Edinburgh–A Friendly and Historic Bucket List City

woman standing on Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh, Scotland

Visiting Scotland and especially Edinburgh has always been a dream of mine. I have been to England and Ireland, but never made it to Scotland. Since it was my turn to choose on the bucket list, I decided Scotland would be next, figuring those beautiful mountains needed hiking and it was better to hike sooner rather than later! Our entire Scotland itinerary can be seen here.

Our first stop in Scotland was the incredibly beautiful, friendly city of Edinburgh. For non-UK people, remember it is “Ed-in-bur-ah” not “Edin-burg.” (you will sound like someone in the know if you keep that straight lol).

In this post:

The Balmoral Hotel–an Edinburgh Gem

view of the back of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh
View from the bridge of the back of the Balmoral Hotel with its famous clock tower.

Our flight arrived around 11 am, and we took a taxi to our hotel. We were booked at the Balmoral Hotel, a gorgeous hotel next to the train station. They gave us an incredible free upgrade when we checked in. Our basic room was now a beautiful, large suite. I always try to book directly with hotels, as in my experience, they are more likely to upgrade you than if you book with a third party site. We got super lucky on this one!

We had a very comfortable sitting room, a huge closet, beautiful bedroom, and gorgeous marble spa bathroom. Since Sir Sean Connery had helped them re-open the hotel, every room at the Balmoral has a photo from one of his James Bond movies. That was a very cool touch. Who doesn’t love James Bond? We also had incredible views of Edinburgh from our windows. 

sitting room of suite at balmoral hotel
The sitting room of our upgraded suite at the Balmoral.
bedroom in suite of Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh
The bedroom–with beautiful windows overlooking the old town.
Marble spa bathroom in suite of Balmoral Hotel
Beautiful spa bathroom.
James Bond photo in every room of Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh
Our James Bond Photo!
view from windows of suite at Balmoral Hotel of Arthur's Seat
View of Arthur’s Seat from our hotel. Just a quick walk over that bridge and you are are almost to the Royal Mile.

Since our room wasn’t ready yet, they helped us stash our bags and we were able to change our clothes and freshen up a bit, which was nice. The staff at the Balmoral is just incredible. They are very friendly, kind and helpful. 

view of Palm Court room in Balmoral Hotel
Palm Court, where they serve a very fancy Afternoon Tea in the Balmoral Hotel.

Scott Monument and Calton Hill–fabulous views of Edinburgh

We walked about a block to pose in front of the Scott Monument, then had another quick walk to Calton Hill. It was an easy climb up steps to view the various monuments and get amazing views of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Arthur’s Seat, the Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh Castle, and the city. It was a great way to get a grasp on the layout of the city and the view made us very excited to explore more.

view of edinburgh from calton hill
Beautiful view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.
monuments at the top of Calton Hill
Monuments at the top of Calton Hill

The Real Mary King’s Close–see what’s under Edinburgh!

We then walked up to the Royal Mile, as we had entry tickets in advance for The Real Mary King’s Close. This is a historic site that takes you below the city to see old streets and buildings that still exist below the city. These are very old and from plague times. It was ok, our guide was a bit theatrical, or maybe we were just too tired, but if you don’t have time for this site, don’t sweat it.

woman in front of sign at Real Mary King's Close in Edinburgh
Make sure you purchase tickets in advance, as the tours are small groups and seem to fill up fast.

We had another drink in a cute pub, then went back to the hotel to get in to our room, take a shower, and rest a little. We had a very early dinner at the hotel, then slept!

Edinburgh Castle

woman in front of Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

The first morning we arrived at the Castle around 9 am. I had reserved online in advance Scottish Heritage Passes to tour Edinburgh Castle. We didn’t have to wait in the long line, but went in to the Information Office where we quickly got our passes. The Scottish Heritage pass allows for entry in to various castles and historic sites around Scotland for a week. We were going to several of the sites that it covered, so it was economical for us to get these passes instead of paying at each site. 

view of battlements at Edinburgh Castle
The battlements at the castle

I suggest you arrive at the castle early before the crowds get too crazy. It got very crowded when we were there in June.

We loved exploring the castle. There is so much history there, and it gives you a glimpse of the incredible history of the entire country of Scotland.

woman standing in front of Edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle. They had several museums and chapels within the castle walls.

The castle also had amazing views over the city. We enjoyed exploring the museums and all of the various parts of the castle.

Michael Neaves Kitchen

Micheal Neaves Kitchen Restaurant building
Michael Neaves Kitchen Restaurant–a very cool building down a small “close,” or alley/side street. We ate a delicious lunch there.

We next made our way towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse. On the way, we stopped in to Michael Neaves Kitchen, an excellent restaurant, for lunch.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

front view of Palace of Holyroodhouse
Entrance and courtyard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and in fact, she came the week after we were there. It is a very historic place, very beautiful, and the site of a brutal murder. The Palace has been the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots as well as Bonnie Prince Charlie. They give you headsets so that you don’t have to take a guided tour. I really loved the ruined chapel, it was so romantic.

front view of Palace of Holyroodhouse with Arthur's seat in background
The Palace of Holyroodhouse with a view of Arthur’s Seat.

 

view of interior courtyard at the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The interior courtyard at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

 

view of chapel from the side and behind palace of holyroodhouse
View of the chapel from behind the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Arthur’s Seat–Climb to the top of an ancient volcano overlooking Edinburgh

path leading up to Arthur's Seat
The path up to Arthur’s Seat. A bit rocky, but a very fun, easy hike.

From the Palace, you have an easy walk to the pathway to Arthur’s Seat. We stopped on the way up at the ruined chapel.

woman on path to Arthur's Seat
This is the path up to Arthur’s Seat, an easy climb. Just wear good shoes for walking! On the top right you can see the ruins of an old chapel.
view from the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh
The view of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

The climb up is not too bad, and I recommend good walking shoes at least. It does get rocky in some spots, and if it is wet it could be a bit slippery. It took us about 45 minutes to climb up to the very top for amazing views of the city and surrounding area. This hike is a must-do in Edinburgh, we really enjoyed it. But then we also like easy hikes!

 

woman sitting on rock in front of Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh
Me with Salisbury Crags behind me…after we climbed Arthur’s Seat. It was such a fun day.

Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral

One afternoon we had some extra time and decided to do Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral Hotel’s Palm Court. The tea was unlimited, and the food was truly delicious and diverse. It was a fun experience and a very special treat.

woman sitting at Afternoon Tea at Balmoral in Palm Court
A harpist plays during Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral Hotel’s Palm Court.
woman at afternoon tea at Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh
Sandwiches and fruit tarts, oh my!
desserts at afternoon tea at the Balmoral hotel
I couldn’t wait for the picture and ate one first! These were the yummy treats to finish our experience at Afternoon Tea.

Contini George Restaurant

We headed back to the hotel to change for dinner, and took an uber to Contini George Street, a very good Italian restaurant in an old bank building. It was very romantic and the food was excellent.

menu of Contini George restaurant in Edinburgh
Menu at Contini George. It was a great experience. The food in Edinburgh was really good, even for me, a very picky eater.

Elephant House–for Harry Potter Fans

The next day was very rainy. We put on our raincoats and walked towards the National Museum of Scotland, and found breakfast along the way at The Elephant House, which for Harry Potter fans is a great hidden gem…supposedly J.K. Rowling sat here often, nursing the one cup of coffee she could afford, writing at one of their tables. There is an incredible view of the castle from their windows. The bathrooms have Harry Potter graffiti all over the walls, which is kind of neat. We had a delicious Scottish breakfast there. 

view from windows of the elephant house of edinburgh castle
Our view of the castle while enjoying a delicious breakfast at The Elephant House.
scottish breakfast with haggis balls, eggs and bacon
A true Scottish breakfast at The Elephant House–note the Haggis balls. My husband loved them.

Greyfriars Bobby and Greyfriars Kirkyard

On the way to the museum, we came across the Greyfriars Bobby statue and Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery). These weren’t on my itinerary, but we had time and I had wanted to see this statue of the sweet little famous dog. I remember watching the Disney movie when I was very young, so was excited to see it. We walked up to the cemetery to see his grave and the grave of his beloved master, then wandered around the cemetery. We saw a sign that said J.K. Rowling got the names of several of her characters from the gravestones here, so we had fun wandering around trying to find them. After a google search (!) we found Tom Riddle!

woman touching statue of Greyfriar's Bobby in Edinburgh
Me and the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. I loved the movie when I was a child, and I was so excited when we stumbled upon this. Note his discolored nose. I guess there is a legend that says rubbing his nose is good luck. But it damages the statue–so don’t do it!
gravestone of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh
The sweet gravestone for Greyfriars Bobby, a very devoted doggie. I loved how people had left sticks on there. So sweet.
woman pointing to Thomas Riddle name on gravestone in Greyfriar's kirkyard in Edinburgh
We found J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Tom Riddle at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.

National Museum of Scotland

Next up was the National Museum of Scotland. You could really spend an entire day there. Entry is free, and it has a great overview of Scottish History. It was a very well-done museum and I highly recommend it. It was a great place to explore on a rainy day.

Royal Mile & Victoria Street–must sees in Edinburgh

man in tartan crossing the royal mile in edinburgh
The shopping street known as the Royal Mile.

We explored shops along the Royal Mile and I succumbed to a plaid purse with matching gloves. And of course several scarves, which were on sale everywhere and in beautiful tartans. Dinner was at Howies Victoria Street. It was good, very small, and reservations are suggested as it got very crowded.

view of The Royal Mile in Edinburgh
The Royal Mile, an incredibly diverse shopping street in downtown Edinburgh. Such beautiful architecture there, too!
Ragamuffin shop with textiles in window on Royal Mile
Cool shop along the Royal Mile. If you like cashmere and wool scarves, this town will give you much joy!

Make sure you at least walk down Victoria Street, because it has beautiful architecture, colorful buildings, and many small, interesting shops. And for Harry Potter fans, it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

view of Victoria Street in Edinburgh
Victoria Street, the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books.

Recommendation

The next day we left Edinburgh for our adventures in the countryside. We had a fabulous few days in this beautiful city. I really loved the friendly, historic atmosphere, the beautiful buildings, and the ease of getting around. Just make sure you spend at least 2 days there, 3 if you can. We didn’t see everything, but researching in advance for your interests is key. I would love to go back, but for now I have incredible memories of a wonderful stay.

Have you been to Edinburgh? What are your must-sees and what was your impression? Please comment below!

 

 

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