A Perfect City Break – Edinburgh
The capital city of Scotland, it’s the home of Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and the supreme courts. It is the oldest city in the United Kingdom dating back to 8500 BC and the second most visited behind London. The city is packed with history and culture, it’s been the home of kings and queens and is home to one of the largest festivals in the UK, Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Edinburgh really is a beautiful city and it is packed with things to do. I stayed in the city for 4 days and every single day was packed with activates, what did we do? Who was our experiences? Look no further, here is my guide to a 4 day city break in Edinburgh.
The first thing that I need to tell you is, DO NOT pay for a taxi if you flying into Edinburgh to get you to your hotel or B&B. Use the tram service, a taxi from the airport would cost anywhere from £20/£30 depending on where you were staying the tram which has a stop right outside the airport terminal and runs right along Princes Street in the centre of Edinburgh only cost £6 each.
So we made our way into the centre of Edinburgh and the first thing that came to mind when you start to see the city is how beautiful the buildings are and how old they look. It’s like you have stepped into the 1920’s, this is even more evident in the Old Town. Edinburgh is split between “New Town” and “Old Town” both are beautiful and offer something different to any traveller which makes the city even more exciting. We got to our hotel just of Princes Street in the new town and checked in, dropped our bags off and headed out to explore. We didn’t have long, we arrived late afternoon so it was getting dark and we had something booked for the evening so needed to get ready but we did head straight for the royal mile (more on that later). We had a little look around and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up and get ready for what was going to be a fantastic 4 day city break in Edinburgh.
Things to do
#Edinburgh Vaults Haunted Tour
This was a tour we had already booked for our first night. For the tour we meet our guide in the heart of the Royal Mile (old town) and the other members of our tour. Our guide was called Stacy and she was excellent, she really got into character and started to tell us about some of the gruesome stories from back in history in the very spot we were standing in the square. How this spot used to be the place city folk would come and stone someone to death or watch a beheading. It was also the place Oliver Cromwell got hanged and she explained how the poor man took 3hrs to die because the rope wasn’t set correctly. She was great fun, we carried on through the city and she told us about the plague and how that effected the city. We learned about city and folk and what it was like to live in Edinburgh in those days. We then got to the vaults, the stairs were steep and it was pretty much in darkness, the only light we had was every couple of meters a little candle flicking and the a candle Stacy was holding as she was guiding us through the many corridors, chambers and archways. She explained the vaults years ago was a place that common people would come to, underground away from the city, away from the police and that meant it was a pretty dangerous place. As we may our way through the vaults it got darker and colder and you could now see my breath in the extremely dim light. The people in our group started to freak out at the slightest sound or anything and the entire thing was a little nerve racking and Stacy continued to tell us about the many people that had died and all the ghost and sprit sightings there has been here. In fact Edinburgh Vaults is one of the most haunted places in the United Kingdom.
As the tour came to a close, we finally got to the last chamber about 5 stories below the city. Our entire group got into the chamber, the only light by this point was Stacy’s candle. We stood in the chamber for a while and it was freezing cold, she explained about some woman being killed and she was the most vengeful sprit in the vaults. With that the candle started to flicker (I would like to point out there was no breeze or wind as we were too far down underground) then the candle went out and we were in total darkness. Everyone in our group started screaming, I could feel someone’s breath on my neck and I was freaked out! With that, Stacy finally told everyone not to panic and she know the way out, she had a torch and we then followed her out and back up the street level to end the tour. I have to say, I not a believer and I wasn’t expecting much but I was blown away by how good the tour was. Stacy was great fun, extremely knowledgeable and the vaults were really cool and I still can’t explain the breeze and the candle going out and feeling someone’s breath on my neck. There was no-one behind me. It was a brilliant start to our trip.
Check out the tour operator to book your next tour of the vaults? Follow this link: Mercat Tours (Edinburgh) – 2021 All You Need to Know Before You Go (with Photos) – Edinburgh, Scotland | Tripadvisor
#Scottish Natural History Museum
We know that Scotland has so much history, so we really wanted to learn more about this nation so thought it would be a great idea to check out the natural history museum in the city centre.
The museum is huge, it has 4 storeys and is split into 4 different sections (each corner of the museum). It was so much fun, we learned so much and saw some amazing displays and exhibitions from the first telephone in Scotland to the court jester’s costumes that would perform for the Scottish Royals it’s all here and all on display and better yet it’s free to enter. There were complete dinosaurs bones, animals and even dolly the sheep is on display. There are eating places and toilets on every level and lifts so getting around is no issue at all. We loved the museum and loved spending time in their, we spent in total about 4 hours in the museum and we could have stayed longer.
A few Tips
- Food and Drink inside is a little pricy so I would recommend having some food just around the corner like we did in a great little restaurant called “Grand Cru” its great food and you get more for your money.
- The museum is free but they do ask for a donation in the boxes as you walk around and if you want a map or booklet you will need to pay for these.
- Children will love it, there is plenty for them to see touch and play inside in all levels.
#Scottish Parliament/Palace of Holyrood/Royal Mile
I have put these 3 things together because they are very close to one another and you can do all of them at the same time like we did. The Royal Mile is a road that is 1 mile long and starts at Edinburgh Castle and ends at the Palace of Holyrood which has been the royal residence in Scotland since the 16th century hence why the road is called the “Royal Mile”. The Royal Mile itself is a road with shops, restaurants, hotels, cafes, bars and everything in-between we stopped on our walk down in a little café for a bite to eat and little drink, we sat outside and watched the world go by and even had a someone playing the bag pipes which just added to the atmosphere. We headed down the royal mile and ended at the Palace of Holyrood which is opposite the Scottish Parliament. At the royal residence of Scotland you can imagine the entire area is beautiful, the square is lovely and the grounds of the palace is lovely we didn’t have too much time so didn’t opt to go into the palace or grounds but could see they were beautiful. We then crossed the road and headed over the Parliament square, we went into the building and stood in the viewing box for a short while watching the parliament debate but again, it was pretty boring and we didn’t have a great deal of time so moved on pretty quickly.
The entire area is lovely, the grounds are beautiful and I believe you can take a tour on both the Palace and Parliament but we opted not to.
Arthurs seat is actually an extinct volcano and is the highest point of Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. The hill or peak is about a miles walk from the Castle so not too far away and is pretty steep as you get to closer to the top, once you do get to the top you are rewarded with fantastic views of the city including the castle in the distance. I would certainly find some time to check this place out, the walk up is good exercise and the views are stunning, on a clear day you can see across the city for about 5 miles into the distance. The origins of Arthurs Seat is still unknown but many believe it was the location of the legendary Camelot so worth a visit just for that. Arthurs seat can be visited on foot, like I said we walked from our hotel to the park. It took about 20mins to get there but we didn’t rush ourselves and stopped for a photos outside the Scottish Parliament which lies at the very bottom of Arthurs Seat, you can reach Arthurs Seat by Car or Bus as well, there is a big car park which his pay and display and there is a bus stop also just outside the car park. Once you have arrived you just start following the trials, it’s free to access and walk up. If like us you visit in the summer I would wear appropriate clothes, it may be warm as you start but as you climb it got a little chilly and windy so I am glad I had a little jacket and some water to drink on the way. I didn’t time how long it took us but it didn’t feel like long and once you get to the top the trials and paths stop and its more rocks and boulders you need to step over to reach the summit. It’s a place to visit and the kids will love the adventure getting the top. This was one of my favourite places and things to do while we were in Edinburgh.
A few Tips
- If you want the best picture then I do recommend getting up early and getting up to the top for sunrise, there will be less people around so more likely to get that picture with no-where else around.
- Remember to where the right clothes, it will it the experience so much more enjoyable, let’s face it who enjoys being cold! Take a light jacket if hiking up in summer, it will be a lot cooler at the top no matter what the temperature is on street level.
- Take a bottle of water with you and more importantly don’t forget your camera, the views will be worth it.
Scott Monument is a Victorian style gothic monument to famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It stands along Princes Street (the main high street) and 1 minute walk from the main train station (Edinburgh Waverley Station) you can’t really miss it. This was directly outside our hotel. The monument itself looks eerier and creepy but is a lot bigger then I imagined and you can actually climb the steep small stairs and make your way up one of the towers and get a great view of Princes Street Gardens, Princes Street and more importantly Edinburgh Castle. You can see the castle from all over the Princes Street but I found this was the best place with uninterrupted views of the castle. The monument is an impressive sight and it will cost you to enter (but this money is used to keep the monument restored and in good condition) it cost for 2 adults £14 (£7 each) to enter and go inside. To climb to the highest point there are 287 steps, it’s a feet to get to the very top but worth it. I do highly recommend this activity, I do feel it’s a little over priced for what it is, we paid £14 and was only there 15/20 mins but I still feel like if you in Edinburgh for the first time then this is a place you need to visit.
A few Tips
- They didn’t take any cards when we visited so it might be worth having some cash with you.
- You must get there before 5pm, the last entries are not allowed past 5pm.
- The biggest queues are between 11am – 2pm so I would recommend maybe visiting early or later in the day, we visited early as it was directly outside our hotel, we got there on the 3rd day when it opened and it was extremely quiet, we had the entire monument to ourselves for a short while.
THE No.1 tourist attraction in Edinburgh, in fact it’s one of the top tourist attractions in the entire United Kingdom. It dominates the city skyline and you can see the castle from most places around the city, the castle sits in top of castle rock and it is believed that people lived there as far back as the 2nd century. It became a royal residence since the reign of David 1st in the 12th century and for 1000’s of years was the most important strongholds of the Kingdom of Scotland and has housed Kings and Queens since the 12th Century. The castle has played a vital role in hundreds of historical conflicts and battles and in 2014 it was identified the castle has been directly involved in 26 sieges in its 1100th year history giving it claim to have been the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked places in the world. Make NO mistake about this castle, it is world famous and extremely important monument, it still holds the “Crown Jewels” it has been the birth place of Kings and is home to one of the oldest buildings still standing in the United Kingdom “St. Margret’s Chapel”. There is so much history here that I could write an entire blog page about the castle but I will save that for another time.
The Castle is situated on the “Royal Mile” in fact it is at one end (many the say the start) and sits in the “old town” part of Edinburgh. You can reach the castle anyway you like, Buses, Cars and on foot. We walked from out hotel and it took about 10/15mins to get to the entrance. As you can imagine it doesn’t matter what day you visit or what the weather is doing, it’s going to be busy and the crowds will be in there hundreds. I would recommend buying your tickets before you travel online like we did, again it saved about an hour queuing up waiting to buy tickets when we could just walk straight in and start enjoying the incredible place. I have been to a fair few castles and this is certainly ONE of THE BEST I have ever visited. I will be the first to admit I didn’t really know much about the castle which is why I wanted to visit to learn more and you really do, there is so much to see and do within the castle, hundreds of rooms to visit each with their own stories and history, the “Great Hall” is a huge room and standing the middle you could imagine kings and queens playing host with huge banquets, music and entertainment. You can enter the room where King James 1st was born, you can visit the dungeons and prisons and see where all the workers and staff used to live. There are daily military parades, the One O’clock Gun which his fired every day at 1pm (except Good Friday, Christmas Day and Sunday). The National Scottish War Museum is situated within the castle from 12th century all the way up to modern day you can see all the exhibits on display.
This castle really is a great place to visit, there are eating places and drinking places, toilets, benches and in the tower an amazing view over the city. I couldn’t recommend this visit enough, even if you miss out all of the rest and just do this, you won’t be disappointed at all. We had an amazing day, yes we spent all day in the castle because there really is that much to see and do. We left the castle and grabbed a bite to eat just outside on the Royal Mile (it’s a lot cheaper then eating inside the castle). As far as castles go, this one really is an incredible building drowning in history and Scottish culture.
A few Tips
- It’s a huge tourist attraction and world UNESCO Heritage site so it isn’t cheap. It cost us £17.50 each for an adult so £35 for 2 adults but that does give you access to the entire building and all the other exhibits and we were there all day, at least 5 hours or so.
- I would recommend buying tickets online before you visit, it saves you time having to queue on arrival and you can just walk on in. (Links are at the end of the Blog)
- The biggest queues are all the time, anytime. There isn’t really a chance to avoid them, we visited first thing and got there 30 mins before they opened and even then the queue was already hundreds deep.
- Food and Drink inside the castle is expensive as you are paying inflated prices, if you can wait until you leave there are loads of eating and drinking places just outside the castle on the “royal mile” a lot cheaper. We did have a drink inside and for 2 hot drinks it was £13.45!
- In some of the exhibits cameras and photos are NOT allowed. There are many signs up warning you and people on duty keeping watch. (look out for when and where you can and can’t take photos).
Edinburgh Food & Drink
This great city is home to some amazing restaurants and eating places as many big cities are, I grantee there will be something to suit your taste buds and wallet in Edinburgh. It does depend on what you are after of course, if you wanted fine dining like we did one night there are plenty of places on offer but most of the time we wanted great food at reasonable prices on that is what we got. I also want to mention that Scotland is home to some traditional dishes which I recommend especially if you haven’t eaten them before, if like me you love trying out the local food then while I was in Edinburgh I had to track down some Haggis, Scotch Pie and Scotch Bread during my stay.
Down below is what we ate over the course of the weekend.
As you can see the food was fantastic, we didn’t have a bad meal the entire weekend. Our most expensive meal was at Twenty Princes Street, it was our anniversary meal so we wanted something a little extra special. It was a fine dining restaurant and was just around the corner from our hotel, the food and service was amazing I highly recommend this restaurant if you want something a little extra special. The rest of the time we just walked, there are small coffee shops, pubs and bars, cafes and restaurants all over the place and found somewhere we wanted to eat, there are so many places along the royal mile and Princes Street to choose from you will find something to eat.
I did manage to find Scotch Pie, Haggis and Scotch Bread and all of which tasted great and worth a try.
The million dollar question, is a city break in Edinburgh worth a visit? I say it totally IS worth a visit. This is a really cool city and Edinburgh has so much to offer, it is bursting with history and the castle itself is one of the best castles I have ever visited.
I would recommend that really all you need is a long weekend to enjoy all the city has to offer. We stayed from Friday to Monday and manged to get everything in and even see some stuff we didn’t plan so a long weekend is long more than long enough. If you fancied something a little more exciting and busier then I would really recommend checking out Edinburgh during one of the festivals like Edinburgh Fringe Festival for example as the entire city comes to life with hundreds of people all over the place. Don’t forget it will be a lot busier and it will mean that prices of hotels are increased during this time period so bare that in mind.
We flew directly from Southampton Airport to Edinburgh and then got the shuttle right into the new town (where our hotel was). We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Princes Street for 3 nights. It was a great little hotel in the middle of everything and you can check out my TripAdvisor page for all the reviews on the airline and hotel. Check out flights to Edinburgh – CLICK HERE.
Travel costs us £310 which includes 2 return air tickets and shuttle bus return for 2 adults. The hotel cost us £264 (£88 per night) and because we stayed in the express version there was NO breakfast service in the mornings but that was OK for us because we just headed out and grabbed some on Princes Street.
The total cost for the weekend in Edinburgh cost £574 for 2 adults. With spending money added to that we ended up spending approx. £900 for the weekend which is a lot of money for 4 days. A city break in Edinburgh isn’t cheap but it’s worth it just once.
If you wish to check out some other related blogs: My TOP 10 Travel Tips.
Until Next Time…