Scotland is a magical place, and not one that I would necessarily rush if you have the time. Between the medieval architecture, rich culture, rolling green hills, and hospitable people, it truly is the ideal vacation location; however, if time is not on your side, utilize the itinerary below to capitalize on the amount of time spent in the beautiful country.
If you happen to arrive on a Sunday, head straight for the popular Stockbridge Market for a great lunch option. The market right past the Dean Village area offers food items ranging from paella to crepes to cheeses and artisan bread to Japanese fare, and much more–a true foodie’s delight. Of note, the market is open from 10:00am-5:00pm on Sundays.
After satisfying your appetite, work your way back to the city center by following the Water of Leith–the main river that flows through the city of Edinburgh. The alfresco path is a scenic step into nature. On your way, make sure to check out St. Bernard’s Well, a sculpture designed by Alexander Nasmyth in 1789, which is a detailed representation of Hygeia, the Greek Goddess of Health.
When you arrive back to the city center of Edinburgh, make your way to the Edinburgh Castle located on Castle Rock to learn about some of the history behind the stunning structure. 17 pounds includes entry into the tourist attraction as well as a guided tour. Audio tours are also available at an additional cost if this is of interest to you.
After taking in some of the royal history, head towards “The Scotch Whisky Experience” for a one-hour tour, where you will learn about the evolution of Scotch Whisky (and no, this is not a typo–this is the proper spelling of the word for the Scottish) dating back to 800 BC. 26 pounds includes the “the gold tour” which consists of a guided tour and four samples after the history lesson. There are other tour options available as well to fit various budgets. Of note, this is a great alternative to learn about some of the local whisky if you are unable to check out any of the distilleries.
After absorbing some of the information about the various whiskies in the area, journey over to Calton Hill. This “hill” formed by volcanic activity offers a spectacular view of the city and is a great place for pictures.
For dinner, wander over to Aizle. How this restaurant does not possess a Michelin Star is beyond me, although it is recognized by the Michelin guide for Scotland. The charming restaurant changes its menu based on seasonal ingredients. When you enter into the venue, you will find a chalkboard listing the current ingredients on hand, all of which will be incorporated into your dinner. That being said, the meal is a bit of a surprise, but a fun one at that if you are willing to be receptive to the unique concept. The five course tasting menu runs at 45 pounds per person with the option to add a drink pairing for 35 pounds per person. Considering the level of service and the quality of food, this is a steal! Be sure to make a reservation in advance as this place books up quickly.
From here, end the night at The Devil’s Advocate for a night cap. This restaurant and bar in the Old Town area offers over 100 whiskies as well as other satisfactory options, including food if you would like a post-dinner snack. For whisky, sample the Glenmorangie Nectar D’or. If you’re more in the mood for a cider, try the locally produced Thistly Cross.
While there are plenty of other things to do in Edinburgh, I highly recommend renting a car and driving on the second day of your trip. The countryside has so much to offer, between the beautiful highlands, numerous distilleries, and majestic scenery. If you do opt to do this, commence your trip heading towards the Scottish Highlands, making a pitstop in Stirling. Of note, be careful when driving through Scotland as there as speed cameras sporadically placed on the major roadways.
Stirling, a quaint city in the central area of Scotland is home to one of the renown castles known as the Stirling Castle that actually competes in beauty and size with the Edinburgh Castle. Fifteen pounds will grant you admission into the breathtaking fortress. Like the Edinburgh Castle, the ticket price at Stirling Castle also includes a complimentary guided tour, and an audio guide can be purchased at an additional cost.
From Stirling, continue on the route to the Highlands, making a stop in Inverness for lunch. Scotch & Rye is a highly-rated bar and grill in Inverness boasting a variety of items on the menu including exotic meats such as zebra, ostrich, and kangaroo. The “Chili Dawg” — a hot dog topped with chili and siracha– is also an excellent alternative if none of the aforementioned appeals to you.
From Inverness, drive over to Culloden Battlefield to view the historical field where the last civil war took place in the United Kingdom. Not only was this the last major war, but it also was one of the deadliest, amounting to over 1,000 deaths in less than an hour. Admission into the site is 11 pounds for an adult and 26 pounds for a family. Here, you have the option to partake in a free guided tour or explore on your own.
From the battlefield, begin your trek back to Edinburgh. If time is not an issue, stop in at any of the distilleries which you will find arbitrarily located on your route back to the city. One in particular that is noteworthy is Tomatin whose whisky is specific to the Highland region. Of note, if you are driving, they will only allow you to sample one of the whiskies as this is a stringent law in Scotland. If you are not driving and are able to enjoy a tour, 20 pounds includes a distillery tour followed by a tasting of six different whiskies produced by the establishment.
If you arrive back to Edinburgh in time, I highly recommend Oink as a dinner suggestion, although they do tend to close a little bit on the earlier side. While this is not a fancy sit down restaurant per se, it’s still a must if you have time. The location offers pulled pork sandwiches to your liking. If you have not tried haggis by this point in your trip, now is the time to do so, and be sure to add the chili jam as well. An alternative choice for dinner in the instance you cannot make it to Oink would be The Beer Kitchen. While this restaurant is a chain, they have surely perfected the Fish and Chips recipe. And as the title suggests, there are plenty of beers to choose from to go with your dinner.
Given Edinburgh is claimed to be one of the most haunted cities in the United Kingdom, it would be a shame to visit and not go on a ghost tour. Mercat Tours offers a variety of ghost tours, as well as walking tours, at various hours throughout the day. My recommendation would be the “Hidden and Haunted” tour that is given during the evening hours. 16 pounds will get you an hour tour filled with knowledge about the ghostly quarter and eerie stories dating back to medieval times.
To conclude the evening, head to The Castle Arms–a local watering hole located off the infamous Royal Mile with an extensive selection of beers, whiskies, and other drinks. While visiting, be sure to check out the impressive artwork on the ceiling which appears to be etched in chalk.
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: Scotland utilizes the British Pound. Major credit cards are widely accepted, and I never encountered a time at which point I needed foreign currency, but it is never a bad idea to have a little on you just in case.
Tipping: If you are only ordering drinks at a bar, tipping is not expected; however, if you order food as well, 10 percent is the norm. The same rule applies in restaurants. Additionally, it is common to add 10% to any taxi fares.
Heads up: Edinburgh is completely walkable; however, if you do find yourself wanting a taxi, stick with Uber. Uber is roughly half the cost of taxis, so the more economical option overall.