Scotland’s capital city and the second most populated city in the area, Edinburgh is is home to not only a top University but the World renowned Fringe festival during the month of August, and a place I knew I wanted to visit ASAP when my UK vis a was approved. Well the ASAP turned into a desire to see a part of Scotland not absolutely soaking wet, and man did I get so lucky in the weather department earlier this month! With the entire country dealing with a heatwave (or regular summer temps for my Canadian self), I lucked out and only experienced a few hours of rin total in the 5 days I spent visiting this part of the U.K and I’m so so grateful for that! I’m a quick lover of cities that offer all the conveniences and attractions that a city does PLUS the ability to get out into nature relatively quickly, so Edinburgh definitely ticks those boxes, not to mention the highlands! Because no trip to Scotland is complete without getting up there even if only for a day (I will be back!). With my first visit to Scotland done & dusted I’m already working on plans to get back and explore more of the country, but for now check out my recommendations to make the most of a 4-5 day visit to Edinburgh!
How to get there + Getting Around
Right, so this was one of the quicker flights I’ve taken, and honestly the trip from my house to Bristol airport was longer than the light (damn traffic), but you’ll be looking at an hour flight from Bristol and a few minutes longer if you’re going up from London. With multiple flights a day there are usually plenty of options between the budget airlines.
To/From Bristol Airport - for £11 return you’re off on the Bristol Flyer from the coach station in the city centre or Temple Meads rail station
To/From Edinburgh Airport - for £7.50 return you can grab the Edinburgh Airlink as soon as you exit from the arrivals level of the Edinburgh airport, and in abut 30 minutes you’ll be dropped off in the City Centre ( there are multiple stops if you require a different drop off point) Running 24/7 and about every 10 minutes from 6am - late night it’s the best option to get you from point A to point B.
Alternatively you can also take the tram into town, to Princes Street bridge or Waverley from the airport for £8.50 return more information on tram services can be found here.
Lay Your Head At Night
5 W Register St, Dubbed as Edinburghs one & only boutique hostel experience, their website catches your attention right away with the images of the hostel. Because who isn’t drawn to gorgeous tile work, a massive chandelier & a serious hotel vibe at a budget price right?! Ideally located within a 5 minute walk from Waverly station it was the most convenient option for me as my flight got in later in the evening & really wanted to eliminate any possibility of getting lost in the dark (aka I’m so shit with directions). Upon check in I was greeted by the incredible staff who rivalled most other hostel staff I’ve encountered throughout the years, and kept the good vibes going throughout my entire stay. What once was some kind of a gentlemen's club, reserved for the British Army veterans, the owners Mike & Ross opened the Baxter doors for the first time after a massive refurb job in August of 2014, and the rest is history really!
Housing 45 people when fully booked, there is a real attention to detail in every room, and you can tell just how much love was put into creating this hostel. Located right beside the Guilford Arms Pub you’ll see a sign outside indicating the hostel on the first floor, and while they only occupy one floor out of several (other hostels/accomodations operate on the other floors) nothing has been spared at the sake of saving space. Offering dorms of 4, 6 (coed or female), 9 or 12 each room has a gorgeously tiled floor, lockers available and fantastic beds (seriously the pillows alone were amazing) you’ll find a room to suit you and your group no matter what. And if you thought if couldn’t get any better, think again - how do you feel about free breakfast daily? If you threw your hands up, then you’re in luck! The Baxter offers a variety of breakfast options including cereals, eggs on toast + eat & coffee which starts off any day way better when you can save a little cash! Fully equipped with their own app (yep, their own app!) you can get the inside scoop right to your phone, but do yourself a favour and talk to the staff, they’ll give you some incredible recommendations for places to go and food to eat (thanks Kenny!)
Where to Eat & Caffeinate
1 North West Circus Place
Located right next to one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh this spot is perfect for a pre photo adventure brunch! I had the pleasure of finally meeting some insta friend in RL here on the weekend, Eric & Lisa from Penguin & Pia! Eric as a fellow Canadian quickly convinced me to order the waffles because they offer REAL Canadian maple syrup so obviously that was a must and I was not disappointed. Two locations in the city both opened by Charlotte & Chris Thompson, this couple has a creative menu and a gorgeous space to make you want to come back again and again.
22 St Stephen Street Their website states “Lovecrumbs is all about the nice times, casual vibes and great snacks”, to which I happily agree! I had this spot on my list so when a friend I met in London earlier this month suggested we meet here, I couldn’t say no! With two locations, we went to the Stockbridge location and sat on colourful cushions drinking amazing iced tea & I indulged in an amazing piece of chocolate peanut butter cake that I’m still dreaming about now..
32b W Nicolson St, Boasting “5 keg lines, 5 cask ales, 100+ bottles, and top banter abound” this pub was another recommendation from Eric & Lisa after a long day of wandering it was a cool spot, free of any other people which was so surprising! Eric made mention that it’s a big student hangout, so I guess when school is out the tourists don’t flock down there which was good for us! Great music choices paired with knowledgeable staff to help you on your great beer adventure!
34 Victoria St, Vegetarians shield your eyes! A sandwich shop dedicated to pork sandwiches and these guys seriously know what they are doing, with multiple locations around the city you probably won’t be too far away from the best quick lunch in Edinburgh! I ended up at the Victoria Street location and immediately may mouth was watering from the smell as I walked in the door! 4 easy steps - Pick your size (aka how much meat can you handle), Pick your bread, add stuffing or haggis (be brave and go haggis, its amazing!) then sauce it up and you’re ready to dig in! Basically like a Sunday roast in a bun, so you can’t really go wrong!
24-25 South Bridge, Sometimes after hiking up a mountain you didn’t intend to hike + a full day of adventuring you want something filling, and good for you with very little effort! I was starved when I got back to the hostel but a quick ask of the hostel staff I found myself walking barely 10 minutes down the road to pick up amazing pad thai & spring rolls for until £10 to bring back to the hostel with me. Cheap, quick food is one of my favourite things when I’m travelling and this was definitely just that!
41 Lothian St,
On my last night I was after some good food and possibly a fun spot to eat it. Cue another epic recommendation from The Baxter staff myself & my newly minted Aussie friend ended up at a spot I had walked by earlier that day & been drawn to because of the flaming painted on the side of the building. A bar, diner, record store, venue & so much more with an absolutely crazy cool tropical design, the menu is 100% meat free (this ones for the veggies who couldn’t go to OINK) and 90% vegan. Now I’m obviously not vegetarian nor am I vegan, but good food is good food, and they do just that! Try the o’fish tostadas, buffalo cauliflower of the “meat”balls, all amazing choices!
2 Nicolson St,
It really helps when an instafriend has lived in a certain city you’re visiting because they give you all the epic recommendations! Eric raved about this coffeehouse, and for good reason, having spent a lot of his uni life here there is now a cactus sharing his name in his honour here. Great coffee, amazing pastries AND metal reusable straws FTW. (and yes that is a piece missing from my almond croissant, I bit in and realized I needed a photo, who cares!)
103-105 W Bow, “Aiming to be an island in the city”, I stumbled across this spot down in Grassmarket needing a little pick me up. The outside decor caught my eye, I’m a sucker for tropical vibes & bright colours, and then the menu had me wishing I hadn’t had breakfast yet. But alas I was stuffed and it was just a smoothie I was after, which they did up to take away and was amazing! Sunshine in a cup is one of the many smoothie flavours & definitely put a pep in my step. Be sure to check it out for their acas bowls, wraps & coffees too!
19 Grassmarket, EH1 2HS
If you have been an avid reader for a while you’ll know I tend not to like to wait in lines very much (who does really?) but when I read about this spot and saw the line when I arrived I knew I would have to wait it out. Ice cream is my summertime treat of choice, and Mary the owner is in the shop every day making ice cream until the doors open at 11 am so you know it’s going to be filled with amazingness and love. Seriously cool decor, and fun flavours you’ll be hard pressed to find a better ice cream shop in Edinburgh. Try a scoop of salted caramel with a scoop of Sea salt, coco chip & olive oil - trust me it’s not weird it’s spectacular!
See & Do
Scott Monument If you arrive right into the centre of town, the first thing you’ll lay eyes on is this stunning masterpiece. Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic piece of architecture dedicated to the author Sir Walter Scott, and at over 200 feet tall it truly does watch over the whole city. And while viewing it from the ground, my suggestion would be to go up. Yep, that’s right you can actually go up to the viewing platforms of the monument and get one of the best views of the entire city. Entry to the very top is a measly £8.00 (adults) which compared to the priceless views you get, especially on a sunny day is nothing at all.
Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh’s park game is strong, and one of the most impressive (in my opinion at least) lies at the base of Scott Monument. In the shadow of the University & Edinburgh Castle the views as you stroll through the gardens down into the park below is definitely best enjoyed with a coffee in hand to people watch and take in the impressive views, including a magic fountain right underneath the castle which makes for a seriously cool photo!
Located in Edinburgh’s New Town, which to be honest still seemed old to my Canadian eyes but I guess that's what happens when you live in a country where all the cities are quite modern. Nevertheless, still gorgeous; Stockbridge was originally a small outlying village and was only incorporated in the 19th century. With tons of cafes & restaurants don’t let that be the only reason you head over to this part of the city. Stroll through lush cobbled streets, including the infamous Circus Lane & parallel to St-Stephens street where St-Stephens Church is and stop into Golden Hare books to find some of the most unique books ever. I must admit this was a great spot to escape some of the crowds in the city centre, and a great place to do some window house shopping too! #DoorsofEdinburgh are no joke.
From Stockbridge, stroll along the lovely river Leith you’ll reach what was once known as ‘The Water of Leith’ and was once the centre of a successful area for grain milling for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than 11 working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the river. It now seems to be a largely residential area with not much in terms of shops or restaurants which is something I really appreciated as you truly get a sense of simpler times strolling along the river and across the bridge to get a view of the lovely houses along its banks.
Royal Mile At nearly a mile in length through Edinburghs Old Town, the Royal mile is an iconic location for travelers of all ages and interests. However, I personally found it to be far too crammed for me to truly enjoy. I set out along the Royal mile for the first time around 6pm, and was dodging people left right & centre so I knew it was somewhere I’d have to get back to pre 9am. I did just that on my last day and found it far more manageable to be there with hardy anyone around. It should be noted that the closer you get to Edinburgh Castle (and closer to opening time at 9:30am) this class is balls to the wall with people.
Edinburgh Castle A major attraction in Edinburgh, and one that you can see (the outside at least) from almost everywhere in the city. I truly wanted to get a seriously good look at the castle, and thought that I could without buying a ticket to see the inside (which I wasn’t too bothered in seeing). However, after going through a crazy line up at 9:30am I realized that you have to purchase a ticket to get past what looks like an outer show ground. I opted to not spend £18.50 just for a glimpse of the outside with about 2000 other people, but I did find a few great spots to view the castle from instead. For a less crowded view check out these spots: The Vennel, Johnston Terrace, Castle Terrace, Grassmarket, Granny's Green Steps and the top of Scott Monument.
Before I left on my trip I was told about this museum by a great friend and very well traveled photographer friend. I hand looked into it at all, but thought it could be an option if the Scottish rain made a come back during my visit. That was until I read that they had a secret (well Thought so as I had it to myself) 7th floor roof terrace where you could get an incredible view of Edinburgh Castle & the city. So off I went after I gave up on visiting the castle, and I was not let down by these views. And the museum itself was pretty cool with a great natural history section too! Plus its free so that’s always a draw for me to visit a museum!
Cities that have nature close by are always going to win me over more than cities that don’t. One thing I have been craving since moving to the U.K is more hiking, and so I took it upon myself to change that in Edinburgh. Arthur's seat is the main peak in a series of peaks in the Holyrood park area, and about 1 mile from the city centre. From what I read, and what I was told by friend there were many routes you could take to the top but some were more tumultuous than others. I could see people walking high along a ridge as I was looking for where the trail began and before I did anything crazy I stopped to ask someone for directions and was pointed in the right away to avoid anything that would make my Mom too mad. Formed by an extinct volcano, like the rock that Edinburgh castle sits on, this spot has become a popular place for sunrise or sunset watchers alike. And as much as I would have loved to see either of those things, it was so flipping windy at the top and I was so not equipped for doing anything in the dark. The weather can change on a dime at the top so keep that in mind. But spectacular views over the city out to the ocean are well worth the ache in your legs at the end of the day.
If you’re not up to climbing for very long, then you’ll be happy to find Calton Hill, within 10 minutes form The Baxter Hostel and basically the centre of town, conveniently equipped with step of hill access to sweeping views. Once at the top you’ll have plenty to take in including the National Monument, that looks like something plucked from Greece, The Nelson Monument, The Robert Burns Monument and the observatory. I took in two sunsets here and the views are truly incredible, there's just something about a city being lit up all golden from a viewpoint like this.
Botanical Gardens On my very last afternoon I ended up at these gardens after a suggestion from the hostel staff. With multiple different sections, climates, glass houses and a pond there is a lot to see and I only just scratched the surface. I did get the chance to check out a neat exhibit called “The Lost Words” which is on until September 2 2018 with free entry. Showcasing lovely watercolours & matching words celebrating the great outdoors it was somewhere worth checking out if you have the time.
You’d have to have never heard of Harry Potter to not have some idea that Edinburgh was the inspiration behind the billion dollar franchise. Calling the city home, J.K Rowling truly was inspired by just about every part of the gorgeous city and incorporated it all into the series, from the incredible Hogwarts, the magical Diagonalley & even the dark side of “he who shall not be named”. If you’re even remotely interested, or a serious Potterhead like my self then these spots are must see’s!
Victoria Street aka inspiration behind Diagonalley Greyfriars Kirkyard ; where Tome Riddle's grave stone is
Elephant House Cafe/Toilets Balmoral Hotel where the Deathly Hallows was written
City Council chambers where JK Rowlings handprints are
George Heriot School (as this is a school you're not able to visit the grounds. The photo is from Google, and is the inspiration for Hogwarts)
The Highlands Saving the highlight of my trip aka the best part for last. While Edinburgh was absolutely stunning & I got to catch up with newly made friends & long time Instafriends I was absolutely blown away by my day spent in the Highlands with Rabbies Tours. Now I should give you a heads up on pronunciation of the company name. Basically it’s Robbie said in a Scottish accent after Robbie Burns, but no don't say it like the feral disease that animals have with foamy mouths and all that, people will look at you super weird, #truestory. I went back and forth when I was trying to decide on a tour company to use as I knew what spots I really wanted to see, and to my luck a week before leaving I saw another blogger who had used this company and raved about it, so I was sold. I did. The 1 day Loch Ness, Glencoe, Highlands tour out of Edinburgh, and it truly was breathtaking. To see the exact tour route & pricing click here The guides are so full of knowledge and history, even pop culture stories about the locations (aka I saw where Hagrid’s hut used to be). They even play local music on the bus journey, the group size is about 15 people and that made it so much more personal, and the locations you stop at are the must see’s that are on most peoples lists including :
Glencoe/ Three Sisters
The best description I can give of Scotland (or what I saw during my trip there is that if the captivating Canada and the magnificent New Zealand had a baby that was even more gorgeous than its stunner parents- that’s what Scotland is to me. There have been very few places in the World that have left me speechless and the highlands did just that. There are very few cities I visit and want to explore more as the days go by, but Edinburgh was one of them. From the moment I left Edinburgh I’ve already been planning a trip back to Scotland, and it will definitely be for longer and cover more of the country & the surrounding Islands. This part of the world still has such a magical air to it, and it’s no wonder because of all the incredible myths & legends passed down through generations over time. I felt so lucky to have had the weather I did which I know made it a totally different kind of trip for me and I’m super grateful for that, but with that I will say I had 100% anticipated a very wet adventure. The people I met, and the places I got to see & experience were some of the most amazing in the last few months so I can’t wait to get back to see what else Scotland has to offer.
While I was gifted my stay at The Baxter hostel all the opinions and comments in this post are my own and were in no way persuaded by the staff.