Around this time last spring, I messaged my friend Caitlin (one of my best friend's and, soon-to-be, bridesmaids in my wedding) to ask if she was free anytime in June for a little rendezvous. It turned out that I would be going on work travel and that I had time to extend a layover in Europe on my way back.
We coordinated dates and both got approved for time off. We spent several days going back and forth over email on ideas of locations (including hotel options, guided tours, etc.). Finally, with both of us on our laptops, we spent at least two hours on the phone scanning Google Flights' map search option for the cheapest options for somewhere to meet up for about a week! She was saving for a new house, and I just needed to save! We wanted somewhere with sun and a laid back environment, and spent most of our time searching for flights to southern Spain, Greece, or even Morocco. Ultimately, our call ended with a ... "let's keep looking and report back."
The next morning, I woke up to an email from Caitlin with pricing to Edinburgh. It was the cheapest flights, with plenty of Airbnb options. So, we went for it. Little did we know that in late June, early July Edinburgh would be so cold and wet.
I was coming from Cairo, where I had traveled for work and the weather was a low of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Caitlin had taken a flight from Dallas to Paris to visit her in-laws. She caught a direct flight to Edinburgh after traveling across Paris to a regional airport.
I arrived mid-morning to London Heathrow. Luckily, I have a cousin who lives in town and let me swing by her house, leave some extra stuff, and put me on the Stansted Express train to Stansted Airport.
Now, I had never flown through Stansted on Ryanair, and it was definitely a learning experience. I had booked a "business plus" seat because at the time they had a sale and it only cost like $20 more than a standard seat. This came with a checked bag, priority seating, and a "reserved" seat, which I had not realized was such a luxury.
After checking in and going through security, I got to the terminal. I was super confused to look up at the board and not see my flight listed, at all. I asked someone who worked there, and he annoyingly informed me that I had to wait and it would show up. Needless to say, I was a bit confused.
Walking through the terminal, there were a TON of stores and people, packed together. I grabbed some sushi and a seat at a table that had a USB plug to charge my phone, only it didn't work. While I was eating, I quickly caught on to what the guy meant by wait. It was like the Hunger Games...when a flight gate would appear people would RUN from the waiting area to their gates to be the first in line...
As I watched the board for my flight, the time ticked away and I started to think that I didn't understand the system and was just going to miss my flight. Finally, and late, the flight and gate appeared and the people started running. Knowing I had priority seating, I tried to leisurely make my way to the gate (I mean, I was supposedly on vacation, I should have been doing everything leisurely). When I arrived it was chaos, and there was no plane to be found. It turns out, they were late arriving from their last stop. So, I got a cappuccino.
When the plane finally arrived and it was time to board, I got in line with the priority customers and boarded. It was the first time I saw plane seats with advertisements on the backs of the headrests... and the floor was plastic with not a carpet to be found. I realized that the carpets on most planes help create a cozier environment. This was not cozy. Everything was bright yellow and navy blue.
The pilot flew as if he was a New York City taxi cab, with sharp turns and a pretty bumpy ride. While the stewardesses were super nice and I am now used to being sold meals (including all drinks) on domestic flights, what I was not prepared for was the scratch-off tickets. Midway through the flight the stewardesses announced a scratch-off ticket sale! They walked down the main aisle once, and then announced a 3 for 5 sale...
Say WHAT?!? Uh, no.
If you are looking to save money, book Ryanair. If you also care about your pre-flight, flight, and post-flight experience...don't. However you decide to get from London to Edinburgh, reserve a window seat because the United Kingdom country side is gorgeous, green, full of historic churches, and worth the view!!
That gorgeous red door can be spotted at the front of the Rhema Christian Centre Church, as seen behind Caitlin. We walked by it daily as we entered the downtown on our walk from our Airbnb.
In looking to save money, we quickly searched through Airbnb! We found an awesome couple, Andrea and Alberto, who were hosting several people in their beautiful home. They gave us tips, answered our questions, and even made a full breakfast buffet for us every morning. The buffet was excellent and made for a great opportunity to meet the other visitors and exchange tips! Their home is located in the perfect place and an easy walk to the city center and Edinburgh Castle!
Above are some photos from our daily walk. The brick home with the black door, perfectly trimmed yard, and flowers was to die for. Despite the cold winters and wet summers, it made want to move to Edinburgh so badly!! I can only dream to have a home and upkeep it like this one!
And, of course, another gorgeous door feeding my addiction. I can't get over the designs, textures, colors, and stories these doors tell! If only doors could talk...
Like most castles around the world, Edinburgh Castle sits, breathtakingly, on top of a hill. As the website states, it is "The Iconic Scottish Attraction" and was our first stop!
Be prepared to climb some stairs to get to the front entrance, where we were greeted by an ice cream truck! Turns out Scottish ice cream is a thing to behold, which we later did at Mary's Milk Bar (as recommended to us by Caitlin's sister).
The ticket line (or cue as they call it) was pretty long, with about 50 people from all over the world ahead of us. I don't know about you, but people watching is one of my favorite things, so it was fun to stand around and eavesdrop. We paid £17 each, and didn't get the audio tours, though many people had.
As I continue to do travel blog posts, you'll soon learn that I am an experiences as you go type of gal. I don't do a lot of research ahead of time--unlike Caitlin, and my fiancé Brian--and prefer to be surprised when I get there!! There are many people who love to know everything about a location, including battles, histories, who did what, how did they do it. I pick up that information as I go, and much prefer taking the time to see and imagine how the people dreamt of the castle, built it, lived in it, attacked it, and kept it up walked around and lived their lives there.
The castle had lots to imagine, especially with those gorgeous exterior bricks, half burnt and half repaired, whose discoloration tells centuries of stories! Again, I spotted some amazing doors, and this stained glass window at St. Margaret's Chapel, rather small and hard to pass by people to get into, but a #worthseeingchurch (an inside joke I'll explain on my Munich post)!
One thing I totally did not expect, but am totally not surprised by, was the Whisky and Finest Food Shop! We stood in line and were able to taste the whisky that was distilled for the castle. Also, if you buy anything in the shop, the proceeds go towards preserving the property.
Drinks and preservation? Sounds like my kind of deal.
Remember, we were in Edinburgh in late June, which was also the height of tourist season! So while we were waiting to get into the Royal Palace and Great Hall, we made some new friends.
I made a lion friend...and Caitlin made friends with these High School boys dressed up in traditional Scottish uniforms. I'm not sure what they were doing there...they were kind of like Micky Mouse at Disney World, just taking photos with people. Of course, we didn't mind.
We finally got into the Royal Palace, which I'm not going to lie, was much smaller than I expected. It was excellent to see, and had these gorgeous wood walls. (and, a fun gift shop!)
Even more exciting, was the chance to see the Crown Jewels, but of course, we weren't allowed to take any photos. All the more reason for you to get out there yourself!!
Don't be fooled, the Honours of Scotland crown and regalia above--available for purchase at the gift shop--is a miniature set!
Our last top at the castle was the National War Museum, with some of the most interesting war art I've seen. So literal, so captivating.
Our whole visit to the castle took about 3 hours!
We then left and took a walk straight down The Royal Mile towards Greyfriar's Bobby, where we rubbed the nose of the Skye terrier nose for good luck. Not because that's what we heard you are supposed to do...but because we saw other tourists doing it and we followed suite. According to local history, the dog became quite popular in the 19th-Century for guarding his owner's grave for 14 years after he passed.
Not only can you visit the grave site, you can also visit the local pub named after the dog! I mean...how many dog's have pub's named after them? Okay, probably quite a few.
Later that day, we stopped for a late afternoon pick me up at The White Hart Inn and Pub, "Edinburgh's Oldest Pub," also known as the pub with a warm heart. It was definitely warm and cozy. Rather small, but totally my type of place to chill, not too loud and not too quiet.
For most people, that would mean a beer. For us, it meant coffee and a cappuccino, both made with illy goodness. (my absolute favorite!!) And, for greater balance, we ordered a decadent and absolutely DELICIOUS sticky toffee pudding. Yup, no regrets.
The pub is located right on Grassmarket Square. How could you miss it with this gorgeous green exterior?
The whole square is filled with great little shops with souvenirs and vintage trinkets, restaurants with traditional Scottish meals, and more pubs!
On our second and last day we went to St. Arthur's seat. It was on the other side of the town so we took an Uber. We asked our driver to drop us off where he considered to be the best location to climb to the top. He offered to take us to the furthest drop off location, "half way up."
Of all of my tips, this is the one that you MUST remember. Especially those of you who don't hike very often (like me)... GO PREPARED! Caitlin and I were not. I had converse on, not sneakers or better climbing shoes. We also did not take water bottles. And, most of all, we were so out of shape. It took us a hot minute to get up there, about 20 minutes, but I'm sure others climbed it faster than we did. It's not a hard or steep climb, but it's difficult! Also, if you are afraid of heights, take your time climbing back down...again I had some trouble with this. I freaked out ever time Caitlin went too fast!!
Lastly, just enjoy the view. It is really breathtaking!!
The next photo is me pointing at where Brain will be standing next to me one day when we venture to Scotland together!
When we were done we walked back through the city and did some shopping. We ended the day at Cafe Andaluz! The decor was on point, as was the food!! I love Tapas restaurants. I love that you can try and ton of different things and don't have to choose just one. I typically order pre-made menus, and was not disappointed by my orders here!
We ordered some wine, a few more tapas, as well as the patatas bravas and paella!
Summary of my Edinburgh travel tips:
- Take the train from London to anywhere in the UK, so worth it!
- It was super easy to find wifi and get an Uber when we needed one! There were plenty in town
- Book with Airbnb.
- Look for hosts with great reviews! Quality over quantity.
- Location, location, location! You'll ultimately save money in transportation costs.
- Visit Edinburgh Castle.
- Taste the Whisky!
- Eat the ice cream at Mary's Milk Bar, or anywhere. Just don't leave without some Scottish ice cream!
- Get the sticky toffee pudding at The White Hart Inn and Pub.
- Take water and prepare for a hike before visiting Arthur's seat. But definitely go see it.
- Order the pre-listed menu at any tapas restaurant you go to!