Edinburgh – We love thee, let us count the ways!
What to do for our fifth wedding anniversary? Behold, a home exchange offer in Edinburgh, Scotland appears in our inbox. You should have seen Sheila wagging her tail. Five years ago, we went to Scotland for our honeymoon (also a home exchange, our first) and LOVED IT! No discussion required – let’s GO!
We already knew we love Scotland, especially her stunning coastline, glorious green munros, powerful history and gracious people. We’re not generally city folk, but we knew that Edinburgh is near interesting places to explore so we figured it would be a great base. We had no idea how much we would fall in love with the city itself. Edinburgh ranks high in several lists of “Top 10 Cities” and now we know why. Friends visited us from southern England and Austria and they all loved it, too.
Sweet 16 reasons we loved being in LOVE in Edinburgh
1. Walkable City Sites – Edinburgh is very walkable – and perfect for hand-holding. It’s clean, friendly, and well-maintained with lots of interesting architecture, history, parks, shopping and pubs. Grassmarket Street and Princes Park are excellent examples. After 5 1/2 weeks in Thailand having to be careful of ANY public affection, holding hands while exploring was a treat!
2. Calton Hill – A great place for a short hike to see a few monuments (in strangely diverse styles) to Robert Burns, John Playfair and others, plus snap some panoramic photos of the city skyline.
3. Edinburgh Castle – A huge castle dominating the city skyline that can be seen for miles. Loads of interesting history here. This statue is the Royal Scots Grays Memorial.
4. Royal Botanical Gardens – Very large, diverse, and well done with a nice gift shop and friendly staff.
5. Arthur’s Seat – An ancient collapsed volcano at the edge of the city with fun hikes, long and short, easy and strenuous, all with views of the city and countryside. Added bonus – wildlife (including lots of snails).
6. Edinburgh Pubs – This may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or ale), but we enjoyed sampling the variety of pubs, for their buzz, atmosphere, friendliness, history, and architecture – and, oh yeah – the beer and the whisky sampling. Great for cozy conversations and good food. We enjoyed Beehive Inn, Rose & Crown, Maggie Dickson’s and The Standing Order. See more at #8.
7. Edinburgh Tattoo – Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival, and Royal Military Tattoo – Edinburgh is famous for its festivals – especially the big one that lasts most of August. Unfortunately, our stay ended when it was just starting. But we did manage to score tickets to the rehearsal /media night of the Tattoo (at half price!). What’s a tattoo? Nope, not body art. This one’s a lavish production in a 5,000 seat stadium adjacent to the castle featuring many international military bands, precision drill teams, cultural dance, awesome lights and sound. Kilts and bagpipes would have been plenty enough for Sheila, but this had those, plus far more, including bands and dancers from our US. Hard to describe, but a bucket list experience.
Hear and see a few moments of the Edinburgh Tattoo. 2015’s theme: East Meets West.
8. Neighborhood strolls – Edinburgh has many fascinating neighborhoods, each featuring shopping, restaurants, parks, and of course, pubs. We were fortunate that our home exchange was in the heart of the Stockbridge neighborhood with lots to see and do and eat and drink within a 5 minute walk. The Royal Botanical Gardens were just a 10 minute walk, the castle and Royal Mile shopping was just 15 minutes. And the historic Waters of Leith was along our property.
We enjoyed: Raeburn Pub (where we had a fun visit with “friends of a friend” we’d never met before!), Bell’s Diner, Ping On, Hector’s and Veritas. Here are a few favorites Sheila enjoyed while Tom played golf: The Remedy Rooms (Vicky is wonderful!), Stockbridge Kitchen, I.J. Mellis Cheesemonger (Liz is great), and anywhere that sold little bags of locally made tablet (butter fudge)!
Daytrips from Edinburgh – There is so much cool stuff to see within a short drive from Edinburgh. Make sure you have a good GPS.
9. Royal Yacht Britannia – Pretend you are royalty as you wander the decks of the massive yacht where the queen and family vacationed and entertained diplomats and presidents for over 40 years. She’s now berthed just 5 miles away from Edinburgh in the port of Leith. Audio tours are informational and there’s a great gift shop.
10. Falkirk Wheel – Strain your brain at this engineering marvel – a very creative way to move a river barge to a higher/lower elevation with almost zero power – lots of fun and educational exhibits.
11. Bamburgh Castle – It’s down the coast across the English border – a great day trip. Our friend Annika from Austria flew over for a weekend of exploring with us. Visiting Bamburgh Castle was on her fun list, otherwise we wouldn’t have even known about it! And check out the village of Sea Houses nearby for lunch and shopping. We enjoyed lunch at The Bamburgh Castle Inn.
12. Holy Island – When the tide is in, it’s truly an island. When the tide is out, you can drive to it. Plan your trip accordingly or you might be here longer than you planned. We stumbled upon this place on our way home from Bamburgh castle. It has a castle of its own, abbey ruins and a cute little village.
13. Coast Scenery – So many interesting seascapes and coastal villages to explore – just drive along the coast with a good map, watch for festival signs, and follow your nose. We explored from North Berwick all the way to the English border.
14. St. Andrews – It’s more than just the “Home of golf”. There is a gigantic ancient cathedral ruin, a castle, and lots of shopping and food and drink – plus, a miles-long beach for strolling. Especially enjoyed Mitchell’s Deli!
15. Isle of Skye – We carefully watched the weather forecast and picked a perfect stretch of days for a road trip through beautiful scenery to the Isle of Skye. It was so nice we wrote a separate Isle of Skye story.
16. Cruden Bay – Through a fun connection from an earlier trip to an elephant rescue sanctuary in northern Thailand, we lucked into a special excursion to Cruden Bay for coastal scenery, puffins, fabulous golf, and new friendship. Cruden Bay story.
17. Bonus! Golf -Tom played nearly a dozen rounds of golf and wrote about why Scotland Golf is better.
We loved this very special Home Exchange and the Stockbridge neighborhood!
Wales in a whirl
After our home exchange, we took a whirlwind road trip south, along the west coast, castles and national parks of Wales. Wales story.
Southern England: Friends and fancy yachts
We had a great visit with friends in Kingsbridge (Devon) and then sailed with fun friends in the Isle of Wight, England’s sailing capital of the world, then a lovely London friend toured the city with us before we flew from Heathrow. Photos and stories soon…
RTG Helpful Hints
Trip date: July / August 2015
? What places have touched your heart like Scotland has ours?