I arrived in Edinburgh via a train that left from King’s Cross in London with my family in June 2017. It was as if we were walking through the pages of a storybook. Every building was cloaked in history and mystery, it was no wonder that this was where J.K. Rowling came up with the magical world of Harry Potter.
Our first stop after arriving was our lovely AirBNB. It was the perfect size for our family and in a wonderful location. Gary, the owner of the two-bedroom apartment, left a list of reviews for restaurants and tourist attractions. It had a clean kitchen and a spacious living room that gave my family room to spread out and relax after long days of walking around the city.
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The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is what many call the streets that form the center of Old Town in Edinburgh. The street is approximately one mile of cobblestone stretching from Edinburgh Castle, perched on an ancient volcano to the Palace of Holyroodhouse sitting at the base of Arthur’s Seat.
Our AirBNB was located at the end of the Royal Mile, only a couple of blocks from the Holyrood Palace. From here we walked uphill towards the castle to explore the famous road and to find somewhere to eat.
Angels with Bagpipes
We chose to eat at Angels with Bagpipes, a restaurant that was listed in the recommendations by our AirBNB host, Gary. It was a fairly fancy restaurant that seemed to be booked with reservations, but we grabbed a table fairly early so that we could make a tour that we had previously scheduled. They offered a 2-course and a 3-course option for our early dinner and everything we had was incredibly delicious. I also had a great glass of Scottish Whiskey with my meal.
Old Calton Burial Grounds
After dinner, we joined the “dark side” walking tour with Sandemans, a company that offers multiple walking tours of Edinburgh, but also other cities all over the world. We ended up doing 3 tours with Sandeman’s while in Edinburgh, but we started with The Dark Side Tour, which was only £10 per person.
Our first stop on the tour was the Old Calton Burial Grounds where we heard many tales and fables told through generations of Scottish people. The graveyard was opened in 1718 and then split into two portions following the construction of a road in 1819. It his the burial place of several notable Scots, including David Hume, a famous philosopher. One of the more interesting things found in the graveyard is a large statue of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. It is a memorial dedicated to the Scots who fought and died in the American Civil war and is the only monument dedicated to the war outside of the United States.
As we continued on the tour, we journeyed to the top of Calton Hill while hearing about Scottish folklore, like fairies and redcaps. The views of the city from the top of the hill were incredible as the sun started to set.
We concluded the tour with Sandeman’s at the bottom of the hill and I cannot say enough great things about the tours offered in Edinburgh by this company. We learned about the murderous pair Burke and Hare, along with other stories and real-life situations that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was entertaining and educational, all while we wandered the historic city at dusk.
On our second day in Edinburgh, we went on the free city tour with Sandemans that told us the history of the city and its buildings including the castle, the palace, the bridges and all. Part of our tour took us to Victoria Street, a quaint curved road with flags overhead. It is said that the street with shops and restaurants all piled together may have inspired J.K. Rowling’s idea of Diagon Alley.
Greyfriars Kirkyard was the conclusion of Sandeman’s free tour and had many stories associated with it, the most famous being Harry Potter. The graveyard is just below the backroom of Elephant House, a restaurant in which J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel. As it is told, when she needed a break or hit a bout of writer’s block, she would walk around the graveyard searching for inspiration. Therefore, you may find some familiar names amongst the tombstones, including Thomas Riddle, McGonagall and Moodie.
Another story that I enjoyed was about the small statue of a terrier named Bobby, that sat right outside of the graveyard. The dog belonged to the night watchman of the graveyard in the 19th century. When he died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Bobby was said to have spent the rest of his life sitting by his deceased owner’s grave, approximately 14 years. He is the only animal buried inside the kirkyard, not far from his dear John’s grave.
After our walking tour, my parents went back to our AirBNB and my brother and I went to a Pret A Manger and grabbed sandwiches and snack and headed towards Holyrood Park so that we could venture to the top of Arthur’s Seat. After we got to the top, we realized that we had gone on the more difficult route along the Salsbury Crag, but the views at the top made it all worth it. You could see the entire city and all the way to Leith by the sea. It was great to spend time enjoying the park and of course the ice cream truck we found at the end of our walk made afternoon even more perfect.
For dinner that night, we went back to a restaurant called Howie’s we saw on Victoria Street that morning. The restaurant was charming and the food was incredible.
On our way back down the hill for the night, we stopped in the Jolly Judge, a small bar off of the Royal Mile for a pint.
Behind a courtyard and through the alley on our way to The Royal Mile, was Clarinda’s Tearoom. It is very picturesque and quaint. The menu was small but it was a great place to grab some coffee and a quick bite to eat.
After breakfast, we went to Holyrood Palace, the home of the royal family when they are visiting Scotland. The palace and its gardens were beautiful. There were no photos allowed inside, but they showed several public rooms with photos of the royal family displayed.
Right next to the palace, was Holyrood Abbey, a ruined abbey founded in 1128 by King David I. “Rood” is an old word for cross, so the name translates in to “Holy Cross.” The remains of the church were quite amazing, and it was interesting to see what has withstood the passage of time.
No. 1 High Street
From the Abbey, we walked to the top of the hill on our way to tour the castle. Halfway up The Royal Mile we stopped for lunch at No 1 High Street for lunch.
We toured the Edinburgh Castle with Sandemans. The tour was fantastic and it was great to learn all about this fortress. It is built atop an ancient volcano and is one of the highest points in the city. While it hasn’t been a residence of the royal family in quite some time, it currently holds the Scotish National War Memorial.
My favorite item that I learned on the tour was that Queen Victoria added some cosmetic tweaks to the castle – including a mote and cannons, both fairly ineffective atop a volcano once the city had been built up around it.
The Elephant House
After all that we saw and heard about The Elephant House as people mentioned J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter at every turn, we had to eat there. It was packed at dinner time, but the food was great.
Princes Street Garden
My family left the city one day before I did, so I spent a day wandering the town alone. After checking in at my hostel, I made my way to the Princess Street Garden which sits at the base of the volcanic base of Edinburgh Castle. On my way, I walked through Grassmarket which had booths with food and crafts. I picked up a few macarons to snack on as I read in the park.
After it started to rain, I packed up in the park and continued to wander around in Edinburgh. At lunchtime, I found HOME restaurant and was intrigued by the cute interior. I had a great burger and enjoyed the atmosphere.
The Red Door Gallery
I absolutely loved The Red Door Gallery. It was a small shop on Victoria Street that I noted when going to dinner with my family at Howie’s earlier in the week. The shop was quaint and filled to the brim with prints of all shapes, sizes, colors and content. I spent a great deal of time looking through everything and ended up making a couple of purchases.
Southern Cross Cafe
My last stop in Edinburgh was Southern Cross Cafe for a scone and tea. I got a seat by the window as the afternoon drifted between rain and sunshine. The scone, clotted cream and jam were delicious and the perfect snack to go along with a good book.
Kick Ass Hostel
I ended my trip at a kick-ass hostel (literally, the hostel is called “Kick Ass Hostel”). I was in a shared room with 7 other women, and while I did not meet all of them, I had a great conversation before bed with two German girls. I love that you can meet people from all over the world. It also didn’t hurt that the hostel was cheap and conveniently located alongside Grassmarke