantly cheaper. Our flight arrived late, and we took a quick 30-minute bus ride from the airport to the city center. It was a steep, step-filled 15-minute walk to the hotel, which was challenging after over-indulging in the free drinks at the airport lounge.
36 Simpson Loan, Quatermile, Edinburgh EH3 9GG
Our hotel was very conveniently located near all of the city’s main attractions. Our suite was modern, clean and quite large, and the free breakfast was sufficient.
Saturday 16 April
Daily at 10:00, 11:00 & 14:00, tour lasts 2.5 hours*
Meets in front of Starbucks Coffee on High Street by Tron Kirk
Per usual, we started our visit with the Sandemans free walking tour. Our guide, Sabella, was fabulous – she was a great storyteller and the tour had a cohesive arc to it. The tour focused mainly on Scottish history and gave us a good overview of the city. While it started on the Royal Mile, the tour didn’t cover the entire route, so you can still plan to include that as part of your itinerary.
The Grassmarket and Victoria Street
After the tour we strolled along Victoria Street and popped into some of the cute shops. We then walked over to the Grassmarket, which has a small food market and is surrounded by shops, restaurants and wonderful views of the castle above. On a warm day, this would be the perfect place to grab a bite and sit outside to eat, but it was way too cold for that.
18 to Lothian, 20 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JU
We tried going to Howie's for lunch, but the wait was a few hours long, so we went back down to the Grassmarket to pick one of the many pubs. We ended up at the Beehive Inn, which serves standard pub fare. We shared the pub sampler platter, which was the perfect size to save room for dessert.
Tuesday-Saturday 11-7pm, Sunday 12-7pm
19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS
Please note that the Milk Bar is cash only and is open until they run out of ice cream!
Mary’s Milk Bar was recommended to us, and we never miss an opportunity to sample local home-made ice cream. Mary makes the ice cream fresh every morning, and she recommended some of her favorite flavors for us to try, including fig and pistachio. We got there around 2pm, and they were already starting to run out of certain flavors. We took our ice cream to go, since the tiny shop was packed with a line out the door, and we had our first experience eating ice cream in a hail storm (we had the strangest weather!).
Fully fuelled, we hiked back up the steps to the Edinburgh Castle to properly walk the Royal Mile. There are a variety of attractions along the way, so plan ahead to decide which ones are most important to you and consider making reservations in advance. We tried to do The Real Mary King’s Close, which takes you down to underground streets and spaces to learn about life in Edinburgh in the 1600’s, but the wait was too long for the time we had allotted for it. We popped in and out of the tourist shops along the way, including the Whiskey Experience gift shop where we bought some whiskey-filled chocolates. We also browsed the craft and antique stalls at Tron Kirk,an old church-turned-market.
Monday- Saturday 10am-5pm, last entry at 4pm
Edinburgh EH99 1SP
The Scottish Parliament Building is at the bottom of the Royal Mile and is open for visitors and free of charge. They offer a free tour, but we opted to just explore ourselves. If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth stopping in and seeing this unique, modern space and learning about Scottish Parliament.
79 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 4NF
After relaxing at the hotel, we ventured back out to the new part of the city. Our first stop was Panda and Sons, a cool cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe. From the street it looks like a barber shop, and you enter the bar through a book case. They had an impressive selection of cocktails, and we were lucky to get a table pretty quickly. It was crowded, so reservations are recommended.
We didn’t realize how small of a city Edinburgh is, and restaurant reservations are necessary. We’d heard great reviews about El Cartel, but there was a wait until 10pm. We were craving Mexican, so we tried another spot that was completely full for the night. We're a little embarrassed that we settled on what turned out to be a Tex-Mex chain that we would not recommend.
25 Forrest Rd, Edinburgh EH1 2QH
Sandy Bells was recommended as a great place to hear live Scottish folk music. When we arrived, there was some live music but they weren’t mic-ed, so it was hard to hear and since we were exhausted from the day, we didn't stay long.
Sunday 17 April
Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Edinburgh Castle sits at the top of a craggy rock in the city center and is visible from almost anywhere you go. We got there right when it opened, but by the time we were leaving two hours later it was considerably more crowded (and there was a much longer line at ticket window). We also bought our tickets online that morning, which would have saved time had there been a line. We did the free 30 minute guided tour, which was a nice overview, and then chose which buildings we wanted to go into. The highlight here was the spectacular views of the city below and the prisons that were used during the 1700's. The State Rooms and Crown Jewels weren't as impressive as others that we've seen, but it was still worth a visit.
Forsyth’s Tea Room
81 High St, Old Town, Edinburgh EH1 1SR
We stopped here to rest and refuel with tea and a scone. Forsyth's is an adorable little spot inside a close off the Royal Mile. The owner was incredibly friendly and chatty, and her mismatched tea cups and table cloths gave the place real charm. The scone was top-notch and her other baked goods looked delicious as well.
1 The Shore, Edinburgh, EH6 6QW
A twenty-minute bus ride took us through residential areas that looked drastically different from the city center. We ate lunch at Fishers, a classy and delicious seafood restaurant by the port in Leith. We snagged the last two seats at the bar, but otherwise would have been out of luck, so definitely make a booking. The fish was fresh and the service and ambiance were perfect. They have another location in the center if that's more convenient.
Ocean Dr, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ
This was one of the most unusual and interesting royal tours we have ever done. The Royal Yacht was in use for over 40 years and the tour provides a glimpse into how the Royals travelled in style. We liked seeing a different side of Royal life and learning about Her Majesty's State visits and family vacations. This would be an amazing activity on a warm day but it was totally fine to do in the cold. The audio tour takes about an hour and a half and there's a free fudge tasting part way through.
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- The Royal Mile (Becca), The Royal Yacht Britannia (Josh)
Thorn- having a tummy ache from eating too much (Becca), disappointing Mexican dinner (Josh)
Bud- Warmer weather (Becca), Istanbul! (Josh)
If you go...things to know
When to go? Edinburgh is colder than London, so if you can avoid winter, the weather will be better. That said, we experienced sun, rain and hail all in the same April day! August is festival season in Edinburgh, so the city is packed with visitors and additional things to do, so keep that in mind when booking.
What to pack? Bring lots of layers and rain gear even if the forecast doesn't call for rain. It felt much colder than the temperature read, and we weren’t properly prepared. Good walking shoes are also a must – Edinburgh is filled with hills and cobble-stoned streets, but it is still relatively small and walkable.
What else is there to do? We skipped Arthur's Seat, the small mountain in the city that everyone said was a "must do." It was rainy and cold the day we set aside for it, so the thought of the vertical climb didn't appeal. There are a ton of additional attractions along the Royal Mile, such as the Palace of Holyroodhouse where the Queen stays when she's in town. For Harry Potter fans, there are walking tours that take you by the places where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the books and the local sites that inspired her.
Getting around. Edinburgh is relatively small, so we were able to walk most places. We did end up getting all-day bus passes for £4 for each day we were there because we got tired from all the hills and steps. On our way back to the airport on Sunday, we were able to use our regular bus pass and take the city bus instead of paying extra for the special airport bus.
Small town necessities. Again, since Edinburgh is quite small, we found many restaurants were booked up and couldn't accommodate walk ins. Book in advance to avoid disappointment!
*Opening times and meeting points are subject to change -- double check before you go!
Have you visited Edinburgh? What was your favorite part of the Royal Mile? We'd love to hear from you in the space below!