I haven't been this excited to write about something in a long time which is proving to me what a magical Easter weekend I really had in Edinburgh. I am going to crank up my Harry Potter ambience and tell you why you should visit this absolutely beautiful and cultural city (and yes, there are a lot of Harry Potter moments as J K Rowling wrote most of her books while tucked into the city), so be prepared for that!
For those of you who don't know, I live in the North West of England (which is still crazy to say for someone who grew up in the American Mid-West), so our drive to Edinburgh was about 3.5 hours long. It took me longer to drive to my university across the state of Iowa, so this is still a mind-blowing concept to me. Believe it or not, I have not actually been to Scotland before, so I was poised at the window waiting to cross the border and tick off another country on my list!
The drive itself was quite uneventful, unless you count the hundreds of adorable lambs that have appeared with the Spring weather. I tried to get pictures, but it was harder than one would think. When we finally got to Edinburgh, we headed straight to our hotel which was just a trusty Premier Inn on the outskirts (Leith) and took the bus into the city centre. We would highly recommend this location especially if you are travelling by car because there is parking, public transport right there, and it's on the water, so you get to see a bit of Edinburgh that you might not get to otherwise.
We took our bus to Prince's Street which is the main high street in the "new" part of the city which is where we stayed for most of the first day. We nipped into H&M to get some sunglasses for my husband because BOY was it sunny outside (sing some high praises for the gorgeous weather) and then headed towards Calton Hill to see some lovely monuments and get an iconic Edinburgh photo, but I realised half-way there that my camera was acting a bit funny. We sat down on a statue of a man riding a horse to try and figure out what was going on and low-and-behold a bird decided to take a dump right on our very expensive said camera. It was one of those moments where we were in such a state of shock that we just kind of stared at each other for a minute and then started laughing hysterically. Luckily I had tissues and hand sanitiser so I was able to undo the damage, but we still had to go into a little shopping centre near the train station to get a new SD card because ours had gotten corrupted somehow.
We finally headed toward Calton Hill, with a pit stop into a beautiful old cemetery, and trudged up the many steps and inclines. As much as you might want to die part-way up, I absolutely promise you that it's worth the push to get to the top. The main thing that makes this city stand out to me is the fact that so much of it is built on different levels and so you always have such a unique view of the skyline. It honestly makes me so happy just thinking about it. Once we got to the top, Jonathan stayed down low and I kept trekking it up higher for some killer views. You could see the castle, the sprawl of the city, the sea, Arthur's Seat.. it was breathtaking. I waved for him to join me and we went to hunt down a bottle of water from the refreshment vendor. One thing I would highly recommend is that you pack water bottles with you when you travel because we spent SO much money on overpriced water all over the city in order to stay hydrated on this particularly warm day. This is a very well-known place in Edinburgh, but because of its expansiveness and the trek probably putting a few people off, it didn't seem crowded at all and I would have happily stayed up there for longer if there wasn't more of the city to see.
The iconic view of Edinburgh with the castle and the hills in the background.
Edinburgh with the sea in the distance. This city has it all!
In some ways, I still can't believe that I have been here! I can't wait to go back soon.
When you low-key feel like you're in Greece when you're really just in Scotland.
After we had taken in all of the views and re-hydrated we went back down the stairs and went down even more to spend a bit of time in the "old town". One of the things we knew we wanted to do was to check out the year-round Christmas shops, so we hunted down Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe for some early Christmas shopping and then went to find some shade because we were getting toasty. From our bench, we noticed that The Museum of Edinburgh was right in front of us and decided to check it out. I am an avid museum lover and this was the first that we experienced in Edinburgh. It is quite hard to miss, really, It's a mustard-coloured building and is (the best words) free entry. Artifacts and bits and bobs from Edinburgh's history are stored there and it's really cute. I'll be honest, it's not my favourite museum I visited that weekend, but when it's free, it's definitely worth a go- and it might totally be your thing! Sometimes the small museums hold the best hidden gems. Also, I didn't know this, but apparently near by is an Outlander filming location! Definitely wish I would have had that knowledge prior to!
We then went and hunted down McDonalds (we are nothing but food adventurers (hardy har)) for a small snack and more beverages. Walking around inclines in the hot weather really just takes it out of you and then decided to check out the green space in the centre of the city. When I was watching videos to prepare for our little trip, Rick Steves (travel legend extraordinaire) said that Edinburgh kind of has it's own little Central Park which is so true. In the little valley that separates new and old town is some amazing greenery that is packed with people on beautiful days and made me feel relaxed and right at home. The train station is also amongst that green space which is amazing. I have never seen a railway system so central before! (Just a quick little tip! National Rail stations throughout the UK now have free restroom use, so if you are needing a pit stop, the central train station is a brilliant place to do that). We spent pretty much all afternoon in the parks with views of Scott Monument and the towering castle on the hill (cue Ed Sheeran music). There was also a fountain and *everyone who knows me says in unison* I REALLY LOVE FOUNTAINS.
Scott Monument and everyone soaking up the sun in the gorgeous weather.
Scott Monument up-close, named after the famous author Sir Walter Scott (The second largest monument in the world built for an author!) You go Sir Walter Scott!
The greenery that takes over all of the pictures of the architecture just shows how you really get the best of both worlds in Edinburgh.
This is one of my favourite pictures I have ever taken. It feels so ethereal. So much green at the beginning of spring, the slight fog around the massive castle, the people enjoying it all <3
Such peace and relaxation on this Easter Saturday.
You know the sea isn't far away when seagulls are everywhere. And when they are pooping on your camera... haha
I JUST REALLY LOVE FOUNTAINS, OKAY? Someday, I will write an ode to fountains.
Fountain + Castle + Nature = is Edinburgh my favourite place ever??
Love the pink blooms of Spring. Such a beautiful time of year to visit the city.
After the relaxation in the park, we climbed a load of stairs (shocking, I know) and went to Waterstones so I could hunt down some Scottish authors or books that are set in Edinburgh. Jonathan went up to the cafe to get some water... word for the wise, most places have free water available, so utilise that unlike my adorable husband who bought multiple expensive glass bottles of water. We unanimously decided that we wanted Nandos for dinner, so set out in finding the closest one and the bus that we would need to take back to the hotel. We also found out while doing this research that I had walked straight past the hotel that J K Rowling had finished The Deathly Hallows in, so we had to go to Nandos that way so I could get a picture. Hi, I'm Abby, a Harry Potter superfan. And then treated ourselves to a fresh chicken wrap and some halloumi sticks with chilli jam (my personal favourite) before going back to our hotel on the coast.
The Balmoral Hotel where J K Rowling wrote the last Harry Potter book. Also the man on the horse statue where our camera met its demise earlier in the day.
Our hotel and views from our hotel of the beautiful misty sea and land masses in the difference. Stunning location with the lovely predictability and comfort of a normal Premier Inn. There's also a large 24 hour ASDA just a walk away which is handy for late night snacks!
We started our day bright and early because the man at reception the night before warned us that they intended to be really busy Easter morning for breakfast, so we woke up and went down pretty much as soon as it opened. I kid you not, there was not another soul in sight when we got there, so we munched on some pastries and a cup of tea then headed back to our room to wait for our Uber. We were under the impression (wrongly) that the buses wouldn't be running on Easter Sunday, so we booked ourselves our first Uber. It was... fine.... haha. Everyone always raves about Uber, but the only positive for us was that it dropped us off right outside the castle and that we just paid through the app... although we are pretty sure we were over-charged, so... we aren't in a huge rush to use the services again. Even on Easter Sunday morning as soon as the castle was opening, it was full of people. We had ordered our tickets in advance (would HIGHLY RECOMMEND if you don't want to stand in line for an hour to get tickets) and so we walked right in. Unlike my first vision of a castle, it's not just one building, but almost like a small enclosed town with different buildings and cobbled streets. We walked all the way to the top and then explored while coming down to try and avoid some crowds. Even still, seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels (which is legitimately just a crown and a rock) and the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth, sure as heck made me feel claustrophobic and I do not easily feel that way. Here's my hint for this... don't be afraid to push a bit and say excuse me loudly if there are people completely oblivious blocking walkways/doorframes etc. It was cool to see the nursery, the Great Hall and the prisons, though. Definitely make sure you see the re-created prison cells because I think it's the coolest part and it's definitely easy to miss. In general, Jonathan and I are glad that we did it, but it's not necessarily something that we would pay to do again. It's almost £20.00 a pop per person, and it's a overly-glorified tourist attraction, so unless there's really something in there you want to see, it's not a necessity on our list.
** I also want to note that you can definitely go up to the castle and even go inside the entrance bit, so you can technically say that you've been in the castle and seen the views from it without paying the high price. There are also bathrooms in the entrance bit if you are looking for some! The exhibits inside are DEFINITELY for people that know or want to know a lot about Scottish military history.
Beautiful buildings within the castle grounds.
The painted nursery where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son. A very small room!
The Great Hall. No Frills. To me, this looks about as Scottish as you can get.
A little cemetery in the castle for the soldier's dogs. Easy to miss if you're not looking.
My favourite part of the castle was the re-created 1700's prisons! Super fascinating.
I will give you this, the views from the castle were remarkable! But, they truly are from many parts of the city if you can't afford the ticket.
We then decided we would have a couple of hours focused on the more "Harry Potter" aspects of the city and it honestly made the whole weekend worth it. There are so many Potterheads that are doing the same thing and it's like a little community. When I was walking around the castle, I had a wonderful man come up to me and shout "Hufflepuff!" in an excited manner because of my scarf and I also had people come up to me in the infamous cemetery where Rowling gleaned some names and chatted about Harry Potter and the importance it had in their lives. If you look close enough, you will find many Hogwarts scarves rustling around the city. It is actually magical. We started out the tour by taking a right off of the Royal Mile, going down some steps past some very colourful buildings, and taking another right at the National Library of Scotland to end up at the infamous Elephant House. The cafe where Rowling spent many hours writing her first couple of books before she got quite famous. There are also many other writers that claim the space as inspiration, as the hot chocolate is fabulous and there is a beautiful view of the castle out the back window!
The Royal Mile, a famous street with beautiful architecture leading up to the castle.
Me in my Harry Potter gear admiring the colourful buildings and magic of Edinburgh.
It is actually impossible to get a picture here without others in it, so this is the best we could get.
The famous cafe where authors like Rowling and Ian Rankin spent a lot of their time writing.
The certainly are aware of their appeal. But, honestly, best hot chocolate I have ever had and the cheesecake was proper delicious. None of the fluffy British cheesecake here.
Is it weird that I properly nerded out about the fact that Rowling and I have been in the same cafe?
The infamous bathroom walls, littered with loving graffiti about how much Harry Potter meant to them. It made my heart sing.
Next was the cemetery where Rowling used to stroll near the cafe that she used to inspire some of her character's names. The most famous being Tom Riddle. Yes, you can go visit Voldemort's grave. Take a right at Greyfriar's Bobby, the adorable (and famous) terrier that guarded his human's grave. This cemetery was beautiful, though. Packed with old graves, history, and views of the castle, it was also incredibly peaceful. The breeze would wander through the branches of trees, sending blooms adrift until it felt like magical snow. It is also where I found a bunch of other Potterheads and we helped each other navigate the gravestones and pay respects to the people that rested there.
Greyfriar's Bobby is really well loved in Edinburgh and even has had films and books made!
Spring blooms and castle views made this such a beautiful cemetery.
Look at how ornate some of these headstones are. The amount of detail is breathtaking.
And finally, Tom Riddle's grave. There were flowers left there for one of the most visited graves in Scotland.
Our next stop for the afternoon was the National Museum of Scotland, which honest to goodness is probably my favourite museum that I have ever been to. It has something for everybody. There's animals, history, fashion, design, science, communication, art.... I could have spent DAYS there. Also, it's just an incredibly beautiful building. We actually donated to get a map because it's so massive and we needed the guidance and honestly they deserve it for how much they had there. If anyone is a big museum person, this is a gem. If anyone isn't a big museum person, this is a great place to start. Here are some of my favourite exhibits!
Look, I'm sorry, but is this not the most fancy museum you've ever seen?
The Lewis chessman are actually so cool. The facial expressions are brilliant and there's so much history to them as they are from the 12th Century! Yes Medieval Scotland.
This is the famous Dolly the sheep. As in the first mammal to be cloned. Right there.
The hall of animals was so fascinating and I feel like I learned about like 100 new species.
All the hands-on exhibits actually rocked my world. Here I am just generating some energy.
New profile pic, who's dis.
Our final stop for the day was Blackwells Book Shop which I had been to in Oxford and I was so excited to go back. Their selection was brilliant for a British bookstore (my American heart is salty) and the classic editions that they had were beautiful and on offer, so I stocked up. I need to write in them where I got them so I can always remember I got them on my trip to Edinburgh. If you are curious what books I would recommend getting if you are buying as an Edinburgh souvenir- here's what they are.
-Jekyll & Hyde if you are into classics, especially if you've been to the writer's museum as you will know loads about the author and it's based off of a man from Edinburgh!
-Burns book of poetry if you have been to the writer's museum and like... well, poetry. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea.
-Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott if you have been to the writer's museum and loved Scott Monument.
-McCall, Rankin, or Rowling's books if you've been to the Elephant Cafe.
-City of Ghosts by V. E. Schwab or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark if you want a book set in Edinburgh.
-A book about the history of the city for non-fiction of course! They have loads of non-fiction about things that happened in Edinburgh and all of the bookstores have a special section for all the Scottish reads!
After this, we caught the bus and went back to the hotel for dinner and an early night. We had walked something like 20 miles between the two days that we had been in Edinburgh and were SORE.
Our final day we had a small breakfast and then took the bus in for one last look around. We decided to hit up some of the museums that we hadn't had a chance to get to yet. First up was the Scottish National Gallery. Neither of us are big art people, but I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece of art and also the fact that I am a really mediocre drawer/painter at best makes me look at awe at some of the pieces. There were also some very famous artists on display there which is incredible to see. I had read about these artists in books for years and to see some of their work was a dream. Rembrandt, Raphael, Van Gogh, etc. Also, keep in mind all of these museums are free. FREE AS IN NO MONEY. Why wouldn't you check it out?
I felt so posh and cultured walking around in here. I totally want to be the kind of mom who takes her kids to art museums and help them to grow up appreciating it because it's amazing.
A bit of Van Gogh. I have been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and seen a lot of his other work, but it's amazing that you can see it here as well.
Some Monet! Monet always makes me think of Titanic which goes to show you how cultured I really am...
Famous Degas dancers. I have legitimately seen this exact painting in books before. How amazing to get to see it in person!
Next, my husband suggested we go to the Writer's Museum. I hadn't personally read any of the authors that were showcased there, but since we had some time to waste, I figured we might as well and I am so glad that we did. It is in the cutest little square and you can tell that it's just this old house ran by people that love literature and the power of books. It made my heart sing and it made me want to pick up Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Such a cute place.
Wandering up an alley towards the museum.
The insignia that shows that you have arrived! This is also free, so if you happen to come upon it, go show the little place some love! It's not crowded at all.
Our final stop for the day was the National Library of Scotland. I wanted to see if they had any manuscripts on display like they do at the London Library or the Oxford Library, but it didn't seem like it. They did, however, have an exhibition on Scotland after WWI which was absolutely deserted. Jonathan and I spent our time checking out everything because we felt bad that nobody was utilising it as a resource and actually learned a lot, so we would recommend checking it out! And, just like that, our Edinburgh weekend was over. We headed back to the hotel and I plugged in my headphones to try and make some headway on my audiobook on the way home. (If you get car sick, load yourself up on some audiobooks) it's totally upped my reading game.
I was excited to go to Edinburgh, Scotland, mostly because I wanted to check off another city and country on my list, but I was not expecting to fall in love with it as much as I did. This city has it all! There is so much history, so much culture, architecture, myths, beauty, nature.... It's a one-and-done kind of place and I can't wait to go back and explore with more people in the future! Is there anything I missed that you really loved about Edinburgh? Any gems that I found that you had never heard of? At the very least, have I inspired you to go??
Let me know!