Edinburgh is a magical place, full of history, beautiful buildings and friendly people.
It’s like going being back in time or walking through a Harry Potter filmset (JK Rowling wrote these books in a cafe here and was inspired by the Gothic architecture). It’s worth visiting the City at any time of the year. I went for a week in January and I was welcomed by glorious sunshine all week long, the Christmas market, food stalls and fun fair (which close in mid-January), and the crisp Scottish weather!
Where to stay?
I stayed at The Balmoral and I would totally recommend it. It’s not only located conveniently next to the train station and minutes’ walk to the old city centre, but it’s also a very beautiful and comfortable place. Apparently it’s also one of Sean Connery’s favourite places, as the pictures of him throughout the hotel will attest.
The Christmas tree in the centre of the foyer was huge and very pretty.
Below: a picture of the spacious room in which I stayed. Next to the bed there are huge windows overlooking the city, and next to the window, a table and two comfy chairs. The door on the left leads to a small corridor with a large number of wardrobes across the wall and to the bathroom.
Below: picture of the cute bathroom. Marble goals!
Below: the monsoon shower was great!
Below: the breakfast selection in the morning was amazing. I totally recommend having breakfast at the hotel. You can choose from an assortment of cold meats, hot food, fruit, cereal and pastries. True to Scottish style, there were all-you-can-eat fresh kippers and smoked salmon for breakfast!
What to do?
- Walk to Arthur’s Seat. It is the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh and it is situated just to the east of the city centre, about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east of Edinburgh Castle.
It provides excellent panoramic views of the city and beyond. It is relatively easy to climb but my recommendation would be to wear your hiking boots and make sure it’s a nice weather otherwise it might get a bit muddy and slippery. On the day I went the sun was shining, even though it was quite cold. The rocks were amazing to look at!
2. Go whisky tasting
Whisky with an “e” or without it (whiskey)? Either way, whisky is a core part of Scotland’s identity so what an amazing opportunity to to get to know more about this product than in Edinburgh.
I booked a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience where learnt more about the distillery process, the different varieties and flavours. They have a rather kitsch, but very informative, “barrel” ride. You side in a moving whisky barrel and get carted around a track with different characters explaining how whisky is made. It felt a bit like being in Disney’s It’s a Small, Small World – except a lot less fun.
Below: you quickly learn that there’s a hundreds (thousands?) of different varieties of whiskies. There are the burnt-flavoured ones, which I don’t really like, to some super fruity ones, with flavours that I never knew whiskies would have!
Even though I don’t tend to drink it was an experience that made me appreciate the craftsmanship behind the production of whisky.
Tip: if you book the Gold Tour you can try five different types of whiskeys (instead of only two or three). However, it’s enough to book one tour for two people as their portions are very generous. We ended up booking for two people and had so much whisky left over at the end, that it felt like it was a bit of a waste of money. No one can drink the amounts of whisky they give for just one person, unless they want to get seriously smashed! The smokey-flavoured whiskeys are certainly for the braves ones!
3. Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia
This is the formal royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and was taken out of service in 1997. It’s an impressive boat where you can explore all the rooms from the cosy sitting rooms for the royal family, to the separate bedrooms for the Queen and Prince Philip (each decorated to their own tastes).
I really enjoyed visiting this ship. I think you get a much more intimate view of how the Royal family lives about this ship then when visiting their many palaces. It’s the only place where you can actually see what the Queen’s bedroom looks like!
Below: the sailors down below had less desirable quarters!
4. Explore Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is slightly fantasy-like, in that it sits on a dark, imposing hill overlooking the whole city. It’s a really impressive Castle, being very well preserved inside. It looks fairly impregnable, but I was interested to find out that it had been stormed many times throughout it’s long history, with many sieges being laid against it. During the wars with France in the Middle Ages, French soldiers were imprisoned here. You can still read the French graffiti on the prison walls and doors!
Below: looking out at the City below from the stained glass windows in the Castle.
Below: sunset from the Castle grounds. No filters! Magical!
5. Walk and explore
Perhaps the best thing to do when you’re in Edinburgh is walk, and walk, and walk, and walk! It’s a fantastic place to amble around, and with its many hills, you’ll get a good workout too!
In December and early-January the Christmas market, its food stalls and fun fair stretch down the many tiers of Princes Street Gardens. There are so many food stalls to sample, and lots of other stalls selling cool candles, wood carvings etc. I didn’t try out any of the fun fair rides, but they looked very impressive, especially the ferris wheel (which was huge) and the tower plunge ride (that you can see in the picture below just to the right of the Scott Monument).
Recommended and tested places to eat:
- Fishers in the city, for fresh fish. We loved this place so much, we went twice in three days!
- Whisky Bar, for traditional food, great whisky selection and live music every night (try out their Haggis and mashed potato dish – it’s fantastic and flavoursome!)
- Burr&Co, for coffee and a sweet treat
- Hendersons, for a nice vegan restaurant
A place to visit all year around!