There are trips that we have made and that have been in our plans for a long time. It is true that all the travel shapes us in a certain way, but when a destination has floated in our imagination for so many years and we have finally been able to visit it, it is an indescribable sensation. Scotland is one of those examples! From children we have heard about this land, so far north, where there are many castles and wild animals, perhaps dragons … We have long lost these mystical ideas about this country but curiosity has remained over the years, both about Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands.
We can already say that Scotland not only fulfilled all the expectations we had, but also surprised us every minute. Our first overall standout goes into the history of this country. Today integrated in the United Kingdom, it was not always that way. Historically inhabited by Celtic tribes, this region was invaded by the Romans who only managed to maintain their influence in the region during 40 years. The union of the Scottish tribes was achieved in the ninth century and the first kingdom of Scotland took place in the twelfth century, under the crown of Alexander I.
For several centuries Scotland fought to remain independent, with several battles against England, but also against Ireland and Norway. Finally in the XVII century occured the union of Scottish crowns and English under the dominion of James V.
This little summary shows a bit of what we found in this destination: An incredible heritage to discover, landscapes marked by history and full of stories, a people proud of their deeds but always friendly and receptive and an ambience that we will not soon forget. It is in this way that we begin our journey through Scotland and we hope above all that you can also travel through these words.
You arrived at the airport. What now?
Edinburgh International Airport is slightly west of the city center, but still integrated with the outermost districts of the city. The transport system in the city is essentially assured by the bus and the tram, being quite efficient in general. To get out of the airport towards the center there are special buses operated by the Edinburgh transport company: The Airlink 100, which runs for 24 hours and passes every 10 minutes, the Skylink 200 runs until midnight and passes from 30 in 30 minutes, the Skylink 300 and the Skylink 400. What varies in these buses is the route that they make in their trip to the city centre.
Tickets can be purchased with the driver, booked online here or purchased directly from the Lothian kiosk near the starting point. A one-way trip costs £ 4.50 and a return trip £ 7.50. A very important point: Only the Airlink 100 offers change if you want to buy the ticket with the driver. So, if you have a contactless card, it’s a great help on buses.
Where to stay in Edinburgh?
The theme of accommodation in Edinburgh is sometimes problematic and Itwas something we wanted to solve as soon as possible. Most hotels are in the old part of town and closer to the main tourist attractions, which makes the price prohibitive. In addition, we wanted to have a much more enriching experience with accommodation too. So, as we had done on previous trips, we chose to use the Airbnb service, but this time we opted for only one room in a shared house. It was the best decision we made!
We stayed in an area with a typical British architecture, in a quiet neighborhood west of the city center, but still quite near to it. The house was spectacular, extremely clean and cozy, but best of all was the friendliness of our hostess, whom we became friends with and whom we thanked for all the availability during our stay. As we walked the streets of our neighborhood in the morning and in the evening we never failed to be impressed by the beauty and harmony of that place. The bus stop was only a mere 10 minutes away and we didn’t even noticed the time passing … Here comes the red double-decker bus.
There are monuments that are the poster of many cities without ever being in reality part of the life of that city. Edinburgh Castle is the opposite of this, being not only in a high and central position in the city, but also a place that is loved by all locals and one of the most important in Scottish history itself. What makes this place one of the most striking in this city? Several factors … but beginning with its history, there are records confirming that in that place there was a small fortified village during the iron age and since then there always existed a castle.
The peak of the historical importance of this site was between the 12th and 15th centuries, during which was the official residence of the Scottish King and Court and an impenetrable bastion of Scotland, and served as the last stronghold of the city’s protection against the invaders. It is also here that is the chapel of Saint Margaret, considered the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating from the twelfth century and one of the few that resisted cannon shots along the successive sieges to this fort.
To get to Castle we went by bus and left (wrongly!) at the Haymarket stop. From there, we made the whole journey on foot entering the castle by its most striking slope, which highlights even more the buidling. The Castle entrance impressed us immediatley by still retaining the drawbridge and all the heraldic symbols of the ancient kingdom of Scotland. Just after the entrance is an atrium where you can buy the tickets, each one being £ 18.50 (also available online, a bit cheaper).
The first visitable section of the Castle emphasizes above all the history of that fortress, with several illustrative panels accompanied by the chronology of the Scottish kingdom. As we go up into the castle, we reach the former governor’s house and the command center of the Scottish military forces, which was the former headquarters of the Edinburgh Regiment, and which is now the museum of this historic military battalion known for the famous kilts and bagpipes on the battlefield. All the architecture of the castle structures is typically Scottish, with stone walls, stone roofs and large windows.
It is also possible in the castle to visit the Scottish crown jewels, last used by Queen Mary in the 16th century. Unfortunately it is not possible to photograph the queen’s crown and scepter, but we can say that they are pieces of incredible wealth and of a size bigger than we expected. The last surprise of this magnificent place was laid to rest in the old cathedral of the castle. From the outside architecture, we were counting on finding a rich church full of history and we actually found the memorial to the Scottish soldier. We were positively surprised by the beauty of the whole interior, with all the military insignia engraved on the stone and even weapons and carved flags.
Our visit to the castle ended with a visit to the National War Museum (Included in the ticket) and from here you get one of the best views of the whole city and the famous mountain, Arthur’s Seat. We truly loved visiting Edinburgh Castle and despite the relatively high ticket price, believe me it’s worth every penny!
This is possibly one of the most famous streets in Europe and without a doubt the most famous street in Edinburgh. In fact, the Royal Mile is a succession of streets that cross the old city and whose name comes from the fact that the street is exactly one mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace and this is the route made by the kings at the time of their coronation.
First section – Castle Hill
The first few meters of the Royal Mile were a real delight for our eyes. After leaving the castle, this wide and very busy street invites us to go down there. The magic of this place becomes even greater because it is Christmas and all stores have trees and Christmas decorations along the street. We highlight clearly the architectural beauty of the buildings and the perfect balance of colors and life on the street. It is in this first part of the Royal Mile that there is the famous Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions and magic created in the first half of the 19th century and historically one of Edinburgh’s main attractions. But it is not only a museum that highlights this building … It is also here that is one of the best views of the city, something that you can get from the outlook tower, an architectural and philosophical exercise added at the end of the century to the building.
It is also in these first few meters of the Royal Mile that are some of the oldest textile warehouses of the city. Here we advise you to explore the interior of the shops and we guarantee that you will be impressed, as we have been, especially with the various sizes of bagpipes and the myriad of Kilts patterns and scarves. Finally, fans of the Harry Potter series will love this place where you can find all kinds of objects related to the world created by JK Rowling.
Second section – Lawnmarket
Continuing down this famous street, it is difficult to notice the difference between the various historical parts that distinguish it, especially since we were dazzled by the architecture of all the buildings, with the stone facades so old and at the same time optimally preserved and full of life, with green creepers and lively pubs. Our highlight in this area goes to the various baroque buildings, namely the former Bank of Scotland building and the various shops where you can buy cashmere wool and of Scottish production.
Third section – High Street
This is the main point of the Royal Mile and the longest stretch in meters of this famous street. As we enter the High Street, we notice the rise of tourists and simultaneously the cheerful and vibrant sound of someone playing the bagpipes. Our first highlight goes to the famous Saint Giles Cathedral. This church built in the late 14th century was and remains the most important site of the Scottish church, being considered by many to be the birthplace of presbyitarianism. The entrance to the cathedral is free and we can already say that it is obligatory for any tourist! As soon as we enter it is impossible not to be dazzled by the sculptural workings on the vaults and the works of art executed on the stained glass windows. There is not much wealth in pieces or religious images, but we still feel a lot of historical and cultural wealth in this place.
It is also in this section that there is the old Scottish Parliament and the Scottish High Court, both magnificent buildings and its impossible to pass without a closer look. We were also very surprised to find a statue of David Hume, one of the men who marked the history of world philosophy. Continuing down the High Street, we passed the town hall and entered an area full of pubs and restaurants, full of music and life, a constant all along the Royal Mile.
Forth Section – Canongate and Holyrood Palace
The last section of this very special road is not as busy or as rich as the previous ones, but it still retains very pleasant surprises. Buildings are gradually getting lower and shops are becoming more and more familiar, with huge toy and craft stores. We also highlight the clock of one of the pubs that curiously is not inside the building but rather protruding and suspended in the air, as if it was a side chimney.
The last stop on the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace. The palace was originally built in 1128 and served as the official residence of most of the Kings of Scotland. Nowadays it is the residence of the Queen of England in Scotland and is visited by the queen usually in summer. Entrance to the palace is paid and we felt that the required amount was quite high, so we ended up seeing the palace only from the main gate. Still, the richness of this place and its architectural beauty is fully apparent.
So we finished the first part of the tour through the magnificent city of Edinburgh, focusing on this fantastic historic axis and truly enriching for any tourist. We loved every second in these places and in the second part of the script we will continue to pull the veil to this which is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited.