2.5 Days In Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland has a fascinating history of being invaded from all directions and eating food made from the insides of sheep. They also wear kilts, drink lots of whisky, and think Braveheart is a good movie but detest its historical inaccuracies. Scots are generally welcoming and friendly people who would rather share some laughs with you than give you a Glasgow kiss. And I swear English is their language, though some of them sound like they're gargling marbles while speaking in tongues, especially after a few drinks.
I was lucky enough to spend time in Edinburgh- Scotland's capital city. It has a Medieval feel but with some modern flair. Anybody can find fun and interesting things to do in Edinburgh (pronounced Eh-din-bur-rah) and here's how I made the most out of my 2.5 days there:
Please note that I am not affiliated with any of the companies I mention. They are simply the ones I went with for various things and my reviews are based on those experiences. Also, get a map for walking around. It can get confusing.
I arrived via train at Waverly Station, the city's central-most public stop. My walk to Castle Rock Hostel (good place to grab a map) was short but the streets are rather hilly so keep that in mind should you have large bags in tow. The hostel is in a great location near main attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and the Grassmarket area but the street it's on is fairly quiet at night. After a shower, I pretended I was Scottish by getting haggis with a whisky sampler at The Royal McGregor, which was a bit pricy and in the touristy area but I enjoyed the meal. I then walked some of that off by going to Calton Hill to see monuments and some guy in camouflage shrieking opera in a made-up language. No guarantee the opera maniac will be there but the monuments and views from the hill were very nice. I enjoy [craft beer] so my next stop was BrewDog, where I sat outside with a few beers and played on their free Wi-Fi. (You may have heard of BrewDog from their series about making insane beers on the Esquire Network.) If there's a soccer match on, watch it at The Globe. Nice, big sports pub but no food served. I went back to the hostel to join a group going to see Ceilidh (Kay-lee)- traditional Scottish dancing- at Stramash. However, only do this if you want to be instructed how to dance, not see dancers. It was entertaining for a bit but I opted on a return to BrewDog for a nightcap.
I had booked a day tour called Monsters, Mountains, & Massacres through Highland Experience. The main attraction of this 32-person tour is Loch Ness, made famous by a "monster" who allegedly lives beneath its surface. Nessie or not, the area gives spectacular scenery even on gloomy days. You can take an hour-long cruise on the loch or opt to hike in the vast network of trails behind the Clansman Hotel. Owen, my tour's guide, was nothing short of excellent. A native Scot, he described the country with such enthusiasm that showed he truly enjoys his work and is proud of his heritage. While driving, he told fascinating stories about castles, Scotland's wars for independence, the truth about William Wallace and Robert The Bruce, and Deacon Brodie, Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for his Jekyll and Hyde story. Some other highlights of the tour included going through both of Scotland's national parks (Cairngorms and Trossachs), Ben Nevis (the UK's tallest mountain), the Three Sisters at Glen Coe, Loch Lochy (yes, translates to Lake Lakey), Loch Linnhe (most-stunning view of the day in my opinion), and a quick glimpse of Doune Castle, where most of Monty Python And The Holy Grail was filmed. I would definitely recommend giving yourself a full day to take this tour and don't make definite nighttime plans, as you may return late. There are guides for this tour aside from Owen who I can't comment on, but if you get him, I guarantee you'll be in for a wonderful day.
Because I had to end the day with a few beers, I went to the Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen. I&G makes my favorite British brews and many of them are on-tap at the Kitchen, along with several local guest taps.
For some reason, Edinburgh has an insane amount of pancake restaurants, so I went to The Treehouse to devour some with honey and bananas. Delicious! Greyfriars Kirk ('Church' in Scots Gaelic) was a nice spot to spend half an hour learning about its history and Bobby the dog. The National Museum of Scotland is huge. It holds many detailed exhibits about a range of topics, including animals from around the world and the history of aviation. These were nice but I passed through rather quickly to the extensive, multi-story exhibit about Scotland's history. It showcased several transformations of the country from its early days to the present with many artifacts and pictures. Very interesting stuff. If you go and disagree, don't worry- the museum is free! Donations are graciously accepted though. After about three hours in the museum, I walked by Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park, which is a large mountain with many trails for hiking on all skill levels. I didn't have enough time to explore but I hear the view at the top is awesome. Next time! The Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace are also in this area and worth seeing.
The Royal Mile is the most-touristy street in Edinburgh. Along it, you'll find many companies offering walking tours. I read online that Mercat was among the best so I booked their Ghostly Underground tour. I expected it to be interesting, cheesy, and a bit spooky, and that's exactly what it was. Tour guide Sam led my group into The Vaults- a system of rooms under the city which were built with good intentions but ultimately fell to nefarious activities. The tour could be rated PG but is not for the easily-squeamish or claustrophobic. It was a fun and inexpensive way to spend about 75 minutes.
I ended my trip with a comedy show at Monkey Barrel. I didn't know any of the comics, who were from all across the UK, beforehand but they were all quite funny, including the host. There was no shortage of audience teasing from the comedians, who backed-up their improv with solid jokes. I didn't understand everything because I'm not a local, but there was plenty to laugh about. Going to a foreign comedy club is a great way to realize the strong bond that laughter has over us all. I'd recommend going with a small group and booking a few days in advance.
Again, I had to end the day with a beer so I made my way to Deacon Brodie's Tavern (I mentioned him earlier). The place is very touristy during the day but was just lightly-filled at night. I had a cider while taking in the subdued but interesting atmosphere. It's very obvious that the place has a good deal of history, just like its human inspiration.
So that was my trip!
I wish I had longer to stay in Edinburgh but then you'd be reading this for the next hour. I hope this inspired you to visit Scotland. The city is only an hour from Glasgow and a short train or plane ride to other attractive locations in Europe. Make a trip out of it!
If you're somehow still not sold on the Scots, here's a list of people and things the world can thank Scotland for.